2018 was like, so last week. Okay, sorry-not-sorry for that lame dad joke. It’s 2019, so now’s the perfect time to reflect on the 2018 season. The Oklahoma Sooners gave fans enough spectacular plays and memorable moments to chew on during this offseason and beyond. Lincoln Riley and Kyler Murray have their fingerprints all over this latest campaign, and that goes for plenty of others on the team and staff. Who was the biggest surprise, who made the top plays, and which game was the best of the best?
Without further ado, let’s dive into 2018’s Season Superlatives!
Redshirt freshman running back Kennedy Brooks is the easy pick here. He began the season behind not one, not two, but three backs, but with season-ending injuries plaguing Rodney Anderson and Marcelias Sutton, plus minor injuries limiting Trey Sermon throughout the season, Brooks stepped up in a big way. Even after not seeing the field in three of Oklahoma’s first four games, he still became the latest Sooner back to break the 1,000 yard mark. On the year, he totaled 1,056 yards on 119 carries for an average of 8.9 yards per rush and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 57 yards. He and Sermon should headline the top tailback tandem in the Big 12 going into 2019.
KENNEDY BROOKS ➡️ THE HOUSE. pic.twitter.com/H6G66trRPh— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) October 27, 2018
Best True Freshman
Oklahoma welcomed in a top 10 recruiting class coming into the 2018 season, and of that star-studded group of signees, St. Louis defensive end Ronnie Perkins turned in the best rookie campaign of all. The Sooners’ struggles on defense have been well-documented, but Perkins’ impact was still noticed early and often. In his debut, he tied with veteran linebackers Curtis Bolton and Kenneth Murray for the most sacks on the year with five, and in several games he practically lived in the opponents backfield. For whoever steps in as OU’s next defensive coordinator, No. 7 is one guy they won’t be able to keep off the field.
As I think about this category, there were two hits during the season that stand out to me, and determining which hit is best would be a total disservice to the other, therefore I’m going with biggest hit by a defensive player and biggest hit by an offensive player.
True freshman defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles had an up and down season after coming in with a lot of fan-fare, but he showed some of that game-changing potential on this mega thump against a Kansas State tight end. Not only did ‘Bookie’ bring the boom, he forced the incompletion.
On offense, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb was in the zone of all zones against Alabama, but making great catches and converting third downs wasn’t all he did. When Kyler Murray needed somebody to pick up a ‘Bama linebacker, Lamb said ‘I got you’, then he dropped his shoulder and absolutely lit that dude up. More of this next season, please.
SLEEP EM CeeDee Lamb KILLER BLOCK on Mack Wilson pic.twitter.com/0eppro3x7A— VERSACEBOYENT (@VersaceBoyEnt2) December 30, 2018
There are plenty of sweet catches to choose from in this category, but all things considered, the best of the best has to go to tight end Grant Calcaterra and his one-handed TD grab during the final stages of the Big 12 Championship. Not only was it a crucial score to effectively give Oklahoma the win, but it was on third down aka the money down. In a play that will forever live on in Sooner lore, No. 80 fought through contact and came down with the highlight reception.
Best ALMOST Catch
Is there any choice even worth considering other than CeeDee Lamb’s high-flying, spectacular one-handed snag on the sideline against UCLA? If he had stuck the landing, there’s a high possibility this would have gone down as the catch of the year in all of college football. After two tremendous seasons, Lamb has proven he has all the tools you could want in a wideout. Height, length, athleticism, speed, hands, and as you’ve seen already, he’s a phenomenal downfield blocker. The icing on the cake is that he also has a knack for making these kinds of receptions look a lot more routine than they actually are. Look out, because I won’t be surprised if he’s coming down with more of these in 2019.
CeeDee Lamb: YOU ARE RIDICULOUS. pic.twitter.com/fatSrSK1gq— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) September 8, 2018
Parting ways with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was the best decision anybody in this program made in 2018. The timing was not necessarily ideal, as it probably should have happened last January, not October, but a change was absolutely necessary. Did Oklahoma rectify its defensive woes with Ruffin McNeill as the interim DC? In a word, no, but Alex Grinch is now (reportedly) here to put his stamp on the program. It’s a new day for the Oklahoma defense.
In Week 3, the Army Black Knights marched into town. All tied up at 21 points with 15 seconds remaining in regulation, Lincoln Riley decided to center the ball and go with a game-winning field goal attempt.
