- Against Baylor on Sept. 23, the Sooners led 28-10 and then fell behind 31-28 before managing to pull out a 49-41 victory in Waco.
- Last week at home against Iowa State, OU led 24-10 before the 30½-point underdog Cyclones closed with a 28-7 run to post a stunning 38-31 victory that sent the Sooners plummeting from No. 3 in the polls to No. 12.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special for SoonerSports.com
Oct. 14, 2017
For the third straight game, the Oklahoma football team pounced early on its opponent for an early lead, only to eventually end up trailing.
This Saturday was the same, yet different, because it meant so much more. The opponent was Red River rival Texas and the Sooners needed a victory to keep alive their chance at making this year's College Football Playoff.
On this overheated Saturday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl, OU jumped out to a 20-0 advantage against the unranked but surging Longhorns late in the second quarter, and once again surrendered the lead.
Trailing 24-23 midway through the fourth quarter, the Sooners immediately responded with a 78-yard drive that required just three plays and 68 seconds and eventually resulted in a 29-24 victory before a sellout crowd of 93,552 in the 112th meeting of the series.
The game-winner came on a 59-yard touchdown pass from OU senior quarterback Baker Mayfield to wide open junior tight end Mark Andrews down the right sideline with 6:53 remaining.
"We felt like at that moment we needed a little bit of a spark," first-year Sooners coach Lincoln Riley explained afterward. "We took a chance and the guys executed it to perfection."
Mayfield described the play succinctly: "Great protection. Great play call. It makes my job easy. He (Andrews) was wide open," he said.
The victory keeps playoff hopes alive for the Sooners (5-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) after last week's stunning defeat, which snapped their nation-leading 14-game winning streak that dated back 385 days and their 17-game Big 12 winning streak that lasted 728 days.
Mayfield said he was not focused on any potential CFP scenarios during the game-winning sequence, however. "It's a single focus," Mayfield said. "The thought of a college football playoff is not running through your head right there. It's about doing your job, winning that game and beating Texas. There was no other motivation besides doing our job in that moment."
And for the first time in three games, credit finally was bestowed upon the OU defense afterward.
With several players exhausted and frequently battling cramps, the Sooners defense sealed the win by stopping the Longhorns' final two drives. Temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees, the highest for an OU-Texas game since 1991 (93 degrees).
"That was a hard-fought game," said Sooners senior defensive end/outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who finished with five quarterback hurries, one sack, one pass breakup and five tackles. "We swung until the very last second."
The overriding theme for OU remains figuring out how to protect and extend its early leads.
"There's going to be a lot of things that we can do better to continue to push those leads," Riley said. "We've been in that situation there for a few games in a row, but I loved our guys' fight. We fought all day, even when we didn't play our best ball, even when we had things go against us. I think we really took some steps forward as a team. We're going to play a lot better as this thing goes on. We're going to get a lot better as a team, but anytime you come out of here with a win, it's a special moment."
Despite frequently being pressured by the Texas defense, Mayfield still completed 17 of 27 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. He has now thrown at least two touchdown passes in 19 consecutive games, extending his own Big 12 record.
However, Mayfield's streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception ended at 200, breaking the previous school record of 198 set by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White in 2004. Saturday marked Mayfield's first interception since playing at West Virginia in the third-to-last game of the 2016 season.
Mayfield, who grew up as a Sooners fan living in Austin, beat his hometown team for the second straight year, but nearly was knocked out of the game in the third quarter favoring his right arm after being hit hard on an incompletion.
"You definitely don't want to come out," Mayfield said of leaving the game due to injury. "You'll fight through a little extra pain for this one. It was a mental decision for all of us. When you play Texas, it always takes it all out of you. You have to expect that in games like this. We talked about it as a team and made the decision last night how we were going to handle adversity and toughness like that."
When the OU offense stepped onto the field after the team fell behind, its impact was instantaneous.
