No. 5 Soon­ers make fi­nal case for play­off — with de­fense

OK­LA­HOMA 39, TEXAS 27 Much-ma­ligned unit se­cures Big 12 ti­tle

The Washington Post Sunday - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - BY AVA WAL­LACE ava.wal­[email protected]­post.com

ar­ling­ton, tex. — The rar­ity of the re­match, the grandeur of the stage and the way foot­ball in the Big 12 skews just a lit­tle bit zanier primed col­lege foot­ball watch­ers to ex­pect a few twists and turns in the 114th meet­ing of Texas and Ok­la­homa, the first to take place in a con­fer­ence ti­tle game.

But that it was No. 5 Ok­la­homa’s de­fense that swung its 39-27 vic­tory Satur­day over No. 14 Texas in­stead of its his­toric of­fense, the spec­tac­u­lar unit led by shoot­ing star of a quar­ter­back, Kyler Mur­ray? That might have been the big­gest sur­prise of all.

With 8:27 to play and the Soon­ers clutch­ing a three-point lead, sopho­more cor­ner­back Tre Brown caught Sam Eh­linger look­ing the other way on a blitz and hur­tled to­ward the quar­ter­back’s right side, knock­ing him down in the end zone for a safety that made the score 32-27 and firmly put mo­men­tum on Ok­la­homa’s side. It was the Soon­ers’ first safety in five years.

“It was the first time I blitzed to­day,” Brown said with a smile, “and I felt like the coaches did a re­ally good job know­ing what was go­ing on. They made a great call and sent me at the right time, and I got home and made it hap­pen.”

Brown and the rest of a crit­i­cized de­fense rounded out Ok­la­homa’s case for in­clu­sion in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

With the win, the Soon­ers’ ré­sumé in­cludes a vic­tory over ev­ery op­po­nent on its sched­ule, three top-20 vic­to­ries, a fourth con­sec­u­tive Big 12 ti­tle (mak­ing them the first team to win four straight out­right league ti­tles since Florida in the mid-1990s) and a de­fense that can, defini­tively, win games.

“You’ve got to win by one point in th­ese games the last time I checked,” Ok­la­homa Coach Lin­coln Ri­ley said when asked whether he thinks his team is play­ing well enough to win the na­tional cham­pi­onship. “I feel like we can score points on peo­ple, and I feel like we can stop peo­ple. And . . . I feel like we’re gain­ing trac­tion de­fen­sively. I feel like we’ve had our high­est per­for­mances in the last cou­ple of weeks in huge games against dy­namic of­fenses, and I don’t think we’ve played our best yet this year. And I think we’re go­ing to get there.”

Ok­la­homa (12-1) beat Texas (9-4) on both sides of the ball in a game in which the scale fit the stakes. Satur­day was the first time since 1903 — Ok­la­homa was four years away from state­hood — that the Soon­ers and Longhorns met for the sec­ond time in one season. They played in cav­ernous AT&T Sta­dium in front of a crowd of 83,114 — 23 more peo­ple than at­tended the 1992 SEC cham­pi­onship, mak­ing Satur­day the big­gest crowd to wit­ness a con­fer­ence ti­tle game.

The Soon­ers’ de­fense, per­haps the most ma­ligned in the coun­try en­ter­ing Satur­day af­ter its pre­vi­ous four op­po­nents av­er­aged more than 47 points and it sur­ren­dered 56 points and 539 pass­ing yards last week in a win at West Vir­ginia, came through when it mat­tered most.

It wasn’t per­fect. Ok­la­homa had a two-score lead evap­o­rate in the third quar­ter thanks to Eh­linger and daz­zling re­ceivers Collin John­son and Lil’Jor­dan Humphrey. But the Soon­ers didn’t al­low Texas to score at all in the fourth quar­ter, and they came up with a safety and an in­ter­cep­tion, sup­port­ing an of­fense that had 508 yards to Texas’s 437.

Mur­ray, for his part, daz­zled as usual. He com­pleted 25 of 34 passes for 379 yards and three touch­downs, was sacked twice and com­mit­ted no turnovers.

Eh­linger bat­tled on the other side, com­plet­ing 23 of 36 at­tempts for 349 yards. He passed for two touch­downs with one in­ter­cep­tion and rushed for two more scores. Ok­la­homa’s de­fense sacked him three times, but per­haps the big­gest wounds Texas suf­fered were self-in­flicted. The Longhorns gave up 128 yards on 13 penal­ties, and the Soon­ers took ad­van­tage.

“It’s some­thing we talked about last night at our meet­ing be­hind closed doors, but we felt like we played to­gether on all sides of the ball,” Mur­ray said. “That’s a good team up there in West Vir­ginia, but I feel like we found our­selves. De­fense came up big last week and this week.”

Mur­ray, ar­guably the only Heis­man Tro­phy can­di­date who hasn’t been left in Al­abama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa’s dust at this point, sealed the win when he whipped the ball straight into one search­ing hand of Grant Cal­caterra for the fi­nal score — and Cal­caterra’s sec­ond score of the game — with two min­utes left. By then, Ok­la­homa fans who had been drowned out all day by Texas’s slightly larger con­tin­gent were clearly chant­ing “We want ’Bama.”

As much as it craves a game with the de­fend­ing champs, Ok­la­homa knows its berth in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off de­pends on too many other fac­tors for the Soon­ers to feel overly con­fi­dent about their in­clu­sion.

“We’ve given it ev­ery­thing we have . . . . We’ll let the com­mit­tee do their job,” Ri­ley said. “They’ve got a lot of good things to look at from this team to­day. I’m sure they were tuned in and watch­ing this, and if they did, they saw one of the best teams in the coun­try.”

RON­ALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES

Ok­la­homa’s Tre Brown cred­ited his coaches with “a great call” for his blitz that yielded a sack of Texas’s Sam Eh­linger and a safety.

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