Oklahoma is closer to the College Football Playoff today than it was heading into the weekend.
Another win helps and a loss by Oregon helped even more.
Strange thing, though. The Sooners might be on the path to the playoff but really they’re a team that’s as far from playoff worthy than they have been all year.
What is life?
As the 2019 season closes, Oklahoma has changed. The defense is improved. It made stops against Baylor and Saturday it saved the game with multiple impressive stands against TCU.
On offense, Oklahoma isn’t the quick, explosive team it has been since Lincoln Riley took over. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray are gone and in their place is an offense that has developed a habit for double-digit play drives. The Sooners dominated Baylor in the second half in their come-from-behind win and chewed up yards impressively against the Horned Frogs Saturday.
The result has been three victories in a row, all by less than a touchdown, and a ball-control attack.
The accomplishment by Riley and the offense to be flexible enough to change what they saw work with prolific success is notable, but now the Sooners have a living, breathing contradiction on their hands.
They’ve become a quarterback-running, grind-it-out, ball-protecting, safety-first offense that can no longer protect the ball, isn’t safe and has a quarterback who can’t be trusted.
Make no mistake, this Oklahoma isn’t changing any more. Not this year, anyway. It’s married to quarterback Jalen Hurts running the ball. And rightfully so. Hurts has been an outstanding runner this season, leading the team in rushing yards. He has 17 touchdowns and is averaging more than 6 yards per try. Hurts has 70 more carries than the next leading rusher and almost 400 yards more, too.
And in addition to being shaky as a decision-maker in the passing game, Hurts seems to be allergic to hanging on to the ball as a runner.
A damning situation for a team so close to the playoff. Your best player, your most-experienced player, a team leader who likely is respected to a degree no other player is, happens to be less trustworthy with the ball than a shady used car salesman.
And there’s nothing Oklahoma and Riley can do about it. There are no other options. It’s not like Riley is going to bench Hurts going into the final two games of the season, needing a pair of wins, and not just wins, but impressive, eye-catching wins. No chance. Perhaps if OU was dealing with a lost season or was out of the Bg 12 or national title picture then maybe we’d see a switch to a back-up. But that’s just a maybe. There’s no time to break in new blood at this point. There’s only a realization your best player is your biggest liability.
Any chance there’s any other way to look at it? Hurts survived turnovers against Texas and ultimately got away with them against Iowa State, Baylor and TCU, too, but there’s no way Riley and this team don’t hold their breath on every snap, pass and carry.
The turnovers against TCU in the second half – one coming on an 85-yard, 7-plus minute drive, and the other coming after a nine-play drive that chewed up nearly 5 minutes – wiped out all the benefits of ball control. The lead was 11 and sure to be 18 before Hurts threw the pick-six and with another chance to essentially end the game, Hurts fumbled in TCU territory.
A 366-yard rushing day was nearly undone by three turnovers. A 28-carry, 192-yard rushing day by Hurts was nearly wiped away because of mistakes.
Perhaps this trend will change and reverse itself. Maybe Hurts will become more careful or maybe the offense will just become even more conservative.
Hurts is good enough to win games in this style. He’s shown he’s capable of giving them away, too.
Looks like the Sooners are going to have to live it with it, either way.