"We approach every drive with the mentality to score," said Sooners All-American offensive tackle Orlando Brown. "Being in that situation, we understand the meaning of that drive for the game. We just approached it with the mentality we had to score. We've got a bunch of playmakers."
Despite running 15 fewer plays, the Sooners outgained the Longhorns 518-428 in total yardage, averaging 7.7 yards per play to UT's 5.2.
Andrews finished with four receptions for 104 yards. Sophomore receiver Marquise Brown added four catches for 73 yards and freshman receiver CeeDee Lamb had three receptions for 74 yards. Freshman running back Trey Sermon rushed 20 times for 96 yards and sophomore running back Rodney Anderson carried 10 times for 48 yards, including a 15-yard rush in the second quarter that put OU ahead 17-0.
Senior linebacker Emmanuel Beal led OU with seven tackles, while Okoronkwo, senior end D.J. Ward and sophomore lineman Amani Bledsoe all registered a sack. Okoronkwo has at least a half-sack in all six games and at least one full sack in five contests (6.0 on the year).
The Sooners play at Kansas State next Saturday. Kickoff time and TV information will be announced Sunday.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Oct. 12, 2017
Deep in the heart of Texas, in the same town where locals worship burnt orange, Baker Mayfield's bedroom was drenched in crimson and cream and the interlocking OU.
"We certainly had plenty of it," Mayfield's mother, Gina, said of collecting Oklahoma Sooners paraphernalia in the family's hometown of Austin, which is the home of the University of Texas. "Baker's room in particular was decked out in OU pillow cases, chairs, blankets and jerseys." There also was a football sent by former Sooners receiver Tinker Owens.
Not surprisingly, the same brash quarterback who confidently has led the Sooners the past three seasons walked fearlessly among Texas Longhorns supporters as a youngster while boldly draped in an OU T-shirt, shorts, sweatshirt, jersey or cap.
Older brother Matt recalled him and his little brother wearing Sooners gear while posing for their elementary class pictures. "I always seemed to have something OU on," Baker recalled. "It was something fun to talk about with my friends."
Baker would flash the upside-down Hook 'em Horns sign, even when he was too young to understand what the hand gesture meant. "Not the true meaning of it anyway," Baker said with a smile. "I thought it was all fun and games, but it means so much more than that."
Stunned classmates would ask Baker how he possibly could side with the hometown's Red River rival. "They just wouldn't understand the reasons why," Baker said, shaking his head.
"The local kids would always make comments," Gina said. "Baker and Matt endured that for quite a while."
The Mayfield cars were adorned with OU window flags. Many who surrounded the family wearing burnt orange actually were friends. Chris Petrucelli, the husband of one of Gina's closest friends, used to be UT's soccer coach.
"Our neighbors don't go out to the mailbox without wearing their orange," Gina said. "They bleed orange. They have boys Baker's age. That just fueled all of it."
Baker got into arguments with schoolmates about the OU-Texas rivalry. "Oh, nothing out of the ordinary," Baker explained. "Just little kids being stupid, bickering back and forth. It was about bragging rights for the whole year until the next rematch."
"We always, always loved OU," said Matt, who is five years older than Baker. "Even more so now with Baker there."
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Oct. 5, 2017
In a routine game, Oklahoma senior fullback Dimitri Flowers continually will block opposing players and create opportunities for teammates. He also might catch an occasional pass or two. Whatever his duty, Flowers' effectiveness and timeliness are habitually impeccable.
There has been nothing routine about Flowers whenever the Sooners face Iowa State, however.
During his freshman season three years ago, Flowers gained all 14 of his career rushing yards to that point on an option pitch past the line of scrimmage from quarterback Trevor Knight at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. Despite the gain, Flowers was not credited with an official carry due to the nature of the play.
On OU's first play from scrimmage against the Cyclones two years ago in Norman, Flowers hauled in a 75-yard touchdown on a reverse pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield. Flowers caught the ball near midfield and sprinted into the end zone untouched.
