OU overcomes sloppy start on way to 41-25 victory
Kingsley Burns, The Oklahoma Daily
The Sooners overcame early mistakes, sloppy play and key injuries to beat the Texas A&M Aggies, 41-25, Saturday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
OU took the opening kickoff and quickly orchestrated a drive, marching from its own 20-yard line all the way to the A&M 49. However, the Sooners lost their momentum just as quickly as they had gained it when senior tight end James Hanna fumbled the ball, giving the Aggies possession at their own 29-yard line.
The Sooner defense forced a quick A&M punt, but the offense could not find a rhythm, leading to several offensive miscues throughout the first half that stalled drives.
Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said the plays were there and he was pleased with his team’s intensity, but the execution just was not good enough early on.
“Early in the ballgame, we’re driving,” Heupel said. “We fumble on that first one, and then we’re just not as efficient as we needed to be to make the plays. It’s not a magic formula to it — you just have to make the plays.”
Oklahoma started the next drive with a false-start penalty, and an overthrow by junior quarterback Landry Jones on third-and-nine forced the Sooners to punt. A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill found receiver Ryan Swope wide open for a 16-yard completion that led to a field goal, giving A&M the 3-0 advantage.
Though OU’s offense struggled, it was able to respond when it had to. On the ensuing drive, the Sooners went 80 yards in seven plays, capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by freshman quarterback Blake Bell to put the Sooners up, 7-3.
The Oklahoma defense stepped up to start the second quarter. Senior defensive back Jamell Fleming forced and recovered a fumble at the Aggie 18-yard line. Again, though, OU could not get going offensively, settling for a field goal to make the score 10-3.
The rest of the quarter played out like a defensive battle. However, the Sooners stopped themselves about as often as the Aggies did. Senior wide receiver Ryan Broyles had two uncharacteristic drops, and Jones overthrew several open receivers. OU also had a couple of costly penalties and did not allow itself to get anything going.
Freshman kicker Mike Hunnicutt added another field goal with 6:24 left in the half to make the score 13-3 in favor of Oklahoma.
Then, A&M’s Swope burned OU’s defense. The receiver caught the ball with no defenders within 10 yards of him and scampered for a 79-yard score bringing the Aggies within a field goal of Oklahoma. That play was one of the few blemishes of a defensive performance that kept Oklahoma in control when its offense was not producing.
“Defensively, I thought we played a really good half,” coach Bob Stoops said. “We had that one play at the end of the half that was a scrambled play. Their guy made a heck of a play by doing that. But, there wasn’t a ton of adjustments we thought we needed to do defensively.”
Offensively was another story.
At the end of the half, Jones had completed only 10-of-26 attempted passes for 121 yards. The offense had only produced 180 yards of offense, had turned the ball over and had scored just 13 points.
That changed quickly in the second half, though. With 11:33 to go in the third quarter, sophomore Jaz Reynolds made up for an earlier drop with a one-handed touchdown catch to give the Sooners a 20-10 lead. That seemed to be the spark the offense needed to get things rolling.
Junior defensive end Ronnell Lewis picked off Tannehill on A&M’s ensuing drive, giving Oklahoma possession in Aggie territory. That was one of four turnovers forced by the OU defense, a factor Jones said played a big part in helping the offense get rolling.
“The defense did a great job of just giving us some energy and life and putting us in good positions where we’re inside the 30-yard line being able to go in and score,” he said.
Five plays later, sophomore running back Roy Finch darted into the end zone, and the Sooners had a commanding 27-10 lead. The Sooners poured it on after that. At the end of the third quarter, Oklahoma had 358 yards and a dominating 41-10 lead.
The first and second halves were like night and day for the Oklahoma offense. As Heupel said, though, there was no magic formula for the Sooners. Stoops said the strategy did not change at all. The Sooners kept playing their game and eventually seemed to find their stride.
“That’s the thing — sometimes you have to wait for it to come to you,” Stoops said. “Everything isn’t always smooth when you are playing good football teams. They are going to have their plays. You have to be tough-minded and keep working it to make yours.”
A&M scored late to make the score a respectable 41-25. However, it was too little too late after OU opened the second half in such strong fashion.
Jones finished the day 18-for-38 with 255 yards and two touchdowns. Blake Bell had a career day with 12 rushes for 37 yards and two touchdowns, and Roy Finch added 99 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
The good news was the Sooners overcame themselves, fought through the early mistakes and got a solid win over a quality team. It did not come without a major negative, though.
Stoops announced after the game that All-American receiver Ryan Broyles, who went down in the third quarter, had torn his ACL and will miss the rest of the season.
That means that in two consecutive weeks, Oklahoma has lost its No. 1 running back and No. 1 receiver to season-ending injuries. OU players remained optimistic, though, saying Oklahoma has plenty of athletes ready and willing to step up.
“For these next few games, we have to set the tone, come out swinging and play hard,” junior defensive end Ronnell Lewis said. “(Broyles) is our impact player. I can’t put it into words how it is going to affect the team, but we are going to bounce back. There are going to be shoes to fill, but we have guys that are playmakers who can step up and fill those shoes.”
Oklahoma now gets a bye week to try to fill the void left by Broyles. The Sooners will be back on the field against the Baylor Bears on Nov. 29 in Waco.