Steven Parker came bounding to the sideline pumping his arms amid a mob of his Oklahoma defensive teammates, who jumped into each other and cheered in celebration. The Sooners’ game against Tennessee wasn’t over – Oklahoma’s eventual 31-24 victory was far from finalized.
The Sooners’ defense, which had been much maligned all of last season, had done its job to perfection with still six minutes to play. Despite an offensive performance that will rank as one of the worst in recent memory, Oklahoma still had a chance because its defense changed the game.
Oklahoma allowed just eight yards in the fourth quarter and recorded back-to-back three-and-outs to end regulation as the offense finally came around – scoring on its final two drives of regulation.
“Every single play, we just tried to execute and keep fighting,” Oklahoma linebacker Devante Bond said. “. . . We knew we were going to have to do what we had to do to win and do our jobs. Hopefully, everything would pan out.”
It almost didn’t. Much of the game, it seemed like Oklahoma’s defense was bound to eventually crack.
In the first quarter, a pass flew right through Bond’s hands. It should have been an interception. Instead, it led to a touchdown. Later, he sacked Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs and forced a fumble, but Oklahoma couldn’t scoop it up.
Another fumble, which would have been a touchdown, was called back after a quick whistle. Parker turned around in amazement that his score wouldn’t count.
Defensive end Charles Tapper kicked around a fumble as he tried to scoop it in stride, and Tennessee maintained possession in the fourth quarter.
Everything seemed to foreshadow that Oklahoma’s stout defensive effort would be for naught. The defense should have been broken by the pressure of holding up the offense and the heartbreak of being so close to a game-changing play.
“We just stayed on it,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “We had to get the offense the ball. They had to catch their rhythm. We started getting three-and-outs, and they slowly got their rhythm. Once those guys get rolling, they’re hard to stop. We just kept preaching that on the sideline: Keep the ball in the offense’s hands. We were able to do that in the second half.”
The Oklahoma offense rallied back, erasing the largest fourth-quarter deficit since 1983, and scored on its final four possessions including overtime. Then the defense, which kept the Sooners in the game, ended it.
Sanchez stepped in front of an out route on third-and-long: Defensive gem capped.
“Guys just kind of hung in there,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “We were going to have a different resolve about us this year. That’s good to see. . . . We played as a team (Saturday). To be successful anywhere, you have to be good as a team and have balance on both sides of the ball.”
Oklahoma allowed nearly 300 passing yards per game last year but has given up only 213 yards in the air through two games this season. Saturday was won at the line of scrimmage.
The Sooners changed their blitz and pressure angles in the second half and finished with three sacks. After allowing 51 yards on the first two plays of the second half, Oklahoma gave away nothing more. The Sooners (1-0) allowed just 15 yards the rest of regulation.
“We stepped up the whole game,” Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker said. “I thought we were getting those three-and-outs, we needed that. We were stopping them. That's what we needed for the offense to click.”