There’s no denying it now. Oklahoma is back and all eyes will be on them moving forward. Starting with the release of tomorrow’s new polls, it’ll once again be the Sooners as the frontrunners in the Big 12 Conference. They’ll be the highest-ranked team, and they’ll be in the driver’s seat for a spot in Arlington, and they’ll be in the conversations surrounding the College Football Playoff. None of those are unusual positions for this program to be in. Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 for more than two decades now, winning more games and conference titles than any other school. The thing is, this team features a bang-load of new players and coaches who haven’t been in this spotlight yet. They are all going to celebrate today, and then wake up tomorrow with a whole new world of possibilities ahead of them now. Yes, Dillon Gabriel is a Heisman candidate. Yes, this defense is one of the top units in the nation. Yes, Brent Venables should be the odds on favorite for Coach of the Year. Yes, the Sooners are contenders for a College Football Playoff spot. All of that comes from walking out of the Cotton Bowl at 6-0. All of that, will also come a new target on their backs and added pressure to keep up. If you thought the first half of the season was fun, hold on because this last half is going to be amazing!
Signs Of The Turnaround Are All Around Us
When healthy, Oklahoma had the offense to compete last year. It was the defense that was so far behind. The coaching change, transfer portal, and the poor techniques that had been instilled in the players all contributed to one of the worst defenses this program had seen in its history. There were even some who had questioned if Brent Venables was the right man for the job. Well…question no more. Not only is he the right man for the job, he’s showing off a bit. A year later he’s produced a defense that stonewalled the Longhorns at the goal line on four consecutive downs.
How far back in time would you need to go in order to find a Sooner defense capable of making a stand like this? More than anything else, this moment right here shows you the difference between 2022 Oklahoma and the 2023 version.
Dillon Gabriel Is Immortalized
Dillon Gabriel has been polarizing at Oklahoma. Like other members of this team, he rode though the storms of 2022. However, unlike others, he’s carried the brunt of the criticism and, especially with a 5-star quarterback behind, has been dubbed as un-redeemable to some. After Saturday’s comeback, Gabriel will now forever be immortalized as one of the heroes of the Red River Rivalry.
In what can only be described with the iconic words, “The Drive,” Gabriel was 4-of-4 passing for 58 yards. He also ran for three yards and, oh yeah, threw the game-winning touchdown. That’s bad news for those who are so consumed with Gabriel not being Caleb Williams that they had already written him off.
Points Were Left On The Field
Celebrate! Take the win, but also realize that there was a lot of wasted opportunity for the Sooners on Saturday. Quinn Ewers first interception led to points for Oklahoma, but his second one, his fumble, and the stonewall on the goal line yielded zero points for the Sooners. The result was a 10-point lead turning into a 3-point deficit. Ultimately, OU was able to overcome for the win but, looking back, those wasted opportunities could have been extremely costly.
Special Teams Disaster
If we’re going to dwell on the negative, for just a minute, we need to address special teams. A blocked punt and a missed field goal loomed large over this game. The punt block put the first points on the board for Texas, and the missed field goal kept the Longhorns alive in the fourth quarter.
The Body Count Was High
It was expected to be a physical game, and it absolutely was. The physicality took its toll on both sides and a bye-week couldn’t arrive at a better time. Gentry Williams, Marcus Major, Andrel Anthony, Billy Bowman, McKade Mettauer are all key players who left the game with some sort of injury.
Two Guys Who Were Spectacularly Under The Radar
For the first time this season Danny Stutsman didn’t lead Oklahoma’s defense in tackles. Instead it was Jaren Kanak leading the charge with 13 tackles. Billy Bowman also contributed 11 takedowns, and Stuttsman ended up with tied with Woodi Washington with nine tackles.
He may not have scored a touchdown on the day, but Jalil Farooq was brilliant. He hauled in five passes for 130 yards (26 YPC) and averaged 4.3 yards per carry on three rushing attempts.
With Saturday’s win the Sooners have equaled their win total from 2022. All possibilities that were on the table as the month of August came to a close are still on the table now. The stakes are as high as they’ve been for Oklahoma in a loooong time!
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