LOS ANGELES — If this Oklahoma football team is going to do something its record-setting predecessors could not — win a national championship — then these Sooners are going to have to score points.
Forget yards. Forget first downs. Forget tempo.
If OU doesn’t put the ball in the end zone against Georgia on Monday in the Rose Bowl, the program’s 17-year national championship drought will extend to 18 — the longest in program history since Bud Wilkinson won OU’s first title in 1950.
To underscore the importance of producing points to forge everlasting glory, look no further than the Sooners’ last four times on this stage:
- In 2015, OU ran 1,015 offensive plays, compiled 6,893 yards and scored 566 points, but in the College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson, the Sooners mustered only 17 points in a 37-17 loss. That Clemson team finished the year ranked 24th nationally in scoring defense (21.7 points per game) and No. 10 in total defense (313 yards per game).
- In 2008, OU snapped the football 1,106 times, gained 7,670 yards and scored an NCAA record 716 points, but in the BCS national championship game loss to Florida, the Sooners managed just 14 points in a 24-14 loss. That Florida team finished the year ranked No. 4 nationally in scoring defense (12.9 points per game) and No. 9 in total defense (285.3 yards per game).
- In 2004, OU had 971 plays, amassed 6,007 yards and scored 452 points, but in the Orange Bowl/national championship loss to USC, the Sooners collected just 19 points in a 55-19 loss. That USC team finished the year ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13 points per game) and No. 6 in total defense (279.3 yards per game).
- In 2003, OU ran 1,018 plays, accumulated 6,152 yards and scored 601 points, but in the Sugar Bowl/national championship loss to LSU, the Sooners finished with just 14 points in a 21-14 loss to LSU. That LSU team finished the year ranked No. 1 nationally in both scoring defense (11 points per game) and total defense (252 yards per game).
The 2003, 2004 and 2008 OU teams couldn’t score against big-league defenses despite both rosters being loaded with future NFL talent. Those Sooner squads were regarded as three of the most talented teams in school history, and each included a Heisman Trophy winner.
This OU team, which includes Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and a handful of future NFL players, so far has run 898 plays, compiled 7,583 yards and scored 584 points.
Clearly, the Sooners must buck the trend.
“We want to score as many points as possible,” said OU offensive tackle Orlando Brown, “and that’s just the mentality we approach every game with.”
This year’s Georgia team compares favorably with the LSU, USC and Florida defenses of ’03, ’04 and ’08. (The ’15 Clemson team is the statistical outlier of the group, though Brent Venables’ 2014 squad led the nation in total defense and his team last year ranked No. 8.) The Bulldogs this season rank No. 4 in both scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and total defense (270.9 yards per game).
“Great defenses, I believe, make you earn every single yard,” said OU head coach Lincoln Riley. “They don’t give you anything. To play well offensively against a group like them, you’ve got to be razor sharp, and if you’re not, they can expose you in a heartbeat.”
“We have never played a team like this,” said OU center Erick Wren. “They are very physical. You can see that on film. They are big guys, very fast.”
“Usually there’s places that we look to exploit,” said Sooners tight end Mark Andrews, “but with Georgia, obviously great players all across the board, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a fight, a dogfight. And going in there, we know it’s going to be a four-quarter game.”
But Georgia knows its defense faces a significant challenge on Monday as well. The Sooners lead the nation in yards per game (583.3), are second in passing offense (367.4) and rank fourth in scoring (44.9 points per game).
“You see what they have done to everybody they play,” said Georgia offensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “They score a lot of points and they very explosive. You know, kind of what you see is what you get. It’s a huge challenge for us defensively.”
OU still doesn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard receiver, but that versatility actually has become a strength as Mayfield emerged as college football’s best player by winning the Heisman and other awards.
“The guy believes he can make every throw,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “He’s seen every defense known to man. He’s made every check known to man. He knows how to check and adjust.”
Now, though, comes the tough part for Oklahoma: a high-octane offense, driven by a precision passing game, must overcome a month off, and Mayfield must overcome the flu-like symptoms he’s experienced all week. That could be a bad combination for Sooner Nation.
“We look pretty good right now,” Mayfield said. “I think we’re practicing well. I think we’re settling into the game plan. Been working on it for a while, and I’m confident where we’re at right now.
“The tradition at OU is something that is special, so a national title is obviously the most important thing. It would be huge for our fan base. They’ve been talking about it. After our Big 12 (title) game, they kept saying, ‘Two more, two more,’ and that’s just the truth. We have our eyes set on the big one, but to get there, we have to take care of business right now, and that’s all that matters.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. 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. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.