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.
- 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.
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.