NORMAN – No. 12 Oklahoma (4-1, 1-1 in the Big 12) faces unranked Texas (3-2, 2-) in a critical matchup for the Sooners if they want to win the conference and have a shot at the playoff.
The Sooners, heavy favorites at home, lost to Iowa State 31-38 Saturday while the Longhorns struggled to beat Kansas State 40-34 in double overtime in Manhattan.
The Red River showdown at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas will be the first showdown for first-year head coaches Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma and Tom Herman of Texas. Both have previously coached in that game as assistants.
A Texas win would give the Longhorns and TCU a two-game lead over OU in the Big 12, limiting any chance for the Sooners to advance to the Big 12 championship game. And without a conference title, OU would not make the playoff.
While OU’s offense played well enough to win last Saturday, the Sooner defense has been shredded the last two games, giving up almost 800 yards of offense and 80 points.
Defense wins championships and it will be hard to overcome a mediocre Texas team unless OU gets better quickly.
“Defensively, the biggest thing that showed up to me is that we had two critical, critical penalties that were drive- and game-changing type penalties,” said Riley. “Obo (Okoronkwo) had a personal foul, and Kenneth Murray on that last one. You’re getting ready to be, I believe, third and long, on both situations and just giving them a free pass – (that) was just bad football. And then we did not tackle well the entire day. Missed tackles, guys not in position. I’m just very disappointed with our effort tackling.”
“It’s obviously extremely disappointing,” a dejected Mike Stoops, OU’s defensive coordinator, said after the loss. “We should’ve been better than that today and certainly it’s disappointing in a lot of ways. Some of the old scars kind of repeated itself again and we didn’t play assignment-sound football.
“Certainly, that responsibility falls on us as coaches and we just haven’t played well the last couple of weeks, consistently well for whatever reason.
“I thought we defended the run well, but they kept us off balance all day with certain things and I thought their quarterback threw the ball well. They made some great catches and put it in some spots and we just couldn’t make the play.
“We just aren’t making enough plays. In this league, if that happens, then you’re eventually going to come out in the short end of the stick and eventually, that’s what happened today.”
OU quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is still in the race for the Heisman Trophy, hit 24 of 33 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 57 yards and another score on 11 carries. Iowa State consistently dropped eight defenders into coverage, forcing Mayfield to run.
Mayfield thinks the Sooners can rebound from the loss and still achieve their goals.
“Unfortunately, it’s not something to be proud of, but I have two years of experience being a leader in this time period,” Mayfield said. “(In) 2015, we got stomped by Texas, and then won every game after that up until the playoffs. Last year we started off terrible, and then took care of business after that. For me, unfortunately I’ve been in this situation before, but that means I know what to do and how to handle it. It’s the most disappointing thing, you know this team didn’t need that loss today to put our backs against the wall and go to work.
“We are much better than we showed today and that’s why watching this film is going to be hard. Like we’ve handled it the past two years, it’s back to business. It’ll be good for us in the long run, but you don’t get these chances back.”
Freshman CeeDee Lamb caught two passes for 26 yards and moved into a four-way tie for fourth place among OU freshman with his fourth receiving touchdown of the season. He left the game early with an undisclosed injury and that had a negative effect on the OU passing game.
Herman said the Big 12, unlike other conferences, has good teams from top to bottom.
“I said on the radio the other day there are some conferences where the upper echelon of that conference can go into the lower echelon, and not play really well and still come out with a win where I think in the Big 12, there’s a ton of parity, and you better strap it up each and every week and bring your A-game if you want to win,” Herman said.
The Texas players desperately want to upset OU and the OU loss to Iowa State – a team Texas beat 17-7 – has built their confidence.
“We’ve been thinking about that one,” said Texas linebacker Naashon Hughes. “This is my last one and I definitely want to go out with a good taste in my mouth.”
Texas opened with a loss to Maryland and then almost upset Southern California. Longhorn running back Chris Warren quickly turned his thoughts to OU after the K-State win.
“It’s definitely better because we won,” Warren said. “But it was kind of the same thing going into it because we knew that we definitely could have won that game at USC.
“Knowing that we did win this game, it did feel a little bit better. But we can’t focus on this game too much and we have to move on because we have Oklahoma next week.”
Riley sees the ISU loss as a turning point. OU can rally and keep winning because OU has done this before following a disappointing loss.
“I’m very disappointed,” Riley said. “There’s no doubt. I’m not dejected. I know what this team can be. We in that locker room know what this team can be. The fact that we’re not playing like it right now is disappointing. Absolutely, it is. I feel like we’ve got the makeup in there – I told them in there, this will be the most important game of the year for us as far as how we respond to it. We’ll look back at the end of the year and regardless of what we do, we’ll be able to point at this moment and say, ‘that’s the moment where we turned it around.’”
“This is a team that is incredibly close and has a ton of chemistry … guys coming around rubbing each other’s head and shaking each other up,” said OU tight end Mark Andrews. “It’s not a feeling that the season is over, it’s that we are going to come back strong. That’s basically what we are feeling.”