NORMAN – On a steamy day in Norman that was supposed to be a steamy day in New Orleans, in front of a weirdly empty stadium, the Sooners did not punt and at one point scored 30 unanswered points . . . and had to hang on by their fingernails in the final minutes to eke out a 40-35 win over a game Tulane team. The Sooner defense forced four fumbles and recovered three of them, but Spencer Rattler threw a pair of interceptions. Gabe Brkic hit four field goals, three of them from beyond 50 yards, but missed a short field goal in the fourth quarter that would have extended the Sooner lead to eight points.
Rattler was 30-39 for 304 yards and a TD, but also threw two picks and had another called back on a penalty. He made some bad decisions, especially on his first interception, and really showed a lot of room for improvement. Marvin Mims led all receivers with 117 yards on five catches. Jadon Haselwood had four for 47 and true freshman Mario Williams had six for 37 and a score. Arkansas transfer Mike Woods had four for 36, Jeremiah Hall had four for 24, and Austin Stogner had three for 36.
Kennedy Brooks, in his return after opting out last season, led all rushers with 87 yards and a score on 14 carries. Tennessee transfer Eric Gray had nine carries for 27 yards. Rattler and true freshman QB Caleb Williams each ran for a score, as well.
Tulane won the toss and deferred. The Sooners’ season-opening possession didn’t last long, and nothing good happened. Rattler’s first completion of the year went to Gray, who lost six yards, then Rattler was picked off at the Tulane 45. Rattler threw into double coverage when he had a wide-open back in the flat that would have gone for 20 yards or more.
Just like they did the last time they came to Norman, the Green Wave jumped out on top. A 55-yard TD drive was capped by a six-yard pass from Michael Pratt to Cameron Carroll, and Tulane led 7-0 with 11:15 to play in the first quarter.
The Sooners quickly answered. After a touchback and a one-yard loss on a Gray run, Rattler hit Haselwood for 24 yards out to the Sooner 48. Two plays later, Hall caught a 12-yarder, then Gray ran for 11 and Woods caught one for 12 more, putting the Sooners at the Wave 14. Five plays (and three false start penalties) later, a Rattler one-yard sneak tied the game at 7-7 with 5:59 to play in the first quarter.
Tulane went 75 yards in only four plays to retake their final lead of the game. A 43-yard Pratt pass put the Wave in business at the OU 19. Two plays later, Jaetavian Toles ran it in from 15 yards out, and it was 14-7 Wave with 4:44 to play in the first quarter.
OU would respond with a 75-yard TD drive of their own. Rattler connected with Mims for 22 yards, then two plays later hit Mims again for 50. It looked like a TD, but Mims was ruled out at the one on replay. Williams came in on a Belldozer-like package (the Willdozer?) to score his first collegiate touchdown to knot the score at 14 with 2:38 to play in the first quarter.
The Sooners forced the first Tulane punt of the day on the ensuing possession. OU took over on their own 16 after a 47-yard kick, and Rattler promptly hit Mims for 28 yards to the Sooner 44. Four plays later, facing fourth and two from the Green Wave 48, Brooks broke a 32-yard run to the Tulane 16. Four plays later, on fourth and goal, Brooks carried it in from the one, and the Sooners took the lead for the first time at 21-14 with 10 minutes to play in the first half. OU would not relinquish that lead, although they did their level best to try.
The Sooner defense rose up on the first play of the ensuing possession, as Pratt fumbled the snap and Nik Bonitto dove on it at the Tulane 11. The Sooners could move it only two yards in three plays, however, and Brkic’s first field goal of the day made the score 24-14 with 8:59 to play in the first half.
On the first play of Tulane’s next possession, the Sooner defense forced another turnover. Isaiah Thomas knocked the ball out of Pratt’s hand, and Clayton Smith fell on it at the Tulane 30. The Sooner offense did not move the ball an inch from there, however, and Brkic came on and bombed one from 51 yards to make it 27-14 with 7:58 to play in the first half.
Tulane did not turn the ball over on their next possession but could manage only one first down before punting the ball back to the Sooners. A reverse pass from Williams to Haselwood netted 10 yards, the Gray ran for eight. Rattler then hit Woods for 10 and Stogner for 20 to set up first down at the Wave 30. Brooks ran for 10 and 14 yards, then Rattler connected with Williams in the left flat and Williams took it in from there for the six-yard scoring play, and the Sooner lead was 34-14 with 3:01 to go in the first half.
Tulane mounted a drive to the Sooner 45 on their final possession of the half, converting a fourth and three along the way. However, on fourth and nine from there, Pratt was sacked by Reggie Grimes and fumbled the ball away. Jalen Redmond recovered on the Tulane 41. The Sooners moved it to the Wave 39 in two plays before Brkic came on and connected on a 56-yarder at the gun for a 37-14 Sooner halftime lead.
Tulane moved to the Sooner 23 on the first possession of the second half but missed a 41-yard field goal attempt. The Sooners moved to their own 46 on the ensuing possession, but Brooks was thrown for a four-yard loss on fourth and one. Tulane would take advantage of the short field.
The Green Wave converted a fourth and seven and a fourth and one on their way to first and goal at the OU four-yard line. Pratt carried it in from there and the two-point conversion made it 37-22 Sooners with 3:31 to play in the third quarter.
A 55-yarder from Brkic on the ensuing OU possession made it 40-22 with 1:01 to play in the third quarter. After a three-and-out from Tulane and a punt that was muffed by Mims (but still returned 12 yards), things looked pretty good. The Sooners had a three-possession lead and the ball with 14:38 to play in the game. All they needed to do was run the ball, run clock, and score one more TD to basically put the game to bed. Instead, a turnover jumpstarted the Green Wave, as Rattler was picked off at the OU 47. Eight plays later, Tulane was in the end zone and, after Pratt had his foot stepped on by one of his linemen and went down behind the line on the two-point conversion attempt, it was 40-28 with 11:28 to play in the game.
The Sooners moved to the Tulane 14 on the next possession, when a TD would have basically iced it. They stalled at the Wave 14 and Brkic came on for what looked like an easy field goal to put the Sooners up by 15 points. Instead, after an incredible day, he missed from 31 yards out and the Sooner lead remained at 12 points with 5:03 to play.
The Wave promptly went 80 yards in eight plays to cut the OU lead to five at 40-35 with 2:18 to play. The Sooners needed only to recover the onside kick and get a couple of first downs to seal the game. Instead, Tulane recovered the onside kick and took over at their own 47. The way the day had been going, it certainly looked like the Sooners were about to lose to Tulane. Instead, the OU defense rose up.
After two incomplete passes and a sack, Tulane faced fourth and 13 from their own 44. Pratt was flushed from the pocket and tried to run for it, but came up a yard short, and the Sooners took over on downs with 1:55 to go. Consecutive eight-yard carries from Brooks gave the Sooners the first down they needed to seal the game, and Rattler kneeled out the clock for the 40-35 victory.
This is a movie we have seen before. This game was very similar to the Kansas State game last year, and any number of others where the Sooners get a big first half lead on an outclassed opponent and then promptly decide the game is over and end up in a dogfight at the end. Fortunately, unlike the aforementioned Kansas State game, this one was still a win. Hopefully, OU got its annual clunker out of the way early this year.
We shall see if things improve come next Saturday night, when OU hosts FCS team Western Carolina at 6:00. The stadium should be full this time, and the heat will retreat when the sun goes down, so it shouldn’t be as intensely sweaty as the Tulane game. See you in Norman on Saturday night.