To further illustrate the situation, Oklahoma had one timeout remaining, the ball was on the 12 yard line with the down and the distance set at 2nd and 4. That’s not only plenty of time to take a shot into the end zone, but the entire playbook was also open. Instead, Riley went ultra-conservative in this case, and I shudder to think about what could have been had the Sooners been trailing by three. Thankfully, Austin Seibert’s missed field goal didn’t doom OU, and to Riley’s credit, the chances of a miss there were relatively unlikely, but playing it this conservatively in that situation was the worst decision of the season. However, hindsight is 20/20.
Also from the Army game, starting MIKE linebacker and team captain Kenneth Murray turned in a defensive performance for the ages. No, the defense never quite figured out the Black Knights’ rushing attack, but there’s something to be said for setting the all-time record for tackles in a single game. His 28 tackles showed how engaged Murray was for the length of the game, and given how long Oklahoma’s defense was on the field, it’s a testament to his physical conditioning and mental fortitude. K9’s night was the gutsiest performance I saw from any Sooner all season.
Best Offensive Play Call
With this offense, it’s tough singling out any one call as the best of the year, but I think I’ve managed to nail down one that definitely stands out to me. In the Big 12 title game, the Sooners were driving for a potential score late to extend their lead to two possessions, and a field goal would not be enough to give them that cushion. On a critical third down, Riley dialed up a genius false pick play to free Lee Morris up over the middle in the vacated area left by the Longhorns defenders. Murray stepped up in the pocket and found his former Allen High School teammate wide open for the conversion. A masterful play call in a moment when one was needed.
Best Defensive Play Call
Of all the justified criticism and heat the defense took in 2018, one of the best calls of the season came from that side of the ball, and also in the Big 12 Championship. After the Texas Longhorns took over on offense following a deflating Oklahoma turnover. QB Sam Ehlinger was having another strong performance against the Sooners, so a play needed to be made in the worst way.
McNeill dialed up a corner blitz for Oklahoma’s fastest defender, sophomore Tre Brown, and he executed it to absolute perfection. Ehlinger never saw him coming, until it was too late. Safety.
Best Offensive Play
It was Dallas. It was the Cotton Bowl. It was against archrival Texas. Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray saw his team down by 21 midway through the fourth quarter, and for most people, all hope would be lost at that point. Another score would be added to make it look a little more respectable, but then the Sooner defense made a stop.
For the best offense in the nation, and by several measures the greatest offense in college football history, the season’s best play has an almost infinite number of worthy candidates. The reason this particular play takes the cake is because it has it all: flare, efficiency, and timeliness. There’s nothing more dazzling than a QB making hapless defenders miss before sprinting down the sideline, and there really is nothing more efficient than a one play drive for a score. Then consider the clutch factor, because Oklahoma absolutely needed it to happen to keep its comeback hopes alive. Of course, it wasn’t enough in the end, but the final outcome shouldn’t influence what a breathtaking play this 67 yard TD run this was.
Kyler Murray: 1 play, 67 yards, touchdown.pic.twitter.com/YaKo7qjZUU— Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 6, 2018
Best Defensive Play
Oklahoma was part of some of college football’s highest scoring games in 2018, but in the Sooners’ highest scoring game of all, it was the defense that made the difference.
Caleb Kelly, the junior outside linebacker who played a backup role for most of the season, finally saw more time on the field, and boy did he make the most of it. The shootout was already on and popping, and near the end of the first half, West Virginia looked to knot things up at 28. Kelly wasn’t having any of it, and like a man possessed, he completely changed the feeling of the game with a Herculean individual effort. First he shoved the tackle out of his way, then he rushed and latched onto Will Grier, then he punched the ball out, and finally he had the presence of mind to scoop it up and walk it in for the score.
Oklahoma would actually score again on defense in the second half, but for me, nothing I saw during this entire season tops what I saw on this play from Kelly.
Best Special Teams Play
What a way to kick off the 2018 season. After the Sooners took an early touchdown lead over FAU, and the defense forced another stop, the Sooners were firing on all cylinders. That is, until they revved it up another gear.
Shane Beamer, son of the legendary Frank Beamer, proved to be an excellent hire in the offseason, as he helped Oklahoma’s special teams unit become a legitimate factor in several games this season. In the opener, Lee Morris and Curtis Bolton combined for a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. It wasn’t the only time it happened on the year, but given it was the first, and most unexpected, it’s the best special teams play of the year.
