Kliff Kingsbury bested Bob Stoops in his first try as the Texas Tech quarterback. He'll have to wait at least one more year before doing so as the Red Raiders' head coach.
Buoyed by a dominant ground game and a critical stop late in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma Sooners moved to 7-1 on the season with a 38-30 victory over Texas Tech in Norman on Saturday.
With his team's undefeated season on the line, Kingsbury pulled out all the stops. The Red Raiders' first touchdown came on a halfback pass from Kenny Williams to Eric Ward, and they recovered a surprise onside kick as part of a 17-0 run that gave them a 24-21 lead with 3:08 remaining in the third quarter.
But, as was the case many times when Kingsbury was under center at Texas Tech, the Red Raider defense proved unable to stand up to a talented opponent. The victory bring Stoops to an impressive 5-0 against undefeated Big 12 opponents at home, and he can thank his offense for a full-fledged return to form.
Oklahoma gained 527 total yards, including an impressive 277 yards on the ground—much of which helped the Sooners grind out their win. They held the ball for over 34 minutes, including 5:56 on the fourth-quarter drive that helped ice the game.
Roy Finch and Brennan Clay combined for nine carries on the drive, draining Texas Tech of its final two timeouts and setting up Michael Hunnicutt to kick a 37-yard field goal to finalize the score with 1:17 remaining. Texas Tech could not make any headway on its subsequent possession, with quarterback Davis Webb getting sacked on first down and then throwing three straight incompletions.
Finch and Clay proved to be the closers for starter Damien Williams, whose 97 yards and two touchdowns spearheaded the Oklahoma rushing attack. Williams scored from three yards out on the Sooners' opening drive of the third quarter and again from the same distance with 11:04 remaining in the fourth, the latter giving his team a 35-24 lead.
Stoops also pulled out some trickeration of his own, as wide receiver Lacoltan Bester scampered for a 35-yard touchdown on an impressive reverse late in the third to give Oklahoma a lead they would not relinquish. In all, five different Oklahoma ball-carriers finished the game with at least 35 rushing yards.
Quarterback Blake Bell scampered for 44 yards, with the ground game proving an excellent complement to a return to form through the air. The junior signal-caller threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns, completing 14 of his 22 passes. Jalen Saunders was the recipient of both touchdown passes, catching balls from 15 and 76 yards out in the second quarter to help spring life to an Oklahoma attack that had been dormant after a weather delay.
The game was due to start at 3:30 p.m., but was delayed by one hour and 11 minutes due to lightning in the Norman area.
While the offenses eventually got humming, they were obviously rusty to start the game. Texas Tech's Webb tossed his first of two interceptions on the Red Raiders' second drive, and the Sooners matched with a fumble on their subsequent possession. At the midway point in the first quarter, Texas Tech had more punts (two) than yards gained (zero).
The sloppy play continued for almost the entire first quarter. Texas Tech took advantage of a three-and-out from the Sooners to take a 7-0 lead with 3:38 remaining in the period on Williams' halfback pass. Bell's two touchdown passes would give Oklahoma a 14-7 halftime lead, but Webb started catching fire in the second half.
He threw a 23-yard touchdown to Ward and then a 17-yard score to Jakeem Grant, helping cap off the Red Raiders' 17-0 run in the third. The freshman finished the game with 385 yards and two touchdowns on 33-of-53 passing, but was the cause of two of Texas Tech's three turnovers.
The Red Raiders, now 7-1, are likely out of the national championship hunt. They were the lowest-ranked of the major-conference unbeatens heading into this week, and it's unlikely they'll be able to make up the necessary ground going forward.
The Sooners, meanwhile, have reenergized their BCS bowl hopes. They have a game against unbeaten Baylor coming in two weeks, at which point Stoops could potentially bask in vanquishing two of the conference's up-and-coming teams.
Blake Bell (QB, Oklahoma): A
I'm not privy to the happenings in Norman, but if Blake Bell doesn't have a nickname yet, allow me to propose The Rollercoaster. Since taking over the starting job, Bell has looked as good as any quarterback in the nation at times (against Tulsa and Notre Dame, specifically) and as bad.
The 6'6" junior showed fans a little bit of both on Saturday. He avoided the big mistakes that killed him against Texas, but only by the skin of his teeth. The Sooners' first touchdown drive saw Bell narrowly escape an interception, and then he fumbled the ball deep inside Texas Tech territory before a fortunate recovery by Trey Millard.
But for the most part, Bell had his best outing since taking down the Irish in South Bend on Sept. 28. He showed poise in the pocket and excellent arm strength when trying to fit balls deep into coverage and understandably proved difficult to bring down on designed runs.
With a trip to Baylor coming up in two weeks, Bob Stoops has to be pleased with Bell's effort.
Jalen Saunders (WR, Oklahoma): A
What a perfect time for Saunders to suddenly flip the switch back to his 2011 form. As a sophomore, Saunders had five 100-yard games and became renowned as one of the most explosive receivers in college football. His explosive touchdown catches became a near-weekly occurrence, as he averaged 21.3 yards per reception and caught 12 touchdowns.
Of course, this all happened while he was at Fresno State. Through a season and a half as a Sooner, Saunders has been unable to recapture that explosive magic, cutting his yards per reception down to 13.4 last season and all the way down to 9.6 heading into Saturday.
It seems only a couple blown coverages were needed for a return to form. Saunders proved to be Bell's perfect muse, burning the Texas Tech secondary for two touchdowns and just his second reception over 50 yards since joining the team.
Davis Webb (QB, Texas Tech): B
Kliff Kingsbury hasn't quite turned Davis into the week-in-week-out stud that he himself was in Lubbock just yet, but the freshman signal-caller is starting to reward his coach's good faith. After a shaky first half, Webb came out firing in the second. He pushed the Red Raiders back into the game and wound up with his third straight game over 300 yards.
Webb's performance over these past few weeks will give Kingsbury a difficult decision once fellow freshman Baker Mayfield is 100 percent recovered from his knee injury. Mayfield won the job in camp, but was up and down at best over his five appearances.
Although Webb has also been prone to mistakes—he threw a two picks against Oklahoma—they've been fewer and farther between. Don't be surprised if it's Webb's job going forward, though Kingsbury seems to enjoy playing coy about the situation.
Texas Tech Run Defense: F
Since it's impossible to single out one player responsible for the Sooners' dominant performance on the ground, all 11 guys on the Red Raiders defense get lumped together. I'm sure the film will show who was hitting their gaps correctly and who was playing GTA V in his mind rather than focusing on the coverages.
But for now, each player gets equal blame. The Sooners had no trouble scampering up and down the field, with five players rushing for 35 or more yards. While Texas Tech has never won on the back of its defense in the past, this year's team seemed as well-rounded as any in recent memory. Coming into the game, the Red Raiders had allowed only 18.7 points per game, good for 15th in the nation.
This time around, though, they couldn't come through when the offense needed them most.
A week after heading to Norman, the Red Raiders will host No. 19 Oklahoma State next Saturday. The Cowboys defeated Iowa State earlier in the day to move to 6-1 on the season. Oklahoma has a bye in Week 10 before facing off against No. 8 Baylor at Floyd Casey Stadium on Nov. 2.
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