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Horning: Caleb Williams saved the season, ought to have won himself a job, too

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Red River Showdown

Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams passes the ball Saturday during the Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas.

He saved the season.All Caleb Williams did Saturday afternoon inside the Cotton Bowl was save Oklahoma’s season.

Of course, he got huge assists from Kennedy Brooks, Marvin Mims, his offensive line and, for crying out loud, the Sooner defense, too, once the second half began, OU down 18 points.

But he saved the season.

Should anybody remember after a game like that, a 55-48 Sooners-on-top classic, Williams actually saved the first half, too, coming in for a snap, facing fourth-and-1 at his own 34, when the line did nothing for him and, forced to move outside his blockers to his left, made two Longhorns miss in the space of two steps and took it 66 yards to paydirt with no help at all.

“What an epic comeback,” said OU coach Lincoln Riley, which it was, the biggest in the Red River rivalry’s history.

He left out the part about Williams saving the season, spending more time on the intestinal fortitude of the quarterback Williams replaced, Spencer Rattler, for coming in and executing “the most important play of the game,” which was how he chose to refer to, over and over again, Rattler’s two-point throw to Drake Stoops that tied it 41-41 with 7:25 remaining.

Of course, that play never would have happened had Williams not stepped up in the pocket, run forward and thrown off his right foot, the way Kyler Murray used to, giving Mims a chance to make an amazing play at the goal line and catch a 52-yard score.

It wouldn’t have happened if Williams hadn’t done that and a whole lot of other things, too.

It’s understandable.

It makes sense.

Because who knows what happens to Rattler after the season ends; a season that should find Williams starting at quarterback for the rest of it unless he gives Riley a terrific reason to take the spot away from him.

Rattler could enter the draft, albeit a long way down from the No. 1 spot alleged ESPN draft guru Mel Kuiper decided he’d find himself at last spring.

He could transfer somewhere that would love to have him and spend two seasons rehabilitating his status, actually going to the pros the way everybody used to, after four or five years of college football.

Yet, right now, Riley needs him on board as a backup because for the first time, beginning in the third quarter Saturday afternoon, Riley’s team finally looked like one capable of challenging for a national championship.

Let him make his points.

Let him say he considered putting Rattler back out there “a lot” to try to lead what became the game-winning drive, the Sooners’ six-play, 75-yard sprint to win it on Brooks’ 33-yard run with 3 seconds remaining.

Let him say “turnovers” were what put Williams in the game in the first place, which could be true. But if it’s true, the Sooner Nation should be thanking Rattler for his second-quarter fumble.

Let him say he does not yet know who his starting quarterback will be against TCU in six days.


Before the first half was over, analyst Kirk Herbstreit, calling the game on ABC with Chris Fowler, had already annointed himself president of Caleb Williams fan club.

There was this one throw that Williams didn’t complete but that he’d expertly bought time enough to attempt and that he’d expertly even seen as a possibility, trying to hit Brayden Willis in the front-right corner of the end zone.

“The fact that he saw him has me excited,” Herbstreit said.

As OU began its second drive of the second half, Herbstreit mentioned that a year ago, Rattler’s benching against Texas, even in real time, felt like a breather.

“This doesn’t feel like that to me,” he said, before proceeding to call Williams “a natural leader.”

By the time it ended, Williams had offered up the Sooners’ longest rush of the season, the Sooners’ longest pass of the season, both touchdowns, and flat played the best half any Sooner quarterback had yet to play this season.

In that half, OU gained 370 yards from scrimmage, more than it managed in four quarters against West Virginia and almost as much as it gained against Kansas State (392) and Nebraska (408); averaged 9.5 per snap, which is even 1.3 more than OU averaged against Western Carolina; and scored on 6 of 8 drives, four of them touchdowns.

Williams himself finished 15 of 24 through the air for 211 yards and 13 of 19 for 179 after the half. He threw two touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Yet, what he really did was get his teammates to play their best half of the season behind him when nothing less would do.

“We needed them both to win it,” Riley said of Rattler and Williams, which could be true, though only one of them put them in a position where they might even have a chance to win.

Though OU eked out four victories, each by less than a touchdown, over a quartet of FBS foes, only one of them with a winning record — Kansas State — entering Saturday, it was never going to work against quality opponents.

What Williams offered will.

It’s a long year.

Maybe Rattler will save the season himself somewhere down the line.

But Williams saved it Saturday.

In no world that makes sense did he not win himself the job, too.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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