NORMAN – The jury is still out in many ways, but the Sooners’ 49-21 defeat of UCLA on Saturday afternoon on Owen Field demonstrated that OU’s defense may actually be back. The first team defense held the Bruins to seven points before a couple of garbage time touchdowns late in the game, shut them down on the ground, and spent all day in the UCLA backfield. The OU offense, while finding tough going in the ground game, still put up 49 points in a blowout win.
Kyler Murray went 19-33 for 306 yards, three TDs, and a pick, while running for 69 yards on 10 carries and.a pair of TDs on the ground. Murray led the team in rushing, followed by T.J. Pledger, with 45 yards on seven carries. Rodney Anderson had only 19 yards on six carries before leaving the game with a knee injury. Although there has been no official word, rumors in the stadium indicated it may be a season-ending injury.
CeeDee Lamb had a monster day with 146 yards on 7 catches and a TD. His best catch of the day didn’t count, as he couldn’t get his foot in bounds while making a ridiculous one-handed snag of a very high Murray pass. Hollywood Brown had four catches for 88 yards and a score.
The Sooner special teams continued to impress, with long kickoff and punt returns to set up scores. They also nearly blocked another punt.
UCLA took the opening kickoff and went three and out. After a short punt, the Sooners took over for their first offensive possession on their own 45. A false start right off the bat put them behind the chains, but they managed one first down before stalling out and punting. UCLA took over on their own 20 after an Austin Seibert punt into the end zone.
The Bruins went backwards six yards in two plays before TE Caleb Wilson was left wide open and rumbled 65 yards to the Sooner 21. Four plays later, a three-yard run gave UCLA what would prove to be their only lead of the day, 7-0, with 8:59 to play in the first quarter. The lead would last a minute and 39 seconds, and would lead to 42 unanswered Sooner points.
Tre Brown took the ensuing kickoff at the two and jetted through a huge hole in the middle of the field for an 86-yard return that set the Sooners up at the UCLA 12. Murray carried for seven on first down, then Anderson carried twice more for the TD to tie the game at 7 with 7:20 to play in the first quarter.
After another UCLA three and out marked by consecutive sacks from Tre Brown and Kenneth Murray, the Sooners took over on their own 31. A pass interference penalty gave the Sooners a first down at their own 46. Three plays later, facing third and 14, Murray hit Hollywood Brown for a first down, then Brown spun away from a couple of UCLA defenders and outran them to the end zone. The 58-yard TD play made it 14-7 with 3:17 to play in the first quarter.
UCLA picked up a single first down on their next possession before punting the ball away to the Sooners at their own 15. Murray hit Lamb for 45 yards to the UCLA 35. A 15-yard pass to Lamb followed may five and ten yard Anderson runs gave OU a first down at the UCLA 10. On the first play of the second quarter, Murray took it in from there for a 21-7 Sooner lead with 14:55 to play in the first half. There would be no more scoring in the half, although the Sooners had a 55-yard drive that ended when they couldn’t pick up a fourth and one at the UCLA 23.
After the teams traded punts to start the second half, the Sooners embarked on an 80-yard TD drive. Murray hit Hollywood Brown for 10 yards and A.D. Miller for 15 more before connecting with Lamb for 25 to give OU a first down at the Bruin 26. Murray ran for 15 on the next play, then Marcelias Sutton took it the final 11 yards for a 28-7 Sooner lead with 7:34 to play in the third.
After another UCLA three and out, the Sooner special teams struck again. Lamb took a punt on the Sooner 23 and brought it back 66 yards to the Bruin 11. Two plays later, Murray hit Miller for the score to make it 35-7 with 5:19 to go in the third.
After two UCLA punts sandwiched around a Murray arm punt, OU took over on their own 38. Seven plays later, it was 42-7, after Murray hit Lamb with a beautiful 35-yard TD toss. UCLA put up their second TD of the game on the ensuing possession, which was immediately followed by Murray’s final drive, a 65-yard jaunt capped by a two-yard Murray run that closed the Sooner scoring and made it 49-14 with 7:40 to play in the game. UCLA would add a score in garbage time to forge the final of 49-21.
The Sooner offense, frankly, had some issues. The running game was stuffed much of the day, owing to UCLA’s strategy of stacking the box and forcing Murray to beat them with his arm. Murray was high on a number of passes on the day. Anderson was injured. And yet, they put up 49 points on a P5 team and won by four touchdowns.
The defense was stellar again, getting consistent pressure on the UCLA QB, often with only three rushers, and sacking him six times. Other than the long pass play early in the game, the Sooner defense gave up virtually nothing to UCLA until garbage time against the reserves. There are tougher tests ahead, but this defense is definitely improved. How improved still remains to be seen.
Next up is the first road test of the year, an 11:00 a.m. kick next Saturday in Ames against Iowa State in a payback game. The Cyclones’ home opener was cancelled due to weather last week, and they dropped their rivalry game to Iowa today by a score of 13-3. See you in Corn Country on Saturday morning.