Best Play Not Seen Every Day
This play had to make an appearance on the season superlatives somehow, someway. Against Texas Tech, in one of the most hostile environments the Big 12 has to offer, the Sooners were in a dog fight and needed a spark to create some separation. A night game in Lubbock is no joke, and the Red Raiders weren’t letting up despite losing their starting QB. So when the call to go for a game-tying two-point conversion was made, sophomore safety Robert Barnes said ‘not so fast, my friends’. You certainly don’t see this every day.
In mid-October, Tre Brown’s mother passed away. With such a heavy heart, nobody could have blamed him for checking out or taking time off away from the team. Instead, he stuck around, dialed in, and his teammates rallied around their brother. It was a special moment for the Sooners in a season full of them. Since then, Brown has grown into quite the playmaker, as well as a key vocal leader on defense.
Coming into the season, Rodney Anderson was regarded as one of the nation’s best running backs, because in the second half of the 2017 season, he damn sure played like it. If you’re looking for a complete back, Anderson is your guy. Power, speed, vision, hands, balance. The only thing that has ever slowed No. 24 have been two season ending injuries.
Then in Week 2 against UCLA, it happened once again. It was a normal enough looking play, but the worst injuries often appear routine at first. Once Anderson went down, it was apparent something was wrong. Given his history, most people feared the worst, and unfortunately, those fears became reality, as he was lost for the season for the third time in his shortened Sooner career.
Here's the Rodney Anderson injury. pic.twitter.com/680PvQvSiw— Eddie Radosevich (@Eddie_Rado) September 8, 2018
Knowing him, he’ll bounce back and come back just as strong if not stronger in the NFL, but it’s just an awful streak of bad luck to see such a talented and deserving young man watch his collegiate career cut short because of devastating setbacks.
Most Meme-Worthy Moment
In the week leading up to the Big 12 Championship Game, the Big 12 front office made the dumbest mountain out of a mole hill because that’s their specialty. They don’t like trash talk between players through the media, and all of a sudden they don’t approve of players using the horns down hand gesture. When the Big 12 conference and Sam Ehlinger began to make their displeasure known, that’s when all hell broke loose among fans and media alike.
Riley coached up his guys to refrain from flashing the hand sign during the game, but after defeating the Longhorns for a fourth straight conference crown, you better believe he was right there with his team, horns down and all.
Best TD Celebration
This would be a much more fun category if the NCAA was as lenient as the NFL in terms of touchdown celebrations, but even still, there were a decent number of celebratory options that didn’t get called for flags (I still don’t understand why Lamb and Hollywood got penalized for their DBZ charade against TCU, but oh well).
Early in the season, Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown busted out a game of rock, paper, scissors after linking up for scores. It was quick, but cool, much like them. The game originated in the offseason, and it was used to determine who would carry everybody’s laundry. I’m not exactly sure who ended up winning the final tally in 2018, but whenever these two played the game, everybody in crimson & cream won.
Best Home Crowd
When Oklahoma hosted Army on September 22nd, the 87,177 in the stadium fans marked the fifth-largest home crowd in Sooner history. Night games haven’t been the norm in Norman in recent years, so the evening kick was especially well-received. The salute to military veterans and current servicemen and women also made for an extra special occasion.
Lincoln Riley spoke glowingly about the impressive environment, saying “it was an electric atmosphere. There was some built up frustration with three early kicks in a row, so the crowd was great and definitely had an impact on the game. I thought our team fed off the crowd and the crowd fed off the team, especially there at the end. That might be as loud as I’ve heard it here, so very, very appreciative of a great, great home crowd.”
Bedlam is at its best when it’s high-scoring and full of drama. Well, maybe that’s not ideal for either fan base’s heart health, but it’s perfect for maximizing entertainment value. The 2018 edition of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State certainly did not disappoint in that department.
Right away, the Sooners and Cowboys traded blows, destroying all hope of a defensive slugfest almost instantly. Kyler Murray vs. Taylor Cornelius turned into the QB duel nobody predicted would happen until it actually happened. The teams traded the lead multiple times during the contest, but a key OSU turnover and missed extra point gave OU the advantage down the stretch. To cap it off, with about a minute remaining, Mike Gundy’s squad had a chance to tie things up, but he and his Arkansas waterfall decided to go for two. In the end, the conversion attempt came up short, and the amount of excitement in the air was palpable. What a game.
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