In an area of scarce pickup trucks and where most of the U.S. expects waving wheat and wide open fields, you’ll instead find wide highways and sausage gravy for breakfast, friendly restaurants with OU memorabilia strung up on the walls and quiet brick lined streets with touches of modern graffiti mixed into subtle scenes that mimic a country song on a jukebox. Down there in Big Twelve territory of Norman Oklahoma, fans waited for the beloved local team to play a football game away from the ‘Palace on the Prairie.’
Whether your nerves were mainly for the quarterbacks on the field or for the bludgeoning battle that would take place on the line of scrimmage, the spectacle itself was for everybody. Of course, for all of those who had been waiting all off season for Oklahoma to meet Ohio State, or for all the guys with their jerseys on and long necks of Budweiser, for all the care free college teens who danced through the afternoon in Greek Village, drinking mixed drinks out of paper cups, the day had finally arrived. But the game of chess that was to be played with bodies, that was strictly for the die-hard types who will keep replaying it mentally into the ages and wondering whether it was the beginning of a championship run, can begin to debate; because it very well may have been.
In essence, what won it for Oklahoma can’t be narrowed down to one thing. Oklahoma may just have the best offensive line in the nation and Ohio State has one of the best defensive lines OU will see all season. Perhaps it was freshman Trey Sermon, member of the coveted ‘SoonerSquad17’ recruiting class, who looked at ease with punishing hits that mimicked Samaje Perine, working his way to 62 yards and a receiving touchdown. Perhaps it was the gunslinger, Baker Mayfield, who looked like poetry in motion as he amazed another road crowd with 386 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, one of which to the emerging star, TD receptions leader Lee Morris. Everything else balances out, more or less. Even the precious mistakes—Oklahoma’s two fumbles against Ohio State’s interception—that ultimately allowed the game to be tied 3-3 at halftime. There was an unending fury of offense from Oklahoma that simply overwhelmed the Buckeye defense, physical though they were. But that’s the way it is with modern college football. You can’t take away every weapon. Both Ohio State and Oklahoma stopped the things they feared most, but in so doing they gave up practically everything else. But always there lingered the one thing sooner nation had been waiting for; a great game by Mike Stoops and the Oklahoma defense.
“That was the story of the night. They held us together.” Lincoln Riley said of his defense after the victory. It was one of those insanely thrilling things in which a single player, seized by the moment, can’t be given the credit for the entire defensive performance. It was a true ‘molly-whopping’; fast paced, ‘sooner magic’ defensive effort from all 11 players that were on the field at any given time. Even injuries throughout the game to important starters like Obo Okoronkwo or Will Johnson still didn’t cause the defense to sputter. It was an effort that should keep Lee Corso scratching his head, wondering why he would ever call this team “pretenders.”
Back in Norman Oklahoma, a city strained with expectations, sooner faithful watched their team battle their way to victory in one of college football’s most historic stadiums. Tension ran up the spine of anyone you met, with no one sounding confident that a win would be the outcome. But the pretenders from Norman, who were supposed to be outmatched by size, outcoached by experience and intimidated by crowd noise, made the hair on the back of 109,000 spectator’s necks stand up with the performance of the night. It was a fantastic coming out party for Lincoln Riley as a head coach. Taking over a program with a storied tradition and filling the place of a coaching legend is already a difficult task that a lot of people have questioned whether or not he was ready for. Riley’s calm demeanor and excellent play calling demanded the respect from the college football world. Now he has a marquee game that fans can point to and use to convince themselves that the program is in good hands. After all, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the past, but you can’t live in it. The ability to move on is hard for an Oklahoma fan who believes college football is a matter of life and death and winning only makes life sweeter. Fortunately for those fans, more wins are expected under ‘Large Game Lincoln’ and a new chapter to the OU history books begins. “Our guys have a chip on their shoulder. They have an edge about them. We’re not gonna apologize for that.” See you next Saturday.