NORMAN - Military service academies are menaces. Really, when you think about it, that’s exactly what they’re supposed to be. After all, the primary purpose of the military academies is to train their students to kill people and break things. And so it was that Army, fulfilling its core purpose as a menace, took the Sooners to the brink Saturday night before falling 28-21 in overtime.
The academies run the triple option because, well, because of exactly what you saw on Owen Field last night. It has evolved from the norm to the exotic. They always have undersized linemen, but it doesn’t matter if you’re outweighed by 80 or 100 pounds by the defensive line if all you are doing is cutting their legs every play. They are the living example of the old football cliche of “three yards and a cloud of dust.” Their marathon scoring drives were mostly along the lines of five yards on first down, three yards on second down, three yards on third down, rinse, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. It was kind of like when we used to run the option – everyone knew what we were going to do, they just couldn’t stop us from doing it.
All the Sooners had to do to take absolute control of the game was to go ahead by more than one score - but they never could. Twice they had the ball and led by a TD and twice they couldn’t score, allowing Army to keep the pressure on by staying within striking distance. And while, with a couple of exceptions, Army couldn’t stop the Sooner offense when their defense was on the field, they did a great job of stopping it by keeping it on the sidelines. Army held the ball for literally ¾ of the game – 44:41 to the Sooners’ 15:19. Army ran 87 plays to the Sooners’ 40. With 1:51 to play in the third quarter, the Sooners had run 22 offensive plays on the night.
Kenneth Murray set an OU and national record with an unbelievable 28 tackles, the most in an FBS game since 2000. Murray was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week on Sunday. Curtis Bolton tied the prior school record for tackles in a game with 23.
Kyler Murray had a good night, when he was able to get on the field. He went 11 of 15 for 165 yards and two TDs, plus an arm punt of a pick. He also added 71 yards rushing and a score on seven carries. Trey Sermon was the only other Sooner to carry the ball, running for 119 yards on 18 carries. CeeDee Lamb had four catches for only 22 yards and a pair of TDs, including the game winner. Grant Calcaterra was the only other Sooner with more than one catch, registering two for 47 yards. Carson Meier had one catch for 11 yards and a TD.
The Sooners won the toss and wisely took the ball. On the second play of the game, Murray hit Calcaterra for 33 yards to the Army 32. Sermón carried for 10, 9, and two yards to give the Sooners a first down at the Army 11. Murray then hit Meier for the TD. The drive covered 68 yards in six plays and 2:40 off the clock. The Sooners went to second down only twice. OU led 7-0 with 12:20 to play in the first quarter.
Army took the ball at their 25 after a touchback and did what they do. They ran. And ran. And ran. Their TD drive covered 75 yards, 16 plays, and 9:31 of the first quarter. The sequence, in yards, was 7, 2, 3, 23, 3, 2, 3, 7, 8, 1, 2, 6, 3, 4, 0, 1 . They converted three third downs and a fourth down. It was 7-7 with 2:49 to play in the first quarter.
OU answered with a 6-play, 65-yard TD drive in 2:36. The Sooners, starting from their 35 after a kickoff out of bounds, moved to the Army 27 on the first play, as Murray hit Lee Morris for 38 yards. Two plays later, Murray ran for 16 yards, and three plays after that, he hit Lamb for an 11-yard TD pass to make it 14-7 OU with only 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
Army then took 8:54 to go 75 yards to tie it. They converted two third downs and two fourth downs, including picking up a fourth and eight with their first pass of the day for 13 yards. A five-yard TD run from QB Kelvin Hopkins made it 14-14 with 6:19 to play in the second quarter.
The Sooners would retake the lead in only four plays. Murray hit A.D. Miller for 15 yards, then Sermon ran for four more. Murray then hit Calcaterra for 14 and a first down at the Army 33. Murray did the rest with his legs on the next play, jetting around the Army defense for a 33-yard TD to make it 21-14 Sooners with 4:25 to play in the second quarter.
The OU defense forced the first punt of the day on the next possession, keeping Army to only 2:57 possession time. OU took over on their own 4 after the punt. However, on a third and 10 from the OU 22, Murray was sacked on a delayed blitz, and the Sooners were forced to punt for the first time themselves. Army took over at their own 46 after the punt, but only had 39 seconds. They eventually moved to the Sooner 26 on the final play of the half, and the Sooners led 21-14 going into the locker room.
The Sooners held Army to their first three and out of the night on the opening possession of the second half. However, two plays later, Murray seriously underthrew Marquise Brown, who was in no way open, and the ball was picked off. Army would then run off most of the rest of the third quarter with a 19-play, 85-yard TD drive to tie the game with 1:51 left.
The Sooners moved the ball to the Army one-yard line on their next possession, but Sermon was stuffed twice from there, and Army took over on downs inside their own one-yard line. There was 12:23 left in the game, and we faced the distinct possibility that Army would use the rest of the clock and score on the last play of the game to win. And for a while, it looked like that was exactly what they were going to do.
However, the Sooners finally got Army behind the chains. On first down from the Sooner 30, Army lost two yards on consecutive plays. On third and 14, they tried to pass, but Hopkins was pressured and hit, the ball was tipped, and Kenneth Mann picked it off and returned it six yards to the OU 38. 2:17 remained, and it appeared that the Sooners would be able to pull it out in regulation.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Murray carried for 19 yards. Sermon ran for two, then Murray took it for 10 more. Sermon ran for two, then 11, and OU had a first down at the Army 18 with 22 seconds left. They took their first time out, then Murray ran for six and slid down at the Army 12. After another time out, Murray simply took the snap then kneeled in the center of the field. OU took time out with two seconds left to set up Austin Seibert for a game-winning 33-yard field goal attempt. This was the first time in this reporter’s memory since perhaps the infamous 2006 game at Oregon that the Sooners had a win on their kicker’s foot on the literal last play of the game. And just like in Oregon, this one didn’t go well, as Seibert hooked the ball badly left, and the game went to overtime.
The Sooners lost the overtime toss, and went on offense first. Murray hit Miles Tease on a wheel route for an apparent TD on the first play of overtime, but he was ruled to have stepped out of bounds at the Army 10. On the next play, Murray went play action, then hit a wide open Lamb on a post for the TD and a 28-21 lead.
Going into the bottom of the overtime, everyone in the stadium knew that the Sooners had to keep Army out of the end zone in order to avoid having the game come down to a two-point conversion, which Army would have surely attempted had they scored. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. Army ran for three yards on first down, then had a false start push them back. An incomplete pass on an attempted trick play, a halfback pass, left them with third and 12 from the Sooner 27. A five-yard carry brought the game down to a fourth and seven from the OU 22. After each team took a time out, Hopkins dropped back to pass and was pressured heavily. He floated a duck of a pass out to the right that was picked off by Parnell Motley to end the game.
At the end of the day, it was a win. It shouldn’t have been what it was. The Sooner defense was either woefully unprepared for what they were to face or the scheme was deficient. Either way, there are no more triple option teams on the schedule, so that particular hazard is done. However, this defense requires significant improvement to avoid getting into tennis matches with the likes of Texas Tech, TCU, and OSU down the road.
The Sooner offense did well enough, given that they only had seven possessions during regulation. But after scoring on their first three, they went punt, pick, turnover on downs on the opponent’s one, and missed field goal. Just one score in the three second half possessions would have prevented what happened, but they couldn’t manage to do it.
This team has much improvement ahead if it wants to win its fourth straight Big 12 title, to say nothing of a return to the College Football Playoff. But 4-0 is where we wanted to be at this point, and 4-0 is where we are. On to Baylor, in a rare 2:30 kickoff on Saturday. See you there.