Associated Press —
By Clay Horning, CNHI
James Franklin, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound true freshman quarterback on the Tiger roster, lined up in the shotgun rather than Blaine Gabbert for one snap. Franklin took it, faked a handoff and headed toward the end zone.
He appeared stopped by Oklahoma’s defense a stride or two short of the goal line, but he never went down. Eventually, Missouri’s offensive line pushed him through the Sooner defense and into the end zone.
This is how Kirk Herbstreit, calling the game with Brent Musberger, described what happened: “In a play that almost illustrates the whole game …”
Herbstreit was close.
If only Sooner quarterback Landry Jones could have managed to throw the ball to a Missouri defender on the very same play, he would have been even more right.
Because it was a funny thing, watching the Sooners lose to the Tigers 36-27, throwing away their No. 1 spot in the BCS standings along the way.
Watching Roy Finch run and Kenny Stills catch passes and Trey Millard run and catch passes, and hearing any number of other Sooner freshmen have their name called, you couldn’t help but think about the future promise of Bob Stoops’ OU football program.
Yet for maybe the first time that really mattered, it became clear how far the future, that kind of future, remains from the moment.
When it finally arrives is hard to know.
OU still has huge road games at Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State, and if you don’t think all three are in play, you’re crazy.
Once again, the Sooners appeared lost away from Owen Field, so much of the time and so much like last season.
Might that future arrive in time for unblemished success the rest of the regular season? The Sooners can still reach the Big 12 championship game, quite possibly face a rematch with the Tigers, or maybe for a final go-round with Nebraska, which plays host to Missouri six days from today.
But to get there and win, OU will have to be so much better than it was Saturday night.
Missouri went up and down the field, Gabbert never faced any pass rush to speak of and, most troubling of all, Jones was so clearly not Gabbert’s equal in a game he had to, first and foremost, not make terrible mistakes.
His biggest offense may have been his first interception, after the Sooners had already tied the game 7-7, when they appeared ready to take control of the game, having already driven to the Missouri 12 late in the first quarter.
What looked like a screen pass by design, instead was a throw right to Aldon Smith, who brought it back 58 yards, setting up the go-ahead touchdown for the Tigers.
Jones’ second pick couldn’t have come at a worse time, right after Missouri had taken back the lead, right after OU had finally taken its first lead, when Zaviar Gooden picked him off on the first play of a drive that began at the Sooner 22.
Yet maybe most troubling of all, his worst throw came on OU’s next drive, facing third-and-6 from the Sooner 25. Jones looked right at Stills and threw it to him despite his being well-covered.
What the replay showed, though nobody mentioned it on the broadcast, was Brad Madison, a defensive end who’d dropped into coverage, should have intercepted that pass, too, and Madison wasn’t even the guy covering Stills.
The defense must be better. The pass rush must arrive. Simply getting pushed around by an opponent cannot be the order of the day, and giving up a touchdown on the opening kick can’t happen again.
Fix all of that and the Sooners might win out, reach a BCS bowl and make the rest of the season almost as exciting as the season they appeared to have in front of them Saturday morning.
Just as long as their quarterback doesn’t sabotage it with more bad decisions.
OU has a long way to go.