Of OU’s six turnovers, Jalil Farooq’s second-half fumble was the worst

Of OU’s six turnovers, Jalil Farooq’s second-half fumble was the worst

Jenni Carlson’s OU best/worst: The Sooner superlatives in the Alamo Bowl were plentiful since OU had stretches of play against Arizona that were equally good and bad.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Dec 29, 2023, 4:00pm CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Dec 29, 2023, 4:00pm CST

SAN ANTONIO — OU’s bests and worsts from the Alamo Bowl were plentiful.

The Sooners, after all, had a nearly two-quarter stretch in the middle of the game Thursday evening that was darn near masterful. They outscored Arizona 24-0. Offense played well. Defense played even better.

But OU also had quarters bookending that excellence that were trash. Arizona outscored it 13-0 early, then 25-0 late.

The end result: Arizona 38, OU 24.

Here are the bests and the worsts from Thursday’s Alamo Bowl: 

Best offensive player: Don’t look now, but OU has found itself a splendid tailback. The running game was a mess for much of the season, but Gavin Sawchuk has shown himself to be the real deal. He was again in the Alamo Bowl. He rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown on only 15 carries; his 8.9 yard-per-carry average is ridiculous. He added three catches for 42 yards. Sawchuk wasn’t just solid. He was spectacular.

Best defensive player: Kip Lewis got hurt in the first half and missed several defensive series, but when the linebacker returned, there was a noticeable uptick in physicality. He finished with a team-high seven tackles despite those missed possessions. He had two tackles for loss, including one sack.

Best play: OU’s second touchdown of the game should make Sooners everywhere salivate about what next season might be. On second-and-goal from the Arizona 10, Jackson Arnold rolled to his left, and with pressure coming behind him, he unleashed a rope of a throw to the left side of the end zone. Nic Anderson not only snagged the ball but also managed to get a toe down inbounds. Arnold and Anderson will be among the players who make up the offensive core next season, and that play was a reminder of how dynamic they can be.

Worst play: All of the turnovers were bad, but Jalil Farooq’s second fumble late in the third quarter was the worst of all. Had he gone to the ground with the ball in his possession, the Sooners would’ve been 15ish yards from a 17-point lead. Instead, Arizona returned his fumble for a touchdown, then got an interception two plays later and a little over three game minutes after Farooq’s fumble, the Wildcats had tied the game. Just a horrible sequence.

Best under-the-radar play: Farooq’s fumble midway through the second quarter on a pass play that would’ve gotten the Sooners inside the Wildcat 10-yard line was bad. But Arnold’s throw? It was great. Arnold zipped the pass into Farooq, hitting him in stride and letting him keep moving upfield. Of course, the ball got forced out of Farooq’s grasp, but that didn’t change how good a throw it was. Signs of what could be.

Worst under-the-radar play: Brent Venables’ decision to punt from midfield with 9 seconds before halftime. Why not have Arnold scramble around a bit, then throw one into the end zone? Probably it falls incomplete and the half is over. But maybe the ball is caught. Or the play draws a pass interference. Seemed like a good time to take a chance because the risk of something bad was low. Now, Luke Elzinga hit a heck of a punt. It checked up and died inside the 1-yard line. Still, go for it, especially in a bowl game.

Best stat: Speaking of Elzinga, his punting was one of the few things that didn’t have a serious dip at some point in the game. He had a slew of great stats. He averaged 50.5 yards on four punts, and three of those four were downed inside the 20-yard line. And his fourth punt was fair caught at the 21-yard line. He darned near put every punt inside the 20. Sure, one of those downed deep was hollow — the punt at the end of the first half — but still, Elzinga had a fantastic night.

Worst stat: Where to begin? Six turnovers? Six holding penalties? Allowing 21 points off turnovers? None of it was great, but the turnovers were the story of the night. An OU team hadn’t turned the ball over that much in a game since 1997. The three interceptions, you can understand. New quarterback. Retooled offensive line. And as much as everyone throws the ball around these days, interceptions are going to happen. But three fumbles? That just can’t happen in a program that takes football seriously.

Best reason to feel good about OU: There were moments of brilliance for the Arnold-led offense. The Sooners went on a 24-0 run in the second and third quarters. During those two frames, Arnold was 18 of 27 for 279 yards and two touchdowns while the run game rolled up 168 yards. In those moments, you could see what was possible with Arnold quarterbacking and Seth Littrell calling plays.

Best non-football feature: Lots of the non-major bowls struggle to have a good atmosphere, but the Alamo Bowl regularly draws strong crowds. So it was Thursday night with an announced attendance of 55,853. Granted, the Alamo generally gets teams with strong fanbases that are strong in and around San Antonio. OU, Texas and Oklahoma State have been in heavy recent rotation. But the Alamo still does a good job of either local ticket sales or local ticket giveaways. Whatever the case, the atmosphere for the Alamo is tops for a non-major bowl

Worst non-football feature: All of the Ruf-Neks’ guns shot in the confines of an enclosed dome. It was deafening. Painful even. Listen, maybe disliking these gunshots makes me an old fuddy-duddy. But if being an old fuddy-duddy in this case is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I also don’t want to be deaf.

Best talk: “I feel like we did a great job preparing for Arizona, coaches put in the right stuff. I just feel like tonight, Oklahoma beat Oklahoma.” — Billy Bowman, OU cornerback.

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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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