DALLAS — Asked about his defensive game plan going into Saturday’s showdown with Texas, and asked he thought his defense made proper adjustments as the game went on, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley stood his ground.
“Of course I liked the plan,” Riley said. “We had a good plan.”
Whatever that plan was, whether it was as fundamentally sound as Riley hoped or as foul as it looked in Texas’ dramatic 48-45 victory, the Oklahoma defense was overwhelmed on Saturday by a Texas offense that has struggled mightily this season.
These very Longhorns, in a tense battle last week in Manhattan, Kansas, managed one offensive touchdown against the Wildcats.
But in the Cotton Bowl, against Mike Stoops’ defense, Texas was simply unstoppable.
“I’m extremely disappointed in my inability to get this team to play at a higher level,” Stoops said. “It takes everybody pulling the same way and I certainly take a lot of that responsibility.”
Sam Ehlinger looked like Colt McCoy. Lil’Jordan Humphrey looked like Roy Williams. Kenotay Ingram looked like Jamaal Charles.
Ehlinger hit the Sooners with the deep ball, then cut them up underneath. Texas’ big receivers had little trouble catching the football against the Sooners’ smaller defensive backs, and had an even easier time breaking tackles.
“We didn’t tackle well,” Riley said. “We missed too many tackles in the open field. I didn’t think we covered great. We had a few too many guys just getting beat in one-on-one situations. And then the glaring deal was just the third-and-longs that we gave up. We gave up a third-and-19, we gave up another third-and-extremely long where they carried the pile about 10 yards. … We’ve got to be better on third downs.”
“The easy throws were problematic for me,” Stoops said. “All the slants we gave up in critical situations. We couldn’t make a play. It’s tough.”
Twice Texas nearly converted third-and-impossible. One was a third-and-20, one a third-and-21. Both times, Ehlinger threw short to receivers who pushed through the Sooner defense but came up short of the first down, and both times Texas went for it on fourth down and converted. Those plays produced 14 points.
“The third-and-longs,” Stoops said, “were atrocious.”
That was hardly all.
Texas set a school record for most points ever scored against OU.
The Longhorns also had season-highs in total offense (501 yards), first downs (27), passing yards (324) and, of course, points.
“We gave ‘em too many,” Riley said. “That’s something we’ve all got to do a better job with, coaches and players.”
A Texas team that had trouble moving the football against Tulsa (now 1-4 with a defense that ranked 67th coming into this week) and couldn’t manage a touchdown in the final 44 minutes against Kansas State (now 2-4 with a defense that ranked 83rd before Saturday) was unstoppable against Oklahoma.
An Oklahoma defense that ranked 89th in the country before today.
These Sooners also ranked dead last in the nation in red zone defense, giving opponents 16 scores on 16 red zone trips. Texas went 5-for-5 in the red zone against the Sooners.
“In any game like this,” Riley said, “there’s gonna have to be adjustments.”
But Riley declined to elaborate during postgame interviews.
“Certainly,” he said, “we didn’t get enough stops to win.”
That’s partly because Ehlinger played great, of course. But it’s also because when Ehlinger lined up in the backfield with a jumbo formation and a blocking back in front of him, everyone in the stadium and probably watching at home on TV knew he was running another keeper to the right side — everyone, that is, but the OU defense.
Ehlinger stutter-stepped, pushed forward and scooted into the end zone three times. On two of those, he ran through the middle of the OU defense — again, bunched together in a short-yardage set — and was virtually untouched.
“There’s a few things here and there,” Riley said. “ … Us getting lined up was not a factor defensively.”
“The obvious,” said linebacker Kenneth Murray, “is we’ve gotta tackle better. We gave up way too many yards as a defense total. We’ve gotta go in and go to work.”
Riley said he has confidence that the problems that have plagued OU defenders for most of the last six seasons — problems like missed tackles, blown coverages and a predictable scheme since Stoops returned in 2012 — will be corrected.
After those problems have resurfaced in the last three weeks against Army, Baylor and now Texas, what is it that gives Riley that confidence?
“The people in that locker room,” he said. “The end of that football game, a lot of times when a team gets down 21 in an atmosphere like this, you’re incredibly disappointed, 99 percent of the teams pack it up right there and we didn’t. And so we’ve all got to own it, we’ve all got to be better, and I have every confidence that every person in that room will do that.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.