STILLWATER — Every week it’s something new. Every week we have to reinterpret this team. Just maybe, every week, this team is reinterpreting itself.
Oklahoma claimed Bedlam Saturday night inside Boone Pickens Stadium and the way it did it was … what?
The Sooners beat the Cowboys 34-16 on a night they gained a season-low 450 yards from scrimmage, that Jalen Hurts failed to throw for 200 yards, that every Sooner receiver failed to catch for even 40 yards and that only Rhamondre Stevenson put together a big-time yards-per-carry number, 16.7, though he carried it only three times.
Before the season began, had you known that would be OU’s offense against its Bedlam rival, you would have guessed its Bedlam rival would have won.
It didn’t happen.
Not even close.
Not even close!
It’s not a magic-carpet ride.
Once we knew Hurts was on his way to Norman, another conference title became expected, another trip to the College Football Playoff felt like a probability, the sky was once again the limit.
OU began the season ranked fourth in the Associated Press Top 25, which is a whole lot higher than 17th, where it began the last time it won a national championship.
Yet, beyond that, in too many ways not to point out, it’s like we’re watching an updated version of OU’s 2000 season.
In this one, the offense is not as anemic as that one became, nor is the defense as amazing as that one proved to be. Yet, trends are trends, one campaign mirrors the other and that season finished well enough.
Prior to a week earlier, against TCU, OU had scored 34 or more points in 32 straight games. Then it scored 28 against the Frogs and landed on that very number against Oklahoma State.
The Sooners entered Saturday averaging 574.7 yards of offense, yet the last time they hit that total was Game 4 against Texas Tech and the last time they reached even 520 was the following week at Kansas. In three of five games to close the “regular” season, they’ve been below 500 and Saturday was a new low.
Yet, given Alabama’s being bounced by Auburn, Utah trying to win a beauty contest in a good-team-challenged Pac-12 and the likelihood of Georgia losing to LSU in the SEC title game, even as OU’s offense slides, the Sooners are looking more and more like a playoff team.
Watch the national coverage this week and don’t be a bit surprised when the big question becomes who gets the fourth spot if Georgia loses, the Utes or the Sooners.
More, should that decision go OU’s way, it suddenly looks like a team that might be better equipped to do something once there.
Against the Pokes, the Sooners even got two turnovers, a forced fumble and recovery from Parnell Motley, an interception from Motley, as well as a should-have-been interception from Motley before he was ruled out-of-bounds on replay. OSU coughed up the ball two other times, too, yet fell on it.
OU appeared to hit its defensive stride against Texas, garnering nine sacks and allowing just 310 yards one week and 242 against West Virginia the next, yet those numbers reversed dramatically against Kansas State and Iowa State.
Since, OU’s allowed 307 to Baylor, 204 to TCU and 335 to OSU.
As long as Hurts doesn’t gift the other team 7, 10 or 14 points, it’s a defense that can go win you games against really good teams.
It can’t not remind you of 2000.
You may think Josh Heupel led an offensive onslaught all season long but he didn’t. Down the stretch, OU scored 27 points against Texas Tech, 12 against OSU, 27 against Kansas State and 13 against Florida State.
It won them all.
We’ve been waiting for the Sooners to be their old selves and we figured that meant Hurts throwing for 350 and he and his backs collectively running for 250. We’ve thought it meant CeeDee Lamb going off, 10 yards a snap and two-, three and four-play drives to paydirt.
Maybe the mistake has been the definition of “old.” Maybe we’ve needed to go further back.
The last three times OSU possessed the ball it faced fourth-and-3, fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-10.
David Ugwoegbu broke up a pass, Chuba Hubbard was stuffed by Nik Bonitto and Motley intercepted Dru Brown.
It’s not just defense.
Yeah, if OU’s got two minutes to go the length of the field, maybe you no longer love its chances. But if the other team has two minutes … yeah, how about that?
It might even be enough to reach the final four, maybe win a game (or two) once there.