PROVO, Utah — Billy Bowman was supposed to blitz.
Good thing he didn’t.
With BYU only a couple of yards from taking a second-half lead and putting OU on serious upset alert, the Sooner defensive back looked to his right and noticed a Cougar receiver uncovered. Two Sooners were covering three Cougars. That’s when Bowman went off-script.
“Forget it,” he thought to himself. “I’m not gonna blitz.”
Bowman didn’t just cover Kory Epps. The Sooner defender stepped in front of Epps, intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown. It was a two-touchdown swing. It was a momentum grabber. It was a game changer.
Maybe even a game saver.
OU 31, BYU 24.
On a day the OU defense had its struggles and the OU offense played the second half without Dillon Gabriel — Sooner coach Brent Venables said Gabriel suffered an “upper-body injury” — Bowman’s interception was the difference in the game. Let BYU score on that drive, and OU would’ve been in a world of hurt. Instead, the Sooners put defensive points on the board and took some of the pressure off Jackson Arnold and the offense.
“I’ve been playing this game for a long time and I’ve had a few like that,” Bowman said, “but this was probably one of my most favorites and definitely a memory for sure.
“It was great.”
It was the kind of play that kept the OU defense from having a disaster of a day.
BYU entered the game averaging less than a hundred yards rushing a game. There were only a handful of teams in all of major-college football who were rushing for less yards than the Cougars.
Saturday against the Sooners, they rushed for 227 yards.
“We were uncharacteristically not gap-sound several times,” Venables said. “We had two kinds of plans — one of them was good enough to win but not a very good plan. Our guys overcame that and played a little better in the second half.”
Yes and no.
OU actually gave up 151 rushing yards in the second half, so the Sooners weren’t better in that regard. On the drive that ended with Bowman’s pick-six, the Cougars opened with runs of 25 yards, 11 yards and 22 yards to get first-and-goal from the 2.
“I think it’s appropriate to say we were on our heels,” Venables said. “They were tempoing. We were trying to play a tempo defense.”
The Sooners weren’t doing a very good job of it. The Cougars were gashing them.
But then Bowman came up with a big play, and that became the script for the OU defense. It gave up more yards than it wanted, more first downs than it preferred, but it also had three takeaways, two fumble recoveries and Bowman’s interception.
“We made some mistakes that we’ve got to clean up, that we’ve got to get fixed,” OU defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “But at the same time, made a lot of game-changing plays when we needed to the most.”
When the OU offense needed them the most, too.
Gallery: OU’s victory over BYU in pictures
It was mostly a slog without Gabriel, who Venables said is likely to return Friday against TCU. But after Bowman’s pick six, the offense seemed to get a boost. It got deep into the red zone on its next possession, failing to come away with points after Zach Schmit badly shanked a short field-goal attempt. Then on its next possession, which came on a short field after Danny Stutsman forced a fumble on a blitz and Jacob Lacey pounced on the loose ball, the Sooners punched it into the end zone. Gavin Sawchuk’s 16-yard touchdown run that ended up being the game-winning score.
Maybe all that happens without Bowman’s interception, but things sure weren’t looking good.
“He was in great position,” Venables said. “Exactly where he was supposed to be. Fantastic play.”
Of course, when Bowman opted not to blitz and instead snagged the ball on the goal line, he still had work to do to score. Even though there was no one between him and the other end zone, BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff gave chase.
“That quarterback can fly,” Venables said.
And Bowman was running out of gas.
“It was hard to breathe,” he admitted.
Bowman felt Retzlaff closing in, but because Bowman knew he was about done for, he decided to dive toward the pylon. Retzlaff ended up clipping Bowman’s foot, sending him somersaulting into the end zone.
He ended up on his backside, and instead of popping right up, he sat there a second, then crossed his arms as if to say, “Yep, I just did that.”
Bowman said his pick-six on the third play of the Iowa State game earlier this season had been his favorite interception of his career.
“This one is definitely at the top,” he said.
It was big for him, even bigger for the Sooners.