Guerin Emig: Dillon Gabriel and Jeff Lebby, joined like quarterbacks and offensive coordinators inevitably are, enjoyed their ride together a lot more Saturday night than the past two weeks.
NORMAN – Dillon Gabriel signed a towel for one kid. He offered his helmet to another. He posed with the Pride of Oklahoma band members while wearing their hats and air-playing their instruments. He hugged the president of his university.
Then, 10 minutes into his on-field celebration of OU’s 59-20 waxing of West Virginia Saturday, Gabriel spotted his position coach, play-caller and offensive coordinator, the man he is fastened to as the Sooners’ quarterback
Jeff Lebby smiled as big as Gabriel. They embraced, Lebby pulling Gabriel closer so he could speak directly into his ear.
“Just proud of him. Happy for him,” Lebby said of the moment. “As you get on the back end of this season and this ending stretch, we’ve got so much history together. You want so much for him to be able to go finish and get it done the way we know we have the ability to. For him to play the way he did tonight, for us to respond the way we responded was really good.”
Gabriel wore the glow of his eight-touchdown performance but also basked in what Lebby had just accomplished.
“Of course,” he said. “One, I’m a believer in him as a person, but also what he does with his system offensively…
“It’s a roller coaster. Two weeks ago our thoughts were completely different than where we are now.”
The past two weeks let’s just say the coaster’s restraint bar snapped down uncomfortably across the quarterback and coordinator on the wrong end of back-to-back losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State. Lose back-to-back at a place like OU, you really start squirming.
“We’re players. We feel it,” Gabriel said. “I know fans feel it and everyone around this university. Everyone loves OU. I don’t expect anything different. I just believe if this isn’t the example of life and the ups and downs with it, I don’t know what is.”
Less philosophical and more defiant, Lebby said: “That noise has no effect on my day-to-day. It takes none of my focus, my energy, my joy, what I’m trying to get done with our unit and our guys every single day. I’m not a part of it.”
Insulation from criticism is a play-caller’s job requirement. Lebby would have you believe he has that mastered.
He’s still human, though, and that smile late Saturday night said a lot more than any postgame quote. There was some pride on his face, and probably some relief.
Gallery: OU’s 59-20 victory over West Virginia in pictures
“Yeah, I feel like we were clean, we were efficient, we took care of the football and we didn’t have a lot of penalties,” Lebby said a little while later in the interview room. “It gives you a chance of doing what you want to do.”
It had been too long since the Sooners had done it the way they wanted. Lebby caught more flak for that than Gabriel but they both felt it. Or Gabriel did at least.
Other Sooners felt the heat on their quarterback and play-caller. Which made 59 points and 644 yards pretty damn satisfying for them as well.
“Even with the two losses and the close game we had against UCF, I never lost belief and faith in them,” OU tackle Walter Rouse said of Lebby and Gabriel.
“We all know who they are, the type of coach Lebby is and the type of quarterback Dillon is,” Drake Stoops said after benefiting from both en route to 10 catches, 164 yards and 3 touchdowns. “We trust him with our lives. Like I said, I’d go to war with him any day. I don’t care what anybody says. That’s coming straight from me.
“This place means a lot to me, and they’re the perfect people for this place.”
They have the perfect temperament, Lebby having admitted to stiff-arming Sooner Nation criticism like he was Earl Campbell in his rookie season on the Oilers, Gabriel speaking to reporters after his eight-touchdown museum piece like he was reading the dictionary.
That might help explain Saturday’s bounceback for them both, although Lebby is closer to the point of talking about being “clean” and “efficient.”
What’s important is the bounceback.
The Sooners, as everyone in the program said last week, still have much to play for even if the College Football Playoff must wait another year. The offense humming like it did against West Virginia bodes well for the trip to BYU next week and TCU back home the week after. Maybe they can “clean” and “efficient” their way to Arlington for the Big 12 Championship yet.
It won’t happen without the quarterback and coordinator working more rhythmically together than they did at Kansas and in Bedlam. What a ruckus those two weeks were. What a ruckus that followed from the OU fan base.
At least everyone felt good again Saturday night at Owen Field, Gabriel and Lebby still squeezed next to each other on the roller coaster but this time thoroughly enjoying the ride.