He was talking about the whole team, but he could have meant it in particular with the defense. Despite being on the field for nearly 16 more minutes than the Longhorns. Despite facing 34 more plays than the Texas defense, the Sooners prevailed 31-26 on Saturday afternoon.
The dreams of a national championship still realistic. The dreams of another Big 12 championship still within striking distance. And the Golden Hat is coming back to Norman.
“It feels good to get the bad taste out of our mouths from last year,” sophomore linebacker Dominique Alexander said. “Anytime you can come back from a loss feels satisfying.”
It was a grind to get there. In the first half, OU had run 14 plays for 29 yards. Conversely, Texas had 45 plays for 278 yards and a 14-1 advantage in first downs.
Somehow OU was up 17-13. What wasn’t unusual were the second half adjustments made by the defense to help turn things around.
In the third quarter, Texas had five possessions. Nineteen plays, 35 yards and five punts. The defense wilted a bit in the fourth quarter, but the 31-13 advantage built up was too much for Texas to overcome in the final nine minutes.
“We got a little too comfortable,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “This win helps us get back on track. We just kept on fighting.”
One major thing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops did was play Devante Bond at outside linebacker in the second half. Geneo Grissom, who was effective in that role, was moved to defensive end on clear passing situations.
It gave OU (5-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) its best pass rushers in the game at once with Bond, Grissom, Eric Striker and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Bond finished with three tackles.
Hampered by an injured ankle in camp, those days are long gone, and Bond brought something different to the table.
“Devante has been progressing real well,” Mike Stoops said. “He’s starting to give us something really different, and I thought he made a lot of good plays.”
The Sooners only had two sacks as Tyrone Swoopes matured before our eyes at the Cotton Bowl, but cornerback Zack Sanchez was back to making a huge difference.
Sanchez, who had his streak of five consecutive games with an interception stopped last week, took an interception 43 yards for a touchdown in this one.
Sanchez, and really the secondary in particular, was ripped to shreds because of its performance last week at TCU.
“It was about getting back to basics,” Sanchez said. “It wasn’t really anything physical, but it was the mental breakdowns. And now my shoulder feels 100 percent. It’s great to contribute in a big way like that.”
Sanchez, ridiculed for his tackling throughout this season, finished with eight tackles and three pass breakups.
Texas had one last chance, taking over at its own 20 yard line with 18 seconds to go but couldn’t mount a real attack.
“We were relentless,” linebacker Eric Striker said. “That last play? All I was thinking was tackle the guy with the ball.”
The offense eventually finished with 232 yards and scored two touchdowns in the second half. But as is the case with the offense, there’s still work to be done defensively. Swoopes finished 27 of 44 for 334 yards and accounted for three touchdowns.
“We’re not playing nearly as well as we could be and not playing nearly as well as we should be,” Mike Stoops said.
He’s not wrong, but in a real gut-check game for the Sooners and the defense, they came up with the stops.
“We kept fighting,” Alexander said. “That’s all there is to it. We kept fighting.”