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Facing disaster, Oklahoma triumphs instead
They way they finished, Sooners exit UCF victory better than they started
It should have been easier.
Oklahoma shouldn’t give up 17 points in any quarter, especially a second quarter after allowing a single first down in the first quarter on the last play of the first quarter.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby can’t let his unit be put into another phone booth, as occurred against SMU and several times last season.
He can’t let his passing game be reduced to pinch-hitting for his missing-in-action run game, gaining a little here and a little there only to face third down after third down.
It happened over and over again, while Central Florida gained the lead with 1:24 remaining in the first half and did not give it up for good until 9:16 remained in the fourth quarter.
It can’t happen.
“We found ways to waste snaps the whole game,” Lebby said.
Zach Schmit can’t miss a pair of first-quarter field goals from 38 and 43 yards.
Woodi Washington can’t bite on a run-pass option that leads to a horrendously easy 86-yard touchdown.
Jaren Kanak can’t commit a taunting penalty that derails yet another first-and-goal-at-the-1 goal-line stand.
It’s a recipe for disaster.
Brent Venables mentioned discipline.
“We were the opposite of that today,” he said.
And nonetheless …
Here the Sooners are.
After everything, they prevailed.
Not by holding on, but by coming on.
They weren’t lucky.
They took it.
OU beat UCF 31-29 Saturday afternoon atop Owen Field and though the final score appears to tell no good story beyond victory, that’s not the case.
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Their backs against the wall, no room to spare, handed no favors from their opponent, the Sooners swooped in and kept their perfect season going.
A disaster wound up a tribute.
You figured if OU was going to win this game, it would start happening with 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Down 23-17 without the ball, the Sooner defense forced a UCF punt and here was OU’s chance to quit messing around.
The Sooners picked up a couple first downs before punting from their own 40.
UCF coach Gus Malzahn’s offense had already picked up 313 yards and, to that point, netted all of its points in the middle two quarters and was no great bet to be stymied again.
OU’s defense forced a three-and-out instead.
Now, with 11:31 remaining, it had to happen.
“There’s an anointment that happens in sports and sometimes it’s premature,” Venables would say afterward.
For a coach talking about his own team, it’s among the best quotes ever.
Also, he said, “I see a team that has belief and some maturity.”
Folks may remember the Sooners' back-to-back fourth-quarter touchdown drives to beat the Knights, one a nine-play 65-yard job finished by Drake Stoops and the next a nine-play 80-yarder finished by Gavin Sawchuk, producing an eight-point edge with 3:13 remaining, as very similar to two weeks ago at the Cotton Bowl.
They had to score. They went right down the field and scored. This time, twice.
But it was harder than that.
Two weeks ago, OU faced second down only once on its way to topping the Longhorns.
This time, over those two drives, the Sooners faced second-and-10 three different times on the first and second-and-9, second-and-13 and second-and-10 on the second.
They just kept overcoming.
After more than three quarters of ground game futility, OU picked up 86 rushing yards over the final 11:31 and seven of Stoops’ and Nick Anderson’s combined 12 grabs came over that time-frame, too.
It all just … happened.
“We had some hiccups, we had some mistakes, but we just kept going,” Anderson said.
“You’ve got to win different kinds of ways,” Venables said.
“We turned on, we played ball, we made the plays we needed to make,” Lebby said.
None, really, explanatory.
Until Dillon Gabriel said it the best.
He wound up completing 25 of 38 throws, three for scores, two to Anderson, the last to Stoops, finishing with 253 passing yards, 73 in the fourth quarter. Sacked three times, his 10 carries topped out at just 22 yards.
“We had to go score,” Gabriel said, “if we wanted to win.”
What happened and how it happened in a few quick words.
About everything that occurred offensively prior to the Sooners’ twin fourth-quarter touchdown drives was all wrong.
Until they made it all right.
After not being burned defensively for a long time, UCF answered with a final nine-play, 75-yard march, finishing with John Rhys Plumlee’s 12-yard scoring toss to Javon Baker with 1:16 remaining.
The Knights were a two-point conversion from, decent chance, forcing overtime.
Malzahn called a double pass, swinging a lateral to Xavier Townsend, who set his sights on the back left side of the end zone.
The Sooners read the play.
Townsend had nowhere to go.
Kendel Dolby dropped him.
One more made play when no alternative existed.
OU could have lost.
It was triumphant instead.
It’s a big, big deal.