In the Sooners' 34-24 victory at Iowa State last season, Flowers rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries (5.2-yard average) and added four receptions for 34 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown catch. His 22 rushes were the first of his career.
Last year's stunning performance was particularly timely given OU was without starting running back Samaje Perine (injury) and leading rusher Joe Mixon (one-game suspension). Adding to the challenge was it came during a short week of preparation for a nationally televised Thursday night game on ESPN.
"We didn't have a ton of prep time," recalled first-year OU head coach Lincoln Riley, who served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach the last two seasons. "We knew about Samaje's injury. We didn't find out we were not going to have Joe until maybe the day before the game. We really just pieced it together, honestly. I remember it was challenging just because taking Dimitri out of his normal world changes a lot of other parts, too. ... We had to push it together. Had we not had the experience that we've had together as a staff, it would have been a nightmare."
Asked if there was any playful banter inside the huddle when he continued to grind out yardage (his longest rush was 13 yards) against the Cyclones, Flowers said, "No, but a lot of people didn't think I could do it. They were like, 'Wow, I didn't know you could do that.' Of course, I just had that smirk on my face."
One of those non-believers was his own quarterback, who didn't think Flowers could do what he did with such little preparation at a different position.
"I never would have imagined it going that smoothly," Mayfield admitted. "He's done a lot of things for us being able to react and he's such a smart player. I probably should have realized that could happen. He really took over the game. ... That's a lot of stuff to learn, but I think he already had a good idea just because of how smart he was."
In three career games against the Cyclones, Flowers has 129 rushing yards, 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns. In his 40 other career games, he has 8 rushing yards, 481 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
"It's crazy to think about because it's not like it was planned like that," Flowers said of consistently making his mark against Iowa State. "It's just something that kind of happens. It's pretty cool."
Flowers' final showdown against the Cyclones (2-2, 0-1) comes Saturday at 11 a.m. when the No. 3-ranked Sooners (4-0, 1-0) welcome ISU to Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Though his contributions rarely draw the spotlight because of the position Flowers plays, his value is undeniable. Flowers frequently is referred to as the team's "Swiss army knife," a moniker he cherishes.
"I'm not just a fullback," Flowers said. "I feel I'm more of a hybrid, H-back type of guy. It kind of goes hand-in-hand. Technically, am I a fullback? Yes, but I think I can do a lot more than be just a fullback."
When it comes to his competitiveness and determination, Flowers attributes these traits to his father, Erik, an Arizona State defensive end/linebacker and a first-round draft pick (26th overall) of the Buffalo Bills in 2000 who played five seasons in the NFL.
Throw in Flowers' sense of humor and unselfishness and it's darn near impossible to not like the kid. These traits come from Flowers himself. "That's just how I am as a person," Flowers explained. "It just translates to everyone."
Flowers no doubt has confidence in his abilities. The manner in which he playfully expresses this often leaves teammates and coaches laughing.
In August, Flowers proudly proclaimed himself OU's second-best quarterback, just a skosh behind Mayfield, a three-time Heisman Trophy contender. If Flowers wasn't already busy starting at fullback, he said he'd like to be the Sooners' starting quarterback.
Informed of this revelation during this week's media luncheon, a stunned Mayfield couldn't suppress his laughter.
"Did he actually say that? He'd have to stop eating cake and desserts if he wanted to do that," Mayfield said of the 6-foot-2, 247-pound Flowers. "I'm not one who lacks confidence, but Dimitri is definitely not one who lacks that either."
Mayfield said he heard stories of Flowers' athleticism from former OU teammates Trevor and Connor Knight, who played high school baseball against Flowers in San Antonio. "He's a good athlete, don't get me wrong," Mayfield said of Flowers. "I'm sure if he spent time and effort into playing quarterback, he would actually be pretty good, which is the sad part about that and I might actually have to worry about my job. Luckily, we have a place for him and he's catching the ball and on the receiving end of that."
