ARLINGTON, TEXAS – The Sooners secured their unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 Conference championship, a College Football Playoff berth, and avenged their only loss of the season with a 39-27 victory over Texas Saturday afternoon at JerryWorld. The Sooner defense played its best game of the season, holding Texas to a season-low 88 yards rushing and coming up with a critical safety in the fourth quarter.
Murray was his usual stellar self, going 25 of 34 for 379 yards and three TDs, and adding 39 yards rushing. CeeDee Lamb led all Sooner receivers with six catches for 167 yards and a TD. Hollywood Brown had five catches for 54 yards, but several uncharacteristic drops, before going out injured late in the game. Grant Calcaterra had three catches for 38 yards and three TDs, while Miles Tease had three for 29 and Nick Basquine had two for 44. Lee Morris added two catches for 31 yards, while Carson Meier had one for seven.
The Sooner running game was fairly bottled up on the day, as they ran for only 129 total yards on the day. Trey Sermon had 65 on 18 carries, while Kennedy Brooks toted it 10 times for 28 yards.
Texas took the opening kickoff and, much like they did at the Texas State Fair, sliced through the Sooner defense, converting third and long at will. A 32-yard pass from Sam Ehlinger to Collin Johnson converted a third and eight, and three plays later, a 16-yard pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey converted a third and 10. Three plays after that, Ehlinger ran it in from 16 yards out and the Longhorns led 7-0 with 11:38 to play in the first quarter.
The Sooners took over on their 25 after a touchback. Sermon ran for nine, then Murray carried for five. A connection with Hollywood Brown was good for 24 yards and a first down at the Texas 37, and a face mask penalty on Kris Boyd moved it to the 22. Three plays later, Murray was almost picked off on a deflected pass in the end zone on third and seven.
However, Boyd was again flagged for a face mask prior to the pass, giving the Sooners a first down at the Texas nine. For some bizarre reason, the play was reviewed for the interception, even though it didn’t matter whether it was picked or not because of the penalty. After an incomplete pass in the end zone to Calcaterra, Sermon took it to the one. On third and goal from there, he was stuffed, though, and OU had to settle for a 20-yard Austin Seibert field goal that made it 7-3 Texas with 7:37 to play in the first quarter.
The Sooner defense got their first of what would be an astonishing number of stops on the ensuing possession, allowing only one first down to the Horns and forcing a shanked punt that gave the Sooners the ball at their own 35. Murray hit Hollywood Brown for six, then Tease for nine and eight. Two plays later a pass interference penalty on Boyd on a deep ball that Hollywood Brown flat dropped gave the Sooners a first down at the Texas 25. Three plays later an eight-yard Murray run on third and seven made it first down at the UT 14. The drive stalled at the 10, though, and Seibert’s second field goal of the day, this one from 27 yards, made it 7-6 Texas with 14:50 to play in the second quarter.
Texas would answer. Ehlinger hit Johnson for 31 yards on the first play of the drive. Three plays later they connected again for 23 yards on a way too easy conversion on fourth and four. Ehlinger would eventually run it in from three yards out and the Sooners would trail 14-6 with 11:22 to play in the second quarter. The Sooners would then go three and out after another deep pass was dropped by Hollywood Brown and reversed on review, and it looked like the Sooners might be on the verge of being in real trouble.
However, the defense stepped up. A big sack of Ehlinger by Amani Bledsoe on third and eight forced a punt, and the Sooners took over on their own 13 after a holding penalty on the return.
The Sooners would quickly close the game to within one point. Murray hit Lamb for 46 yards on a beautiful RPO down the right sideline. Sermon carried for five, then Murray lost three. Murray then hit Meier for seven and a first down at the Texas 32. After Sermon ran for four, Murray hit Lamb crossing the end zone for the score to make it 14-13 with 5:01 to play in the second quarter.
Texas moved to the Sooner 40 on the ensuing possession, but an offensive pass interference penalty negated a TD pass and put the Horns in second and 26. A third down screen pass gained 15, but Texas was forced to punt and kicked it into the end zone. The Sooners would take over on their own 25 with 59 seconds to play in the first half. It would be plenty of time.
