Heading into Saturday’s top-5 showdown, it was time for many young players to prove themselves and they did not disappoint, helping to seal the victory for the Oklahoma Sooners.
There were a lot of important, interesting questions to discuss/argue about with your friends before Saturday’s huge rematch and eventual victory at Ohio State. One of the most important of those was how well the young talent on the team would do in front of the hostile crowd and in such an important game. After all, the list of players who left after the 2016 season included a Heisman candidate wide receiver and OU’s all-time leading rusher. Those are some pretty large shoes to fill.
However, the young bucks silenced all doubts, dazzling from start to finish in what was, for some, their first road game at the collegiate level.
For the offense, it started on the ground when true freshman Trey Sermon took over after an Abdul Adams fumble in the first quarter. He was solid on the ground with 62 yards on 17 attempts, but I think he’ll likely be remembered for a 10-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth that put OU up 24-13. Baker Mayfield faked the scramble, running right up to the line of scrimmage before throwing a sidelong dart to Sermon, who pounded through two Ohio State defenders and into the end zone and had Bob Stoops out of his seat and practically leaping onto the field to celebrate. Sermon never really broke a big run or carried a big yards-per-carry average, but his ability to gain tough yards against the best front OU will likely face all season was crucial to say the least.
Meanwhile, CeeDee Lamb was much more brilliant than his stat line might suggest and continued to show us why he’s got the starting job. He had 61 yards on five catches, was sure-handed and always knew where the first-down marker was.
On the other side, the defense as a whole was a joy to watch. They held Ohio State to only 91 yards in the first half and 13 points in the end. Among the leaders of the defense were true freshman Kenneth Murray and sophomore Parnell Motley.
Murray had one solo tackle and four assists while causing pressure on Barrett and forcing him to throw early. Meanwhile, Parnell Motley had a monster night. He had eight tackles and a pass breakup, but he also added a career highlight in the form of a huge diving interception in the fourth quarter with just over 10 minutes to go. The ball bobbled in his hands as he fell to the ground but it never touched the turf and the Sooner offense was able to come in and score one final touchdown, sealing the win.
Injuries also required players who usually have smaller roles to step up. Grant Calcaterra saw more of the field Mark Andrews was sidelined early in the game. He dropped an open pass in the second quarter, but kept his chin up and had a big catch for 21 yards in the second half. Freshman safety Robert Barnes was also fantastic on the defensive side of the ball in the absence of another veteran, Will Johnson. Barnes recorded a tackle and did much more that didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Sophomore Mykel Jones only had two catches, but both were impactful, with one being a 42-yarder that set up the touchdown that put OU up 17-13. From there, they’d never give up the lead.
Aside from the spring chickens, other fresh faces answered the bell, such as Jeff Badet, who had 82 yards receiving and showed flashes of greatness on his returns. Walk-on redshirt sophomore Lee Morris, who had a TD in the second half of the UTEP game, scored the go-ahead touchdown that put OU on top for good. Junior safety Kahlil Haughton, who played sparingly before 2017, was physical and disciplined, recording two tackles and breaking up a pass following an injury to Will Johnson. Finally, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Du’Vonta Lampkin, who saw little action in 2016 and did not play in the UTEP game, did a good job plugging up holes along the defensive line when he saw the field.
It was incredibly refreshing to see players not only filling the roles in question but thriving in their positions in such an early, important game of the season. The team showed a level of maturity uncommon for Week 2.
All in all, it was a huge night for the entire squad on both sides of the ball and Oklahoma staked an early claim as title contenders, but it would have been a much different game if not for the younger members of the team stepping up to the task in such massive, wonderful ways.