Turnovers loom large even amid epic rally

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SOONER POSTGAME - Ryan Aber

DAL­LAS — Kyler Mur­ray’s bril­liance nearly over­shad­owed two crit­i­cal plays that kept No. 7 Ok­la­homa from knock­ing off No. 19 Texas on Sat­ur­day in the Cot­ton Bowl.

But in the cold re­al­ity of the postgame af­ter the Soon­ers’ 48-45 loss to the Longhorns, all Mur­ray could fo­cus on were those two plays.

“Ob­vi­ously not used to los­ing. It hurts. Dis­ap­pointed,” Mur­ray said in the postgame press con­fer­ence, be­fore paus­ing and look­ing down at the table in front of him to com­pose him­self while Lin­coln Ri­ley of­fered the quar­ter­back a com­fort­ing pat on the back. “It’s tough be­cause I turned the ball over and they didn’t. That’s giv­ing them an ad­van­tage when we turn the ball over.”

For all the de­fen­sive strug­gles the Soon­ers had — and they had plenty — those two turnovers by Mur­ray loomed large. They were mag­ni­fied not only for what they were in­di­vid­u­ally but also be­cause of the high level of ex­e­cu­tion de­manded of Ok­la­homa’s of­fense as its de­fense sput­ters.

With the game tied in the first quar­ter, on a sec­ond-and-23 play, Mur-

ray scram­bled out of the pocket and heaved the ball over Texas nick­el­back P.J. Locke III to­ward Lee Mor­ris.

Bran­don Jones stepped un­der­neath Mor­ris and picked off Mur­ray’s pass.

“I kind of lost my foot­ing but know­ing the cov­er­age and know­ing the sit­u­a­tion, shouldn’t have tried to fit it in there,” Mur­ray said.

To add in­sult to in­jury, Mur­ray was called for a low block on the play, adding 15 yards to Jones’ re­turn.

Jones’ pick not only led to a field goal for the Longhorns but took away a pre­cious op­por­tu­nity for Ok­la­homa’s pro­lific of­fense to score.

It was the same thing in the third quar­ter when mo­men­tum seemed to fi­nally make a shift the Soon­ers’ way.

On each of Texas’ first five drives — save the 28 sec­onds it burned off with a knee just be­fore the end of the half — the Longhorns came away with points.

But about six min­utes into the third, with Texas up 31-24, the Soon­ers’ de­fense fi­nally got Texas off the field with a three­and-out.

All year long, Mur­ray had made the im­prob­a­ble look easy, with im­pec­ca­ble de­ci­sion-mak­ing, es­pe­cially as it re­lated to when to run the ball him­self.

Mur­ray stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush out­side from Texas’ Gary John­son, then tried to re­verse field as John­son changed course in his pur­suit.

Mur­ray stum­bled back­ward a bit and when he did, reached down with his right arm — ball in hand — to steady him­self.

Mur­ray’s body kept mov­ing back­ward. The ball didn’t.

Texas’ Breckyn Hager dove on the ball as Mur­ray protested that he was down.

It didn’t take long for re­play to con­firm the fum­ble and five plays later, Texas scored to ex­tend its lead to two touch­downs.

“It’s pretty frus­trat­ing turn­ing the ball over any­way but that’s turn­ing the ball over when we’re try­ing to come back,” wide re­ceiver CeeDee Lamb said. “It hurt us a lot.”

Mur­ray came into the game near the top of many Heis­man Tro­phy watch lists.

His stock plum­meted un­til his late-game hero­ics — a 19-yard touch­down pass to Mor­ris, a 67-yard touch­down run that show­cased his world-class speed and a 35-yard pass to Trey Ser­mon that set up Ser­mon’s touch­down run to tie it. All of those hap­pened in the span of about six min­utes in the fourth quar­ter.

“Even when things got bad on his end, he still stepped up.” Lamb said. “He per­formed. I salute the man. He had two costly turnovers and he was still back do­ing it.

“He brought us back from 21 (down).”

Mur­ray’s num­bers wound up be­ing bet­ter than his Texas coun­ter­part Sam Eh­linger’s.

Mur­ray com­pleted 19 of 26 passes for 304 yards and four touch­downs.

Eh­linger was 24 of 35 for 314 yards and two scores.

But un­like Mur­ray, Eh­linger avoided turnovers.

“Coach Ri­ley, he’s preached to me all the time, ball se­cu­rity in the pocket, and I gave it up in a big game,” Mur­ray said.

Raber@ ok­la­homan.com

PHOTO] [AP

Texas de­fen­sive back Bran­don Jones (19) in­ter­cepts a pass thrown by Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray in the first half Sat­ur­day. It was one of two turnovers by Mur­ray.

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