Frank Shannon knew that he was going to make his first start at middle linebacker in more than a year. Oklahoma cornerback Dakota Austin, the Sooners’ No. 5 cornerback, didn’t know he’d step into the first-team defense against one of the best passing offenses in the country – and pick off his first pass in nearly two years.
Nobody knew that with three back-ups playing significant time that Oklahoma would hold Texas Tech to almost 200 yards less than their season average through the air.
The Sooners (6-1, 3-1 Big 12 Conference) had one of the better defenses in the country - in the top-10 in pass defense and sacks. But they hadn’t been tested since Tulsa threw for more than 425 yards in the third week of the season.
Facing Texas Tech, there was a chance to prove something – to their doubters and themselves.
“They’re a nightmare trying to control,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “They do so many good things. It was a little bit of an awkward game, and I thought our players hung in there.”
Thanks to a few unsung heroes, Oklahoma made a point. The Sooners forced three interceptions in the first half – after Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes had thrown just six in the previous seven games combined. Shannon and Austin each had one, and Eric Striker snagged a pass from the defensive line.
There was a maze of injuries to navigate while trying to slow down Texas Tech.
Marcus Green was out with a sprain ankle, and P.J. Mbanasor pulled a muscle covering on kick-off. Nickel back Will Johnson cramped up after Zack Sanchez sprain his ankle on the first play from scrimmage – although Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops worried it was much worse when it first happened.
None of it really mattered.
Free safety Steven Parker even took a snap at cornerback when Austin was hurt, but it was Austin who didn’t miss a tackle and came down with a very important interception just before halftime – winning a one-on-one battle when the Sooners seemed to be losing momentum.
It wasn’t just Austin’s effort that helped hold a Texas Tech team that had been averaging 49.4 points per game to just 27. He was the one that wasn’t expected to do it, though.
“He’s not scared,” Stoops said. “You know what I mean? That’s the great thing about him. The moment wasn’t going to be too big. Younger players, I think that happens too. That was my first instinct. It ain’t going to bother him. He’s going to go out and do the best that he can. That’s kind of what he did. He relied on his instincts and made some terrific plays.”
Austin was second on the team in tackles with 11, just behind Shannon, who made 13. It was a moment Shannon had been waiting to experience for quite a while.
It was his first start since the Sugar Bowl in 2013.
With extensive experience and a deep knowledge of the defense, Shannon was trying to make the most of his chance – saying that it felt kind of like riding a bike. But he took a chop block on the first play.
“I was like, ‘Man, this is fixing to be a long day,’” Shannon said. “ . . . As the day went on, I got more comfortable and stuff. All the butterflies went away.”
Shannon didn’t go away. Neither did Austin, who thought Texas Tech would challenge him deep but instead just made him make open field tackles. He made all of them.
Oklahoma cracked against Tulsa when it played without cornerback Jordan Thomas. Without Sanchez, one of their defensive leaders, Oklahoma didn’t go away. They rose up.
“That speaks volumes about this team,” Austin said. “If that would have happened at any position we would have been solid.”