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.”
Tulane scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and was on its way to another score when OU sophomore cornerback Parnell Motley intercepted a pass in the right flat and turned it into a game-changing, 77-yard touchdown return with 9:50 left in the second quarter that put the Sooners in front for good.
Motley’s heroics halted a Green Wave attack that was dominating the line of scrimmage and completely flipped the contest. After trailing 14-7 late in the first quarter, the Sooners closed the game with a 49-0 run.
It marked the second straight week a Motley interception was the most pivotal defensive play of the game. His pick with 11:06 left against Ohio State set up OU’s final scoring drive that forged a 31-13 lead.
“You see the results of another playmaker on the field,” Sooners defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Mike Stoops said of Motley. “You have to have playmakers and dynamic players. Everyone can’t be perfect all the time. Some guys have to make plays and Parnell’s a playmaker.
Like Riley, Stoops also noticed his players started the week slowly while trying to shake the cobwebs after beating the Buckeyes.
“Last week had a lot to do with it,” Stoops said. “That game plays on you mentally and physically. That was a very emotional game and that can wear on you. It was physical. We got back late (3 a.m. Sunday). It was a late night. There’s a lot of things. It was a little bit of a struggle getting them up this week.”
Motley’s pick-six against the Green Wave awakened the Sooners’ entire defense. After rushing for 184 yards and amassing 224 total yards in the first half, Tulane managed just 8 total yards in the third quarter on 14 plays and finished with 291 yards for the game.
“Kind of a tale of two halves. Not very good in the first half, a lot better in the second half,” Stoops said. “We were getting disoriented, guys out of gaps. We just didn’t have guys in the right spots (in the first half). … We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. That was obvious.”
Even the OU offense stumbled early, committing a fumble on its opening possession that led to Tulane taking a 7-0 lead.
Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield agreed with the assessment of his coaches that the week of preparation started slowly. “There was definitely a feel like that (being sluggish),” Mayfield admitted. “Not every game is going to be Saturday night at 7 o’clock with the whole country watching and playing the No. 2 team in the country. So obviously last week was a little different feel than tonight.”
Though he completed 17 of 27 passes for 331 yards and four touchdowns, Mayfield uncharacteristically was off the mark on some open looks.
“I didn’t necessarily make the wrong reads,” said Mayfield, who has now thrown a touchdown pass in 29 straight games, extending his school record. “The throws were there, I just missed them. It was kind of an off night for me. … I know just based on how I was throwing it on some of those deep balls that it was just not like me.”
Still, the OU offense rolled up 631 total yards and averaged 10.2 yards per play. Mayfield and fellow starters left the game early in the fourth quarter after taking a 42-14 lead.
Sophomore receiver Marquise Brown had six catches for 155 yards and an 87-yard touchdown. Freshman receiver CeeDee Lamb had four catches for 131 yards and two scores (82 and 22 yards) before being ejected on a targeting penalty late in the second quarter while blocking on a reverse run by Jeff Badet that nullified a 44-yard touchdown. Lamb was suspended for the second half, but is eligible to play this week.
Much like he felt about his defense, Riley said he was pleased with his team’s offense, but not entirely. “Certainly happy with the win,” Riley said. “Like I told them in the locker room, ‘All wins are hard.'”
The Sooners now must move on from their Tulane performance and prepare to open Big 12 Conference play at Baylor (0-3) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Our goal for a long time here was to play very well early in the season and go 3-0 in non-conference, and this team has accomplished that,” Riley said. “That’s something we’re excited about going into Big 12 play.”
OU has won 16 straight Big 12 contests. Its last league loss came more than 700 days ago.