With a pedestrian 34-24 win at Iowa State, No. 9 Oklahoma is zeroing in on a preseason goal – win the Big 12 Conference.
In their last three games, OU will face three ranked teams – No. 25 Baylor in Norman at 11 a.m. this Saturday; at No. 11 West Virginia on November 19; and the Bedlam game against No. 17 Oklahoma State in Norman on December 3.
If OU wins all three, not only will the Sooners be Big 12 champions but Oklahoma will have an outside shot at the four-team football playoff.
Stranger things have happened.
The four playoff teams will come from the five power conferences – the Big 12, the Southeastern, the Big 10, the Atlantic Coast and the Pac 12. If No. 1 Alabama (SEC), No. 2 Michigan (Big 10), No. 3 Clemson (ACC) and No. 4 Washington (Pac 12) go undefeated, OU has no chance for the playoff.
In fact, one of those four teams would probably have to lose two games for the Sooners to slip into the No. 4 slot. Plus No. 5 Louisville (8-1) would have to lose as would No. 6 Ohio State (8-1), No. 7 Wisconsin (7-2) and No. 8 Auburn (7-2). That could happen since Alabama must still play Auburn and Ohio State must play Michigan.
In any case, OU must beat Baylor (6-2, 3-2 in the Big 12) at home this Saturday in a national scenario. A loss to Baylor would put the Sooners in a potential three-way tie with West Virginia and Oklahoma State for the conference lead.
Baylor, which fired Coach Art Briles because of a sexual harassment coverup scandal, won its first six games, which included a really weak nonconference slate (Northwestern State, SMU and Rice) plus wins over Iowa State and Kansas (with a combined record of 2-16).
Then Baylor lost to unranked Texas 34-35 and last Saturday got swamped by TCU, 22-62. Those losses almost mathematically eliminated the Bears from the Big 12 title.
Baylor quarterback Seth Russell is having a good year, with 27 touchdowns this season and more than 2,400 yards of offense.
“He’s got an excellent arm,” Stoops said of Russell. “He runs the football well. He makes good decisions.”
The Bears also have two good running backs in Terence Williams and Shock Linwood, who combine for nearly 200 yards a game. Baylor led the Big 12 in rushing the last two years.
Defensively, the Bears have nine interceptions this season.
In a rare Thursday night game, OU fullback Dimitri Flowers was pressed into duty because running back Joe Mixon was suspended for one game and Samaje Perine was recovering from a hamstring pull.
Flowers had 22 carries for 115 yards. It was the first time he had a carry in his career. Flowers caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield late in the second quarter to give OU a 28-17 lead.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy do all of that so well in a game ever,” Stoops said of Flowers. “That I’ve seen a guy play all of the positions he played, run the routes, draws; catch tough, tight passes; play quarterback for a snap to pick up a first down, run the football for 115 yards – with just two days of practice.
“It tells you what kind of exceptional athlete and person he is. He’s that smart to handle it so well.
“He’ll be getting my vote for Big 12 offensive player of the week. Oh, I guess I don’t get to vote.”
Flowers caught eight touchdown passes on just 27 career receptions. Flowers has caught a touchdown pass in each of the last three games.
Flowers finished with 149 yards of total offense – a career high.
“I’m exhausted,” Flowers said after the game. “Everything was worth it. It definitively was.
“It meant a lot that the coaches trust me in that type of situation. But I knew I couldn’t let my team down. I tried to do the best I could every snap.
“Getting 20 carries for a fullback is almost unheard of. But I was able to handle it.”
Freshman running back Abdul Adams ran eight times for 54 yards (almost 7 yards per carry average.
Mayfield had another outstanding game, with 328 yards on 25-34 passing. He has thrown for four or more touchdowns in each of the last four games (he has 19 TD passes and two interceptions during the four-game stretch) and has seven games of four-plus touchdowns in his OU career. Mayfield’s nine passing touchdowns of 65-plus yards are the most in the FBS this season.
Mayfield’s 16 plays of 40-plus yards on the year are tied with Sam Bradford’s 2007 season for third-most in OU single-season history (Bradford had 20 in 2008, Jason White had 19 in 2003).
Mayfield’s season passing efficiency moved to 194.8. The NCAA record for single-season efficiency is 191.8 (Russell Wilson, 2011).
Dede Westbrook finished with seven catches for 131 yards which including a 65-yard touchdown. He has a at least 100 yards and a receiving touchdown in each of the last six games, the longest active streak in the FBS.
Westbrook finished the game with 233 all-purpose yards on his 10 touches. He entered the game leading the Big 12 with 210.4 all-purpose yards per Big 12 game. He had a career-long 63-yard kick return early in the second quarter.
The win gave the Sooners their 13th straight Big 12 Conference win, tied for the second longest streak in program history. They won 17 straight Big 12 games between 2003 and 2005 and 13 between 1999 and 2001.
OU improved to 74-5-2 (.926) all-time against Iowa State and is 35-2-1 (.934) vs. the Cyclones in Ames. In the Big 12 era, the Sooners hold a 13-0 series advantage (6-0 in Ames). Oklahoma has won 23 consecutive games at Iowa State and 34 of the last 35 (ISU’s two home wins came in 1960 and 1928 [series first meeting).
Oklahoma gets two extra days to prepare for Baylor. Stoops said his players would not resume practice until Monday, getting Friday, Saturday and Sunday off.
“I think it’s a positive,” Stoops said.
“Iowa State is a much better team than their record would indicate,” Stoops said. “They’ve got a lot of good players.”
Stoops said that except for two plays, the defense played acceptably in the first half. Iowa State managed just 160 yards passing on the night, the third fewest yards by an Oklahoma opponent this year. It marked marked the second straight game OU has held its opponent under 200 yards passing.
“These guys have scored on almost everybody,” Stoops said about Iowa State’s offense. “You’re not going to shut everybody out. Was (the OU defense) as good as last week? No. But managing what we are, it was good. Other than those two plays, I thought it was a heck of a game.”
“We’re continuing to fight,” ISU coach Matt Campbell said. “We’re continuing to battle. Obviously it stinks when the score’s not indicative of the strides and how our kids have played.”
Mixon and Perine are expected to play against Baylor.
“I am hopeful we will get some guys back next week,” Stoops said. “We are without 12-14 guys in our two-deep rotation on both sides of the ball.”
Against ISU at one point, OU had only four players on defense who started in the first game this season.
“It’s been tough to manage,” Stoops said. “What happens then is all your special teams get thin. It’s been a nightmare to manage but we’re managing it. I do compliment our players and the depth that we have. Other guys are stepping up and playing at a winning level.”
Stoops is now 12-0 vs. the Cyclones as OU’s coach, with each game being decided by double digits. OU has outscored ISU the last four years by a combined 193-64 margin. In six road games against Iowa State in the Stoops era, the Sooners have outscored the Cyclones 229-82 (average of 38-13). OU has given up 14 or fewer points in four of those six contests.
Oklahoma has now won 18 straight games against Iowa State, good for its longest active winning streak versus an opponent.