(Editor’s note: Sellout Crowd’s coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com))
Brent Venables was feeling good about his team after Saturday’s 34-30 win over Texas.
Rightfully so. It’s the biggest win of his time as the Sooners’ head coach.
But his feel-good was running so high that when he was asked if this year’s defense compared to any of the Sooner defenses that he’d coached during his first stint in Norman, Venables went with the defenses of 1999 and 2000.
“No offense to those guys back in the day, and no offense to these guys, but I always said we were a bunch of misfits back in 2000,” he said. “We didn’t know how good we could be, and as a group, they were tough as all get out.
“They just came every day and went to work. And these guys have been exactly that.”
That 2000 bunch, of course, helped the Sooners win the national championship.
Read what Venables said, and you’ll see that he wasn’t trying to suggest this defense will help this team win a national title, but hey, any time any OU team gets compared to that bunch in 2000, it makes crimson-colored ears perk and hearts race.
Here are more things, good and bad, that caught my attention Saturday at the Cotton Bowl:
Best pregame moment: A fighter-jet flyover for the Red River Rivalry? Yes, please. Also, there was just enough animosity on the field to cause some posturing as the teams went up and down the storied tunnel, but things never got ugly.
Worst pregame moment: Speaking of that tunnel, both teams have to go up it after pregame warmups, and it seemed like everything would go off without a hitch because OU was finishing up pregame right near the tunnel and Texas was at the far end of the field. But instead of holding the Horns at the other end, they were allowed to head toward the tunnel. Then, they had to be held there by officials and team personnel. Why not just keep them on the other side of midfield? Seems like an easy fix for something that could’ve gone bad.
Best offensive player: Dillon Gabriel became an OU-Texas legend and a Heisman Trophy candidate Saturday afternoon. Hard to argue with that kind of production. He was so good, engineering the Sooners’ game-winning drive and throwing the game-winning touchdown to Nic Anderson that it masked a so-so throwing day. Gabriel was only 23 of 38 for 285 yards. The game-winner was his only touchdown pass. But he also ran for 113 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He was the difference maker.
Best defensive player: This is a tough, tough call, but I’m going to go with Woodi Washington. Frankly, I’m not sure he’s gotten enough credit for how well he’s played this year, and Saturday, he probably flew under the radar again. But his stat line was big: nine tackles including one tackle for loss and one pass breakup. The Sooners weren’t perfect in the secondary, and Washington is included in that, but his consistently solid play was critical against the Longhorns.
Best play: Hard to argue with the 3-yard touchdown pass to win the game. Gabriel was under serious pressure and looked like he was about to be sacked. Somehow, he managed to keep his head up and his eyes roving. He saw Anderson in the back left corner of the end zone, jumped a bit to stay above the fray and threw what looked like it might be a pop pass but zipped like a fast ball. Heck of a moment.
Worst play: Trace Ford’s unnecessary-roughness penalty with about seven minutes left in the game. OU had just missed a field goal, and Texas seemed to have all the momentum. But the Sooner defense looked to have pushed the Longhorns into a 3rd-and-4 situation. Maybe the OU defense could get on the field. But then, officials whistled Ford for something he did in a tackle pile. I never saw exactly what happened, but it was an unforced error and a 15-yard penalty that gave the Horns more juice. That possession ended in a touchdown, the next in a field goal. If not for the late-game heroics by Gabriel and the offense, that penalty could’ve been further fuel for a Texas victory.
Best under-the-radar play: Jacob Lacey’s sack with a little over two minutes left in the game. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said after the game that play changed the Longhorns’ focus from touchdown to field goal. Facing a 2nd-and-13 from the OU 38, Sarkisian knew Texas had to get into field-goal range, and after a second-down pass netted only 3 yards, Sarkisian had to call a run to get close enough for kicker Bert Auburn. Without Lacey’s sack, Texas could’ve kept aiming for the end zone.
Best stat: OU averaged 4.7 yards a rush. Against a stout run defense, the Sooners had one of their better overall days running the football
Worst stat: OU running backs averaged only 2.9 yards a carry. Gabriel was the big threat in the run game, averaging 8.1 yards a carry, but Tawee Walker, Marcus Major and Gavin Sawchuk combined for only 72 yards on 25 carries. Those numbers need to be better for the tailbacks.
Biggest offensive concern: McKade Mettauer’s health. The veteran right guard injured what appeared to be his ankle in the fourth quarter. The severity of the injury isn’t known, but he was taken off the field on a cart with his ankle in an air cast. Losing a talented player who has as much experience as Mettauer does would be a blow.
Biggest defensive concern: Too many receivers running open down the field. That was something we hadn’t seen much in the Sooners’ first five games, but Saturday, there were lots of Horns who were wide open. That signals miscommunications or busts. It didn’t come back to bite the Sooners on Saturday, but that needs to get cleaned up moving forward.
Best reason to feel good about this team: It beat a really good team Saturday. Heading into the Red River Rivalry, we know exactly how good these Sooners were. Five wins against so-so opponents wasn’t much of a barometer. But Texas was a legit barometer. And OU was superior.
Best reason to want to pack it in: The defense still has issues. Even though it intercepted Quinn Ewers twice, for example, the Texas quarterback managed to finish the day 31 of 37 for 346 yards. Take away those two interceptions, and he completed 88.6% of his passes. Heck, with them, he still completed 83.8%.
Best speak: Our man Berry Tramel asked Gabriel how he thought people back in Hawaii reacted to his big game, and Gabriel’s teary response was splendid: “I got a lot of family back home that just love and are very supportive of my dreams and aspirations. There’s three things that I represent, that’s the name on the front, the name on the back and the state of Hawaii.”