Would Flowers rather have 10 carries in a game or 10 catches?
"Oooh, can I go five and five?" asked Flowers, who eventually chose having 10 catches.
"He'll take just 10 touches with the ball," Mayfield said. "He loves to have the ball in his hands, which I can't blame him. He's good with it."
This being Iowa State week, perhaps Flowers can continue to show his versatility with an opportunity to throw the rarely executed fullback option pass.
Flowers smiled and said, "Hey, can't give away any of our secrets."
BY JOHN ROHDE
Sept. 26, 2017
Financially speaking, it would be crazy to trade for a 10-time NBA All-Star, pay him $26,243,760 this season and not even start him.
Strategically speaking, however, bringing 33-year-old veteran forward Carmelo Anthony off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder might not be all that crazy.
The most critical aspect to this upcoming season is how Thunder coach Billy Donovan will stagger substitutions using various combinations of reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook, four-time All-Star Paul George (acquired July 6) and Anthony, who was acquired last weekend.
Anthony could come off the bench quickly, of course, after the first five or six minutes or so.
If the Thunder’s opponent happens to take an early lead, they’ll look to the scorer’s table and think, “Oh, man. Here comes Melo.” If the opponent falls behind early, it would draw the same reaction. “Oh, man. Here comes Melo.”
Besides, it’s not who starts, it’s who finishes.
Through the years, the Thunder has had some lethal weaponry come off the bench, players who were non-starters for the betterment of the team. James Harden. Kevin Martin. Reggie Jackson. Dion Waiters. Enes Kanter.
However, such scenarios only work when everyone is on-board, and Melo most definitely is not.
During Media Day on Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman asked Anthony what he thought of starting at the 4 position or possibly coming off the bench for the Thunder rather than starting.
Horne hadn’t even finished asking his question when Anthony interrupted.
“Who me?” a stunned Anthony asked. “I mean I don’t know where that started, where that came from.”
After a few more chuckles, Anthony spotted George, who was standing in the back of the interview room. A still laughing Anthony shouted at George, “Hey, P. They say I gotta come off the bench.’ [More laughter] … No, I’m sorry. Go ahead (with your questioning).”
The Thunder practiced for the first time on Tuesday. After being reminded Anthony laughed at the thought of not starting, Donovan was asked if the plausibility of Anthony coming off the bench was a laughable notion.
“We’re going to probably maybe bring him in the start of the fourth quarter,” Donovan joked. “Nah, he’s going to start at the power forward spot for us. That’s what we’re going to do. He’s obviously been in this league for a long time. I think he’s a total pro. … Certainly, I think having a guy with that kind of veteran experience and leadership on the court and in the locker room is important. Yeah, I think that’s the best thing for our team.”
So, there you go. Asked and answered. From both sides.
In 14 seasons, Anthony has played 976 regular-season games and 66 postseason games, and has started every one. Based on his Media Day response, he has no intention of ending the string now.
No one knows exactly how well, or how quickly, the Thunder’s three-headed monster of Westbrook, George and Anthony is going to mesh.
There’s a chance OKC’s starting lineup of Westbrook, George, Anthony, center Steve Adams and off-guard Andre Roberson will demoralize opponents from the opening jump. Then again, perhaps not.
With a shortened preseason (only four exhibition games rather than the usual six or seven) and the regular season starting two weeks earlier than usual, it’s ludicrous to expect the Thunder’s Big 3 to be in synch from the get-go. That could take weeks or months. Heck, it possibly might never happen.
If the trio meshes quickly, a Western Conference Finals showdown with Golden State likely awaits.
But if the Thunder offense is slow to gain traction with Anthony in the starting lineup, who would supply a lift off the bench?
In terms of NBA career scoring averages, 33-year-old guard Raymond Felton is the only Thunder reserve averaging double figures (11.9 ppg), but the last time he averaged double-digits in scoring was the 2012-13 season. Besides, Felton is backing up Mr. Triple-Double, and exactly how many minutes do you envision Westbrook sitting?
