The hope for all players and coaches is that something special and good happens for the seniors on senior night. Senior week is always a little different, as they want to make sure they are doing everything they can to make sure their last home game is a good one. The underclassmen are working especially hard to make sure the seniors go out on a good note, and the coaches put in extra time hoping that seniors go out with a win.
That is why there was a sense of relief following Oklahoma's 34-24 win over Texas Tech. Or it could be because after a frustrating first half, the Sooners played a dominating second half to eventually put away the Red Raiders.
The Sooners were shooting themselves in the foot in the first half fumbling three times and losing two. And if it wasn't for a spectacular 40-yard pass and catch from Paul Thompson to sophomore wide receiver Malcolm Kelly for a touchdown with 10 seconds left on the clock before halftime, they might not have been able to play so well in the second half.
That play seemed to energize Oklahoma. Before the play, the Sooners trailed 24-10 and of being down two touchdowns it was now one, which gave the trailing team a whole different feeling heading into the halftime locker room.
"When you are only down a touchdown with a whole half to play and you have the kind of offense that we have, you realize that it really nothing if you think about it," said Kelly. "Two scores worry you a little bit, because you have to remember that you still have time to score several times, but that is not always easy to do. For us to get that touchdown right before the half was a big play for us and gave us momentum going into the locker room, and that is always big for a team. I just ran a stutter route and was able to get behind their guy and Paul laid that ball right on the money. That was a real good ball."
The play capped a 5-play, 69-yard drive and came right after Red Raiders' defensive back Antonio Huffman had picked off a Thompson pass taking it 54-yards and to the house.
"I haven't had a defensive player take one of my passes to the house since my freshman year against Iowa State," said Thompson. "He just made a great play on the ball and I probably didn't deliver it quick enough. You can't sit around and panic or brood about it, you have to get right back out there and get it back. We had plenty of time on the clock (3:31) and we have been pretty good in the two-minute drill all year, so I knew that we could drive the ball back down the field on them.
"We did a great job of executing that drive, saved time on the clock and them Malcolm ran a great route and all I had to do was lay it up to him. Our guys bounced back from all kind of adversity tonight and that is just an indication of how these guys compete and how well we have played."
The Sooner defense took over in the second half turning up the pressure and winning all third downs. The Red Raiders did not convert a third down in the entire second half, and as you might expect failed to score after intermission. The Sooners stunted more along the defensive front forcing Red Raider quarterback Graham Harrell to hurry his passes while the secondary was waiting, breaking up six third down passes and intercepting another.
"In the first half, we let him bounce in the pocket and he was killing us," said senior defensive end Calvin Thibodeaux. "Then in the second half, we started to put some moves on them and got more active. You can't just bullrush a good offensive lineman all the time, you have to mix it up and use your moves and quickness to change things up on them. We started to do that in the second half and we are able to put the kind of pressure we needed to on them in the second half. We had a lot more fun in the second half."
Thompson had great fun in the second half as well. It wasn't that he was playing bad in the first half (12 for 18 for 182 yards and two touchdowns), it was just that OU was playing sloppy. When OU totally got it together in the second half, Thompson would wind up with a career-best 309 yards on 24 of 31 passes.
"We came out and wanted to wing it around a little bit," said Thompson. "We were able to do that and executed in the passing game well. We did definitely want to establish some, balance because in the pass few games we were more in a run mode and we weren't successful in the pass game. So we came out today and threw it around a little bit."
The Sooners were happy bunch after the game, but they made enough mistakes in the game to concern their Head Ball Coach.
"I love how our team is competing and playing, but we made it hard on ourselves today," said OU head football coach Bob Stoops following the game. "We have got to be able to take care of the football. That is just something that appalls me. It just goes against the game in such a way, and not so much the interception.
"But I love the character of the team. We go down 14 and then we came right now in our two-minute mode and Paul makes a great throw. That shows a lot of resiliency on his part and toughness to just hang in there. He ends up having a great, great night. That touchdown was big giving us that spark going into the locker room, and Malcolm Kelly and all the great catches that he makes."
"Defensively, I just thought we really played well," Stoops continued. "They are going to work the ball a little bit and they did, but we came up with a lot of plays and a lot of stops. They are not easy to hold down like we did. So we are working through the year. We still have two games to go and we have a great attitude, great work ethic and they are all contributing on the field.
"You can't give up the ball that many times and our defense came out and responded in a great way, and they needed to. But we are capable of it. I wouldn't be sitting here and be pleased if we didn't do that. We can run in space, we can close on people, we can cover and we are disciplined in what we do. I thought they did a really good job holding them to around 270 yards and 17 points, but I believe that we are capable of a little bit more.
"We had some breakdowns in some areas, but then again give Mike (Leach) and his staff credit. They do a great job and everybody knows that. They put up good numbers on everybody and fortunately we can play well against that style. "
Throughout the week, the Sooners hoped to have junior Allen Patrick available to run. Patrick suffered a sprained ankle on his last carry against Texas A&M, but the injury didn't appear to be all that serious. In fact, by Wednesday of last week the coaches were still setting up a game plan with Patrci in the middle of it. And it wasn't until he didn't come off Thursday's practice well that the coaches decide to go full before with their backup plan.
