Last season, a 45-24 defeat at the hands of Ohio State all but eliminated the Sooners from playoff contention by the third week, falling to 1-2 on the season with their opening weekend loss to Houston. While they ran the table from there on out, ending the regular season with convincing wins against West Virginia and Oklahoma State, they weren’t able to sneak their way back into the fourth playoff spot they occupied the year earlier.
After beating Auburn in the Sugar Bowl and starting this season 2-0, the Sooners are riding a 12-game winning streak, their longest since ’04, and are poised to make their way back to the College Football Playoff this season without having to slip into the four seed again.
Following the 31-16 marquee road-win in Columbus, the Sooners have catapulted to #2 in most polls and playoff seedings, second only to Alabama. Over the past few years, the role of the “team that’d be favored over anyone besides Bama” has often been filled by Urban Meyer’s Ohio State teams, known for their stingy defenses and powerful offensive attack.
Last Saturday, Oklahoma showed the nation why they’re now that team, and ready to truly compete in College Football’s biggest games in January. The Sooners controlled both sides of the ball in the first half, unable to really break through offensively despite winning the yardage battle and keeping J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes offense unusually tame.
Coming into the second half tied 3-3, it was Oklahoma’s game to lose, and they wouldn’t let it happen. Going down 10-3 to start the second half, Mayfield led two quick drives in the third both ending with play-action touchdowns, while Mike Stoops’ defense kept Barrett and company out of the endzone from there on out. With a spectacular, inside-the-ten, on-the-run touchdown pass to Trey Sermon in traffic, Mayfield had put his team in a great position to win by the start of the fourth quarter, and the Sooners wouldn’t look back.
The real story of the game was the clear resurgence of Mike Stoops’ defensive front, who showcased an impressive front seven matched with a retooled secondary that is sure to make Big 12 play a bit less stressful for Oklahoma fans. Sophomore corner Parnell Motley, who’s fourth quarter interception all-but killed any chance for an Ohio State comeback, is just one of the underclassmen stepping up and proving their worth for their team, creating the most cohesive defensive unit they’ve had in years.
Paired with All-Big 12 corner Jordan Thomas and senior safety Steven Parker, this year’s secondary should show little resemblance to the group that let up nearly anything over the top last year, giving up 40 four including the horrendous 59-point, 734 yard Pat Mahomes Texas Tech game. No longer having to be constantly bolstering their secondary, Stoops can focus more of his attention on the line of scrimmage, with pass rushing and run defense that is already showing clear improvement from the 2016 side.
As Parker explained: “you see us now playing with a different toughness, a different edge. We’re playing with speed and almost killing ourselves running to the football.”
This year’s Oklahoma team is taking pride in their defensive prowess, the side of the ball they know will need to hold up in order for them to be competitive come January. All week, the coaching staff and players throughout the roster have been raving about the new-look defense, specifically their secondary, and how important their play will be as the season progresses. The Sooners already have the veteran Quarterback, experienced offensive line, and savvy coaching necessary to compete for the National Championship, and if their defensive dominance can hold up at all there’s no doubt they’ll have a better showing in this year’s playoff than their 2015 appearance.
Images via: LA Times, Oklahoma Sports