Morning-after blog: Sooners get that big road win
JAX, Fla. — Morning, y’all. It is 6:13 Eastern as I’m typing this and this guy has had zero sleep since Oklahoma finished off FSU 23-13 about 150 miles west of here on Interstate 10.
By the time we finished writing and video and all that good stuff, I didn’t hit the road to Jacksonville until about 2:45. That meant getting to Jax International (what international flights does this airport have? maybe I should go find out.) a little after 5. With a 9 a.m. flight, checking into the Fairfield Inn seemed worthless. So here I am, providing you with something when you roll out of bed.
At least misery loved company among the wee-hour Okie workers. I feel worse for my friends covering the OSU-Tulsa game, which finished at 4:36 Eastern, just as I was getting into Jacksonville. A night to remember, for lots of reasons.
A night to remember for OU, which did some demon exorcising in the fourth quarter after FSU tied the game at 13. Two impressive drives – two very different drives, in intent and tone – made the difference for the Sooners. That was the focus of my game story.
Let’s start out by going hockey-style three stars, the heroes of the game for Oklahoma …
Offensive star: Kenny Stills — Receivers coach Jay Norvell told us Wednesday that Stills “owed us a week,” because of his one-game suspension for a January DUI arrest. I’d say the debt is paid in full after a seven-catch, 125-yard effort that included the game-winning 37-yard touchdown catch. And it was more of a Stills TD catch than a Landry Jones TD throw. Stills made it happen. Jones put too much air under the ball, allowing a beaten Greg Reid to catch up. Stills still went up, fought for the ball and brought it down for the first OU touchdown since the first possession of the game. That wasn’t Stills’ only play, or big play, but it was the play of the game.
On a night when the Seminoles made the conscious decision that Ryan Broyles would absolutely not beat them, the Sooners needed someone to step forward. Stills was a likely candidate, given his freshman season. Note, too, that Stills’ catch on a slant is what allowed Jones to move into first on the school’s all-time passing list. (Honorable mention: Dominique Whaley. Made the tough yards when OU needed them. He confirmed he’s their best back, and it’s not even really close. He’s your starter vs. Mizzou, OU.)
Defensive star: This is tough. Could go in any number of directions. Javon Harris, for his takeaways. Travis Lewis, for “shocking” Bob Stoops and playing a month after breaking his foot. Ronnell Lewis, who led another great effort by the D-line. I’m going Tom Wort, because of what a pleasant surprise I think he was for OU in this one. He was very active, always near the ball. Only mistakes I saw live were overpursuits, which, you know, it’s hard to fault effort.
Wort tied for the team lead in tackles, with eight, and he had that very athletic play to tip the ball to himself for E.J. Manuel‘s first interception. If you’ll remember, too, that came on the drive that FSU very nearly scored on, when Kenny Shaw was knocked silly at the goal line. Still think that was a fumble. Wort made it moot with a very athletic play. Having Travis Lewis back made Wort a better player, I thought. Stoops was proud afterward, reminding us he’d told us about Wort being a “different guy” since camp. Saturday’s game against a very good team made a believer out of me. (Honorable mention: All those guys above. This was a complete effort by the defense. Tony Jefferson also had a nice game, like I thought he would because of how well he moves around. And how about Travis Lewis, surprising everyone by suiting up and playing the whole game?)
Special teams star: Jimmy Stevens — Even Stoops made a joke about how ugly that last field goal was. It was a 31-yarder that would have been good from 35. But, guess what, it went through and the refs don’t give you additional points for style. It was the three OU needed and when it needed it. FSU didn’t have a chance to back into another touchdown and again tie the game. Stevens went 3 for 3. They were all short. He should make them. But sometimes he doesn’t. He did Saturday. (Honorable mention: Tress Way. The guy is excellent. He flipped the field a couple of different times, angling the ball away from the dangerous Reid and getting it out of bounds or near the sideline. He averaged 46.2 yards a punt and kicked three of four inside the 20. All you could ask for in a defensive-driven game.)
What we learned: Stoops sometimes smiles. As he left the postgame media room, I could have sworn Stoops half-smiled at myself and columnist Berry Tramel. He was happy. OU had started strong, finished stronger and won a critical game on the road. Put that on the road part in caps, if you need to. It was a big deal. Stoops was unafraid to be happy. I like that in coaches. Steve Spurrier is/was good about that. Didn’t overcook the coach rhetoric after big games and wins. It was a win-win for Stoops, considering his brother’s defense, as opposed to last year, looked outstanding.
What we learned: Sometimes players will fib on Twitter. Not that we anticipate or expect full transparency, but Travis Lewis straight-up lied to us about playing this week. He apologized to Sooners fans, even. Then he practiced a bit. Practiced more Thursday. Told friends Friday he would play. And then played Saturday. He was a step slow at times, looked like – and he had to have been tired by the fourth quarter – but he played and that had to have been a huge lift for the team, to get him back for this game.
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