NORMAN, Okla. -- As quarterback Blake Bell trucked Sam Carter for the game-clinching first down against TCU, the Sooners began to shift their eyes to that team south of the Red River.
Oh yeah, and to the Longhorns, too.
Saturday, Oklahoma survived the Horned Frogs 20-17 at Owen Field in a defensive impasse in which TCU couldn’t buy a first down in the first half, and the Sooners couldn’t generate one for most of the second.
But, as it has all season, OU got the plays it needed when it mattered most. With four minutes left, Brennan Clay finally broke through TCU’s front wall for a 76-yard touchdown. Then, after the Frogs answered with a quick touchdown, Bell battered his way through the TCU secondary to seal the win with a first down.
“We struggled offensively, and if we weren’t that strong defensively, it would have been tough,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Would have been tough to win.”
Thanks to tough defense, the Sooners prevailed again. But tough defense alone won’t be enough to prevail in the Big 12.
The Red River Rivalry has long been the game to determine who would prevail in the Big 12. But the way Texas has been struggling -- and Baylor has been scoring -- OU’s path to a Big 12 title is looking like it will go through the game in Waco on Nov. 7 instead of the one in Dallas next weekend.
After dropping two games in September, the Longhorns needed help from everyone, including the Big 12 officials, to escape Iowa State on Thursday on the same field the Cyclones fell to Northern Iowa just a few weeks ago.
Baylor, meanwhile, pummeled yet another opponent Saturday, racking up Big 12 records for points and yards in a 73-42 demolition of West Virginia.
“They’re obviously very special on offense,” said OU center Gabe Ikard, who admitted he has been following Baylor’s scoring barrages. “It seems like they’re on pace of breaking every record that exists in college football for offense. Obviously what they’re doing, it’s very impressive.
“But we can’t worry about them until we face them.”
First, the Sooners face Texas, which has to be one of the shakiest squads with a 2-0 league record in Big 12 history.
The Longhorns will also be without quarterback David Ash, who Saturday was ruled out of the OU game due to lingering effects from a head injury. Factor in that the Sooners are coming off back-to-back obliterations of Texas, and it will take one of the bigger upsets in series history for the Longhorns to win. Especially considering that OU is back to playing defense like it did at the advent of the Stoops era.
Saturday, the Sooners held TCU to without a first down in the first half and just 16 yards of offense. Dating back to its win at Notre Dame, the OU defense forced 10 consecutive three-and-outs, until the Frogs finally grinded out a first down in the third quarter.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “We’ve got three or four impact players, but the rest of our guys are playing impact football. We don’t have any glaring weaknesses, and that’s a good place to be.”
OU has the kind of defense that could overwhelm Texas once again, especially with Case McCoy in place of Ash at quarterback.
The Sooners, however, haven’t showed they can score with Baylor yet.
Saturday, the Bears became the first team in 83 years to score 70 points in three straight games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
And they have already scored four touchdowns in seven different quarters. The 2008 Sooners, who broke the modern record for points in a season, broke the 28-point barrier in only six quarters the entire season.
Sure, the Bears haven’t played anyone with much of a pulse. But the same West Virginia defense that completely capitulated in Waco checked OU to 16 points in Norman last month.
Since taking over at quarterback that West Virginia game, Bell has given the Sooners an attitude and a spark. But still, OU has continued to scuffle at times offensively.
The Sooners themselves were held without a first down with just four yards of offense the whole third quarter, which allowed TCU to claw back into the game.
The Frogs have a great defense. But that great?
“It was frustrating that we couldn’t get anything together,” Bell said. “But our defense did a great job holding them.”
Great defense will serve the Sooners well in Dallas. But the way Baylor keeps piling up the points, OU eventually will need more than just great defense down the line.
“In order to win this conference, like we’re used to doing,” Ikard said, “the offense has got to be better.”