Quarterback play was always going to define the outcome of the Red River Showdown. Then again, games like these find a way to shock the college football realm.
What was expected to be a showdown between Texas' Casey Thompson and OU's Spencer Rattler was over before halftime. Thompson carved the Sooners' defense for four touchdown passes and 35 total points. Meanwhile, Rattler threw an interception right into the hands of safety BJ Foster and fumbled at Texas' 44-yard line.
Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley could either trust that Rattler would figure it out, or give the fans what they've wanted since Week 4 against West Virginia. As Rattler threw another interception, the Sooners fan base began to chant "We Want Caleb! We Want Caleb!"
That was Caleb Williams, Oklahoma's top quarterback recruit from 2021. Riley chose to listen to the fans. It paid dividends in a 55-48 comeback for the Sooners.
“We have to give credit to those guys,” Thompson said. “They made plays when it counted."
Rattler was rattled. Williams was winning. Momentum shifted dramatically towards Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) when No. 13 took reps at college football's most important position.
Drives that once were ending in punts ended in points. Williams connected with wide receiver Marvin Mims for a 14-yard touchdown. Two drives later, the two scored again, this time from 52 yards out.
All and all, Williams led OU to seven total scoring drives — four ending in a touchdown and three ending in field goals. Sure, Texas (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) was able to contain him at times, but field goals chipped away at the lead.
Ultimately, a 33-yard touchdown run from Kennedy Brooks sealed the win late. Seconds remained, but the game was done.
“Give them a lot of credit fighting their way back into the game and ultimately getting the lead,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I think a lot of the story was, in the second half we struggled to get first downs, we put ourselves in third-and-longs, and they kept building on the momentum of it. And they were capitalizing on the opportunities.”
It's not as if Thompson and the offense laid down to let "big brother" walk its way to a win. The junior from Oklahoma answered the call when his team asked him to step up.
Oklahoma took the lead with an 18-yard run from Brooks in the fourth quarter. On the play before, Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy would be stripped by a Sooners' defender to set up great field position.
Redemption can come mere seconds after failure. Thompson found Worthy on a 2nd-and-7 and 1st-and-10 for gains of 6 and 14. The two were in sync when Thompson found Worthy again for a 31-yard touchdown to tie the game with 1:23 remaining.
Too bad that was too much time for Williams and Brooks to ice the game and head back to Norman with the win.
“We live for moments like this,” Thompson said. “It’s college football on the biggest stage.”
Thompson finished with 388 passing yards and five touchdowns in his first Red River start. Williams won't technically get the win on his record, but he recorded 300 total yards and three touchdowns.
Thompson had 60 minutes to secure a win for Texas. Williams had just under 37 minutes to complete a comeback. Both are stellar performances, but only one will be remembered in the history books.
"At the end of the day, we came up short," wide receiver Josh Moore said. "But if we handle our business, we’ll see them again in Dallas soon."
Texas' season is far from over. Although the offensive line and run defense will need to improve, it's hard to see the Horns not remaining a contender to head to Arlington.
The next three weeks could decide the outcome of Texas' status. Its first test will come next Saturday against an undefeated Oklahoma State. Following the bye, the Horns will take on a one-loss Baylor and Big 12 early favorites on the road.
Should they win out, they control their own destiny for a showdown against likely the Sooners in Arlington.
The question is, who would Oklahoma start at QB?
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