Ronnie Perkins was thinking about Darrian Fields.
As the defensive end pondered his play and that of the No. 18 Sooners (6-2, 5-2 Big 12) after their 41-13 Bedlam victory over No. 14 Oklahoma State (5-2, 4-2 Big 12) late Saturday, his recently deceased University City High School teammate was heavy on his mind.
The sticker underneath Perkins’ left eye read “LL6” in honor of his late friend, who wore the number six during his playing career.
“I’ve known him since I was probably 10 years old and he just recently passed when I was home,” Perkins said after the game. “So I kind of just wore this out there with me to give me memory of him while I'm playing and to also make him feel like he’s playing with me while he’s watching down on me.”
In a defensively dominant Oklahoma victory, the junior honored his friend with one of the best performances of his college career. ESPN television analyst Chris Fowler said Perkins looked “possessed” as he chased Cowboy quarterbacks Spencer Sanders and Shane Illingworth around the field, finishing with five tackles — three for a loss — and two sacks.
Before the contest, Perkins stood at midfield, staring down the Oklahoma State sideline. In his third game back from a six-game drug suspension, the “emotional leader” of OU’s defense set the tone from OSU’s first offensive play, forcing Sanders into an awkward throw that resulted in intentional grounding.
“We love Ronnie, and every time he makes a play early, the whole defense just follows behind him, as you can see that happened today,” sophomore linebacker David Ugwoegbu said. “So I think it just upped the tempo for us.”
Later in the first quarter, Perkins got through the Cowboys floundering offensive line and rattled Sanders like a rag doll, forcing the redshirt sophomore out of the game until the fourth quarter.
Perkins was also active in the running game, making key tackles and helping the Sooners hold OSU to a season-low 78 rushing yards. He was constantly jawing with opposing players in a chippy game that included a halftime altercation, while providing supreme confidence and a spark for his team.
Ronnie Perkins Can't Stop. Won't Stop. pic.twitter.com/1nxSuXMNT5— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) November 22, 2020
“We're always cheering on the sideline, especially when (Perkins) gets back there and throws a dude six yards back into the field,” quarterback Spencer Rattler said with a laugh. “It’s a good feeling getting happy for him, and it makes it a lot easier for the offense and gets a lot of energy to the whole team.”
Behind Perkins’ leadership, Oklahoma State was held to a measly 246 yards of offense —165 less than its per game average. OU produced four sacks and seven tackles for a loss, while getting an interception from Ugwoegbu.
The Sooners also got at least one tackle from 21 defensive players, showcasing the depth defensive coordinator Alex Grinch continues to forge in his second season in Norman.
Entering the contest, much of the talk had been about OSU’s defense — a group ranked No. 16 in the country in total defense and No. 8 against the pass.
While Rattler and the offense blasted away at the Cowboys, Perkins and his teammates emerged as the more dominant unit. Even as Oklahoma State threatened for garbage time points, the Sooners clamped down, getting a stop on fourth and goal with just under three minutes left in regulation.
“We just wanted to prove we’re top dog,” Perkins said. “We’re the best defense in the Big 12. We’ve been hearing a lot about their defense throughout the week.”
In a statement game under the lights for Perkins and crew, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit took notice of the marked improvement in OU’s defense compared to previous years.
“I think those teams that have gone in the past and many times got exposed in the (College Football Playoff), they were a great offense but they didn’t have a defense,” Herbstreit said during the national broadcast. “I think this team has a better defensive front, they’ve got some experience in the secondary and I think now that the young quarterback has grown up and he’s got so many different weapons. It just feels like a complete team.”
Much of the credit for the defensive revolution goes to a resurgent Perkins, who was playing for the No. 6 under his eye and in his heart.
“No disrespect to them at all, but defense, I mean, it sounds kind of crazy to say,” Perkins said, “but defense (is) running through Oklahoma in the Big 12 too now, offense and defense.”