NORMAN When the Oklahoma football team returned to its locker room after Saturday’s 33-point romp over Baylor, it would have been perfectly understandable had the players erupted into some kind of crazed chant about beating Texas in their next game.
After all, a chance to beat the Longhorns in one of college football’s most storied atmospheres is one of the bigger reasons why players choose to play for OU. However, getting hyped about the upcoming Red River rivalry in the Cotton Bowl at 11 a.m. next Saturday (televised by FOX) was not foremost on the minds of the No. 6-ranked Sooners (5-0 overall, 2-0 in Big 12).
Since taking over as OU’s head coach last year, Lincoln Riley continually has stressed the importance of savoring each victory. Even with the No. 18-ranked Longhorns (4-1 overall, 2-0 Big 12) next on the agenda, Riley insisted that his team live in the moment.
“You’ve got to be careful,” Riley said in his post-game interview session. “You need to appreciate wins. We’re not baseball. We’re not basketball. We don’t get 50, 60, 70 games. We only get a few of these and they’re damn hard to win. So when we win, we’re going to enjoy them. The focus was about winning this game. Now, are the guys excited for next week? No question, but we’ll get to next week (come) next week.”
There was plenty to appreciate about the Sooners doubling-up on Baylor with a 66-33 triumph in front of the 120th consecutive sellout at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Leading the list was another scintillating performance from redshirt junior quarterback Kyler Murray. The Heisman Trophy candidate tied a school single-game record by accounting for seven touchdowns six passing and one rushing and he didn’t even start or finish the game.
Murray was forced to sit out the game’s first series as punishment for arriving late to the team’s 7:30 a.m. practice on Friday.
“He set his alarm wrong on Thursday night,” Riley explained. “His mom was in town and they were spending some time together and he set his alarm wrong (an hour late). … We have a policy that if you’re late to that practice, if you’re a starter, you don’t start, and if you’re a guy that we’re dressing, you don’t travel. So, it’s just a policy we stick by. Wasn’t anything egregious. Wasn’t a big issue. Wasn’t a huge issue behind our walls.”
A contrite Murray said, “Obviously, you let the guys down and it hurts. … For me personally, it can’t happen.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Kendall started in place of Murray and also finished the game alongside fellow backup players when the Sooners had the contest well in hand.
On Murray’s second play from scrimmage (following a Baylor muffed punt return at the Bears’ 10-yard line), he threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Lee Morris to give the Sooners a 7-0 lead. That would be followed by a 30-yard touchdown pass to Grant Calcaterra, a 43-yard touchdown toss to Morris, a 24-yard TD throw to Marquise Brown, an 86-yard touchdown (the seventh-longest pass play in school history) with a short toss on a crossing route to CeeDee Lamb, and concluded with a 50-yard catch-and-sprint from Brown. Murray also scored on a 1-yard sneak as the third quarter expired.
“Once I got in the game, I’ve got to stay calm and just do my deal, go through my reads and execute, and I think we that today,” Murray said.
Murray completed 17 of 21 passes for 432 yards and no interceptions. His completion average was 25.4 yards and his passer rating was a staggering 348.0. His passer rating is an OU record, a Big 12 record and the highest rating by an FBS player since at least 1996 (available statistics).
“He played good,” Riley said of Murray’s performance under awkward circumstances. “He handled the situation before the game well. (He) didn’t freak out like I’m sure the rest of America did.”
As is his way, the elusive Murray gave the Baylor defense fits with his improvisational skills, often keeping plays alive by avoiding danger in the pocket.
“You saw a little bit of the juice that he has,” Riley said of Murray. “It’s pretty neat.”
The best Riley has ever seen from Murray?
“I’m always scared to say, best I’ve ever seen,’” Riley said. “We’ve seen some pretty good ones, but it was pretty damn good. He’s just got that gear, acceleration-wise, and he can continue to get more aggressive running it and involved in our run game because people just have to account for him. And even when you account for him, the odds still aren’t in your favor, and that’s just one of the things that makes him really good. Right now, what makes him good, though, is he’s beating people from the pocket, and if he can do that, he’s tough to handle.”
In addition to Murray not starting, OU also was without defensive end Kenneth Mann and left offensive guard Ben Powers both of whom are team captains. Mann and Powers have undisclosed injuries and their status for the Texas game is uncertain.
“We’re growing, and we’re doing it while we’re winning. That’s always a really good thing.”
“We had a lot of adversity and a lot of distractions with some of the guys that were out who are obviously some important players for us,” Riley said. “It was kind of funny … I was sitting there at the (pre-game) coin toss and thinking, We’ve got five captains and we’ve only got four of them here and only two of them are dressed.’ It’s been like that a little bit and yet we still find a way to win and beat a much-improved Baylor team. I’m very proud of the way our guys played and responded.”
Playing in front of the sixth-largest crowd in facility history (86,642), the Sooners’ offense rolled up 607 total yards on 54 plays, an average of 11.2 yards per snap.
Redshirt running back Kennedy Brooks had fourth-quarter touchdown runs of 49 yards and 34 yards, and finished with a career-high 107 yards on eight carries (13.4 average).
“I think we all had a little bit of a hunch that if we could get him a shot or two, he could (bust loose),” Riley said of Brooks. “I don’t think anyone’s real surprised. … He’s got some great skills with the ball and becoming a more complete player.”
Meanwhile, the Baylor offense ran 101 plays, amassed 493 total yards and had 37:20 of possession time. The Bears did most of their damage in the second half with 313 yards on 43 plays. Sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer completed 38 of 60 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked six times and the Bears were limited to 77 yards rushing on 38 attempts (2.0 average).
Riley said the OU defense “did a pretty good job. We made them one-dimensional.”
“There aren’t any good days coaching defense in this league,” Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “It’s the world we live in. It’s absurd, but that’s the absurdity that we live with week in and week out. Every coach in this league has to deal with it.”
At times, the OU defense looked formidable while bringing pass pressure. At other times, not so much.
“We had some points in the game where, all three sides together, we played some of the best ball we’ve played all year,” Riley said. “Like any game, there’s going to be things to improve on in all three and we’ll continue to work hard at those. But we’re learning, we’re growing, and we’re doing it while we’re winning. That’s always a really good thing.”
One week after setting an FBS record with 28 tackles against Army, sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray collected a team-high 17 against the Bears and was followed by linebacker Curtis Bolton (16) and safety Kahlil Haughton (11). Freshman defensive end Ronnie Perkins had 2.0 sacks and three quarterback hurries.
“This team, this is a good group to deal with,” Stoops said. “We continue to improve. You’ve just got to take the challenges one-by-one, take them as they come. This will be an important week for us, obviously.”