The #6 ranked Razorbacks were coming off a 10–1 season, but were considered to be heavy underdogs against the #2 ranked Sooners. The #1 ranked Texas Longhorns and their Heisman Trophy winning running backEarl Campbell had just lost the 1978 Cotton Bowl to Joe Montana and the Notre Dame Irish, thus giving the Sooners an almost sure bid for the national championship title if they defeated Arkansas. Texas defeated Oklahoma and Arkansas on consecutive weekends en route to its 11-0 regular season.
To make matters worse for Arkansas, first year Arkansas coach Lou Holtz had suspended three players prior to the game for team violations. Two of those players, rushing backs Ben Cowins and Donny Bobo, had together accounted for 78% of the points scored by the Razorbacks that season. On the other hand, the Oklahoma Sooners were led offensively by their future Heisman Trophy winning running back Billy Sims and on defense by their safetyDarrol Ray and linebackerDaryl Hunt.
Although the suspended Arkansas players protested, Holtz refused to back down and the suspensions stood. Already considered a heavy underdog to Oklahoma, with the loss of those starters Arkansas was expected to give little competition in the game. Arkansas was an 18 point underdog prior to the suspensions. After the suspensions they were given as 24 point underdogs by Las Vegas, Nevada odds. The 1978 Orange Bowl would in all likelihood be the game that decided the National Championship. And it did in many ways, but not in the way that most expected.
Backup running back Roland Sales started for Arkansas in the place of Ben Cowins. With Sales doing most of the running of the ball, Arkansas out-rushed Oklahoma 126 yards to 116 yards in the first half, with Billy Sims fumbling the ball early in the first quarter causing the Razorbacks to recover on the Oklahoma 9 yard line. That resulted in a Sales touchdown followed by a PAT by Arkansas kicker Steve Little. Another Oklahoma fumble by Kenny King resulted in another Arkansas touchdown rushed in by Arkansas quarterbackRon Calcagni in the first quarter. In the second half Sales would rush for another touchdown, Brian White rushed for a touchdown and Steve Little kicked a field goal. A ferocious Arkansas defense led by defensive tackleDan Hampton held Oklahoma to a garbage time fourth-quarter touchdown but the two-point conversion attempt failed.
For Arkansas, in total Roland Sales rushed 22 times for 205 yards setting an Orange Bowl record. He also received 4 times for 52 yards and rushed for 2 touchdowns. Arkansas defeated Oklahoma 31–6. Sales' Orange Bowl rushing record stood for 20 years until broken by Ahman Green in 1998 when Green rushed for 206 yards in the Orange Bowl. Roland Sales and Arkansas teammate Reggie Freeman were named MVPs for the game. Arkansas finished the season ranked #3 in the nation behind #1 ranked Notre Dame and #2 ranked Alabama.