By Clay Horning
WACO, Texas — The game may have been over anyway, so it was probably just one more meaningless offensive series for Oklahoma, simply trying to make it interesting as the fourth quarter began, trailing by 22 points and facing second-and-4 at the Baylor 23-yard line.
Sooner quarterback Blake Bell tossed incomplete to Brannon Green, then ran for a yard, then tossed incomplete to a well covered Jalen Saunders even though Roy Finch was wide open along the right boundary.
It probably didn’t matter, but who knows? A two-touchdown game with a lot of time left is still a two-touchdown game with a lot of time left.
Instead, it was just another example of OU’s tortured offense. Of course, there were others in what became an embarrassing 41-12 defeat.
Facing third-and-8 at the Baylor 45, late in the first quarter, Bell found Sterling Shepard for what would have been a first-down completion only it was ruled incomplete when K.J. Morton put a shoulder into Shepard’s head.
Morton was momentarily ejected for targeting before replay allowed him to remain, but Bear defender Ahmad Dixon was so upset about it all, he drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, setting OU up first-and-goal at the 7.
The Sooners had two chances from inside the 2-yard line before giving up the ball on downs.
The biggest of the bunch may have come in the middle. Remembering the moment, Bob Stoops said something you may never again hear a football coach say.
“With four minutes to go,” he said, “it’s a 10-5 game.”
OU had the ball facing fourth-and-5 at the Baylor 41-yard line. Rather than go for it, Jed Barnett punted and stuck the Bears back at their own 7.
Baylor needed nine plays to go 93 yards and make it 17-5, and when OU responded by trying to turn the last 60 seconds of the half into points, Bell was picked off by Eddie Lackey.
The Bears then ran five plays, traveled 38 yards and entered the half up 24-5.
Unwind the sequence.
Had Stoops had any real confidence in his offense, he could have gone for it on fourth-and-5 at the 41 and maybe put seven points on the board rather than watch Baylor go 93 yards the other way. Had that not happened, Bell’s probably not trying to be a hero at the very end and getting picked off… to say nothing of the fact OU only managed five points when it should have had 14, yet continued a season-long trend of terrible red-zone efficiency.
“We were horrible in third-and-shorts, fourth-and-shorts … goal line,” Stoops said.
At once, the Sooners seem to not have the horses, pinning their hopes on a middle-of-the-road conference quarterback, an offensive line that is good, but not great and a triumvirate of running backs that add up to serviceable rather than electric with the possible exception of Finch, who set the world on fire as a freshman but has spent his last three Sooner seasons surviving on crumbs doled out by play-caller Josh Heupel.
Simultaneously, OU appears to not know what it wants to do with the talent it does claim, caught between a vision of itself that has worked terrifically as long as it’s claimed Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback and a reality that’s not nearly so promising.
The systemic failure, laid bare against a legitimate top-10 team like the Bears, is top to bottom and bottom to top, beginning with recruiting, has failed to yield an All-American type playmaker with the possible exception of Jalen Saunders, to game-planning and play-calling that not only prevents the Sooners from becoming greater than the sum of their parts, but appears to make them less.
One way to look at it? Thursday night marked the fourth time this season OU failed to score more than 20 points.
It’s happened before in the Stoops era — Landry Jones’ first season at quarterback; Rhett Bomar’s only season at quarterback; Nate Hybl’s first season at quarterback — but it’s never happened nine games into a season.
Say this much for Heupel, who’s bound to once again become public enemy No. 1 among a riled up Sooner Nation: he tried two quarterbacks, he called a reverse on the first play from scrimmage, for better or worse, he took his shots.
But in the context of sketchy offensive success that’s plagued OU all season, it comes off as more desperate than inventive and more throwing-stuff-at-a-wall-and-hoping-it-sticks than reasoned brilliance.
Anyway, it’s just another game. Not unlike so many others.