"We have been through a lot, so when we found out he couldn't go we said what else could happen?" said Stoops. "We thought early in the week that we were going to have him, but by the end of the week we decided he just wasn't going to be effective. We have confidence in Chris Brown and we didn't flinch all week. We said all week that Jacob (Gutierrez) and Chris are good football players and were ready, and we had Mossis (Madu) ready as well.
"Hey, our expectations don't change. I felt last week that we had got away from the balance that we had been so good at. I am not second-guessing what we did because we won a good football game away from home in a different style. However, we are capable of throwing the football well and Paul showed that tonight. Kevin did a great job going in. He knew that we needed to have more balance using our receivers and tight ends, and he did a really good job of orchestrating that through the night.
"We are really proud of Chris and we gave him a game ball. You could see all the players all want to go chase him down as soon as he scores. He is a likeable guy and he is a talented guy. He made some nice plays and the offensive line and tight ends were awesome and made some nice holes for him too."
The Sooners had been working hard on the passing game all week and they were determined to bring balance back to the offense. But when they finally realized that Patrick wasn't going to play, that only enforced their determination to be a balanced offensive team.
"I thought if we didn't work him early in the week and then work him a little on Thursday, that we might could play him in the game," said Wilson. "I was worried about not practicing him and being a little out of sync because of a lack of reps, so that meant we were going to do some things with Gute and the young guy. Again, we ran it so much and their coverage structure was such that we thought we might have some passing game that we could get into some rhythm.
"Instead of just throwing deep balls we mixed in some underneath, short, quick, pop and some screens, and then we took a couple of shots. We had a better week of practice as a pass offense. We knew we were going to throw the ball a fair amount this week, and it wasn't because of AP. It was because of their coverage and we know we can throw.
"I know we hadn't recently, but we had shown that we can. We talked about being physical as we threw the ball and not being a finesse passing team. We wanted to be physical in protection, be physical in route running and not let them collision us and knock us off course.
Two drives keyed the victory and the excellent play for the offense. Down 24-10 with 3:23 remaining in the second quarter, Thompson had just been intercepted with the pass returned for a touchdown. The Sooners had to get some points on the board and had to get some momentum going into the locker room, and that is exactly what they did with PT hitting Kelly with a 40-yard touchdown pass.
"It was huge," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson following the game. "I can't speak for Paul, but he had just made the one negative play and then came back the very next drive and makes some plays that get us into the end zone gave him some confidence in the locker room. Instead of being a 14-point game, it was a seven-point game and we new we had the ball to start the third quarter. That is when we started to play-action and get some of those third and shorts on some of those flat routes. We just executed and played a lot better in the second half."
Then in the fourth quarter with the Sooners up by three, OU takes over at their own 20-yard line with 9:18 remaining and promptly drives the distance eating seven minutes off the clock.
"It started on the first play that we did, and it was actually covered," said Wilson. "Paul stuck it in there and then we made a nice catch on it. The only thing we talked about is that we didn't want to go into a shell and we didn't want to play cautious. We wanted some momentum at halftime. We wanted to set up some short-yardage and we wanted to keep some balance.
"I think they felt we would run it and they were going to load up. But you can't worry about that clock stopping, you have to keep a good blend of run/pass. So it was 14-play drive and that is a heck of a drive and ate almost seven minutes off the clock. The bottom line too is that we scored. It was a nice job by Chris getting it into the end zone."
The Sooners moved the ball offensively in the first half, but in the second half they executed a lot better.
"I actually felt pretty calm the entire game, even in the second half," said Thompson. "Sometimes I just get like that. Last week I was more nervous, but this week I was more comfortable. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was because we threw it around we threw it pretty around pretty good at practice. I felt pretty comfortable and never felt we weren't going to pull through this game. That drive right before the half was real big for us. We were in our two-minute and that drive was real big. Catching up to that 14-point deficit before halftime for us was real big."
"The drive we put together in the fourth quarter is a great ending to this game," Thompson continued. "We didn't want to lose, obviously, and we definitely didn't want to lose on my last chance here at home. It was a big win for us. We had family and friends that we haven't seen for a while in the stands and it was definitely a big team win for us."
Chris Brown didn't know what to expect going into the game. Through most of the week, he felt Patrick was going to play and once again he was going to be the third running back. Then on Friday, he was told to strap it on because AP was out and he would get his first extensive action as a Sooner.
Brown responded with 84 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
"It felt really good," said Brown following the game. "The last drive that we had to push in was important, because a field goal would have left them enough time to drive the ball down and score. It was a great challenge for us to drive the ball and punch it in, which finished the game off for us.
