Horning: How they won sets Sooners up for fantastic future

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU quarterback Jalen Hurts wears the golden hat after the Sooners' beat Texas during the Red River Showdown, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

DALLAS — Put your hand in the air if you thought Oklahoma would beat Texas inside the Cotton Bowl on a day Jalen Hurts wasn’t particularly good.

Put another one in the air if you figured the Sooners would hold the Longhorns to 35 yards through the first quarter and 83 and three points at the half.

It’s not that OU won Saturday afternoon inside the Cotton Bowl, making it six victories out of the chute for the first time in nine seasons, but how it managed to claim its 34-27 victory.

Looking forward, what you still can’t know is whether OU may run the table, get back to the College Football Playoff and maybe this time, once there, win a game or two.

What you can know, though, is this team can do it.

It can go back.

It can win once there.

Losing happens in the strangest ways in the strangest places. Georgia lost to South Carolina Saturday and past Sooner squads as dominant as this one have fallen in the most bumfuzzling ways.

Anybody can be shocked. But that’s what it would take.

The three times OU reached the final four previously, the question's been if its offense might be strong enough to overcome its own defense and the opponent’s offense and defense.

The calculus has changed.

Heck, it changed so much Saturday that for about three quarters, the big question was if the Sooner defense could overcome the shortcomings of the Sooner offense.

Hello day, meet night.

“This won’t be our best game,” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said.

You hope not because Texas may well be a top-10 team, yet not a top-two or -three team and the eventual victory was by only a touchdown.

That, and on your best day you’re probably not two down in the turnover department, both charged to your quarterback, one in the opponent’s end zone and the other near enough to it, recovered by Texas at the Longhorns’ own 7.

Still, to do the things OU did in spite of those mistakes, and to make the plays a few players made amidst those challenges?

It’s enough to turn possibilities into probabilities, hope into faith and faith into knowledge.

Hurts committed the turnovers and completed 16 of 27 tosses, few of them memorable. However, 10 times he found CeeDee Lamb, who kept turning very little into a whole lot, eventually finishing with 171 receiving yards and three scores. He was the best player on the field.

Stat-crunchers who failed to watch the game may place it in Hurts’ existing narrative and keep him their Heisman favorite, because who can complain about 131 rushing yards and 235 through the air?

Still, even Hurts knew he was a drag and his team picked him up.

“We found ways to overcome,” he said. “This team showed some perseverance.”

Defensively, OU’s transformation is complete.

No longer are the Sooners teasing us about who they might be.

They’re a good defense, maybe a great one, with at least one superstar, Kenneth Murray, who jumped off the page Saturday, accounting for two of OU’s 15 tackles for loss and one of its program-record-tying nine sacks.

Remember the way you couldn’t take your eyes off Ndamukong Suh at Nebraska? He was a tackle, not a linebacker, but it’s the same thing. You think you’re watching the ball, yet eventually, what you’re really watching is him.

“You’re never fixed, you’re never there,” said Alex Grinch, the coordinator who’s overseen the turnaround of the unit for which Murray stars.

Only now it’s a rhetorical convention, a philosophy and not so much literal truth. OU’s defense can still get better, the process is ongoing, that’s true.

Also, it’s fixed.

Believe it.

Funny thing, but everybody had kind of the same thing to say about the Sooner defense.

The consensus is it’s not so complicated and, “they just let them go make plays,” Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger said.

As good a description as any.

Of course, there was one off-the-field question all of Sooner Nation wanted an answer to, too.

Should OU win, could the ever-serious Hurts finally relax? Could he enjoy the aftermath? Would he don the Golden Hat?

He did.

Sure, it was on odd look. He’s been on the scene for about 10 minutes. Still, it worked.

Talking about it afterward, Hurts said more than he’s said all season.

“You talk about emotional ties to this university,” he said, just maybe his voice cracking the tiniest bit, “they’re there now.

“OU DNA in me.”

Holy cow.

Behold the power of the Red River Rivalry.

The Sooners won.

They may not stop.

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