PROVO, Utah — Marie Osmond sang the national anthem, which stirred the heart of every manchild of the ’70s.
Clouds grabbed a seat atop the morning Wasatch Mountains as if they had stopped by to peer over the LaVell Edwards Stadium grandstands.
The impossibly hospitable hosts handed out complementary blue ice cream to the fans wearing crimson.
We always had heard that Brigham Young football was a different experience and danged if it wasn’t so.
But the game? The game is the same as back on the prairie, where superfan Toby Keith never sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Owen Field and the crowd always booed when a David Boren video asked fans to be nice.
Take away the ball, you win. Give away the ball, you lose.
It’s that simple in the new football world of parity. BYU, collectively beaten 117-26 the last three weeks, had no business hanging with the Sooners.
But the Cougars hung. OU won 31-24, taking the lead for good on Gavin Sawchuk’s 16-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter, then getting a quick stop. The Sooners ran out the final five minutes and were glad to get home with a victory by any score.
“A win’s a win,” said OU guard McKade Mettauer. “I don’t really care how it happens.”
Gallery: OU’s 31-24 win at BYU in pictures
Here’s how it happened. BYU committed three turnovers, and the Sooners turned them into three touchdowns. OU committed no turnovers.
There’s your ballgame.
“That’s huge,” said OU offensive coordinator Jeffy Lebby. “That’s all Jackson (Arnold) and I talked about in between series in the second half … Let’s just keep taking care of the rock.”
Yep, Jackson Arnold. Dillon Gabriel was injured on OU’s penultimate play of the first half; he didn’t play in the second half. So ball security became Priority A for the Sooners.
BYU was playing with a novice quarterback, too — junior college transfer Jake Retzlaff was making his third start, in relief of the injured Kedon Slovis. Retzlaff made some plays, but he also committed all three turnovers, the worst of which was Billy Bowman’s 100-yard interception return, a true 14-point swing, since the Sooners weren’t moving the ball much.
“We’ve outscored our opponents 91-3 off of turnovers in our nine wins this season,” Brent Venables said.
Give BYU credit for playing tough. The Cougars seemed like great candidates to quit on the season. But that’s not BYU’s style.
“We have to be better,” Venables said. “There is some parity. I love Coach (Kalani Sitake), what he does and what he’s about. He’s a former player here. They take tremendous pride and passion. We gave them some hope early. It was a great atmosphere. This is a really cool place.”
Nobody in crimson should deny that. Great setting. Great atmosphere. Hospitable culture. What a place to experience a football game.
“It was very cool to me,” said six-year veteran Drake Stoops. “Being my first time here and being an older guy, I feel like I’ve been to every Big 12 stadium, so it was interesting to be able to play in a different one this year.
“And yeah, the mountains are sweet, their fans really showed out. It was a very cool atmosphere and I enjoyed it.”
Who knows if the Sooners will see parity like this in the Southeastern Conference? The SEC is a little top-heavy. But worry about that later. For now, the Sooners just have to win any way they can.
Because this one could have gone the other way.
Sawchuk fumbled on OU’s second possession. Gabriel fell on the ball and threw a touchdown pass on the next play.
Arnold fumbled the first snap of his second possession but fell on the ball at his 13-yard line before BYU marauders descended.
BYU had no such fortune with its careless plays. And the Cougars didn’t get much help from offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick.
The Cougars gashed the Sooners for 25, 11 and 22 yards on three straight running plays, to reach the OU 2-yard line, with the game tied 17-17 in the third quarter.
But on first down, Roderick dialed up a pass; Bowman jumped the slant route and ran 300 feet. The Sooners went from the verge of 17-24 down to 24-17 up.
After OU’s Zac Schmit hooked a 28-yard field goal with the game tied at 24 — Venables needs a new kicker — the Cougars faced a third-and-4 at their 39-yard line. BYU’s passing game was dormant, the running game on fire.
But Retzlaff dropped back to pass, blitzing linebacker Danny Stutsman popped him and nose guard Jacob Lacey fell on the loose ball 25 yards from paydirt. OU scored in three plays.
“Taking care of the ball,” Mettauer said. “When you see our two losses that we had, it’s because we had giveaways. As long as we’re taking care of the ball, and then on the opposite side getting takeaways, that’s going to help us win games.”
That’s how OU will win games until their talent level rises well above the tide. And that might not be for a while in the SEC. Better stay on the high side of turnovers when the Sooners head South, where there will be no mountains and no Marie Osmond and OU can only pray for parity.