"I felt good the whole game and I am glad that I could contribute the way that I did. I thought AP was going to play until the end of the week, so I didn't have time to get nervous. I don't know if I would have anyway, but it was great to get in and play a little bit."
Brown put the Oklahoma in front for good on his longest run as a Sooner, which covered 40-yards to paydirt.
"That was a fun run," said Brown. "They called a stretch play and I was looking out there and said to myself, 'Why are we calling this play?' I saw one guy out there and so I just stuck with it and followed my blocks. (Chris) Messner made a good block off the edge and Brody (Eldridge) made a good block on the corner. And after that, I was just trying to get in."
Brown is another example of the young, great depth the Sooners have. In the offensive line, true freshman Trent Williams stepped in and started for sophomore Branndon Braxton. Sophomore Brian Simmons came in when Williams got hurt. The list just goes on and on at the number of players who have had to change roles or step in and play when called upon, showing the tremendous depth on the Sooner team.
"We are a diverse group," said Stoops. "We have different ways to handle situations. What I appreciate is that our guys never flinch at whatever situation is facing them. They just say this is what we have to do now and let's do it. We are able to be flexible, and we have to be. We do have a lot of ability in a lot of areas. Our assistant coaches have done a great job of adjusting to the situations that have come up."
Now, if the Sooners can correct the turnovers they can keep their head coach happy.
"We practice, emphasize it and focus on it, but the players have to at some point take the responsibility of covering the football up," said Stoops. "There are certain times that you are going to absorb collisions you have to put two hands on the football. I don't care if we get another yard. Hopefully, with our guys, it will hit home with them.
"I can't run for them. I can't hold onto it for them, nor can their coaches. It is funny that many times us coaches want to take responsibility for everything, but sometimes they have to take responsibility. I can't tell them any more how to carry the football. They have to shoulder that responsibility and take care of it."
Once again defensively the Sooners held Tech coach Mike Leach and his Red Raiders in check. It wasn't a perfect game defensively, but the offense didn't help with all the turnovers which forced the defense to stop them with their backs against the wall.
"We made a lot of key stops in some really key situations," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "Lewis Baker sees the quarterback look to the ‘X' receiver and he tells Larry Birdine that on a zone blitz that it is coming out and he is going to throw the deep out. I am really proud of that as much as anything. The communication, the trust and the awareness that Lewis showed is indicative of our game tonight. It exemplifies how we have improved defensively over the last six or seven weeks with plays just like that — coming up with some real big stops and at some real critical times. That play is a big example why."
"Our players never panicked and I am very proud of them," Venables continued. "They had that real bite-down mentality. It wasn't prefect, but they chop at you and chop at you and hopefully at some point they can get you weak enough that you spring a leak. Then they get behind you and our guys kept their composure and mad a lot of really big stops. I was proud of their effort."
The Sooners put more pressure on Harrell in the second half thanks to some great adjustments at halftime.
"He had a lot of time in the first half and we weren't getting enough pressure on him," said senior linebacker Rufus Alexander after the game. "In the second half, we threw some different blitzes at him, some outside blitzes and they were getting there. We blitzed a little bit more in the second half and we played some coverage as well.
"Coach Venables called a brilliant game in the second half. It was great to win this game on Senior Night, it was certainly better than a loss. I don't know what more I could say about it. It is way better than a loss and we played well on Senior Night."
The key moment for the Sooner defense came after a long delay, as the Sooner and Red Raider medical staff attended to sophomore receiver Manuel Johnson. Johnson would eventually be OK, but at the time nobody really knew for sure as he was carted off the field. The delay was over 10 minutes and play resumed the Red Raiders had just got the ball back on the Johnson fumble at the OU 35.
Oklahoma's defense went to work and when it was all said and done, the Red Raiders missed a field goal the Sooners had a defining moment in the game.
"They tried a couple of screens and our guys sniffed them out right away and were all over them," said Venables. We made a big play in the end zone and when they threw the flag we thought it was going to be on us. I thought we had really good coverage, but I could see what happened. We haven't had the best of luck lately so we wouldn't have been surprised if it worked against you. However, this play went our way and by playing hard and giving great effort, guys having some discipline, obviously good things will end up happening for you. It did certainly on that drive."
Nobody could have been upset with Paul Thompson winning the Don Key Award. No player is more respected than Thompson on the team, and nobody cares for the team more than Thompson.
"It just speaks to his leadership and his team-first attitude," said Stoops. "It is a tribute to his great toughness and leadership that he has exhibited through the year, and really through many years here. We are proud of him and it was great to see him out there with that award, and then to come out and play like he did."
For Thompson, the award is one that he will remember the rest of his life.
"It means a lot to me," said Thompson. "Just the respect of my players and coaches is something that I will be able to remember the rest of my life. That is something that I will definitely cherish the rest of my life and never forget."
According to Stoops, he expects Allen Patrick to play this Saturday against Baylor. Stoops also says Manuel Johnson should be released from hospital tonight (Sunday), but he is not sure if he can play this weekend or when he will return to the practice field.
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