NORMAN — Facing a second straight Bedlam loss and the season’s third home defeat, Oklahoma turned to a pair of newcomers.
Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders, along with OU veteran Kenny Stills, became Oklahoma’s first-ever trio of 100-yard receivers Saturday, when the Sooners came from behind to beat Oklahoma State 51-48 in overtime on Owen Field.
Brown, a senior, and Saunders, a junior, are both first-year Sooners, transferring from PennState and FresnoState, respectively, before the season began.
“The new guys that transferred in have certainly made a difference for their offense,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.
The Sooners played from behind all night — they never led in the game until Brennan Clay’s 18-yard touchdown run in overtime ended the contest — but managed to find ways to keep up with OSU’s high-octane offense.
Now, Oklahoma remains in the hunt for an outright Big 12 championship. If the Sooners win next Saturday at TCU and KansasState loses at home to Texas, OU becomes the sole conference champion.
If both teams win, they’ll share the Big 12 title, but K-State will earn a Fiesta Bowl berth because of its 24-19 win at OU on Sept. 22.
Saturday, Oklahoma’s offense racked up 618 total yards and 44 first downs — second-most in NCAA history — but struggled to find the end zone for much of the second half.
Midway through the third quarter, the Cowboys opened an 11-point lead after the last of Joseph Randle’s four touchdown runs.
OU added a field goal from Michael Hunnicutt before, early in the fourth, the Sooners tied the score at 38 when Saunders ran back a flashy 81-yard punt-return touchdown, followed by Brown’s two-point conversion catch.
Brown returned the vast majority of OU’s punts this season before Saturday.
“We had been talking about that the last couple of weeks,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
“‘Let’s get Jalen some catches back there because of how dynamic he is.’ It didn’t surprise us that he would squirt out of there.”
Brown finished with a game-high 15 catches for 146 yards, while Saunders — in addition to his electric special-teams play — caught 10 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown.
“What can I say about Justin? What can I say about Jalen?” said OU quarterback Landry Jones. “They both came up with huge catches. Justin ran a corner route and the cornerback was all over him.
“Those two guys add so much to this offense, and add so much to our game plan. It’s been truly a pleasure to have those guys. I’m really glad they decided to transfer here.”
The two additions were particularly welcome after three experienced OU receivers — Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson — were suspended indefinitely just after spring practices.
Reynolds and Franks remain suspended from games, and Jackson was eventually dismissed.
The suspensions left Stills as OU’s only returning receiver with any big-time college football experience — until Brown and Saunders arrived.
Brown was a three-year starter at PennState who opted to transfer after the NCAA — in response to the child-abuse scandal — levied harsh sanctions against the school.
Saunders was a first-team All-WAC selection at FresnoState last season, and transferred because of a family illness made worse by the atmosphere surrounding the school.
The NCAA initially denied Saunders’ waiver request for immediately eligibility, but his appeal was eventually approved before the Oct. 13 Red River Rivalry game against Texas.
Saunders set a school record with his eight first-quarter receptions in Oklahoma’s Oct. 27 loss to current No. 1 Notre Dame.
When the Sooners’ offense returned to the field Saturday with a little over six minutes remaining and OU trailing by a touchdown, Jones relied heavily on the transfer duo.
The senior quarterback connected with Saunders and Brown on four first-down plays over the drive, which ended with four seconds left in regulation when Blake Bell ran for a game tying, 4-yard touchdown.
“We all help each other,” Saunders said of the OU receiver group, “but me and Justin chat a lot. We’ve all come along and we’re like brothers.”