This is why bringing Anthony and his career 24.8-point scoring average off the bench – at least initially before easing him into the starting lineup – doesn’t sound so crazy.
Again, Melo must be on-board with the idea and right now he’s not about to step on the vessel SS Substitute. Then again, Donovan is not asking him to.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Sept. 24, 2017
Oklahoma's collection of various winning streaks remained intact Saturday night. “Bearly.”
The winless Baylor Bears were four-touchdown underdogs at home, but continually clawed at the No. 3-ranked Sooners before eventually succumbing 49-41 at McLane Stadium.
Throughout the week, OU head coach Lincoln Riley warned that Baylor was “getting better and better” and had key players returning, which might help explain why the Bears' had 523 yards of total offense while running 26 more plays than the Sooners.
When his team was sluggish in the first half of the previous week's home victory over Tulane, Riley delivered a succinct post-game message: “All wins are hard.”
Riley repeated the refrain after Saturday night's survival in Waco.
“We're very, very excited about the win,” Riley said after becoming only the third OU head football coach (out of 22) to start his career 4-0. “That was probably the biggest message to our guys in the locker room. Winning's hard. You can't take it for granted. And we're damn sure not too good to appreciate it. We've got to do a lot of things better. We've got to coach better. We've got to play better on all three sides of the ball. We had some critical mistakes tonight that let that game get close. So we've got to do a lot better, but we will.”
After going winless in non-conference play, and despite trailing 28-10 early in the second quarter, the determined Bears (0-4, 0-1) fought back to take a 31-28 lead late in the third quarter. The Sooners responded with a 21-0 run of their own to take a 49-31 advantage and eventually sealed the win by forcing a turnover on an Ogbo Okoronkwo sack with 1:24 remaining.
“We hit a lot of big plays in the first quarter,” Riley explained of the Sooners needing just seven total plays to score their first three touchdowns while building a 21-7 lead. “I didn't do a very good job in the second quarter. I got a little impatient. Didn't put our guys in a great position. They made some adjustments defensively and it took me too long to catch up.”
Several OU drives stalled with untimely penalties (10 for 105 yards), plus a fumble. “You've got to have perseverance,” Riley said. “You can't expect that every one is going to be a blowout. You're going to have tight games like that. This is a good conference.”
The victory allowed the Sooners to keep several streaks alive:
BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Sept. 16, 2007
NORMAN – In the post-game huddle after last Saturday night's 31-16 triumph at No. 2-ranked Ohio State, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley instructed his team to put the historic victory behind them because there was much more work to do this season.
Riley feared his team might battle a football hangover while preparing for its upcoming contest against Tulane, and he was right.
Overcoming a sluggish start to the week and an even more sluggish start to the game, the No. 2-ranked Sooners (3-0) eventually regained their focus and posted a 56-14 victory over the Green Wave (1-2) on Saturday night at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The victory stretched the nation's longest active winning streak to 13 games, which is OU's longest since winning 14 straight in 2002-03.
"Sure, you're concerned about a letdown," Riley said afterward. "You're concerned about how they'll approach the week. I thought, for the most part, our mentality was good. We weren't at our best early in the week and I thought we started to respond a little bit as the week went on as we continued to challenge them as coaches. So I think we're growing, but we've got to understand that you've got to put together complete weeks if you want to play complete games."
At the outset, Tulane's option offense had its way with the Sooners defense, rolling up 151 yards rushing in its first 24 attempts (6.3 yards per carry). In the pass-crazed landscape of college football, preparing for a run-oriented attack in a one-week span presents some defensive challenges.
"They do it 365 days a year," Riley said of the Green Wave running their option attack. "Our scout team does it for four days a year. It's hard, just the speed of it initially on the first series. When you don't stop it the first time, sometimes you start trying to do things on your own and that's when you really, really get in trouble and there was some of that certainly on the second drive."