Woodward, Okla. —
By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
Just because a team knows it’s heading toward a trap doesn’t mean it avoids it. Oklahoma walked right into one Saturday night at Owen Field, but managed to just barely escape it with a 20-17 victory over TCU.
The victory, which lifted the 11th-ranked Sooners to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12 Conference, is what sets them apart from the rest of the teams in the Big 12 — they can have a game where the offense goes stagnant for much of the game. The Sooners can play defense. That factor and little else was the reason they celebrated a win Saturday night.
“We were physical,” said OU defensive end Charles Tapper, who had two of the Sooners’ four sacks. “We just kept pushing and never gave up.”
OU only had 355 yards of total offense. Quarterback Blake Bell, who rushed for 61 yards, was limited to 152 passing yards. OU’s running game was nearly non-existent until Brennan Clay broke off a game-sealing 76-yard touchdown run with 4:37 to go.
Clay’s mad dash was the home-run play that separated the teams. The first 55 minutes were like watching a tennis match of punts. There were 16 in the game.
OU had some offensive success early. An 8-yard touchdown run by Trey Millard late in the second quarter, which was sandwiched between two Michael Hunnicutt field goals, gave the 11th-ranked Sooners a 13-0 halftime lead.
At that point, it seemed like OU had more than enough points.
TCU (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) didn’t have a first down in the first half. And didn’t get one until midway through the third quarter. Its first seven offensive series netted 18 total yards.
“I don’t think that’s happened with anyone I’ve been part of,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “They (the Sooners’ defense) played sensational. The guys were aggressive, fast, played the run, plays the pass really well. Otherwise, we’re struggling offensively and if we’re not that strong defensively, it would have been tough. It would have been tough to win.”
OU needed the defense, because it mirrored the Horned Frogs’ offensive ineffectiveness throughout much of the second half.
OU only ran nine plays in the third quarter. And found itself in a dogfight because of it.
Jaden Oberkrom connected on a 25-yard field goal to cap a 12-play, 45-yard drive with 3:32 left in the third quarter. The Horned Frogs followed it up with a pooch kick that it recovered to set up quarterback Trevone Boykin’s 2-yard touchdown run three minutes later.
“That changed the game,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said, “and we had to make something different happen and fortunately for us it worked.”
Boykin was TCU’s offense Saturday. The quarterback threw for 166 yards while under constant duress. He also rushed for 18 of TCU’s 44 rushing yards. Eight of them came on an 8-yard touchdown run with 2:26 left in the game.
Luckily for the Sooners, it had some breathing room when it happened.
OU quarterback Blake Bell checked to a simple inside running play as he faced a second-and-4 from the OU 24-yard line with a little less than 5 minutes to go. The look TCU presented screamed a backside run was there for the taking.
“Brennan saw it and made the cut,” OU center Gabe Ikard said.
Clay, who rushed for 111 yards on just nine carries, made the one play that turned the game. It was the only one TCU couldn’t answer, and was the only one the Sooners produced all night that went for more than 19 yards.
Clay raced down the east side of the field with his eyes glued to the video board in the north end zone. He knew there was nothing but turf in front of him.
“I was looking to see if anyone was behind me. Those cornerbacks are a little smaller than us (running backs), but they have a little speed on them,” he said.
The only person he saw was OU wide receiver Jalen Saunders who made the last critical block to spring him.
That one play sprang the Sooners from the trap they were set to fall into.
The win sets up next Saturday’s meeting with Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The fact that TCU fell between the much-anticipated showdown with Notre Dame and a week before what is, traditionally, the Sooners’ biggest regular-season game of the year had all the makings of a season-wrecking spot.
Stoops wasn’t buying that OU lacked focus against the Horned Frogs.
“I don’t feel there was (a lack of focus),” he said. “I don’t feel you’re giving TCU enough credit. They whipped us on some plays. We got them on enough plays to win the game.”
Woodward, Okla. —
By John Shinn
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