NORMAN — Jalen Saunders stood in the backfield as a safety valve in the victory formation, but he wasn't standing still.
He was dancing.
As House of Pain's “Jump Around” pulsed around the stadium in the final seconds of Saturday's game, Saunders and everyone else in crimson was celebrating.
Oklahoma 38, Texas Tech 30.
No one enjoyed this one any more than Saunders. The Sooner wide receiver had his best game of the season — six catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns — and provided OU the big-play threat that its inconsistent offense has been lacking.
“It was a great feeling,” Saunders said. “It feels great to win, especially against an unbeaten team at home.”
OU wouldn't have knocked off Texas Tech if not for Saunders. The Red Raiders are too good offensively to think the Sooners could've just kept pounding the ball on the ground and managed enough offense to match them. I mean, OU has been really stout running the ball this season even without a passing game to stretch the field.
But against Texas Tech, OU wasn't going to be able to rely on its run game.
“You need to get some chunks,” Sooner coach Bob Stoops said.
When the Sooners got the ball early in the second quarter trailing by a touchdown and struggling to get anything going, it looked like the drive might stall when they quickly faced a third and 7. That's when Blake Bell hit Saunders with a short pass and Saunders turned it into a big gain.
Twenty yards and a first down.
Bell went to him again on the next third down.
Seven yards and a first down.
And again on the next third down.
Eighteen yards and a first down.
It only figured that the Bell-to-Saunders connection would cap the drive. With a little play action, Bell hit Saunders over the middle and Saunders took it in for the 15-yard touchdown.
That capped a 16-play, 97-yard drive that lasted 7 minutes, 36 seconds. All of those metrics — plays, yards and time — were season longs for a Sooner drive.
Of course, Saunders and Bell made short work of the next Sooner possession.
One play, 76 yards, 11 seconds.
That's all the time it took for Bell to hit Saunders with a beautiful ball that Saunders caught around the 32-yard line, sidestepped one defender, then outran another to the end zone.
“It did spark us,” Stoops said. “To get some big plays and to get a chunk like that, it's a huge play in the game. It was a great throw by Blake and a great job by Jalen running it down and making the play.
“We've just got to keep trying to find opportunities for him to get those chunks. He's a great receiver. Great quickness. Great route runner.”
Saunders hasn't had many big plays this season. He's led the Sooners in receptions numerous times this season, but before Saturday, the most catches he'd had in a game was seven (at Notre Dame) and the most yards was 60 (vs. West Virginia).
In the past few conference games, his touches and yards had gone down, bottoming out against Texas with three receptions for 18 yards.
Saunders insists he wasn't discouraged.
“You've always got to keep a positive side,” he said. “That's how I always look at it. If something's looking bad for me, I don't take it as a bad thing.”
Saunders says that he relies on his faith when times are tough, but he also has experience dealing with tough situations. He sat out the first four games of last season while waiting to see if the NCAA would clear him after he transferred from Fresno State.
Once he was cleared, he was immediately inserted into the offense — and immediately made a difference.
Maybe Saturday's big game will be a spark this season.
“Those big plays down the field really help this offense,” Sooner running back Roy Finch said. “It takes a lot of pressure off the run game. It allows us as backs to be more explosive.
“Jalen's a big talent. He's that big threat that we desperately need.”
After the final seconds ticked off the clock, Saunders joined other players making a lap around the field, slapping hands with fans. Then as he walked toward the tunnel, he stopped to talk to a few folks. Turns out, they were high school teammates from California.
“Two of them have actually been Oklahoma fans before we even started high school,” Saunders said. “They were always like, ‘You should go to OU if they offer you.'”
Saunders finally got to OU, and so did his friends, who'd been planning this trip since August. This was their first Sooner game in Norman.
They got to see a win for their team and a big night for their buddy.
“It worked out like that, I guess,” Saunders said.
No guessing about it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.