Instant Analysis: Oklahoma remains in playoff hunt with 30-29 win over TCU
1. Early mistakes put TCU at too big a disadvantage against Oklahoma
The final score might not tell the whole story of the Sooners’ win. That’s because the Horned Frogs spent most of Saturday’s game digging themselves out of a rut.
TCU committed a whopping three turnovers before halftime that Oklahoma efficiently turned into 17 points. Sooners cornerback Zack Sanchez picked off TCU backup quarterback Foster Sawyer—who started in place of an injured Trevone Boykin—twice in the first 20 minutes. Sanchez snagged one interception in the first quarter and another one early in the second quarter. But just before halftime TCU also fumbled, and Oklahoma defensive end Charles Tapper pounced on the loose ball. On the very next play, Mayfield threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Dede Westbrook. Just like that the Sooners entered halftime up 23-7.
Sawyer threw a third pick in the third quarter that Oklahoma turned into another touchdown for a 30-13 lead. At that point TCU coach Gary Patterson replaced Sawyer with third-string quarterback Bram Kohlhausen, who sparked the Horned Frogs into a late 16-0 run. On TCU’s last-ditch drive, Kohlhausen hit Emanuel Porter with a 14-yard touchdown pass that pushed their team within one, 30-29. But Patterson rolled the dice and went for the two-point conversion instead of the PAT, and the Sooners batted down Kohlhausen’s pass attempt to seal the win.
The Horned Frogs struggled all night with Oklahoma’s stingy defense, which ranked fifth in the Big 12 with 20 takeaways coming into Saturday. The Sooners took full advantage of the mistakes TCU handed them. Meanwhile, the normally potent Frogs simply couldn’t keep up without Boykin at the helm.
2. The Sooners had better hope Baker Mayfield isn’t seriously injured
After Oklahoma’s 44-34 win at then-No. 6 Baylor last week, Mayfield suddenly appeared on a number of short lists of Heisman Trophy contenders. But after Saturday Mayfield’s immediate future is a little cloudy.
In the first quarter Mayfield suffered a jarring helmet-to-helmet hit from TCU linebacker Ty Summers. Officials flagged the hit as targeting and ejected Summers, but Mayfield remained shaken up during the rest of the first half. When the team returned from the locker room in the third quarter, Oklahoma opted to start Trevor Knight started in place of Mayfield. The starter didn’t return.
The severity of Mayfield’s injury isn’t clear, and it’s possible Oklahoma’s staff was simply following concussion protocol by keeping him out after halftime. But the Sooners must hope Mayfield bounces back in time for next week’s meeting with Oklahoma State. While Knight was the hero of Oklahoma’s 2013 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, he wasn’t the answer at quarterback last season when he threw 12 interceptions against 14 touchdowns. On Saturday Oklahoma’s offense looked very different with Knight holding the reins. He even threw an ill-advised fourth-quarter interception that helped keep TCU in the game.
It’s easy to see this is Mayfield’s team, which is why coach Bob Stoops tabbed the Texas Tech transfer as his new starter over Knight this off-season. Mayfield might be one of the best quarterbacks in the country; he entered Week 12 as the second-most efficient passer in FBS. Oklahoma needs him back next week, because …
3. This was a playoff elimination game, and Oklahoma is still breathing
Two one-loss teams entered Norman on Saturday night, which meant the loser would likely fall out of the national championship race. So for now, Oklahoma’s shot at the Big 12 title remains intact.
Next week the Sooners face off against rival Oklahoma State in Bedlam. The Cowboys entered Saturday as the Big 12’s most viable playoff threat, but they suffered their first loss of the season against Baylor. That means these two rivals will meet in Stillwater next week for yet another elimination game. Oklahoma surely hasn’t forgotten Oklahoma State’s tight 38-35 win in overtime last season, while the Pokes should have a chip on their shoulder coming off a loss to the Bears.
But Oklahoma, in particular, doesn’t have much wiggle room. Its 24-17 loss to Texas on Oct. 10 remains a glaring wart on the program’s playoff résumé. One loss won’t kill the Sooners’ chances, but they’ll need to win out and claim the Big 12 title to make the four-team bracket. That’s why Saturday’s victory over TCU was so important.