A record-setting performance by the Oklahoma Sooners offense in the Cotton Bowl helped overcome four turnovers to send the Texas Longhorns to a third consecutive defeat with the 45-40 loss.
After missing an early attempt from 50 yards, Oklahoma kicker Austin Siebert got a lucky bounce off the upright to stretch the lead to 45-34.
The made field goal ended a stretch of two drives by the Sooners that accounted for nearly an entire quarter and covered 28 plays and 153 yards, a physical performance by the Oklahoma offense that the Texas defense couldn’t overcome.
There was also some bad luck — the Sooners fumbled twice in the final minutes, once on an option pitch and again when quarterback Baker Mayfield tried to pick up extra yardage while attempting to run out the clock. Texas couldn’t capitalize on either mistake.
After the made field goal, Texas responded with a five-play, 69-yard drive that took only 51 seconds on a 21-yard touchdown run by D’Onta Foreman, but the ‘Horns couldn’t recover the decisive onside kick or the key fumble.
Days after taking over full control of that defense, head coach Charlie Strong wasn’t able to coax an improved performance from the beleaguered unit in setting historic lows for the storied series.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield set a series record with 390 passing yards and the 679 total yards by the Sooners also set a record.
The disappointing ending came after a hot start for the ‘Horns that temporarily reversed a season-long trend in the second half, but only managed to score three points on four turnovers by the Sooners.
The inability to capitalize on those turnovers or recover the late fumbles ultimately cost Texas the game.
After underthrowing former quarterback Jerrod Heard on a deep route to open the second half, freshman quarterback Shane Buechele hit a streaking Devin Duvernay up the sideline on a vertical switch route for a 63-yard touchdown, reminiscent of Marcus Johnson in the 2013 Red River Showdown.
Oklahoma responded quickly, needing only four plays to find top receiver Dede Westbrook on a slant-and-go route that beat sophomore cornerback Holton Hill for a 42-yard touchdown.
Suddenly the game opened up, as Buechele found his deep ball once again, hitting junior wide receiver Dorian Leonard for a 45-yard touchdown pass that looked almost identical to a similar throw to Leonard against UTEP. Leonard bobbled the throw initially, but was able to secure the ball as he found the end zone.
The big plays courtesy of Buechele and the Longhorns wide receivers reversed the season-long trend of difficulties in the second half — in the first 4:17 of the third quarter, Texas surpassed the total yardage from the first half, 131 to 130.
Unfortunately, the coverage busts continued for Texas. First it was Davante Davis late in the first half, then it was Hill, then it was Kris Boyd, who slowed down to turn back for the football as the Oklahoma wide receiver ran past him for a 51-yard reception that set up a Sooners touchdown to regain the lead.
It marked the seventh lead change of the game after a sloppy, back-and-forth first half.
Oklahoma extended it after a drop by Texas wide receiver John Burt stalled the ensuing drive and two big catches by burgeoning superstar Dede Westbrook resulted in 69 yards, including a 47-yard catch and run that beat the pursuing Longhorns defense.
The special teams stepped up big after the 18-Wheeler package broke down again, with Boyd recovering a punt that bounced off the chest of Joe Mixon, the fourth turnover of the game for the Sooners.
On 3rd and 2 from the 8-yard line, officials ruled that Oklahoma intercepted a pass intended for Armanti Foreman, but both players fought over the ball and Foreman eventually emerged with it. However, the call stood.
With the interception, Texas had scored only three points on four Oklahoma turnovers in a quarter in which the Sooners gained 273 yards and scored three touchdowns. At the end of it, Westbrook had 10 receptions for 232 yards and three touchdowns of his own, and even though the ‘Horns held him in check during the fourth quarter, it wasn’t enough.
The ensuing 13-play drive went 93 yards and took 6:27 off the clock in a crushing effort for the Longhorns defense that featured only one completion — a 29-yard pass to Mark Andrews. It was an act of physical domination.
By that point, the six touchdowns scored by the Sooners were all from Central Texas products never offered by Texas — Westbrook (Cameron Yoe), Perine (Pflugerville Hendrickson), and Mayfield (Lake Travis).
A key drive for the offense rode the Foreman brothers. D’Onta carried the ball four times for 49 yards and Armanti added two catches for 18 yards and a 10-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
As happened all too often, the Texas defense couldn’t respond. The ‘Horns did force the Sooners into 3rd and 8, but Mayfield bought some extra time and found Dimitri Flowers for a big completion to extend the drive.
Another conversion of 3rd and 5 against a blitz was the seventh in 11 attempts for Oklahoma on the day, a significant reason the defense gave up so many points and yards.
The Sooners offensive line also held up, as blitzes didn’t hit home for the ‘Horns and a year after giving up six sacks, Oklahoma didn’t allow a single sack of Mayfield on Saturday. The performance was also out of line with previous games in 2016 after entering the Cotton Bowl averaging 3.25 sacks allowed in each of the previous four contests.
Where do things go from here?
Despite the defensive struggles, Texas was in the game until the end and even though Strong now has almost no margin for error, the ‘Horns are close.
Time to go win some games against teams that don’t have outstanding quarterbacks.