By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
FORT WORTH, Texas – It’s been a long time since Oklahoma’s put together a dominant performance. The last time it occurred was in mid October against a heated rival in a historic venue.
That team didn’t re-emerge on Saturday at TCU. Once again, the 12th-ranked Sooners (10-2, 8-1 Big 12) were good enough: to beat the Horned Frogs 24-17, more than likely secure a BCS bowl berth for the ninth time in the last 14 seasons and, yes, secure at least a share of the Big 12 Conference championship.
“In the end, it’s great to be in this position, to be a winner again. Either Big 12 champs or co-champs, either way they’re recognized as champions. These players deserve it,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
The victory was more than OU’s fourth straight to the end the regular season. Dating back to the Nov. 10 win over Baylor, all of them have been by eight points or less. The last three have come down to the final minute or overtime.
The final part of that four-game, nail-bitting gauntlet ended when OU safety Julian Wilson broke up a fourth-down fade pass from TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin intended for Josh Boyce in the corner of the end zone with 25 seconds remaining.
Seconds after OU quarterback Landry Jones took a knee, OU fans that made trip were chanting “B-C-S” and players were quickly covered in Big 12 championship T-shirts and caps.
Stoops told his team two days earlier that if they beat TCU they would enjoy all the spoils.
That has been a hotly debated topic with Kansas State beating Texas on Saturday night. After all, the Wildcats beat the Sooners, 24-19, on Sept. 22.
“We’ve won a Big 12 championship,” OU defensive end Chuka Ndulue said. “We’re sharing it with them, so it doesn’t matter.”
Fans can argue over that. How the Sooners got the victory was a testament to their ability to win in tough environments and when one side of the ball is sputtering.
Landry Jones, who had thrown for more than 1,000 yards in the previous two games against West Virginia and Oklahoma State, threw for just 244 against TCU. He did throw two touchdown passes, but they were accompanied by a disastrous interception.
Conversely, the same Sooner defense that was run ragged in the last two games was the difference. They held TCU to 350 total yards and out of the end zone on that last drive.
“Offense has been pulling our weight, and it was great to go out there and win the game on the defensive side,” said OU defensive end R.J. Washington. “It shows that we’re a balanced team. If the offense is off, the defense can pick us up; if the defense is off, the offense is gonna pick us up.”
It was evident early this wasn’t going to be a shootout. The temperature was unseasonably warm, but a blustery south wind affected every ball that went in the air.
TCU (7-5, 4-5) punted on seven of its first eight possession, but cashed in on every mistake OU made. Both of its touchdowns came on one-play drives. The first was Boykin’s 6-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. It was set up Sam Carter’s 42-yard interception of a Jones pass. The second was Boykin’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Carter early in the third quarter.
Neither player, however, gave the Horned Frogs the lead.
OU running back Damien Williams rushed for 115 yards and scored two touchdowns. The first — an 11-yard pass from Jones — gave the Sooners a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. The second — a 66-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter — proved to be the game winner.
“It was just the line executing. No one touched me. The line did what it was supposed to do. The receivers were running guys off and blocking guys,” Williams said. “All I could do is run as hard as I could and not let anyone catch me.”
But it wasn’t until after Boykin’s final incompletion that OU could finally celebrate. The victory completed a nine-games-in-nine-weeks stretch where it won all eight of its conference games and went through a brawl with top-ranked Notre Dame.
“I think it speaks to their character, the players’ character, the fight in them, the resolve to keep moving forward,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Even when we’ve had a turnover or some adversity, just keep playing football. Keep fighting through it and find a way to win.”
The Sooners did.
They’ll find out for sure where they’ll be bowling tonight. The BCS selection show is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. All indications are the Sooners most likely destination will be New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.
If Kansas State beats Texas, it will receive the Big 12’s automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl. The Sooners’ spot in the Sugar Bowl would be as an at-large team.
If Kansas State loses, the Sooners become outright Big 12 championship and would receive the automatic berth. Since it’s been to Phoenix four times in the last six years, there’s the chance for a swap with the Sugar Bowl.
The wait won’t keep OU up too long.