NORMAN Playing for the first time since the dismissal of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, the Oklahoma defense responded Saturday by holding its opponent to some of the lowest totals in the Lincoln Riley head coaching era.
In a convincing 52-27 rout at TCU, the Sooners held the speedy Horned Frogs to 275 total yards, the third fewest allowed in their 21 games under Riley. OU’s defense surrendered just 12 first downs (fewest in 10 games) and 112 yards rushing (3.7 average).
In addition to adjusting to the demands of new defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, the Sooners also had to deal with the death of cornerback Tre Brown’s mother, Beverly Brewer, over the weekend. Brown wound up making his first start of the season.
“An emotional win for this team, for a lot of reasons,” Riley said afterward.
“These guys know how to win on the road. We embrace it. We love it. We’ve said it for a long time.”
– Lincoln Riley
OU starting nose guard Neville Gallimore said, “We’ve been extremely anxious. From the moment that (Stoops) situation happened we were ready to get back on the field and get to work. We were waiting for this one and it was just another opportunity. I feel like this is another opportunity to get back out on the field and play for each other and play fast and have fun. You miss that even though it’s only been two weeks.”
McNeill repeatedly expressed how proud he was of Riley, with whom he previously served at Texas Tech and East Carolina before joining the OU staff prior to last season.
“The past two weeks have been tough,” McNeill said. “I’ve been there. I’ve sat in that three-legged chair (as head coach).”
The No. 9-ranked Sooners (6-1 overall; 3-1 in Big 12) have now won 18 straight true road games and haven’t lost consecutive regular season games since 1999. OU extended its streak to 39 straight wins following a regular season loss.
“These guys know how to win on the road,” Riley said. “We embrace it. We love it. We’ve said it for a long time. Rarely on the road especially against a team like this do you just go blow somebody out. That just doesn’t happen very often.”
Riley said he and his staff steered clear of making major defensive adjustments after Stoops’ departure while primarily focusing on fundamentals and tackling.
“You’ve got to lay out a plan when you’ve had such a major change like that,” Riley said. “It’s not just plugging one leak. Like I’ve said before, it certainly wasn’t all on one person.”
Trailing 28-7 midway through the second quarter, the Horned Frogs (3-4; 1-3) reeled off 17 unanswered points to trail 28-24 at halftime.
“We gave them momentum, but this team had tremendous fight,” Riley said. “(There was) great attitude in the locker room at halftime, a great mentality coming out and really just dominated the second half. I’m as proud as I’ve been, our players, our coaches and how they responded to all the challenges this week. We laid out a plan. Our players took to it. They believed in it.”
Backup TCU quarterback Michael Collins, a transfer from Penn, completed 4 of 5 passes for 89 yards and two quick touchdowns late in the first half. That lone incompletion was a dropped interception by OU freshman defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles, which would have been returned for a touchdown and made the score 35-7.
Collins completed only 3 of 12 passes for 53 yards and an interception in the second half. All told, Collins and starter Shawn Robinson completed just 40 percent of their throws (10 for 25).
“I thought defensively we played really well all day,” Riley said. “I thought our players responded, I thought we tackled better, made some plays in coverage and got some key pressure. It’s not perfect, we’ve still got room to grow there, but it’s a hell of a good start.”
Asked what calls specifically were made on defense, McNeill shifted all the credit to the players. “It’s never the call,” McNeill said. “The kids are the call… I thought the effort was very close to what we were talking about in expecting of them.”
There were some personnel changes defensively. Brown started in place of Parnell Motley and Robert Barnes replaced Justin Broiles at starting safety. With the Sooners opening the game in a four-man front, freshman defensive end Ronnie Perkins made his first career start, replacing outside linebacker Mark Jackson.
“Seeing those young guys go out there hunting with us, it’s something that’s great and just another brother out there with us,” sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “It’s good to see the young guys out there contributing. They definitely have a lot to prove.”
Meanwhile, OU’s juggernaut offense remained intact despite all the distractions and an open date.
The Sooners amassed 26 first downs and rolled up 536 total yards (7.4 per play) against TCU, which entered with the top defense in the Big 12 at 311.8 yards allowed per game.
“I’m as proud as I’ve been, our players, our coaches and how they responded to all the challenges this week. We laid out a plan. Our players took to it. They believed in it.”
– Lincoln Riley
Continuing his push to become the school’s seventh Heisman Trophy winner, OU redshirt junior quarterback Kyler Murray completed 19 of 24 passes for 213 yards and four touchdowns, marking the sixth straight game with at least three scoring passes. He also had 51 yards rushing.
Receiver Lee Morris caught two touchdown passes (9 and 27 yards) to raise his season total to six. He now has eight touchdown catches on 12 career receptions.
True freshman running back Kennedy Brooks rushed for a career-high 168 yards (9.3 average) and sophomore starter Trey Sermon added 110 yards and two touchdowns before leaving with a lower leg injury midway through the fourth quarter.
“We felt like we were close in the run game kind of the entire first half of the season,” Riley said. “And we’ve run it good I mean we haven’t run it terrible but we knew we weren’t running it as well as we could and to our capabilities.”
While beating the Horned Frogs for the third time in the last 11 months, OU matched its all-time scoring high against TCU and it was the fourth straight game the Sooners scored at least 38 points in the series.
“I thought it was just perfect how the game unfolded,” Riley said. “We came out and played how we were capable of.”
Oklahoma plays at home next Saturday for the first time in four weeks when it hosts Kansas State (3-4; 1-3) for Homecoming at 2:30 p.m.