Before the season, the one thing Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said he had no idea about his 2016 group was how they would respond in a competitive situation.
Essentially, after you get hit in the mouth, what are you going to do? For the first month of the season, the response wasn’t positive. The effort seemed to be there in losses to Houston and Ohio State, but from an outsider’s view, there were no encouraging signs.
It didn’t take long to find one in Saturday’s 52-46 win at TCU. The first touchdown of the game was a run by quarterback Baker Mayfield. As fullback Dimitri Flowers was blocking his guy into the end zone, Mayfield showed a little bit of that fire once again with a little added push.
At 1-2, OU was down but not out. And after trailing 21-7 to the Frogs after the first quarter, this time the response was exactly what everybody had been waiting for.
“We realized our potential and we know we always have to battle back,” Mayfield said. “That’s the mindset conversation that I talked about last week. These guys realize that we can always fight back.
“To come into a road environment like that and battle back and kind of take over the game, just completely take momentum, it’s good to see, even with guys hurt and banged up, it’s good to see.”
OU knows it has to battle back from adversity, but Saturday was the first time the team looked equipped to do just that. Instead of playing hero ball, Mayfield let the game come to him. He allowed Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon to do what they do and complemented their game.
The defense, torn to shreds against top competition here lately, brought pressure, forced a turnover and seemingly started to turn the page just a tad.
In talking to a lot of the OU players in the last couple of weeks, this was basically a soul-searching type of game. Players’ only meetings were had, leadership had to be developed and leaders had to want to be in that position.
OU looked like a different team Saturday. One that knows the college football playoff is not in the conversation but another Big 12 championship is certainly a possibility.
“Just the team mentality,” cornerback Jordan Thomas said. “Prior to this game we were all on the same page. We’re not going to let our first three games define our season.
“At the beginning of the game, that’s how it was actually going and got together as an offense and a defense and obviously this is not what we want out of our team so let’s just turn this around, play as a team and play for each other and not for anyone else but for each other.”
The chemistry, camaraderie that appeared to be lacking in the first month of the season was indeed there in Fort Worth. It took a lot longer than OU fans expected, but the 2016 Sooners might have arrived Saturday.
This can’t be the crescendo, though. This has to be the building block that leads to better and better performances, starting this weekend in the Red River Showdown vs. Texas.
“A lot of confidence,” linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. “We know what we can do now. We’re just ready to get back into practice and use this momentum going into Saturday.”
The Sooners enter the showdown as heavy favorites for the fourth consecutive season. They’ve learned hard lessons all over the place in the first month of the season. Have they learned this one as well regarding the Longhorns?