Oklahoma's Defense Steps Up With the Pivotal Play as Sooners Get Revenge on Texas

Oklahoma's much-maligned defense stepped up with the biggest play of the game as the Sooners captured the Big 12 championship over Texas.
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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Red River Rematch was the thrilling classic that we all wanted it to be. What no one expected was that the game would ultimately come down to a major defensive play by one of the most criticized defenses in the country.

Thanks to a safety in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma beat Texas 39–27 to win its fourth consecutive Big 12 championship. And maybe more importantly for the Sooners, they avenged their only loss of the season.

Here’s how it happened.

1. The Sooners' D Comes Through

For all the criticism Oklahoma’s defense has had all season long—and it’s been completely warranted, as its last four opponents have averaged more than 45 points per game, and even Kansas put up 40—this unit made the play of the game. With 8:27 left to play and Oklahoma up by three, Sam Ehlinger didn’t see Tre Brown coming around the edge. He yanked the quarterback down for a safety and a 32–27 Oklahoma lead.

This was after Texas had just held Oklahoma to its third field goal inside the red zone of the game, and right after Gary Johnson had just run down CeeDee Lamb after a 54-yard reception and forced a fumble (the only one of the game) at the Texas 10-yard line. UT was poised to drive down the field, take some time off the clock, and maybe pull off its second win over Oklahoma this season.

Instead, Oklahoma got the ball back and Kyler Murray led the Sooners to another touchdown to clinch the victory.

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2. Self-Inflicted Wounds

Texas killed itself with penalties and with no pass rush. The Longhorns, who are one of the country’s most penalized teams (averaging seven per game), finished with a season-high 12 penalties for 118 yards, several made by seniors. There was receiver Collin Johnson’s pass interference that swung momentum early in Oklahoma’s favor, turning a promising drive into second-and-25 and eventually a punt. Oklahoma got the ball back with less than a minute before halftime, which was enough for the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense to do what likes to do the most. Murray led OU 80 yards in 41 seconds and found Grant Calcaterra for a six-yard touchdown—and a 20–14 lead—following a holding penalty by Breckyn Hager which set up first-and-goal.

Texas also couldn’t put together an effective pass rush to stop Murray. The Heisman Trophy candidate is one of the best quarterbacks in the country when under pressure, and even more spectacular when he has time. And Texas gave him lots of time. The Longhorns let him score 21 straight points—like they did in October’s Red River Shootout—and he finished with 379 yards and three scores through the air and another 39 yards on the ground. This was in spite of receiver Marquise Brown’s four uncharacteristic dropped balls, two of which would have been touchdowns.

3. Playoff Next?

Now the Sooners are in wait and see mode with the College Football Playoff. Their path back to the four-team field was fairly simple heading into Saturday: beat Texas (and hope Alabama takes care of Georgia), and they’re in. But now it might be more complicated. By avenging its only loss of the regular season and stomping rival Texas for its fourth consecutive Big 12 championship, Oklahoma now has wins over every team in its conference, including three top-20 wins (Texas twice, West Virginia on the road last week to clinch its spot in the Big 12 title game). That’s got to be a nice résumé boost to present to the selection committee.

What could put them over the edge, though, is if the committee appreciates OU’s ability to win a slightly more defensive game. OU effectively won this game with the safety in the fourth quarter. Ehlinger was still able to have one of this best performances of the game, going 23 of 36 for 349 passing yards, but the Sooners limited UT to 88 rushing yards and Ehlinger threw a game-sealing interception late in the fourth.