By John Shinn
AMES, Iowa — With 64 seconds left in the first half, Oklahoma was winning and not much else against Iowa State. Back-to-back turnovers had withered the Sooners’ lead down to one point, and they were content to take it into halftime.
Then running back Brennan Clay called an internal audible.
“It was a counter,” he said. “I was supposed to go up the gut. I realized we had 25 seconds. I thought, ‘Our offense was pretty potent.’ I knew we could take some shots down the field. So I figured, why not? Get out of bounds, save the clock.”
Clay did that after racing nine yards for a first down. Two plays later, the 12th-ranked Sooners were celebrating a touchdown that ignited a 35-20 victory over the Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium.
Clay’s decision set it all in motion. It might have saved the Sooners’ season.
The run was the second in a four-play drive that ended with Kenny Stills grabbing a 21-yard touchdown pass from Landry Jones. However, the drive started with OU content to run out the clock and head for the locker room.
“When you’re backed up, you don’t want to get a ball tipped or something to happen. We were thinking that,” OU coach Bob Stoops said, “but we always say that if we get a first down, we’re going fast and we can get some shots. We got in a hurry-up mode and found some big plays.”
Clay, who rushed for a career-high 157 yards, was the wild card that helped the Sooners improve to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12 Conference.
The Sooners’ leading rusher — Damien Williams — was severely limited by an ankle injury suffered last Saturday against Notre Dame. He had three carries for seven yards. His final carry came early in the second quarter. Williams limped to the sidelines after that run and did not return.
He wasn’t needed. Clay carried the rushing load and OU finished with 188 yards on the ground. Landry Jones threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns. The 21-yard touchdown pass to Stills at the end of the first half was followed by a second to Justin Brown on OU’s opening drive of the third quarter.
Quickly, OU went from lethargic to rolling late in the first half. It never looked back.
“Once we got the run game going, and once we got chunks of yardage, we got it down to a place where we could maybe take a shot at a field goal or a touchdown,” Jones said. “Fortunately, we got a touchdown. With that run game and getting those chunks of yardage, I think it changed how we wanted to attack it.”
The Sooners did go on the attack, rolling up 593 yards and 35 first downs. They were getting yards in the first half, but little in terms of points. It was a scoreless game until Jones hit Sterling Shepard for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes left in the first half.
Iowa State (5-4, 2-4) stayed in the game thanks to an opportunistic defense. Safety Durrell Givens intercepted two Jones passes that set up field goals of 27 and 51 yards by Edwin Arceo in the second quarter.
However, OU grabbed the momentum with the touchdown down right before halftime.
“It was a huge momentum boost. It has to be, doesn’t it?” Stoops said. “ … When you get those big strikes like that at the end of the half, it ignites everybody on the sideline. It ignites the defense. Everybody gets a charge out of it.”
The ability to run the ball was the difference. Iowa State had to do something to contain it and decided to leave Brown and Stills in one-on-one coverage. Jones took advantage of the scheme.
Brown had seven catches for 107 yards. Stills had six for 92. He added a 31-yard touchdown grab early in the fourth quarter that put the game away.
“We knew we had a size advantage. Their guys were a little bit smaller and I knew they were going to play hard,” Stills said. “I wouldn’t say we expected to make big plays on them, but we thought if we got the ball in the air we could go and make plays on them.”
Iowa State couldn’t match the offensive firepower. Steele Jantz threw for 191 yards, but was sacked three times. Second-half touchdown runs by Jarvis West and Shontrelle Johnson kept the score respectable, but that was it.
“That football team is full of men,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “That team is big all-around and skilled at every position. They played to the level of their physical ability.”
All it took was a 9-yard run by Clay to remind of the Sooners of that.