Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Between consternation and triumph, Sooners offer much of both against Mustangs
They’re whoever you want them to be.
For right now, you can put them in the Big 12 title game and the playoff, too.
You can assign them double-digit wins right now. You can make them the class of the conference and, why not. Sure, Texas beat ’Bama in Tuscaloosa but the ’Horns will soon enough implode, they always do.
For crying out loud, the line was 16 1/2 and they covered, so what problem could anybody have?
Oklahoma topped SMU 28-11 Saturday night atop Owen Field and isn’t that the story?
It’s definitely a story.
Also, not the only one.
If ignorance is bliss, allow me to apologize in advance.
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Remember that sideline interference call that took SMU from second-and-11 at the 33 to first-and-10 from the 11?
Or the pass interference call two plays earlier that got the Mustangs out of a fourth-down fix? Or the pass interference call three snaps after the sideline call that set SMU up first-and-goal from the 2?
Those things can’t happen.
They can’t happen.
And they really can’t happen in the fourth quarter of a losable game, which is just what it became after all that silliness led to Stone Eby’s tackle-eligible touchdown catch with 12:09 remaining, bringing the Mustangs, after a two-point conversion, within 14-11.
Jaren Kanak can’t get hit with the first interference call and Peyton Bowen can’t get hit with the second, and Brent Venables, the man himself, really can’t get hit with a half-the-distance call for bumping an official, not realizing he was where he can’t be.
But he did.
“Those can be game-changing mistakes,” Venables said.
Nor can OU go into the tank offensively, yet it did, reprising a movie we’ve all seen before.
Venables said SMU was playing soft in the back, trying to keep OU in front of it, scheming against the big play.
What that led to was OU taking the bait, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby failing to remember he’s a got a whole football field he can make the opposition defend and calling plays as though his unit was trapped in a phone booth instead.
Of course, the Sooners finished strong. They came up big when they had to. They never lost the lead in a game Venables said they might have lost a year ago.
Those are positives.
Yet, as I walked down the steps of the Red Room, where OU offers its postgame words, to ask Lebby a question, someone else asked something very close to mine and I heard Lebby’s reply.
“I needed to get back and be more aggressive,” he said.
He needed to be more aggressive like he wasn’t in the third quarter against Kansas State last season? Like he wasn’t in the second half against Oklahoma State last season?
“Stop me, oh, stop me,” sang Morrissey, front man to The Smiths, “stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.”
What Lebby did in the middle two quarters against the Mustangs is what he’s done so often since his arrival: play-calling as though scared of what might go wrong rather confident in what his line, quarterback and playmakers might actually do well, pushing the envelope, attempting to dominate.
Well, that is, until conditions on the ground change, forcing his hand to do what he should have been doing all along.
There was a time in the contest, prior to OU scoring its first points with 9:01 remaining in the fourth quarter since 8:33 remained in the second, the Sooners appeared to face third down more often than they faced first.
Nothing came easy.
The walls closed in.
The offense could not have been more claustrophobic.
The final numbers say OU faced third down 15 times, one less than SMU.
It felt like 30.
SMU was playing defense the way it was playing defense. But there’s taking what that defense gives you and there’s allowing the opposition to dictate your game plan, allowing it to keep your point total locked at 14 through three quarters.
Still, they won.
“The game is hard to win,” Venables said, admitting it’s a cliché, but also true.
I believe him.
I think I heard Bob Stoops say something like it 20 years ago, though it might have been 15, the 2003 and ’04 seasons in the rear-view mirror, when winning wasn’t hard at all.
The bad stuff was really bad, yet the good stuff was very real.
Tawee Walker may have ensconced himself as OU’s No. 1 running back, gaining 117 yards on 21 carries, 13 more totes than anybody else.
Though Lebby didn’t make it easy on him and nor did his receivers, who dropped a bunch of throws, Dillon Gabriel still completed 19 of 27, four for scores.
At the half, SMU having outgained OU 232 yards to 168, OU led 14-3 anyway. Last season, the opposite was more likely to be true.
Defensively, the Mustangs converted just 4 of 16 third-down chances and holding any capable offense to 367 yards is pretty good and quite good when only yielding 11 points.
Danny Stutsman finished with 17 tackles and Army wasn’t even the opponent.
So many good things.
So much consternation, too.
They are who you want them to be.
For right now, at least.