LUBBOCK, Texas — Early in the second half, Oklahoma — players and coaches — had a moment of clarity. Down by 14 at Texas Tech but with enough time left to still run the ball effectively, a decision was made that changed the fortunes of a floundering team.
“I told my O-line, guys, we need to step it up here,” OU quarterback Cody Thomas said. “We came out on fire in the second half. You could tell there was just a little more passion in it, and we weren’t going to be stopped in the second half.”
They weren't. OU rolled to a 42-30 victory at Jones AT&T Stadium because it locked into what it does best — run the ball.
The Sooners (7-3, 4-3 Big 12) rushed for 393 yards with 325 of it coming in the second half. They became so heavily run-reliant that quarterback Thomas, who was making his first career start in place of the injured Trevor Knight, only attempted three passes in the last two quarters.
He was 3 for 3 on those, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Durron Neal that tied the game early in the third quarter.
Just about all involved wondered why OU didn’t become that run-centric from the start.
OU did a have quarterback forced into his first career start. Texas Tech’s inability to stop the run wasn’t a secret. It was last in the Big 12 in rushing yards allowed going into the game.
“We’re not going to go in and throw it just three times — not while I’m here,” Stoops said.
A coach doesn't make it through 16 seasons at a place like Oklahoma by being wrong very often. Perhaps it wasn’t until OU confronted the reality of losing for the fourth time in six games and returning home with a two-game losing streak that changed the thinking.
The Sooners were well on their way to doing that 85 seconds into the second quarter. Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes hit Devin Lauderdale for a 47-yard touchdown pass to put the Red Raiders up 21-7.
In every sense, the Sooners were reeling at that point. The secondary issues that have plagued it since Big 12 play began traveled to Lubbock in tact. Coverage busts were frequent and OU’s defensive line had a hard time keeping Mahomes in the pocket.
The start was just the second for Mahomes. Texas Tech (3-7, 1-6) played without starter Davis Webb for the second straight game with an ankle injury.
Yet, he kept plays alive like an experienced veteran. Mahomes threw for 393 yards and four touchdowns. The last was a 39-yard strike to Dylan Cantrell on the game’s final play. It was the initial three that had OU truly concerned.
“It was just some minor miscommunications. We actually picked up on that. It was just continuing to play hard,” linebacker Eric Striker said. “It was a big jump from the first to the second half to come out with a great mentality to finish the game the right way.”
Striker had a sack and two tackles for loss. The Red Raiders rushed for 93 yards. The Sooners’ communication issues didn’t look minor.
No one was within 20 yards of Texas Tech receiver Ian Sadler when he caught a pass in the middle of the field and took it 59 yards for a touchdown to put the Red Raiders up 14-7 late in third quarter.
“We were giving them too many gifts, especially in the back end,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “Guys were just not keeping their eyes on their men, things like that, so we just tuned up our techniques and our mechanics, and kind of got after them a little bit in the second half.”
OU did get some stops in the second half. Mahomes’ fourth touchdown pass came on the last play.
By then, the Sooners had piled up five straight second-half touchdown drives.
It was a two-headed rushing monster that handled most of it.
Perine rushed for 172 yards in the second half alone. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Thomas rushed for 90 yards in the second half.
It was the final 30 minutes where the Sooners at least bore some resemblance to a team worthy of their preseason expectations.
“That’s our best way of playing,” Perine said. “We like to dominate in the run game and get the one-on-ones on the perimeter, and we did in the second half.”
Whether or not Thomas remains OU’s starter next week against Kansas is up to the coaching staff. Whether the Sooners come to grips with the fact it runs it a lot better than it throws it remains to be seen.
Knight was on the sideline Saturday and was not wearing a neck brace. His status will evaluated this week.
Whatever quarterback is at the helm doesn’t matter. When OU decides it’s going to run at all costs, it plays like an imposing team.
About 15 feet from where Stoops was being grilled about the first-half playcalling and the secondary busts, players were chanting Thomas’ name in the locker room.
“That felt pretty good,” Thomas said. “Those guys are very close friends to me, and, again, they just show so much. I couldn’t be more thankful for that.”
The real recognition goes to the epiphany that running the ball was the only way OU avoided disaster Saturday.