DALLAS — Kenneth Murray climbed into the crowd, Sooner Nation swarming to him. Exhausted, the junior linebacker took a seat in section 26, row two, seat 10 of the Cotton Bowl alongside dozens of family and friends.
His dad, Kenneth Murray Sr., gave him a hug, wrapping his arms around his 21-year-old son, patting him on the back.
“It was a hug of affirmation,” Murray Sr. said. “He was made for this moment.”
Minutes earlier, Murray stood at midfield of the Cotton Bowl and, in one swift motion, planted a white flag with an interlocking crimson "OU" in the center of the field. He and the No. 6 Sooners (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) had taken down No. 11 Texas (4-2, 2-1 Big 12), 34-27.
For Murray and Oklahoma’s defense, it had made a statement — OU’s defense is for real.
"I'm a true believer in the past doesn't define you," said Murray, who had five tackles, two of them for loss, and a sack Saturday. "This is a new year. A completely different approach. A completely different mentality."
Kenneth Murray the first Sooner to put on the Golden Hat and deservingly so. pic.twitter.com/QLoyoMgDwE— George Stoia III (@GeorgeStoia) October 12, 2019
A year ago — 371 days to be exact — Oklahoma's defense had hit rock bottom at the Cotton Bowl, giving up 48 points and 386 total yards from Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger. A day later, then-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was fired.
This year, Oklahoma held Texas to 27 points and 201 total yards from Ehlinger.
"They did a really good job swarming the football," Ehlinger said. "I just feel like they let them make plays instead of trying to be complex."
In recent years, Oklahoma's offense often bailed its defense out. That wasn't the case Saturday.
The Sooner defense continued to get stops, giving Oklahoma's offense multiple chances to put the game away.
"Obviously on offense, when you fail to score and the defense keeps picking you up and doing their job, and holding up their end of the bargain, the energy just switches over to the offense," junior wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said. "As a team, we did a great job of complementing one another, the defense did a great job in the first half like coach Riley said."
Murray, as he typically does, spearheaded Oklahoma's defensive performance. He set the tone from the start, swinging Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay to the ground for no gain on the second play of the game. Then, on the first possession of the second half, he fought through Texas' offensive line and sacked Ehlinger on third down.
He looked like the player Oklahoma has expected him to be for the last couple years. He looked like Sooner Butkus Award winners of the past — Brian Bosworth, Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman.
"The best defensive player at Oklahoma should be in the conversation for national awards," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. "I think he's just one of those guys ... I thought today was exciting to see that. As a defensive coach, when the play kind of breaks down, you're out looking for No. 9 ... 'Go save the day, bud.'"
Sitting in section 26, Murray's family and friends watched him do just that. After the game, they said they expect that type of play from him. He's always risen to the occasion, even when he was a kid.
"He's always been that way," said Timothy Boutte, Murray's high school trainer and personal coach. "The game is slowing down for him. He's playing free and attacking ... He's playing like we always knew he could."
For Murray himself, the people sitting in section 26 are the source of his strength.
"Family is everything to me. I had a big support group come out today. My family is my 'why.' The reason why I do things. The reason why I go so hard. Just being around them means everything."
As for his father, a preacher, who first taught Murray what it means to be a leader, he was overcome with emotion by his son's performance.
"For me, there's no words, no superlatives to describe the joy I have right now," Murray Sr. said. "To see my son out there doing what he's doing — he's living his dream. He's pursuing his passion. It doesn't get any better than this."
Murray and Oklahoma have a ways to go, with daunting tasks waiting for them in Manhattan, Kansas; Waco, Texas; and Stillwater, Oklahoma. But Saturday's feat is reason for celebration.
And for Murray — who has said all season he wants to go down in Oklahoma history as one of the best linebackers to come through Norman and bring home another Butkus Award — he's well on his way.
On Monday, heading into the game, Murray said about the Red River Rivalry: "You make a play in this game, you will be remembered forever."
So, take a bow, Mr. Murray. Your performance Saturday will live in Cotton Bowl lore forever.