Disappointment mixed with a late-season burst of enthusiasm describes Oklahoma’s first 11 games.
The dismay comes from the Bedlam stakes being down to pride and finishing the regular season with a three-game winning streak instead of a 12-gamer.
The Sooners (8-3, 5-3 Big 12) expected this season’s meeting with Oklahoma State (5-6, 3-5) to be their chance to secure a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
OU started the season as a consensus top four team and the prohibitive favorite to win the Big 12 Conference title.
Those hopes dissipated throughout October and were gone by early November. The losses to TCU, and then Kansas State and Baylor, at Owen Field of all places, changed the season’s trajectory.
“It’s been an up and down season. But right now you’re playing for your pride. For me that’s the biggest thing, not laying down just because we’re not playing for a national championship or not playing for a Big 12 championship,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “I don’t want to go out as a guy that just laid down because things got hard. I’ll never be that type of player. I don’t want anybody on the field with me that’s like that. We all have that understanding.”
Why has it been up and down?
Quarterback play and a shaky defense bear the burden. Critical interceptions by initial starting quarterback Trevor Knight played a part in all three losses. To make matters worse Knight suffered a spinal injury early in the fourth quarter of that game and hasn’t played since. Leading receiver Sterling Shepard has been severely limited throughout November with a groin strain.
Those two factors have made OU’s passing attack nearly non-existent. Backup Cody Thomas is expected to make his third consecutive start against the Cowboys with Knight still mending.
OU also gave up more than 30 points in all those games, including 48 in a 34-point loss to Baylor Nov. 8. It was the most lopsided home defeat during Sooner coach Bob Stoops’ tenure and one that elicited boos from fans the like of which haven’t been heard since the John Blake era.
That was undoubtedly the low point in the season.
It’s the two games since that have put the Sooners on an uptick. OU turned — begrudgingly at times — to its offense and running back Samaje Perine.
With that move, the Sooners’ fortunes have changed.
Perine has rushed for 1,428 yards this season. Nearly half of it has come in the last two games. It was OU’s last outing, a 44-7 rout of Kansas, in which everything seem to click.
Perine rushed for an NCAA FBS record 427 yards and five touchdowns on just 34 carries. That shaky defense held the Kansas offense scoreless.
The offensive line coupled with Perine have at least taken some of the gloom out of the season.
“It just great to have a great O-line, great fullbacks and tight ends,” left tackle Tyrus Thompson said. “You add a great running back to that situation and it does a lot of tremendous things in the run game.”
Emphasizing that run game in a way OU hasn’t in nearly a decade was the late-season discovery. It’s currently averaging 6.3 yards per carry. It’s the most by a Sooner team since 1971 and the most explosive team in the program’s storied wishbone era.
The Sooners will ride that offensive line and Perine into Bedlam. There’s a wide-spread feeling if they would’ve hitched themselves to that wagon earlier in the season, it would have a lot more at stake against Oklahoma State.
Better late than never.