DALLAS — Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray spends a lot of idle time watching old film of his predecessors — specifically, Brian Bosworth, Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman.
Those three Sooner icons terrorized opposing offenses on a weekly basis, but always seemed to save their best work for the burning hot fires of the Cotton Bowl. They truly wrote their own legend by wrecking Texas on their way to winning four Butkus Awards (1985, 1986, 2001 and 2003) as college football’s best linebacker.
Inspired by the most elite of linebacker play, Murray even started his own social media hashtag: #BeThe5th of OU’s Butkus Award winners.
Saturday, Murray joined them. Not in winning the Butkus — not yet — but certainly in ruining any chance the Longhorns might have had with an individual performance that was equally sudden and violent and unyielding.
OU pounded Texas with a furious defensive effort and finished the day with a 34-27 victory.
“That’s the ‘K9’ I expected, as always,” said Sooner defensive end Ronnie Perkins. “If anybody is going to come with it, it’s definitely going to be No. 9. I think he’s doing a great job of leading the way and bring us along with him.”
No. 6-ranked Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) shut down No. 11 Texas (4-2, 2-1), limiting the Longhorns to 305 total yards and 27 points — 180 yards and 14 points below their season averages. And of Texas’ season low totals, 10 of the points and 136 of the yards came in the final seven minutes after the Sooners had built a double-digit lead.
Aside from runs of 57 and 23 yards by Roschon Johnson, only one of Texas’s 73 offensive snaps netted more than 20 yards. In all, 39 Texas offensive plays netted 2 yards or less.
That’s quite the turnabout from last season for Oklahoma.
Lincoln Riley fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops at midseason last year after the Sooner defense folded in a disastrous loss to the Longhorns. Statistically, the 2018 Sooners finished as worst in school history — 114th in the nation in total yards allowed and 129th — dead last — against the pass.
The hope for Sooner Nation was for just a moderate improvement, something to not embarrass an historically good offense.
But exactly one year later, while the offense scuffled at times against Texas — troubles with turnovers, troubles in the red zone — Alex Grinch’s defense, fueled by the resurgence of Murray and others, does indeed bring back memories of Sooner days of yore.
“It first starts with mentality,” Riley said. “You can have the greatest schemes in the world on any three sides of the ball, but if you don’t pair it with the right mentality, you got no chance. We built our defensive on mentality and effort.”
“We knew how good they were,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “ … We knew that their defense had improved.”
But this much?
Oklahoma tied a school record with nine quarterback sacks. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger — pressured mostly by a perturbed front four but occasionally victim of a wily blitz — was never comfortable, was hit hard and often, and completed 25-of-37 passes for just 205 yards. He ran for two short scores, but didn’t have a touchdown pass.
In two games last year against the Sooners, Ehlinger averaged 327 passing yards per game and accounted for nine touchdowns.
Oklahoma also compiled 15 tackles for loss, second in school history against Texas.
Murray finished with five tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.
“Great player,” Herman said. “Great player. I think the new defensive scheme puts him in a position to make a lot of plays. He showed up a bunch.”
Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell led the Sooners with 10 tackles, safety Pat Fields had seven tackles and a sack for the second straight week, and noseguard Neville Gallimore had four tackles and two sacks.
Throughout the day Murray was greeted by several former Sooners from past generations who helped define what great defense looks like when they played.
“There’s a lot of greats that came through that played on the defensive side of the ball,” Murray said. “Obviously l got a chance to be around a few, Tommie Harris being one, Curtis Lofton, just guys like that that played great ball around here. Those guys just giving us congratulations on the win and just letting us know how proud they are of us, it’s always good.”
But Murray never goes too long without thinking of Lehman, Calmus and The Boz. His new linebackers coach, Brian Odom, has encouraged Murray to steep himself in their greatness by watching video cut-ups of their Butkus exploits.
“When you have visuals like that — at any position, but obviously specific to Kenneth at linebacker, to say, ‘Do it like them’ … there’s a visual for that,” Grinch said. “You come to Oklahoma to play a certain brand of football. You come to Oklahoma to play in these types of games. You come to Oklahoma not just to be All-Conference, but to be All-American. So if you’re the best defensive player at Oklahoma should be in the conversation for national awards. If you can do it on offense, don’t tell me you can’t do it on defense.”
Afterward, Murray, a co-captain, posed with the coveted Golden Hat trophy atop his head. He and his teammates howled and laughed and mugged for cameras and planted the big OU flag on the midfield logo.
But then, unexpectedly, the celebration turned subdued. It was as if players suddenly realized this was not their end goal. For a proud, blue blood program that hasn’t tasted national championship success for 19 years, this may have been just a satisfying step on the road to their ultimate goal.
“If you want to compare this year and last year,” said Turner-Yell, “this is definitely a different type of team.”
After Saturday, it seems appropriate to ask a different question about the Oklahoma defense:
Just one year after being so bad, are they now good enough to finally win the program’s eighthnational championship?
“Regardless of what outside world thinks, we believe a lot in our defense,” Riley said. “We talked about it last night, coach Grinch talked about it in the defensive meeting, we talked about it in the team meeting.
“I don’t care what our defensive calls are … but the way we play right now was the difference today. … We’re going to continue to get better. This won’t be our best game. It was a really good defensive performance against obviously a very talented offense.”
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. 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 co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.