There were no answers. Just one look of shock and disappointment after another. It was just more than three weeks ago when it felt like the wheels had come off of Oklahoma’s 2015 season.
Double-digit favorites against archrival Texas in the Red River Showdown, and the Longhorns dominated the Sooners in every way imaginable. The 24-17 score did not give an indicator of how thoroughly Texas was able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
The questions were asked about motivation, about preparation, about being flat. The answers were conflicting, seemed like bickering or a team divided could have been upon the horizon.
Three weeks later, the loss still stings, but it might end up being the catalyst to the Sooners getting their groove back.
“That happened, and we’re trying to get that out of our memory,” senior wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “We’re just trying to get better each and every week.”
The loss opened the eyes of everybody. It was a gut-check for players, for coaches, for the program to make sure 2014 wasn’t about to happen one more time.
OU players admitted after the Sooners lost to TCU in the first week of October in 2014, they never were able to get it together again. They won games, sure, but that potential top-five, potential college football playoff team was nowhere to be found again.
It had to start with the leaders, and it did. Since then, OU has scored 55, 63 and 62 points and has allowed a mere 34 points. Yep, 180-34 in the last three games.
“Since the Texas game, when we kind of got our manhood called out,” said Baker Mayfield of the team’s turning point. “We started practicing harder and realized we had to win out. We’re focused more.”
The focus is evident, but so, too, are the moves made by the coaching staff across the board. When things are going well and the wins are piling up, it’s tough to make wholesale changes. You don’t mess with a good thing when it’s working.
A loss, though, allows to reevaluate things. What has changed since that forgettable day at the Cotton Bowl? Well, what hasn’t changed?
There have been personnel changes in the secondary as Will Johnson has come on at nickel and has played incredibly well as Steven Parker has moved to safety.
The offensive line is making strides as Bill Bedenbaugh is riding with some of the younger guys. Seniors Derek Farniok and Josiah St. John have been replaced by sophomore Jonathan Alvarez and true freshman Dru Samia.
Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley talked about finding something special after the 55-0 win in Manhattan. It’s clear that has been all about the tempo of the OU offense and the fast starts that are now becoming expected instead of questioned.
With an improved offensive line, the running game has come alive, too. Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are becoming a bigger part of the offense as Mixon continues to evolve into a more and more valuable player.
Add in quarterback Baker Mayfield continuing to be steady, and the Sooners haven’t rolled over and died. They’ve done the opposite, led by Mayfield who is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
It can’t just be offense. It can’t just be defense. It can’t just be special teams. It has to be all three components. Right now? It’s about as close to happening as it has in Norman in a long time.
“Consistency, playing well, taking away strengths of other teams and really preparing,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Nothing special.”
Nothing special yet. But with a November slate of Iowa State, Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State and opportunities galore to make big-time statements on the field and recruiting trail, it could be a very special final four games for the Sooners.