Bob Stoops described Oklahoma’s 31-24 come-from-behind victory at Tennessee as his favorite win after it happened Saturday. Then he chuckled when reporters asked him Monday to explain why.
“I think it is pretty obvious why,” Stoops decreed.
Stoops has won 170 games during his long tenure with the Sooners. He has led Oklahoma to victories in wild settings, rivalry games, conference championships, major bowls and he has won a national championship. Yet, beating Tennessee trumped that entire list.
“The environment away from home,” Stoops said, “the checkerboard end zones, the stadium, the whole deal — to come from behind two touchdowns in the fourth quarter is all pretty special.”
It certainly was a memorable victory, one that the Big 12 could ill afford to lose with few opportunities for the league to prove itself in marquee nonconference games.
For much of the night, it looked like it wouldn’t happen. Tennessee led 17-3 midway through the fourth quarter and with 102,000 fans supporting the Volunteers, they appeared in complete control. But OU quarterback Baker Mayfield led the Sooners on a pair of late touchdown drives that forced overtime. Then he engineered two more for the victory.
Oklahoma’s defense clinched the game with an interception in double overtime. The improbable comeback was complete.
“When you win these kinds of games,” Stoops said, “it can definitely boost you to handle the crowd the way you did and come back and win.”
It is tempting to assign extra meaning to early-season games, especially when they feature a dramatic ending. Perhaps it will bring the team together, some will say. At the least, they should now realize they are never out of a game. Maybe the players can use this as a springboard to a memorable season.
It is possible. In 2000, before the Sooners won their lone national title under Stoops, Oklahoma trailed Texas A&M 24-10 on the road in the third quarter and won 35-31. That victory raised spirits and led to bigger things.
Oklahoma, though not a universal pick to contend for the Big 12 championship, has darkhorse potential. Samaje Perine is one of the conference’s top running backs and Sterling Shepard has taken a step forward at receiver. The Sooners are strong on defense and they have confidence in Mayfield. Stoops said he never considered pulling him from the Tennessee game as he struggled through the first three quarters.
But people can also read too much into early-season games. Remember, Oklahoma hammered Tennessee a year ago and rose to No. 4 in the national polls. The Sooners appeared on their way to a spot in the first College Football Playoff, then they finished 8-5.
There is no telling how one victory, even the favorite in a collection of 170, will affect the rest of the season.
For now, though, Stoops is optimistic.
“It’s a bonus,” Stoops said. “Of course, you never want to be behind, but when you come through that way it can give your team a boost.”
In case it wasn’t obvious after a wacky week of scores in the Big 12, which featured Baylor and Texas Tech topping 60 points and TCU hitting 70, statistics show the league is filled with some of the nation’s most explosive offenses.
Baylor leads the country in total offense with 754 yards per game. During a 66-31 victory over Lamar, the Bears put up video-game stats. Quarterback Seth Russell threw for 342 yards and four touchdowns, running backs Shock Linwood, Johnny Jefferson and Terence Williams all topped 120 rushing yards and Corey Coleman and Jay Lee each topped 110 receiving yards.
Texas Tech ranks second nationally with 643 yards, behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He has already been chosen Big 12 offensive player of the week twice. And TCU became one of the few teams to hit 70 points this season with an easy win over Stephen F. Austin.
Changes work at Texas
Promoting Jay Norvell to offensive coordinator one week into the season seemed like a panic move in Austin, but the switch worked out for the Longhorns in a 42-28 victory over Rice.
Norvell went with Jerrod Heard at quarterback instead of Tyrone Swoopes, and Heard gave the offense a much-needed spark by throwing for 120 yards and two touchdowns and running for 96 yards.
The Longhorns only managed 277 yards of offense, so they still have improvements to make. But Heard did not lose any turnovers and provides confidence heading into their next game against California.