NORMAN — The coroner reports on the OU autopsy after Bedlam have been varied.
Some blame Jeff Lebby for the Sooners’ demise. Others pin the crimson-and-cream downfall on turnovers or penalties or even a controversial no call on a pass interference that happened with almost five minutes remaining in the game.
(If it’d happened with five seconds remaining, OK, we can talk about whether it cost the Sooners victory. But with five minutes?!? That wasn’t the reason OU lost.)
But as the Sooners try to resuscitate their season Saturday night against West Virginia, I’ve got another hypothesis on OU’s cause of death in Bedlam: failure to capitalize.
On three consecutive possessions in the second half, the OU offense got the ball after a big play by the OU defense. The first two came on fourth-down stops, forcing an OSU turnover on downs, while the third came on an interception by Billy Bowman, which he returned nearly to midfield.
All three changes of possession came with a shot of momentum for the Sooners, and all three coming one right after the other gave them a great opportunity to seize control of the game.
And on the first of those three possessions, OU did score. Tawee Walker scored on a 23-yard run to give the Sooners a 21-17 lead, their first lead of the game with 8:05 left in the third quarter.
Imagine how the game would’ve been different had OU scored on either of the next two possessions. Score a touchdown or two, and that lead would’ve probably seemed almost insurmountable to OSU. But honestly, even if the Sooners had managed a field goal, it would’ve been a huge shot in the arm to them.
Instead, the second of the three possessions ended with a turnover on downs while the third ended with a quick kick.
Look at each of those two possessions, and you’ll find only two plays that went for 10 yards or more. There was a third-and-15 dump-down pass to Austin Stogner as Dillon Gabriel was under duress that went for 10 yards, and there was an 11-yard run by Walker. That’s it for “explosive” plays.
The other nine plays that picked up yardage went for 7 yards or less while the longest throw on either of those drives was a 15-yard pass to Drake Stoops that sailed high.
Why not go for a couple big plays? Why not try to step on the gas?
So what if they weren’t successful. It wouldn’t be any worse than what the Sooners had.
Frankly, it was a similar situation the week before at Kansas. After a late interception by Ethan Downs, the Sooners had a chance to win the game. Get one first down, and they could salt away the clock. But instead of aggressively going after victory, they got conservative, had to punt and ultimately lost the game.
Sometimes teams have opportunities to swing the momentum of a game, to change the tenor, to rattle the opponent. The Sooners had that with those three big defensive moments in Bedlam, but the offense managed only seven points. The Cowboys had four possessions started by either a turnover or a turnover on downs, and while they scored only 10 points in the aftermath, in a game decided by three points, that difference was deadly for the Sooners.
Here are some other nuggets to chew on before OU-West Virginia gets under way at 6 p.m. in Norman:
Sooner to watch: He won’t be on the field, but all eyes will be on what Jeff Lebby does with this offense. For whatever reason, the offensive coordinator has long been the coach who takes the most heat from Sooner fans. Whether it has been Mike Leach, Mark Mangino, Chuck Long, Kevin Wilson, Josh Heupel, Lincoln Riley or Lebby, all faced the ire of the crimson masses at one point or another. But the heat on Lebby is as high as any in recent history.
Sooner newcomer to watch: Let’s go with newcomers plural: defensive linemen Rondell Bothroyd, Jacob Lacey, Da’Jon Terry and Trace Ford. The newbies along with the OU veterans did a good job slowing down Ollie Gordon last week, but this week presents another challenge for the run defense. West Virginia is the only team in the Big 12 with three players who’ve rushed for at least 400 yards this season. Running backs CJ Donaldson (676) and Jahiem White (416) along with quarterback Garrett Greene (427) will stress that OU front.
Mountaineer to watch: It will be interesting to see who cornerback Beanie Bishop matches up with. Jalil Farooq? Drake Stoops? Nic Anderson? Bishop is among the best corners in the league, ranking first in passes defended. He’s got four interceptions and 17 pass break ups, which is far and away the most in the Big 12. The second highest number of pass break ups is nine.
A familiar face in Norman: West Virginia athletic director Wren Baker is an Oklahoma native. Even though he was raised in Valliant, went to Southeastern Oklahoma State for undergrad, then got his master’s while working on Eddie Sutton’s staff at Oklahoma State, he has ties to Norman. He told me earlier this week on The Jenni Carlson Show that his mom lives there, and had Sutton not offered him a grad assistant job, Baker said he likely would’ve done his master’s at OU.
Cool stat going into West Virginia: In the Big 12 era, OU has averaged 42 points a game in its 10 games against West Virginia. But the games in Norman are generally more low scoring (37 points a game) than the games in Morgantown (46 points).
Something to watch in Norman: The last two games that these teams have played have been memorable but for vastly different reasons. Two years ago in a 16-13 OU win, Sooners everywhere will remember the game as the day the student section started the “We want Cal-eb!” chant, voicing their desire for starting quarterback Spencer Rattler to be benched in favor of backup true freshman Caleb Williams. Last season, West Virginia beat OU 23-20 with a walk-off 25-yard field goal as time expired.
Did you know?: OU has lost only 13 home games since 2000. In that same time period, it has won 14 Big 12 titles.
If you go to Norman …: Take a jacket. The National Weather Service says the high on Saturday will be 60, but after our Daylight Saving Time switch a week ago, kickoff will come after sunset. Be ready for those temps to dip.
If you don’t go …: Make sure your TV remote has good batteries. No. 9 Ole Miss goes to No. 2 Georgia. Kickoff at 6 p.m., just like OU. But you’re lucky: the Fox timeouts are long. You’ll have plenty of time for occasional look-ins to Athens.
If I could be in two places: Michigan goes to Penn State. I’ve never seen a game in Happy Valley, and this would be a heck of a match-up to start with, especially considering all the hubbub that’s swirled around the Wolverines this season.
Playing favorites: Some folks will no doubt think less of me because of this, but I love the night-time light show that OU does with its stadium lights. Different colors. Different patterns. It’s fun, and shouldn’t sports be fun?