For years, Oklahoma fans called for the head of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. The Big 12 is not a hotbed of defensive excellence, and making a few big plays on that side of the ball per game was enough to win most Saturdays if your team had a league-average offense.
But Stoops’s defenses, no matter how talented and no matter how many four-and five-star recruits that are scattered through the roster, have been burned repeatedly in big games that ultimately cost the Sooners more than one championship, including a chance to play for a title in last year’s Rose Bowl against Georgia.
This year was supposed to be different. And after encouraging efforts in wins over Florida Atlantic and UCLA, the same old issues crept up again against Army on Saturday. The Black Knights and their option offense put forth a sublime performance that pushed the Sooners to overtime but came up just short in a 28–21 Oklahoma win.
The Sooners came into the game giving up more plays of 20-plus yards than anyone in the Big 12 except for Texas Tech and Texas. Army won 10 games and a bowl game last year, and righted the ship after a season-opening loss to still-unbeaten Duke, beating Liberty and Hawaii and now pushing a College Football Playoff contender to the limit.
What Army did to Oklahoma was nothing short of spectacular: It possessed the ball for 44:41 of game clock and ran for 371 yards, catching the Sooners’ defense out of position.
Oklahoma came into the game averaging 50 points and 551 yards a game (both ranked in the top 10 in the nation) and had a chance to win in regulation, but Austin Seibert missed a chip shot 33-yard field goal as time expired.
The Sooners’ offense was bogged down all night, mostly because it stayed on the sidelines for most of the game, getting to run just 40 plays. Each of their three scoring drives in regulation lasted less than three minutes.
Once the Knights got their hands on the ball, they did what any triple-option team does to stay in games: grind down the defense with methodical possessions. Army’s scoring drives took 9:31, 8:54 and (this last one to tie up the score at 21 in the third quarter) 10:47 of game clock, sucking the energy out of the hosts. Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins ran for 102 yards and a touchdown for the Knights, and Andy Davidson’s three-yard run was the last score that forced the extra session.
Oklahoma got the ball first in overtime and went right to work, with Kyler Murray hitting CeeDee Lamb for a 10-yard touchdown strike. Army’s fourth-down attempt from the 22-yard-line fell short, securing the Sooners’ victory.
Murray threw the ball only 15 times for 165 yards and three touchdowns and was aided by running back Trey Sermon’s 119 yards on the ground.
While the game was not short on drama, most of the nation never saw it. Because of the Big 12’s contract with Fox Sports, each school has the option to show one game in whatever fashion they want. Most people weren’t going to shell out $54.99 to watch the Sooners (or Black Knights, for that matter) on line until things turned crazy in the second half.
This will serve notice for Oklahoma and any championship aspirations it may have. No one in the Big 12 runs the triple option, but the Sooners’ defensive struggles need not to be ignored.