Bohls: It's Oklahoma as usual at the top of the Big 12, but with a twist
- As if Sooners opponents didn’t already have enough to worry about, now Lincoln Riley has gone and ushered in a new kind of football.
- Riley was upset, to say the least, when he saw that the All-Big 12 team, as picked by all the league coaches, didn’t include a single OU player on the first-team defense.
- “When you look at the All-Big 12, it’s amazing we won a game,” Riley said. “But I’m glad they did it. I need to send ‘em a gift basket. We were pissed.”
Well, that’s just fine and dandy.
The Oklahoma football machine that pushes out Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks like Pez dispensers and mauls opponents with its tsunami of an offense now plays great defense, too.
Ain’t that just swell?
As if Sooners opponents didn’t already have enough to worry about, now Lincoln Riley has gone and ushered in a new kind of football.
Balanced football. No need to put up pinball numbers and outscore people anymore. Just play sound, disciplined, tough defense, and that, too, can work.
Tenth-ranked Oklahoma did that and more on Saturday, containing No. 6 Iowa State well enough to walk off with a 27-21 win at AT&T Stadium in Arlington to secure the school’s sixth straight Big 12 championship.
With two losses, Saturday’s title victory isn’t nearly enough to transport the Sooners (8-2) into another College Football Playoff. They’ll probably play in the Cotton Bowl, and the trickle-down effect could send the Cyclones (8-3) to the Alamo unless they fall only slightly in the CFP standings and are picked for a New Year’s Six bowl.
If both teams reach New Year's Six status, Texas might be taken by the Alamo Bowl. Otherwise, the Longhorns are probably a shoo-in for the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando. Both games are on Dec. 29.
OU, meanwhile, sits at its customary top of the heap and is playing a better brand of defense, unlike in previous years.
While that’s impressive, it also somewhat hurts the Big 12’s overall image because it’s often perceived as a one-team league. And the Sooners’ rise from the ashes after an 0-2 start in conference play will do nothing to disturb that reputation. OU’s 0-3 record in the CFP under Riley also has stamped the Big 12 as an also-ran in the big picture.
Maybe Saturday’s performance will start to change that notion because the Sooners staved off a very good Cyclones offense that has the country's leading rusher in Breece Hall, who was held to a season-low 79 yards on 23 carries, and a talented quarterback in all-conference Brock Purdy, who was harassed into three interceptions and three sacks.
Which brings up another sore point.
Riley was upset, to say the least, when he saw that the All-Big 12 team, as picked by the league coaches, didn’t include a single OU player on the first-team defense. Four made the second team.
Five Sooners had six tackles each as defensive coordinator Alex Grinch used more than two dozen players on Saturday and topped his usual goal of forcing two turnovers a game. OU had 11 takeaways in its last five games, and senior cornerback Tre Brown, who had the game’s crucial sack of Sam Ehlinger to swing the 2018 Big 12 title game in OU’s favor, sealed Saturday’s game with an interception inside the OU 10 in the final minute.
“When you look at the All-Big 12, it’s amazing we won a game,” Riley said. “But I’m glad they did it. I need to send ’em a gift basket. We were pissed.”
It showed. OU put constant pressure on Purdy with defensive end Ronnie Perkins, who was suspended for half the season. He had 1½ sacks on Saturday, and Isaiah Thomas and Perrion Winfrey both kept on the heat. All three were on the conference second team, as was Brown.
So how many deserved first-team inclusion?
“If you asked me,” Grinch said, “I’d say 11.”
The Sooners were riled up from the start, but so were the Cyclones. Isheem Young, ISU’s stud defensive back, was ejected on the second play of the game after being flagged for a dubious targeting penalty with a fierce shoulder hit against OU receiver Drake Stoops.
ISU coach Matt Campbell, the Big 12 coach of the year, was so incensed, he went off on the sideline for a long time, though he wasn’t flagged.
OU controlled the first half, scoring 24 of its 27 points before intermission. The Sooners punted the first five times they had the ball in the second half, but Brown’s second big kickoff return of the game set up a pivotal field goal by Gabe Brkic for the final scoring margin.
“This is awesome, awesome stuff,” Riley said. “This one feels different and may be the most unlikely one with all we had to overcome.”
So in the end, nothing to see here. Except kinda there is.
Now that Grinch has had two seasons in Norman, OU is playing defense more like some of the best teams in the country. Championship defense, if you will.
And that’s got to worry teams like Texas and Iowa State and Oklahoma State to death because now they have so much more to contend with. But maybe the entire league is changing its stripes for the better because five Big 12 teams rank in the top 40 in the nation in total defense, two more than the SEC has.
The best of the Big 12 bunch? That’d be OU at No. 16.
Things are a-changing. Except when they’re not.