DALLAS — Yet again, OU-Texas delivered.
The No. 6-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (6-0) survived a disastrous start to overcome the No. 21 Texas Longhorns (4-2) 55-48 in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday morning after a quarterback change sparked the largest comeback in the history of the Red River Showdown.
Murphy’s Law set its target on the Sooners in the first half as OU allowed a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and had a punt blocked in the shadow of their own end zone, putting Texas up 14-0 early. Quarterback Spencer Rattler then surrendered a pair of first half turnovers against Texas for the second year in a row, causing Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley to turn to true freshman Caleb Williams.
All Williams did was engineer an 18-point second half rally to keep OU’s unbeaten season alive and cemented himself as an OU-Texas legend.
Keep Calm and Carry On
In the face of all the first half adversity, the Oklahoma Sooners never lost belief that they could turn the tide and come all the way back to beat the Longhorns.
“From my perspective, I've been in the 2019 comeback versus Baylor,” OU tight end/H-back Jeremiah Hall said after the game. “The past few games against Texas we've won by less than a touchdown or 10 points or less. And so when you look at the clock and it's 14-0 with 13 minutes and 7 seconds left, it's just like 'Wow.' First, you've gotta keep yourself cool, calm and collected.
“Then you've gotta tell yourself and the rest of the team 'We've just gotta get to work.' There was never a moment in time where I thought that we were going to lose, but I was frustrated that we were making it harder on ourselves than it needed to be”
Heading into the halftime intermission on the back of a Cameron Dicker field goal which pushed the lead back to 18 for Texas, wide receiver Marvin Mims said the atmosphere in the locker room was relatively calm as the Sooners got to work on fixing their first half mistakes.
“First we got in there it was kind of quiet,” Mims said. “Coaches came in, we made adjustments. It got kind of loud, guys started picking up energy and stuff like that and we built on it. No one was really down, no one was hanging their head, no one was pissed off. At the end of the day we knew we had another half of football to play and we made the most out of that opportunity obviously.”
Both sides of the ball benefitted from the halftime adjustments as Oklahoma dominated the second half.
OU out-gained the Longhorns 370 yards to 171 yards in the second half, limiting running back Bijan Robinson to just 35 yards after the break. The Sooner defensive line also turned up the heat on quarterback Casey Thompson, sending plenty of pressure and bringing him to the ground to alter a number of his throws.
On top of the improved defensive performance, Oklahoma’s new quarterback put on a show to pen his name into the lore of this rivalry.
Caleb Williams Just Ran the Offense
The difference in the OU offense before and after Williams’ insertion into the game was undeniable.
Williams averaged 14.1 yards per completion, a massive improvement from Rattler’s 10.3 yards per completion on the season.
But the true freshman handled the emotions of the game and just played within himself to lead OU to a victory, his teammates said.
"He just came in and did his job,” Hall said. “…It's nothing against Spencer (Rattler) at all. It was a coaching decision… When you're looking at everything from Caleb's perspective, you're like 'Okay, this is the Cotton Bowl. This is a big game.' All of this type of stuff from the outside world, the eyes are on you. Right? But you just do what you know. You just do what you repped in practice and then everything else will be okay.
“And that's what I told him after that first incompletion he threw to me. I said 'Just relax. Do what you know. Do what you practiced, and we'll be fine.' And from then on out, next play he bombs it to Marvin (Mims) and we end up going all the way down the field. So, he came in and did his job and I'm proud of him."
Williams finished the game completing 15-of-24 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, adding 88 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground to polish off the comeback.
“Caleb just came in and did his job,” running back Kennedy Brooks said. ”He made it simple. That's what I told him - make it simple. He ran the ball hella well. He started out with a long run. He threw the ball well. He had the long pass to (Marvin Mims) - all things that (Spencer Rattler) can do too. He just came on and executed.”
Williams’ ability to extend plays with his legs not only helped the running game, but he was able to keep plays alive and find receivers downfield as well.
No throw stood out more than his 52-yard dart to Mims, which eventually led to Rattler converting the two-point conversion to tie the game at 41-41.
The offense line was solid in their protection on a massive third-and-19, but Williams stepped to his right and hit the touchdown bomb to Mims in the right corner of the OU end zone, where the sophomore wide receiver was able to keep his foot inbounds by mere inches to finish off the play.
Despite the fantastic catch, Mims said he actually wasn’t 100 percent sure he had made the catch inbounds.
“To be honest man I just ran the route,” Mims said. “I’m running and I see Caleb stepping up in the pocket. We kind of made eye contact and he lets that thing go. But I had no idea where I was on the field.
“I didn't know I was in the corner. The only time -- I saw the pylon as I was falling down to my left so, yeah. Crazy play. I didn't know if I was in or not. I waited for the referee to give the signal. And (Brayden Willis) came down, he told me he saw the whole thing with his own eyes. He said I was in, he picked me up and yeah. Special play.”
The catch was Mims’ second touchdown of the day, as the young receiver again showed out huge in OU-Texas.
Mims finished the afternoon hauling in five passes for 136 yards and the two scores, all of which were season-highs for Mims.
Though Riley declined to name a starting quarterback for Oklahoma’s next game against the TCU Horned Frogs, it’s hard to think anyone but Williams will lead the Sooner offense onto the field next Saturday inside Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. While the waiting game is on, all questions about the quarterback position at Oklahoma will be answered come 6:30 p.m. next Saturday.
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