NORMAN — It was the matchup that college football wanted. But it was not the matchup that the Oklahoma Sooners needed.
Entertaining a record crowd in their new $160 million bowl and a national television audience in what should have been a memorable showdown, the No. 14-ranked Sooners were outclassed and routed on all fronts Saturday night in a 45-24 loss to No. 3 Ohio State.
And as much fun as it was this week to relive a glorious moment in history, Uwe von Schamann isn’t walking through that door.
This game was not too dissimilar to last year’s Orange Bowl, a 37-17 loss to Clemson. They both show one immutable truth: Oklahoma is not on the level of college football’s major players. There is as big a gap between the game’s elite programs and OU (and the rest of the Big 12, for that matter) as there is between the Sooners and any run-of-the-mill team from the Group of 5 conferences.
Afterward, Bob Stoops stood at the tip of the sword.
“I take responsibility,” Stoops said. “Not near good enough in a big game. Sorry to disappoint the fans.”
OU fell to 1-2 for the first time since 2005. This team, in fact, plays a lot like that ’05 squad, and the ’09 team. They both won only eight games, but those were because of a massive roster overhaul and catastrophic injuries.
This team just looks overwhelmed.
A Sooner State-record gathering of 87,979 — perhaps 15,000-18,000 of which were scarlet-clad Ohio State fans who lingered long into the night and sang and chanted — was dazed by the Sooners’ comprehensive failures.
“We just need to play better in a lot of areas, and that’s what I take responsibility for,” Stoops said. “I felt we got really beat in all phases of the game.”
Baker Mayfield threw two interceptions (including Ohio State’s fourth pick-six this season), the cornerbacks couldn’t cover a fade route (Buckeyes wideout Noah Brown, who had all of five career catches, pulled down four touchdown receptions), the linebackers missed tackles (Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel combined for 221 yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry), the defensive line couldn’t get penetration (J.T. Barrett was sacked once and ran for 74 yards), the receivers got open for only 15 catches (Mayfield threw 32 passes and had to scramble a bunch), Austin Seibert missed a short field goal (it sucked the momentum out of a good opening drive), flubbed a punt (39 yards after a lucky bounce) and lost his coach’s confidence, the offensive line couldn’t protect Mayfield (he was sacked three times, bringing his Big 12-worst total to 11 on the season), the defense still hasn’t had an interception in 97 pass attempts by opposing quarterbacks — the list goes on and on.
“Personally, I haven’t played very well all season,” said Mayfield, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last year. “That game just goes to show I haven’t been the player I was.”
Mayfield is completing 64 percent of his passes and hadn’t thrown an interception before Saturday, but he’s clearly not operating with the same kind of confidence as last season.
“I’ve been trying to work on it and get better and better,” he said, “but it goes to show in big games like that, I haven’t played well. I let the team down. Coach Stoops can beat around the bush, but I let this team down by this performance. I have to lead better.”
But it wasn’t just the players.
Joe Mixon, who had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and averaged 8.7 yards per carry, was handed the ball just three times on OU’s first nine possessions (40 total plays, 20 rushes). That’s on offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
“I trust what coach Riley and our staff are doing,” Stoops said, “and that’s something, if we need to look at it, we’ll look at it.”
Ohio State’s offensive staff schemed the OU defense’s three-man front perfectly, countering the Sooners’ attempts at creating confusion with an unbalanced front that forced OU to shift personnel to account for every gap — “and they did that a lot,” Bob Stoops said — and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops didn’t have an answer.
“It’s hard because you’re limited in so many things you can do with the way they line up,” Mike Stoops said. “ … I thought they made us stagnant. They got us out of our odd fronts because that’s what people are doing now. We have to keep finding some solutions.”
“It’s on me,” Bob Stoops said. “I haven’t done a good enough job of coaching, period.”
The fact is, Oklahoma isn’t good enough to compete with programs like Clemson and Ohio State right now. Stoops acknowledged this team isn’t as talented as he thought it was.
“Well, I think in some ways, yes,” Stoops said. “But oddly enough, I still feel we’ve got the ability to play better than we have.”
And hey, as Stoops pointed out, the Sooners do have Big 12 Conference play coming up.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Stoops said, “if we’re gonna have any chance to win the Big 12.”
Maybe. Maybe not. Most years, conference play would seem daunting for a team that’s staggering like this one. But as the Big 12 continues its downward spiral (the league is now 15-11 in non-conference play this season, with some fortunate wins and some bad, bad losses), the Sooners’ chances of winning a 10th Big 12 crown certainly aren’t diminished.
This year, in this conference, these Sooners could figure things out in two weeks at TCU, survive Texas and be on their way to another title.
But playing against a program like Ohio State? The program that the Associated Press ranked No. 1 all-time, just ahead of No. 2 Oklahoma? The program that Sooner Nation has been squirming to see ever since this series was announced way back in 2008? The program that Urban Meyer has transformed with 5-star recruiting and A-list coaching?
No, this was not a good matchup for the Sooners. Not these Sooners, anyway.
“Yeah,” Stoops agreed, “they’re as good as anybody we’ve been out there playing with, no doubt.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.