NORMAN – Oklahoma's defense had seen this kind of lull before from its offensive counterpart.
There were the poor starts against Akron and Tennessee to begin the season, when the Sooners had to hang on before the offense finally clicked. An offense that has been more potent than not, stalled against Texas Tech, when the Red Raiders nearly made a comeback in the second half.
It happened against Tulsa, too.
When Oklahoma went five straight possessions without points and barely managed 50 yards through the second quarter, the Sooners defensive unit was ready.
Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1) came into the game as arguably the Big 12’s best defense – first in pass defense, pass efficiency, total defense, scoring and sacks. The Sooners have allowed just four touchdowns in the last four weeks against the first-team defense – shutting out Kansas State and allowing just one touchdown to Kansas on a short field.
Again, they were ready to take the reigns and give Oklahoma’s all the time it needed to re-find its rhythm.
“When we were struggling, I liked the way our guys hung in there and didn’t give up,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.
Oklahoma’s defense allowed just 86 yards on the ground, slowing down Iowa State’s run game. It made the Cyclones, who completed less than half of their passes against the first-team defense.
“We can’t allow them to run the football, at least not successfully and not consistently,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “If we could take that away it would be difficult for them, and it was. We got great pressure then. We had them in a lot of third-and-longs. We were great on third down overall. We got pressure and covered really well.”
Oklahoma’s offense finally came around, scoring on every possession in the second half until taking a game-ending knee on the one-yard line. The Sooners’ defense never let up, keeping Iowa State out of the end zone until its final drive of the game.
Before this season, a stunted offense would have caused bigger problems for Oklahoma. Instead, the defense is ready for the challenge. Unlike previous years, they are up to the task.
Neal’s career day
In what was arguably Durron Neal’s best game of the season, he wasn’t overly flashy and wasn’t even one of seven Sooners to find the end zone. He was consistent though, hauling in a career-high 10 catches.
Neal never had more than seven catches in any single game during his career at Oklahoma.
“Durron has really come on,” Bob Stoops said. “He’s really been a reliable guy for us. He’s making a lot more plays.”
Two of Neal’s catches converted first downs, including a third-down catch in the second quarter.
Big plays/quick strikes
The double reverse, flea flicker to the fullback has to be deep in the bag of tricks, but Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley had no problem reaching deep for the Sooners’ first player from scrimmage.
Oklahoma had six touchdown drives that lasted less than 70 seconds.
“I feel like we just had to get back to what we originally do, getting some of that quick stuff out there, getting guys the ball and let them make the plays,” Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard said.
Shepard made one of those big plays when he came open on a play-action pass to cap a two-play, 94-yard drive. Oklahoma had three one-play drives to go along with a two- and three-play drive.
“Honestly, it was great play-calling by Coach Riley, knowing when to take our shots, and execution up front,” Mayfield said. “. . . That’s the thing that he trusts me when he calls those aggressive shots, I have to be able to eliminate the negative yardage. Hopefully moving forward we can keep on moving.”
Sanchez, the gum man
Oklahoma starting cornerback Zack Sanchez might not have played against Iowa State, but he certainly had some sort of impact.
He was on the sideline, cheering for his teammates, helping coach a little bit and congratulating them with sweet treats.
“Zack’s our candy man,” Mayfield said. “He hands out the bubble gum. I think I got three.”
Charles Tapper said he got 10 pieces of gum and that the players chewed it on the sideline then spit it back out before returning to the field.
Sanchez is expected to practice Monday.
Linebackers back to normal
After going a couple games with some missing pieces, the Oklahoma linebackers finally were back to full health Saturday. Both Devante Bond and Jordan Evans made their first start in three games at least.
Bond, who finished with two tackles and a tackle for loss, hadn’t seen action since the victory against West Virginia. Evans had seven tackles and two pass break-ups, including one on fourth down deep in the red zone.
“Our starters, traditionally, haven’t lost a position due to injury,” Mike Stoops said. “When you have quality players of that magnitude that are difference makers, that’s just the way we’ve done it.”
Back-up middle linebacker Frank Shannon played only once the first-team defense came off the field, recording two tackles.
No need for a punter
Oklahoma’s offense has been pretty good for long spurts this season, but it had a remarkable streak snapped Saturday night against Texas Tech.
The Sooners had gone 31-straight possessions without a punt since the opening drive of the victory against Texas Tech. The stretch spanned 22 scoring drives and only four turnovers.
“It all boils down to mentality,” Shepard said. “Every day, Coach Riley is saying mentality is the No. 1 thing we have on this offense. Guys have just bought into this offense and to the system that Coach Riley brought in. As long as we keep doing that and keep practicing throughout the week like we have been these past few weeks, we’re gonna be that team on Saturday.”
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The Sooners finally punted on their fifth drive Saturday, a 40-yard boot by freshman Austin Seibert.