Jenni’s best and worst of OU’s 31-29 nailbiter over UCF

Jenni’s best and worst of OU’s 31-29 nailbiter over UCF

Jenni Carlson: These past couple of OU games have been nailbiter supremes, first a last-second touchdown to win the day against Texas, then a last-90-seconds breakup of a two-point conversion to save the day.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Oct 22, 2023, 10:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Oct 22, 2023, 10:00am CDT

NORMAN — Close ball games are the best. You know, the ones that get your palms sweating and your heart racing and your blood pumping. 

Oh, Sooner fans know.

Whether they think such games are the best is debatable.

These past couple of games have been nailbiter supremes, first a last-second touchdown to win the day against Texas, then a last-90-seconds breakup of a two-point conversion to save the day against UCF.

But if your blood pressure can handle it, such games are grand. It is a great drama playing out in real time. What could be more fun?

Here are more things, good and bad, that caught my attention during OU’s 31-29 victory Saturday in Norman:

Best pregame moment: Yes, there was a flyover, my favorite, and holy guacamole, they were F-18 fighter jets. But truthfully, the best pregame moment came as gates were first opening. The jumbotrons showed a replay of the final minutes of the OU-Texas game. Even though everyone knew exactly what was going to happen, watching it again was great. Frankly, OU could put that on before every home game the rest of the season, and no Sooner fan would mind.

Best postgame moment: UCF offensive lineman Lokahi Pauole spent some time with Dillon Gabriel and his family after the game. Pauole is from Kapolei, Hawaii, which is only about 20 minutes from Mililani, Gabriel’s hometown. They were also teammates at UCF before Gabriel transferred to OU. 

Best offensive player: Even though Gabriel was solid and Nic Anderson scored two more touchdowns, Drake Stoops was the Sooners’ best offensive player. He had seven catches on nine targets for 60 yards and one touchdown. His 11-yard, fourth-quarter score gave the Sooners a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The veteran receiver isn’t super flashy, so he doesn’t get enough credit, but without his catches, his toughness and his leadership, the Sooners might not have survived the Golden Knights.

Best defensive player: He got a bit overlooked in the Texas game, but Ethan Downs played well again against UCF. The defensive end seems to have turned a corner. On Saturday, he had six tackles, including a sack, and three quarterback hurries. Most of his disruptive moments came early, but he was so dynamic, his performance was impossible to ignore.

Best play: After struggling to run the ball pretty much all day, it was crazy to see Gavin Sawchuk burst through the middle and run almost untouched for the 30-yard win-sealing score. He was so open, he had time to run along the goal line and seemingly get direction from the sideline about whether to score or slide out and allow the Sooners to run some more clock. The 30-yard run tied for the longest scamper by an OU tailback this season.

Worst play: The Sooner defense was one play away from replicating its Texas goal-line stand. It had stopped UCF three times from the 1-yard line, but after its third-down stop, OU linebacker Jaren Kanak was whistled for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. Taunting. It gave the Golden Knights a fresh set of downs from the 1, and they scored on the next play. Letting an unforced, unnecessary penalty derail a goal-line stand one play from paydirt? Bad, bad, bad.

Best under-the-radar play: Austin Stogner recovering UCF’s onside kick. The bouncing kick was actually touched by Jalil Farooq, which opened the door to total insanity. Instead, Stogner jumped on the ball and turned his body in a way that shielded him from onrushing Golden Knights. The Sooners’ bacon was saved.

Best stat: The OU defense had 13 tackles for loss. Thirteen! In addition to all those tackles for loss, three of which were sacks, the Sooners also had seven quarterback hurries. All of that means they were constantly getting pressure and penetration into the backfield, a great sign for how much this defense has improved.

Worst stat: The Sooners were 1 of 3 on field goals. Yuck. And the misses weren’t because of bad snaps or poor holds. Zach Schmit just missed from 38 yards (left), then 43 yards (right) in the first quarter. He hit a 25-yarder right before halftime, but Schmidt is 5-of-9 over the past three games.

Biggest offensive concern: Run game. It’s been an issue, but Saturday with Tawee Walker serving a suspension (Brent Venables expects him to return next week) and Jovantae Barnes still returning from injury (he made a brief fourth-quarter appearance but didn’t carry the ball), the load fell to Gavin Sawchuk and Marcus Major. While they both had nice fourth quarters and finished with a combined 145 yards on 28 carries, they struggled for the first three quarters. That hampered the offense and made Gabriel more of a target. Against a better defense, OU might’ve been in trouble.

Biggest defensive concern: Wide receivers are still running too wide open too often. I suppose one running wide open is more than Venables would like to see, but it’s becoming a worrying trend. Texas was able to get pass catchers open. Now UCF. Both have supremely talented playcallers, so they’re bound to design plays that get guys open on occasion. Still, OU needs to look hard at what’s happening. 

Best reason to feel good about this team: The Sooners found a way to win. On a day they weren’t their best, they won. A year ago, OU lost five games by one score or less. It lost games like it won Saturday. That’s a step in the right direction.

Best reason to want to pack it in: Another so-so performance against a not-great team. SMU. Cincinnati. Now UCF. Why all the closer-than-necessary calls against teams that OU looks like it should be three or four touchdowns better than?

Best speak:I believe every week is a season of its own, and every week is going to present different challenges. You try to prepare for all of it. You’re always a week away from humility in this game.” — OU coach Brent Venables

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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