Murray hit Basquine for 24 yards, then hit him again for 20 more, and the Sooners were already at the Texas 36. Murray hit Lamb for 17, then Brooks ran for six, plus a face mask penalty, and it was first and goal at the UT six. On the next play, Murray hit Calcaterra for the score, and the Sooners had their first lead of the day at 20-14 with only 18 seconds to play in the first half.
OU would take the second half kickoff and extend the lead. An eight-play, 75-yard TD drive was highlighted by a 15-yard connection to Lamb and a 12-yard strike to Tease that converted a third and five. A pass interference penalty moved it to the UT 28, then Sermon carried for eight, Murray ran for five, Sermon ran for nine, then took it in from six yards out for the score. The Sooners led 27-14 with 12:01 to play in the third quarter.
Another stop from the Sooner defense would give OU a chance to really put the game out of reach. It would not happen that way.
The Longhorns went 75 yards in seven plays to bring it to 27-21 with 8:47 to play in the third quarter. The Sooners then went three and out, immediately followed by an 11-play, 68-yard drive that made it 27-27 with 2:44 to play in the third. Texas looked to take the lead on the extra point, but it was blocked by Bledsoe and bounced off the crossbar and back into the field of play, leaving the game tied.
The Sooners drove to the Texas 14 on the ensuing possession but had to settle for a field goal that made it 30-27 with 12:37 to play in the game. The Sooner defense stopped Texas at the Sooner 47 and forced a punt that Lamb fair caught inside the Sooner five. A kick catch interference penalty moved it out to the 20. After Brooks was stopped for no gain, Murray hit Calcaterra for 14 yards to the Sooner 34. On the next play, Murray hit Lamb on a crossing route. Lamb broke a tackle, then turned up the left sideline and weaved in and out of traffic, spinning and breaking tackles all the way to the Texas 10 . . . where he was hit from behind and fumbled the ball to the Longhorns at the eight.
Two plays into the ensuing Texas possession came the play of the game. The Horns had second and 11 from the seven. Ehlinger made a play action fake, dropped back, and looked left . . . never seeing Tre Brown screaming in untouched on a corner blitz from his right. Brown blew up Ehlinger two yards deep in the end zone, and the safety pushed the Sooner lead to five at 32-27 with 8:27 to play in the game.
Texas kicked to the Sooners and Tre Brown had a nice return out to the 35. Sermon, the usual OU fourth quarter hammer, carried for nine, two, three, and one, leaving a third and six from the 50. Murray then hit Morris for 18 yards and a first down at the Texas 32. Three plays later, on third and nine from the 31, Murray hit Morris again, this time for 13 yards. Brooks ran for three and Sermon lost three to make it third and 10 at the UT 18. Murray then tossed a beautiful fade that Calcaterra caught with one hand (while the other hand was being held by the defender) to make it 39-27 with two minutes to play in the game.
The one thing the Sooners couldn’t afford was having the ensuing kickoff returned for a TD. While that was exactly what happened, the return was sprung by a hold, and the penalty moved it back to the Texas 20. The Horns moved to the Sooner 19 in only five plays, but Tre Norwood picked off a tipped Ehlinger pass at the one to seal the deal.
The Sooners will now move to their third College Football Playoff in four years, facing off with Alabama in a semifinal at the Orange Bowl in Miami on December 29. The winner of that will face the winner of the Clemson-Notre Dame Cotton Bowl semifinal at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA on January 7.
In the meantime, Murray has a date with the annual college football awards shows, not least of which is the Heisman Trophy presentation next Saturday night. It says here that Murray raises the Sooners’ second consecutive Heisman, after Tua Tagovailoa’s poor performance in the SEC Championship Game yesterday, if the voters held their ballots until, you know, the season was over.
See you at Hard Rock Stadium in a few weeks, and remember, Bama hasn’t beaten us in 55 years – no reason for them to start now.