NEW ORLEANS — Not even the most sauced Sooner fan on Bourbon Street expects the Sooners to blow out Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Which means for victory, OU will need to win a close one.
Don't count out the Sooners. They're suddenly quite efficient in crunch time.
In their last 15 games, the Sooners have thrice won with come-from-behind touchdowns in the final minute of regulation, including the Bedlam heartstopper on Dec. 7.
Some teams live on the edge like that. Not OU. Until the 2012 West Virginia game, the Sooners hadn't won with a come-from-behind TD in the final three minutes since the 2002 Alabama game.
Now they're doing it with regularity.
“This is the type of mentality I thought we'd have from spring practice,” said OU receivers coach Jay Norvell. “The couple of games that we came up short, we didn't get ourselves in position to be able to win it late.
“We gotta play that way, whether it's making plays on special teams, running the ball, keeping the game close, or making the plays we need to make in the passing game. That's kind of the formula we need to have in this game to win. It's trying to recreate that and be in position in the fourth quarter to make it happen.”
The Sooners have rallied in a variety of ways. Landry Jones quarterbacking against West Virginia. Landry, with touchdown duty from Blake Bell, in Bedlam 2012. Bell in Bedlam 2013.
In other words, OU's rediscovery of Sooner Magic doesn't seem to stem from one gold-dust player. It appears to be an attitude adjustment.
“It's like an emphasis Coach (Bob) Stoops has put on the team,” said defensive end Chuka Ndulue. “We've gotta win the fourth quarter … keep your composure. Listen to what your coaches are telling you. You'll be all right. And that's been going on.”
The turnaround seems to go back several years. In the last four seasons, OU is 11-3 in games decided by eight points or less. In Stoops' first 11 seasons, the Sooners were 18-15 in such one-possession games.
This year alone, OU has beaten TCU 20-17, Texas Tech 38-30 and OSU 33-24 (with two TDs in the final 30 seconds). The Sooners' defeats were 36-20 to Texas and 41-12 to Baylor.
“That's what he's been pounding in our heads this year, win the fourth quarter,” said linebacker Eric Striker. “Finish. Finish the fourth quarter. The game's not over no matter what the score is. So we've been believing and living it out.”
The Sooners are outmanned against Alabama. Heck, they were outmanned against OSU, so they're going to be outmanned against Nick Saban's mighty Crimson Tide, which is 60-6 over the last five years, with only one of the defeats by more than seven points. And only six of those 60 wins were one-possession games. Which means in the last five years, Bama is 6-5 in close games.
Have the Sooners found Saban's Kryptonite? Keep it close?
“That's kind of what we're going to have to do in this game,” Norvell said.
Keep it close, and hope Sooner Magic has indeed returned.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.