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Horning: Sooners prove their vast limitations, gain 10th victory, anyway

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OU V Iowa State football

OU’s Nik Bonitto sacks Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy Saturday during the Sooners’ game against the Cyclones at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

There is a version of Oklahoma that is electric and stunning and sometimes impossibly unthinkable, too.

That version of the Sooners, however, is not repeatable, because what they are not, nor close to being, is great.

Saturday told us.

Though OU might have the defense — now, maybe — the offensive guru that is Lincoln Riley has either lost his touch or simply doesn’t have the horses, at least not yet, to present even a dependably good Sooner offense.

That’s what OU’s 28-21 victory over Iowa State emphatically told us, and while the win leaves a sliver of hope the Sooners might still reach the College Football Playoff should utter chaos ensue, what it really did, even in a way everything that led to it couldn’t quite, was highlight this team’s limitations.

The Sooner offense can still hit home runs as quarterback Caleb Williams proved by going 74 yards on a run-pass option in the first quarter, tying it 7-7. It just can’t be counted upon and the only place in which it’s really “close” is Riley’s imagination.

One week after not having it Baylor and really not having it in the fourth quarter at Baylor, this is not an indictment.

It’s a reality check.

It’s finally clear.

Because what OU managed against Iowa State was to earn victory despite its limitations, which is a kind of tribute, though those limitations remain vast.

Given what happened a moment before the half — Jalen Redmond bringing a fumble recovery back 42 yards after Key Lawrence made it all possible, leveling Cyclone quarterback Brock Purdy seconds before intermission — should have set the Sooners up to capitalize out of the half, as well.

Instead, upon receiving the third-quarter kick, OU showed everybody just how far away it remains offensively in three quick snaps.

First snap, Kennedy Brooks lost a yard, a combination of run-blocking failures from the line, which happen all the time, and Caleb Williams’ poor choice to give it to Brooks rather than keep it himself, which happens all the time, too.

Second snap, Williams had time to throw if he could find anybody open and time to run if he could not. Instead, he did not throw and did not run, leaving only Door No. 3 available, which he took, throwing the ball away.

“He’ll grasp that more as we go on,” said Riley, who must hope he’ll grasp it in less than a week, Bedlam looming.

Third snap, Williams became the victim of a sack and loss of 5, yet another testament to the line’s lack of consistency.

Given the entire half to draw something up that might work, the Sooners went backward 4 yards instead.

Instead of capitalizing on serious momentum taken into the locker room and making it a two-score game, OU punted the ball back to Iowa State not once, but twice, before finally scoring again, and the Sooners were crazy lucky to do even that, surviving what should have been a safety sack or a defensive touchdown in their own end zone, but became a field-flipping punt from Michael Turk instead, only because offensive lineman Anton Harrison picked up Williams’ fumble and ran it 6 or 7 yards out of the end zone to the 4-yard line.

That’s how close it was.

It’s also just how much this team isn’t what it’s been offensively and we’re well past being surprised by it.

For the fifth time this season OU failed to reach 400 yards of total offense and for the fourth time the Sooners failed to gain more yardage than their opponent.

OU gained 305.

Iowa State gained 361.

At the half, the Cyclones had 12 first downs to the Sooners’ 6. After two quarters, Williams was 4 of 10 through the air for 37 yards and would only finish 8 of 18 for 87, with a touchdown and a pick.

Yet, that’s not the stuff that dominated the talking about it afterward.

The win did.

“It’s a complete team win,” Riley said. “It took all sides.”

Maybe that’s true.

Had the offense only gained 205 yards, it would have really been in trouble.

Linebacker Nick Bonitto was asked if the defense has reached a place where it feels comfortable in tight games down the stretch

“Most definitely,” he said, as though the Sooners had the Cyclones right where they wanted them. He even listed examples.

Nebraska, Tulane, Baylor, last year, he said. He could have mentioned West Virginia and Kansas, too.

Maybe the Cyclones really were right where the Sooners wanted them.

Even at the end, Iowa State given one last drive to tie it, maybe win it with an eight-point possession, as the pride of Norman North, the great Cyclone tight end Charlie Kolar making five grabs for 79 yards, Patrick Fields dashed all comeback hopes, stepping in front of a pass and intercepting Purdy in the shadow of the end zone, 15 seconds still on the clock.

Sooners win.

Sooners win.

Despite everything, which is so much …

Sooners win.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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