No. 5 Sooners make final case for playoff — with defense
OKLAHOMA 39, TEXAS 27 Much-maligned unit secures Big 12 title
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.”
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.