Sooners survive another sloppy finish
DALLAS -- Only minutes after Oklahoma beat defending Big 12 champion Texas 28-20 in the Red River Rivalry game, Sooners coach Bob Stoops was asked about the myriad ways his team nearly lost to the Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
"That's what you want -- to be criticized for winning," said Stoops, whose team defeated the Longhorns for only the second time in the last six seasons. "We're back to OU football."
The Sooners aren't all the way back.
The No. 21 Longhorns were dominated for most of the first three quarters, but the No. 8 Sooners nearly squandered an 18-point lead in the game's final 10 minutes.
After Texas running back Cody Johnson's 5-yard touchdown cut the Sooners' lead to 28-17 with 9:52 to play, the Sooners failed on a fake field goal try from the Longhorns' 30 and then OU went three-and-out on its next possession.
Texas kicked a 21-yard field goal to make it 28-20 with 1:39 to go, and then things got really interesting.
The Sooners faced second-and-10 from their 20. Quarterback Landry Jones took the snap and ran the wrong way, before he rolled back to his right and was hit by linebacker Emmanuel Acho and fumbled at the Sooners' 11.
"Coming from the sideline, I was a little confused by the signal," Jones said. "From the beginning, it was messed up."
The ball rolled down the sideline in front of Texas' bench, but the Longhorns were unable to recover the ball before it rolled out of bounds at the Oklahoma 6.
"It just sat there and rolled and rolled and rolled," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Like the rest of the day, it rolled out of bounds."
Linebacker Jared Norton had the best chance at recovering the fumble but couldn't pounce on it.
"It laid there for a long time," Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said.
It would only get worse for the Longhorns. Oklahoma punted with about one minute left, and Texas' Aaron Williams muffed it. The Sooners recovered at Texas' 41 and survived with yet another close victory.
"I can't see 5-0 as a bad thing," Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis said. "I will take a win by three, by one or by 20 [points]. It doesn't matter. I will take the win. We're making the games a lot closer than they need to be, but we are winning them."
The Sooners are in a much better position than a year ago, when they lost three of their first six games after 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and a handful of other starters were lost to injuries. As part of that mix the Sooners lost to the Longhorns 16-13 in Dallas en route to finishing 8-5, their worst campaign since Stoops' first OU team went 7-5 in 1999.
"Last year, we lost this game, and I think the guys from last year really learned from it," Sooners defensive end Jeremy Beal said. "We learned how to win close games."
But after five weeks of the 2010 college football season, Oklahoma doesn't look like a team that's good enough to compete for a BCS national championship.
The Sooners struggled to beat Utah State 31-24 at home in their Sept. 4 opener before blowing out Florida State 47-17 at home the next week. After hanging on for a 27-24 victory over Air Force at home Sept. 18, the Sooners defeated Cincinnati 31-29 on the road last week.
The Sooners appear to be on a collision course with No. 6 Nebraska in the Dec. 4 Big 12 championship game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Oklahoma doesn't play the Cornhuskers during the regular season and the Sooners are likely to be favored in each of their remaining seven regular-season games.
"When you give yourself strong leads, like we have in these games going into the fourth quarter, there's something to be said about that," Stoops said. "We're still winning, and I do believe we will polish some things up and finish better."
The Sooners are certainly better than Texas, which lost quarterback Colt McCoy, receiver Jordan Shipley and several defensive starters from a team that lost to Alabama 37-21 in last year's BCS national championship game at the Rose Bowl.
The Longhorns have lost two games in a row, after they were stunned by UCLA 34-12 in Austin last week. Texas plays at Nebraska on Oct. 16, when it will try to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 1999 -- Brown's second season at the school.
"We obviously made too many mistakes and too many penalties," Brown said. "We had entirely too many and they were game changers."
After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, the Longhorns fought back to make it a game again. But they were undone by a series of Texas-sized blunders. A pass-interference penalty helped set up Oklahoma's third touchdown, which gave the Sooners a 21-7 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, Texas appeared to get the break it needed, when freshman Jackson Jeffcoat sacked Jones and forced him to fumble. Defensive end Eddie Jones recovered the ball at Oklahoma's 19, but Jones was penalized for being offside.
Early in the fourth quarter, Texas stopped Oklahoma on third-and-20 at the OU 48. But then Jeffcoat inexplicably knocked down a Sooners lineman after the play, drawing a 15-yard personal foul and giving OU a first down. Three plays later, tailback DeMarco Murray tip-toed down the left sideline for a 20-yard touchdown, which gave the Sooners a 28-10 lead.
"Just absolutely killers," Brown said. "Absolute killers."
The Longhorns are more than undisciplined. They aren't very explosive on offense without McCoy and Shipley, and they continue to struggle to run the ball effectively. D.J. Monroe ran for 65 yards against Oklahoma, but all but five yards came on a 60-yard touchdown. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert completed 27 of 41 passes for 266 yards but was sacked three times.
The Sooners just keep on winning, even if their 5-0 start has been far from perfect.
"We even found a way to make this one not so pretty," Stoops said.
But when you're 5-0, even the sloppy victories can be beautiful.
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book is available in stores and can be ordered here. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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