DALLAS, TEXAS - They say the best defense is a good offense. That was proven by Army a couple of weeks ago. However, in the Sooners’ case, the best defense is an average defense, or even a below average defense. A below average defense would have seen the Sooners win Saturday against Texas. An average defense, and they would be defending national champions. Instead, we have whatever was purported to be the Sooner defense in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. Because that defense was just plain bad, the Sooners fell to Texas, 48-45.
Kyler Murray, after the game, took a lot of the responsibility on his shoulders, as he had an interception and a fumble that led to 10 Texas points. However, if it weren't for Murray, the Sooners would not have been in the game at all. They fell down 21 points in the fourth quarter only to come back and tie it late on the strength of Murray's brilliance.
But that brilliance couldn’t win the game by itself. It needed help it didn’t get from a Sooner defense that was the worst it's been all season. This defense made Sam Ehlinger, a pedestrian quarterback at best, leading an offense that scored all of 10 points last week on the worst Kansas State team in living memory, look like the second coming of John Elway. Whatever the issue, and I am not a football coach and I'm not qualified to say, it is it is clear that this defense is fundamentally broken. There is only one solution to that, and we all know what it is. At this point, that solution is inevitable, whenever it comes.
Murray, despite his two turnovers, still had a brilliant day. He was 19 of 26 for 304 yards and four touchdowns and also had 92 yards rushing and a touchdown on 11 carries. Trey Sermon carried nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown, while Marcelias Sutton added 42 yards on eight carries. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown led the Sooner receivers with nine catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns. CeeDee Lamb added six catches for 75 yards and a score and Sermon had two catches for 63 yards.
Things started well enough. The Sooners took the ball on their own 35 after a 32-yard kickoff return by Tre Brown. Murray ran for 9 yards then hit Hollywood Brown for 16 yards to the Texas 40. Sermon ran for 12 yards, then Murray hit Grant Calcaterra with what appeared to be a 28-yard touchdown pass. However, after review, the pass was ruled incomplete. On the next play, Murray hit Sermon for 24 yards to the Texas four-yard line. He then completed the drive with a ridiculously easy swing pass to a wide open Hollywood Brown for the touchdown. The Sooners led 7-0 with 12:20 left in the first quarter.
Texas answered, as they would all day, with a 65-yard, six-play touchdown drive. The biggest plays were a 29-yard completion from Ehlinger to Lil’Jordan Humphrey to the OU 45, immediately followed by a 36-yard pass to Collin Johnson that gave Texas first and goal at the Sooner nine. The touchdown play came on a Humphrey jump pass to Johnson out of the wildcat. The game was tied at seven with 10;14 to play in the first quarter.
Things started going sideways on the next series. After moving to a first down at the Texas 46, the Sooners were penalized for holding. Murray hit Hollywood Brown on the next play on a swing pass but lost 3 yards. On the following play, Murray's pass was intercepted by UT's Brandon Jones who returned it to the Sooner 44. On top of that, Murray was hit with a personal foul on the interception return, moving the ball all the way to the OU 29. Texas could not move it from there and had to settle for a field goal that made it 10-7 Texas with 5:58 to play in the first quarter.
After a touchback, the Sooners took over on their own 25. On second and nine from the 26, Murray ran for 11 yards and a first down. Two plays later he hit Lamb for 10 yards, immediately followed by a strike to Lee Morris for 14 yards and a first down at the Texas 35. Sutton then carried four straight plays leading to a third and one at the Texas 14. However, on the last play of the first quarter, Sermon was dropped for a one-yard loss. The Sooners had to settle for a field goal on the first play of the second quarter and the game was tied at 10 with 14:56 to play in the first half.
Texas then had another 75 yard drive in 10 plays to make it 17-10 Texas with 10:18 to play in the first half. The biggest play was an 18-yard completion on third and 20 from the Sooner 49. Texas would convert the fourth and two easily from there and move in for the TD. The Sooners went three and out, and looked horrible doing it, on the ensuing possession and punted Texas to their own 25.
Once again, the Horns went 75 yards, this time in eight plays, to make it 24-10 Texas with 5:12 left in the first half. The Sooners started the next possession on their own 18 after a holding penalty on the kickoff. Murray hit Carson Meier for 18 yards on first down, then hit Hollywood Brown for nine more yards. Kennedy Brooks ran for 19 and seven, then two straight incomplete passes to Lamb left OU facing fourth and three from the Texas 29 with 3:03 to play in the second quarter. The Sooners desperately needed a score, and went for it after a timeout. This time Lamb caught Murray's pass for 12 yards and a first down at the Texas 17. Sermon then cared for two and Murray carried for six before OU was set back 5 yards by a delay of game penalty. Murray then ran for 9 yards and slid down at the Texas five to set up first and goal. On the following play Murray hit a wide-open Lamb in the end zone for the touchdown. The score was 24-17 Texas with only 28 seconds to go in the first half. Texas ran into the line on the final play of the half, representing the only first half possession on which the Longhorns did not score.
Texas took the third quarter kickoff and moved to a first and 10 at the OU 34 after a 31-yard run by Keaontay Ingram. However, two plays later, Ehlinger was sacked for a loss of 12, leaving Texas facing third and 21 from the OU 46. Ehlinger then hit Humphrey for about 5 yards, but the Sooners couldn't manage to tackle him for another 14, giving him a 19-yard gain, leaving Texas facing fourth and two. Ehlinger easily carried for the first down, and four plays later rushed in from the five for the touchdown and the Sooners once again trailed by two scores at 31-17 with 10:26 to play in the third quarter.
