TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – One Florida State play changed the game. One Oklahoma drive changed it right back – and changed it for good.
And because of it, a possession capped by Kenny Stills' 37-yard touchdown catch, the Sooners are still the nation's No. 1 team. With 10 fourth-quarter points on two impressive drives, they escaped with a 23-13 victory against the fifth-ranked Seminoles in front of a Doak Campbell Stadium-record 84,392 fans.
It was Oklahoma's first non-conference win on the road against a top-five opponent since 1977.
“I want to say how proud I am of the character and poise we showed in the fourth quarter,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “They had the momentum and we seized it right back.”
With dynamic FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel on the bench with a bruised shoulder, backup Clint Trickett flung a deep ball on third-and-28 that magically found the arms of sophomore Rashad Greene for a 56-yard score. The crowd tomahawk chopping and chanting, the Seminoles (2-1) had rallied from 10 points down at the half to tie the game at 13 with 9:32 to play.
The stadium was still in a frenzy when the Sooners faced third-and-12 on their own 40-yard line.
Stills was celebrating in the end zone, however, two plays later with what turned out to be the game-winning score at the seven-minute mark. Oklahoma had just 199 total yards and had not scored a touchdown since the opening drive when the possession began. Two passes, two catches – different game.
“We kind of locked in,” said Sooners quarterback Landry Jones, who passed Sam Bradford to become the school's career passing yardage leader during the game. “We were determined, regardless of what the defense was doing, to get in the end zone and get some points on the board.”
On the third-and-long play, Jones stood in against a heavy rush and found Ryan Broyles for a 22-yard gain in the middle of the field to get to the FSU 37-yard line. Broyles had four catches on the opening drive of the game, but he did not catch another pass until that series.
Jones said it was one of his best throws on the night. Broyles took a big hit, one of many by both sides, and held on.
“We took a chance down the middle,” Broyles said, “and it paid off for us.”
Quick to the line, Jones dropped back on the next play, giving a shoulder pump to fake a bubble screen – a route that gave FSU fits a year ago in OU's blowout win in Norman. Jones' move caused Seminoles cornerback Greg Reid to bite and Stills ran free down the sideline.
Jones saw him open, but underthrew the deep ball. That forced Stills, the talented sophomore from California, to adjust and then box out Reid for the grab and the touchdown.
“I mean, let's face it; they had all the momentum,” OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “We kind of gave it to them, but our guys really believe in each other. We believed we could come back in the fourth quarter when it was tough. It wasn't just lip service.”
Trickett threw an interception on Florida State's ensuing possession, and Oklahoma, riding Dominique Whaley down the field, went on another scoring drive that ended with a Jimmy Stevens 31-yard field goal to seal the game with two minutes to play.
Whaley, the walk-on surprise, again led the team in rushing, finishing with 71 yards. On the seven runs that led to the field goal, he had help, too, from OU's line.
“They played with a lot of attitude on that drive, a lot of toughness,” Jones said of Whaley and the line. “That's what you need in drives like that, in that time of the game.”
There were moments on the night when the country's top-ranked team didn't look like it was deserving of that distinction. There were times when it looked like it might lose. But the Sooners (2-0), and their celebrated offense, responded at the proper time.
“That's what No. 1 teams do,” Jones said.