The tone and tenor of the postgame news conferences in Norman, Okla., and Austin could not have been more different on Saturday. This week’s Red River rivalry now looks totally unpredictable.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley stood before reporters with a dazed expression and said, “Very, very disappointing.” That’s life in the Big 12 as OU got whacked by Iowa State 38-31, a score that doesn’t really do justice to how well the Cyclones played down the stretch.
Turnabout is fair play these days, apparently. OU quarterback Baker Mayfield planted a flag in Ohio State’s hallowed turf in September. An Iowa State player planted an Iowa state flag at Owen Field.
“The most disappointing thing, really, is we didn’t play our best game,” Mayfield said.
Meanwhile at Royal-Memorial Stadium, the Longhorns were coming in hot after a 40-34 double-overtime win over Kansas State. Texas (3-2, 2-0 Big 12) is the team on the apparent rise while OU (4-1, 1-1) slipped out of the top 10 rankings.
Asked about the environment, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger said, “I love it.”
“I love everything about this — the school, the team, the guys, the coaches,” the Westlake product said. “It doesn’t get any better to be in such a clutch moment with a heated environment in an overtime game. There’s nothing better.”
As Ehlinger and his teammates walked off the field, a crowd of 90,462 was on full blast: “Beat OU!”
Texas coach Tom Herman refused to make any bold pronouncements about the quarterback position after the K-State win. But it seems awfully hard to pivot back to sophomore Shane Buechele at the moment.
Ehlinger threw for 380 yards and ran for 107 more, making him only the third quarterback in school history to accomplish the 300/100 trick. Colt McCoy did it in 2009, and Jerrod Heard ran wild in 2015. Ehlinger’s passing total was the 10th-most in school history, too, and most ever by a true freshman.
It’s impossible to ignore the Longhorns’ visceral reactions when asked about Ehlinger.
“It’s exciting to watch,” right guard Jake McMillon said. “It’s a nice change of pace when you see a quarterback run like that with that kind of, under his pads, he’s running over people. It’s exciting to watch.”
Receiver Collin Johnson said Ehlinger is just out there “being a football player doing his thing.”
“It’s great to see a QB running the ball like that,” Johnson said. “That’s hard to do for a QB. They have so much to think about, so much to worry about. To see a QB run the ball like that, it’s just real motivating for the rest of the team.”
Left guard Patrick Vahe said plainly, “Really, I just want to say we’re finding a rhythm as an offense. I’m really proud of my guys.”
Ehlinger’s running ability gives the offense a new wrinkle it simply doesn’t have under Buechele. In 14 career games, Buechele averaged 1.8 yards per carry. Ehlinger is averaging 3.6 yards per rushing attempt in three career games.
It’s the way that Ehlinger runs, though. Maybe it’s youthful exuberance or just plain stubbornness, but Ehlinger wants to run through people, not around them and definitely not out of bounds. For those with any doubts, ask K-State safety Denzel Goolsby, who got rocked in overtime trying to stop the young gunslinger.
— patrick (@PatDStat) October 8, 2017
“I think we’re finding our identity,” Ehlinger said. “We want to be a very physical team and the love within the locker room is very strong.”
The anger in Norman is real, too. A columnist for The Oklahoman pulled no punches after the Iowa State mess. “This went beyond disappointing to historic — this was the worst loss in program history. Not in recent history. Ever.”
A columnist for the Des Moines Register had one word: “Boom.”
The Sooners were 30-point favorites over the same bunch of Cyclones that couldn’t get much of anything going against the Longhorns. Texas won 17-7 in Ames on Sept. 28.
OU, which dropped to 12th in the Associated Press Top 25, harbored legitimate national title hopes. In the second half, desperate for points, OU had only four possessions. The result was a fumble, missed field goal, a touchdown and a turnover on downs. Iowa State put up 24 points after halftime in a win that could prevent the Big 12 from having a team in the College Football Playoff.
“I think it’s a sense of complacency,” said Mayfield, OU’s high-flying leader from Lake Travis. “We’ve been talking about it; it’s not like we haven’t addressed it. We’ve let teams come back in games and give them hope. When you do that to a team who has their back against the wall, it’s something you can’t do.”
Said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, “I think they got more confident as the game went on.”
Texas is gaining more confidence as this season moves on. The lessons learned from the Maryland and USC losses are paying benefits now. There will be some questions as to how the defense allowed K-State backup quarterback Alex Delton to rush for 79 yards. The secondary also had some breakdowns as well.
Still, the Texas defense had three sacks and eight tackles for loss. DeShon Elliott also had another interception, his fifth in three games. “We’ve got to get better at getting off our blocks,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said.
There is no question which way the arrow is pointing for both teams. Sounds like a perfect time to meet in the Cotton Bowl and sort it all out.
“We’re going to celebrate this for a couple of hours with our friends and families,” Herman said after the K-State win, “and wake up (Sunday) and get ready to play our rival in Dallas.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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