By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
FORT WORTH — Pick your poison. Was Saturday afternoon at Amon Carter Stadium about just that: Saturday afternoon?
Or was it about a regular season? A regular season that began so suspiciously, that was never really dominant (though OU looked something like that in Lubbock, the Cotton Bowl and at home against Kansas), but that nevertheless closed with eight straight conference victories. Enough for another Big 12 championship, as long as you’re down with the league rules and don’t mind sharing.
Because the Sooners weren’t that good Saturday afternoon. And still, what they’ve put together is really kind of remarkable.
Where offense had bailed them out against Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, defense rose up, at least when it counted most, to deliver a 24-17 victory over TCU that wasn’t in the books until Julian Wilson broke up a pass intended for Josh Boyce. In the end zone and on fourth down, too, kind of like Derrick Strait at Bedlam so many years ago..
“That’s how we’ve been doing things,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Making things exciting.”
You can debate the worthiness of the murky Big 12 championship the Sooners won.
As Landry Jones said afterward, it’s not the same as winning a championship game. And as Bob Stoops refused to say, you can make a real good case it should only belong to Kansas State, the way the Fiesta Bowl bid only belongs to the Wildcats.
But what you can’t doubt is the accomplishment.
Offensive tackle Lane Johnson was asked when it was over if running the conference table the way OU ran the conference table seemed doable after stumbling to K-State. He answered it in an interesting way, literally ticking through each game before realizing what he was doing.
“We took it one game at a time,” he said. “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”
Recall that OU looked like a defeated team with Texas, West Virginia, Bedlam and TCU, among others, still to play. Only Kansas looked like a gimme.
Yet OU ran that conference table.
Also, way back when, during the dark days of the season, Jones would often say the same thing again and again. Saturday, only the tense had changed.
“I knew that we had a good team,” he said.
A good team, but not a great team. And somehow, that fact makes the Sooners look even better.
Nobody put it forward as a theory, but Bedlam really did take plenty out of this bunch of Sooners. That kind of game, that kind of drama, all the way to overtime, of course it was hard to rebound from. When was the last time the players took a couple victory laps with the fans?
Look at what Oklahoma State did against Baylor and it’s clear the Pokes couldn’t fully recover from such an amazing night.
So it was for OU, too.
Jones wasn’t sharp, completing only 22 of 40 passes, with one pick and a couple others that could have been. Only Jalen Saunders was a difference-making receiver. The Sooners ran well enough but it’s not like they ran the Horned Frogs into the ground.
Not at all.
Still, Damien Williams broke free for his first huge play in a while. Jones made a big throw and Saunders a big catch and run facing third-and-23 at a time the game was tied. Brennan Clay didn’t hit a home run but helped keep the ball moving.
“We didn’t play well,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvel said. “We played good enough to win, thank goodness.”
The Sooners made those plays, and the defense made its share, too.
Last week, OSU punted five times. West Virginia punted twice. Baylor punted three times. Even Iowa State booted it an even five. But the Horned Frogs punted eight times.
No, TCU is not a high flyer.
“It felt like football out there today,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, a comment on the Frogs traditional roots.
Yet OU still had to stop it.
It did, well enough to win.
Do the Sooners deserve a Big 12 championship? Does it even matter? The conference says they do. But this time it’s not about the hardware, but the perseverance.
This very fallible team is 10-2, sort of conference champions and likely heading to a BCS bowl.
Saturday wasn’t the greatest, but what it’s a part of is really quite something.
Clay HorningFollow me @email@example.com
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