FORT WORTH – We now know that a team’s fate isn’t determined in a season. It can change within a game and a final, last-gasp possession. College football needs to find a rehab facility, because it has a drinking problem.
The chaos of buzzer-beating outcomes in Athens and Tallahassee arrived here late Saturday afternoon, but the Big 12 Conference version of fantastic finishes wasn’t a full-blown, stumbling-drunk finish. Things just got a little tipsy.
Oklahoma avoided a 1-3 start for the first time in the Bob Stoops Era, and it started Big 12 play with the flashes of form that made it the preseason conference favorite. The bad news for the Sooners was that they had to survive a last-possession chance by No. 21 TCU (3-2, 1-1 in the Big 12) in order to leave town with a 52-46 victory.
“I haven’t seen everything,” OU coach Bob Stoops said when asked about no lead being safe. “The way people can operate in the no-huddle and with the quarterbacks, I don’t know how you can have a safe lead.”
His brother Mike, the Sooners’ defensive coordinator, also was in the dark about the wild finishes. He doesn’t need to know.
“It’s the world in which we live as defensive coordinators,” he said. “It’s insanity.”
The Crimson and Cream Crowd would have gone insane had the Sooners opened this season losing three of four and four of five going back to last season. Oklahoma, which will return to the Metroplex for Saturday’s Red River Rivalry game with Texas, was missing two starters on defense and two on the offensive line and was appropriately unranked.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield was sacked and fumbled on the opening series. TCU scored on a one-play, six-second drive. The deficit eventually grew to 21-7.
“We realized our potential today,” Mayfield said. “We talked about it after the Ohio State game, we didn’t stop fighting in that game and we fought back and really took over the game.”
Oklahoma’s defense played the first quarter a step behind the TCU offense, which was quick-snapping when the Sooners were out of position. Then came a sudden change. In the second and third quarters, Oklahoma outgained TCU 356-113 and outscored the Frogs 42-3.
“We just started getting in position,” said OU’s Steven Parker, who had to play nickel instead of strong safety because of the Frogs’ propensity to use four and five wide receivers. “We started out not being in the right place but then we got that fixed.”
Oklahoma’s offense relied on the three-star system. Mayfield, along with running backs Samaje Perine (17 carries, 98 yards) and Joe Mixon (16 carries, 105 yards), provided the run-pass balance the Sooners have lacked. Mayfield was 20-of-30 for 274 yards and two touchdowns and also gained 55 yards rushing. OU finished with 534 yards.
The dominant run built a lead that almost wasn’t enough. The Sooners led 49-24 going into the fourth quarter, but the Frogs scored on three consecutive possessions. The last touchdown – a 74-yard bomb from Kenny Hill to Taj Williams — was a one-play, 10-second possession. The two-point conversion pulled the Frogs within 49-46.
“I knew, I had it in my head, that if we got a lead they would come back on us,” Bob Stoops said, referencing TCU’s comeback from a 31-0 deficit to beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. “I knew we’d have to play all four quarters.”
Mike Stoops said part of the game plan was to pressure Hill, who finished 26-of-44 for 449 yards and five touchdowns. The Sooners’ pass rush produced three knocked-down passes and four sacks. On the Frogs’ final possession, Hill was called for intentional grounding when he was pressured and was sacked on third down.
Through four games, TCU had dropped 17 passes. After the Frogs fell behind 42-24 early in the third quarter, Hill went deep targeting Isaiah Graham, who had the coverage beat. He dropped it. It’s the kind of play not made that can be team and season defining.
“What I wasn’t happy with was that we did it when [Oklahoma] let down,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “With the defense, you can’t give up big plays by not doing your job, and you’ve got to tackle. Offensively, after [we scored] 21 points, we didn’t play for two quarters. You’ve got to get ready to play. I told them I was proud of the way they fought back, but the bottom line is we’re not going to be happy about a six-point loss.”
Despite the victory, Oklahoma remains such a mystery it should be coached by Mickey Spillane. TCU outscored the Sooners 43-10 in the first and fourth quarters while OU had a 42-3 edge in the second and third quarters. Until Hill’s fourth down pass fell harmlessly incomplete with 1:15 remaining, the Sooners couldn’t rest in the knowledge of certain victory, despite that 42-3 tear.
“I’m pleased with how we reacted to the start,” Bob Stoops said. “We built that lead and it shows what we’re capable of. Our confidence level is building. We know there are areas that can still be improved. I like it that they know how much better we can be.”
That’s the Oklahoma status report as of Oct. 1, 2016. Texas has beaten the Sooners two of the last three seasons, and each time the Longhorns were the inferior team. With UT coming off two embarrassing losses, next Saturday’s meeting in the Cotton Bowl figures to provide more college football inebriation.