The Sooners answered quickly, as on third and four from the Sooner 23 on the next possession, Murray hit Hollywood Brown with a bomb from 77 yards out and it was 31-24 with 9:15 to play in the third quarter. The Sooners finally got their first defensive stop on the ensuing possession, holding Texas to a three and out. After a punt, OU took over on their own 28. However, on the next play, Murray was scrambling and put the ball on the ground as he tried to hold his balance and fumbled. Breckyn Hager recovered at the Sooner 23, and five plays later, Ehlinger ran it in from two yards out and it was once again a 14 point game at 38-24 with 6:21 to play in the third quarter. The Sooners went three and out on the ensuing possession and punted Texas to their own 19. At that point, the Longhorns put what appeared to be the final nail in the Sooners’ coffin, with an 82-yard, nine-play drive for a TD that gave them a seemingly insurmountable 45-24 lead with 56 seconds to play in the third quarter.
The Sooners moved it to the Texas 45 on their next possession, but Murray took a sack on third and 14 and OU had to punt. Texas looked to be trying to run out the clock from there, but didn't do a very good job. Taking over on their own 17, they had consecutive holding penalties that left them facing first and 23. The Sooners managed to hold them to a three and out and a punt left the OU with the ball on their own 46 with 10:28 to play in the game. That was where the unlikely comeback would begin. As crazy as it sounds, in only 10 offensive plays and 7:50 off the clock, the Sooners would score 21 unanswered points to tie the game.
On first down, Sermon carried for 9 yards, then Sutton carried for three after an incomplete pass and OU had a first down at the Texas 42. Murray hit Hollywood Brown for 8 yards and then Sutton carried for 15 yards to the Texas 19. Murray then hit Morris down the seam for 19 yards and the touchdown to make it 45-31 with 8:28 to play in the game. Texas picked up one first down on the ensuing possession, but was forced to punt from their own 45. The punt only carried 22 yards, and the Sooners took over on their own 33 with 5:22 left.
It would take only 11 seconds to make the game extremely interesting. Murray took the snap on first down, ducked out to the left, and then scooted up the left sideline. A great downfield block from Lamb gave Murray the room he needed to hug the sideline and and take it 67 yards for the touchdown. With 5:11 still to play in the game, the Sooners had clawed back to within 45-38.
Texas once again helped the Sooners with a holding penalty on first down on the ensuing possession. The OU defense once again held them to a three and out and a 43-yard punt left the Sooners with the ball on their own 43 with 3:43 left to try to tie the game. Unfortunately, it would not take them nearly that long.
On first down, Murray hit Sermon with a swing pass that he took 35 yards for a first down at the Texas 22. Sermon then carried for 15 yards and a first down at the Texas seven. On first and goal, Sermon took an option pitch from Murray and went in untouched and, as unlikely as it may have seemed a few minutes before, the game was tied at 45 with 2:38 to play. At this point, the OU defense just needed one more stop and there was no doubt in the minds of anyone in the stadium that the Sooners would come back and win in regulation. Unfortunately, the Sooner defense had no more stops in them.
A bogus pass interference penalty on second and 11 from the Texas 24 gave the Horns a first down, then on the next play Ehlinger hit Devon Duvernay for 18 yards to the Sooner 43. After an incomplete pass, Ehlinger completed a seven-yard pass to the Sooner 36 and then ran for 4 yards, 8 yards, and one yard to set up fourth and one from the Sooner 23. Texas took a timeout with 14 seconds left, then Cameron Dicker hit a 40-yard field goal with nine seconds to go to make it 48-45 Texas.
The Sooners tried to run TCU's trick kickoff return where a player lays down in the end zone prior to the kick and then a lateral is thrown across the field to them. However, Hollywood Brown was made to leave the game by the officials who announced that there is a rule against laying down on the field prior to the beginning of the play. The kick off was a touchback anyway, and after a bizarre play where Austin Kendall was inserted and Murray was at wideout, in which Kendall fumbled the snap and then hit Hollywood Brown for 6 yards, the Sooners were left with one play. They tried the desperation short pass/pitch play, which got didn't get much of anywhere, and had an illegal forward pass included. Texas was credited with a recovered fumble on the play, and the game ended.
And so, where do we go from here? Well, despite what talking heads may say, unless some very strange things happen elsewhere, a CFP berth for the Sooners is likely out of the question, even if they run the table. The CFP selection committee pays close attention to the games, and two years ago they said the same thing that they would say this year, which is that Oklahoma does not have a comparable defense to any of the teams to which it might be being compared at the end of the season. The best possible scenario in this reporter's opinion would be for both Texas and the Sooners to win out and then have a rematch at JerryWorld for the conference title.
In any event, there is no doubt that this team knows how to rebound from losses. Indeed, it seems that they must lose a game every year in order to begin playing up to their abilities. Certainly, that cannot be said of the offense at this point. There are no complaints about this offense. The problem is that we are wasting historically good offense with awful defense. In our last two losses we have scored 45 and 41 offensive points. Under no circumstances should Oklahoma ever lose a game when scoring that many points on offense.
In any event, all is not lost. The Sooners have a week off to try to fix what ails them defensively before heading to Fort Worth to face TCU a week from Saturday. See you in Fort Worth on the 20th.