It’s been a long time since the Sooners were underdogs coming into the Red River Showdown, but that’s not what it looked like on the field the past three years. Despite coaching challenges, quarterback problems and a fairly severe talent drain, the Longhorns found a way to be the more focused and physical team in each of those games, winning two of them in dramatic upsets.
Today’s Red River game was close as well, but Oklahoma had one important factor in its favor for the first time in awhile: it passed the eye test. The Sooners didn’t get dominated in the trenches, and their running game wasn’t stuffed. This year OU’s problems came primarily from turnovers and poor execution—which are entirely different, if equally serious, issues. Oklahoma showed itself, finally, to be the more talented and determined team by overcoming those problems to find a victory in this one.
Like few games in recent memory, today’s game had several heroes but also a couple of disappointing days. Sure, Texas had some nice performances—D’Onta Foreman had another great game with 159 yards and two touchdowns, while Shane Buechele finished with a solid 245 yards and three TDs—but the outcome of this contest always felt squarely on OU to decide.
Here are the efforts that defined the day:
- Jordan Thomas—Texas was determined to throw his way in this game, despite the youth Oklahoma was forced to play with after Michiah Quick left with injury. Thomas’s four first-half pass breakups made a huge difference in this game, as Oklahoma was able to finish the half with a lead only because its defense limited the damage of three first-half turnovers. Thomas was a big part of that. Yeah, Thomas had a hard time in the third quarter, but he had to switch guys when Devin Duvernay ran a wheel route on the first touchdown, and Shane Buechele threw a great pass to hit him in stride. The second long pass to Dorian Leonard was played pretty much perfectly, but another great throw led to the TD. When Mike Stoops talked about how his guys needed to compete harder and starting winning at least some 50/50 balls, that’s what he was talking about. Well done from Thomas.
- Dede Westbrook—When Oklahoma announced that Westbrook was 100% after dealing with a hamstring problem in the early season, many OU fans wondered if he would get more involved in the offense. After the last two weeks, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Westbrook has become Lincoln Riley’s biggest weapon, his home run hitter, the guy that will make defenses pay for loading the box. The Oklahoma offense now has a whole new dimension that defenses will need to respect. By the way, Westbrook’s 232 receiving yards are a new OU single-game record. Congrats, Dede.
- Obo Okoronkwo—Obo’s 11 tackles led the team today, and he threw in a sack, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. Obo was consistently disruptive and unpredictable, hounding Shane Buechele and limiting the Texas running game. He was a big reason OU sacked Buechele four times, even if he only got one of his own. Mike Stoops’s vision for Okoronkwo is finally starting to bear fruit.
- Samaje Perine—Perine had another slow start to 2016, in games where the Sooners desperately needed him. Some wondered if the old Perine would ever come back, or if Joe Mixon was destined to take the majority of his snaps. Perine ended that entire line of questioning with his performance today, gaining 214 yards on 35 carries and averaging over six per touch. He scored two touchdowns and broke one play for a 30-yard gain. In the fourth quarter, when OU just needed to eat a ton of clock, Perine happily carried the load on the field-goal drive that dissolved eight minutes.
- The offensive line—Baker Mayfield only took one sack on the day, and the running game kept churning. The line did its job remarkably well today, and it seems that Bill Bedenbaugh has found the combination that works best under the circumstances. They were ready to play in this one.
- Joe Mixon—Joe averaged just 3 yards per carry, netting 48 on the day. He coughed up the third OU turnover on a second-quarter run, but his real disaster came on special teams, where an afternoon of playing with fire culminated with a super-weird third-quarter decision to let a punt bounce right in front of him. It hit him on the chest, bounced up and got recovered by the ‘Horns. If not for a miraculous Will Sunderland interception on the ensuing drive, this game could have turned out much differently. Mixon got bailed out, but he didn’t play well.
- Mark Andrews—OU fans have had high hopes for Andrews, but he didn’t do a thing to help his cause today. It’s one thing to be dropping passes, but something else entirely when those incompletions turn into interceptions entirely because of you. Mayfield and Andrews have a good rapport, and the offense needs them to have one, but how can Baker ever feel good about throwing his way after Andrews botched most of his five targets today?
- The officials—They got a little better after the first quarter, but for awhile there it looked like the refs were going to will UT to victory all by themselves. Baker’s second pick should never have happened, but apparently the refs didn’t notice (or didn’t care) that OU’s man got absolutely demolished mid-route. That was merely the most egregious of the one-sided calls in this one, and today will add several entries to the Big 12 Refs hall of shame.
In the end, this win was a total team effort. The defense had a couple of listless drives, but generally did a good job of containing the Longhorns. Lincoln Riley used his ground game to set up the deep passes that swung the game. Even Austin Seibert sort of redeemed himself by (barely) icing the game away in the fourth after missing his attempt in the first.
There are lots of things to feel good about after this game. Sure, OU will have to do a better job of protecting the ball and executing its gameplan. But that’s a much easier fix than, say, learning from scratch to defend the pass. The Big 12 is still OU’s for the taking.