A Texan linebacker from Missouri City, Kenneth Murray, stomped through the Texas offense repeatedly like some cartoon figure as Oklahoma hogged nine sacks, flattered first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and held Texas to three points and 83 yards before halftime, set against the 241 and 24 of last season.
“I’m a true believer in, ‘The past doesn’t define you,’ ” Murray said, to a question about the Oklahoma defenses of the distant past, such as last season. “So, this is a new year.”
Then, when Texas rode Roschon Johnson’s 57-yard run in a 93-yard drive to forge somehow a 10-10 tie early in the third quarter, two more Texans intervened — one a Texan-Texan, and one a Texan-Alabamian.
A Texan receiver from Richmond, CeeDee Lamb, reiterated his status as a monster of a player, catching pass after pass and bouncing off defender after defender as he amassed 10 receptions for 171 yards and three touchdowns that helped Oklahoma jump ahead and stay ahead.
“Considering what was at stake at this game,” Lamb said, “that was obviously a great experience.”
And then, even after some dumbfounding errors in the first half, that Texan from Channelview who came to Oklahoma by way of Alabama, Jalen Hurts, RPO’d his way to 131 rushing yards, 235 passing yards, mastery of much of the game and steep praise from Texas Coach Tom Herman, who called Hurts “an exceptional quarterback that had a heck of a day.”
“I definitely didn’t put the team in the greatest and best situations,” Hurts said of his first-half fumble 13 yards from the end zone and his glaring first-half interception hurled into the end zone, “but the key about that is we found the way to overcome it.”
They do look like a team with ample capacity to overcome.
Riding on their third Texan quarterback to contend for a Heisman Trophy in three years — with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray already having won the thing — the Sooners have reached 6-0 with their usual runaway-No. 1-ranked offense hoarding more than nine yards per play and with a fresh accessory that might come in handy should they make the College Football Playoff for the third straight year and fourth time overall.
If Oklahoma has a defense, then, well: Goodness.
One year after a trip to the Cotton Bowl sprang both a 48-45 bummer and a firing of their defensive coordinator, they brought their third such coordinator aiming to solve Texas in 52 weeks, counting the Big 12 championship game last December.
Of late, this one alighted at Washington State and Ohio State before bringing along his good record and his apt defensive-coordinator surname — again: “Grinch” — and what appears to be one of those schemes that refrains from dabbling in complexity.
“I think they do a really good job of swarming the football,” said Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who ran free often here last year but spent Saturday wrapped in frequent hugs he did not request. “Obviously they recruit really well and have extremely talented players, and I feel like they just let them go make great plays.”
“I think the scheme is not terribly complex in terms of knowing where they’re going to be,” Herman said, “but they’re extremely well-coached and confident in how to get there and where to get there and how to fit different runs and routes and coverage. You can tell they really know what they’re doing.”
“Well,” Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley said, “regardless of what the outside world thinks” — which hasn’t been with a general disparagement — “we believe a lot in our defense … I don’t care what our defensive calls are, schemes. Not that I don’t care, but the way we play right now was the difference today: aggression, fundamentally sound, kept our aggression even in the second half when Texas made a few plays.”
When Texas (4-2) made a few plays, the score stood at that 10-10, but the game still seemed tilted if not lopsided. Oklahoma still had that offense, even with Murray with the Arizona Cardinals and the thrilling Marquise Brown with the Baltimore Ravens.
Within that offense, Kennedy Brooks would rush for 107 yards on Saturday, so Texas had to respect his presence. That’s part of why, when Hurts handed him the ball halfway through the third quarter but then Brooks turned around and pitched it back to Hurts, Hurts and everybody else not screaming toward the beer sales noticed Lamb, alone.
He hauled in the ball 20 yards downfield on the right side, then made an obstacle course through apparent tacklers to stream in beside the right pylon. Oklahoma led 17-10.
When Texas made a kickoff-return blunder and began middling around near its own end zone for a while, Oklahoma got a field goal for a 20-10 lead. After Texas went 60 yards in five plays to Ehlinger’s two-yard run for 20-17, the Sooners went a typical 75 yards in a typical six plays, finishing on Hurts’s 27-yard pass to Lamb, who ping-ponged and slid through the final seven yards or so.
All of that made it 27-17, and deepened the idea of Lamb as a big problem, which may or may not have contributed to the fact that midway through the fourth quarter, Brooks, a Texan, ripped off a 42-yard run, and then Rhamondre Stevenson, a Nevadan — oh, no! — went immediately for 24.
Soon, Hurts was in the end zone for a 34-20 lead, and the Oklahoma guns fired from the other end zone per tradition, that left only a few meaningful tunnel scenes. In one, Riley, the 36-year-old head coach, returned from his near-exit to enjoy the moment with Grinch, the 39-year-old coordinator. In another, there went Hurts amid lustrous cheers from Oklahomans around the end of the bowl, for that rare quarterback who stars in a national championship game for one kingdom (Alabama), before a fresh star emerges and he’s off to pursue a similar perch for another.
All of that, of course, after hailing from among the 28 million of the giant Texas.
“This hurts, it really does,” said Herman, the latest Texas coach felled largely by Texans.