Bob Stoops coached almost 14 Oklahoma football seasons and won 146 ballgames. And nary a one of them with a do-or-die drive at the end of a ballgame.
Then last November, Stoops’ Sooners did it twice in a row. Scored the go-ahead touchdown on a fourth-down pass in the final minute at West Virginia, then scored the tying touchdown on a fourth-down run in the final minute of Bedlam. OU won both games.
The Sooners had won with dramatic defensive stops (Bedlam 2000, TCU 2012 are two examples) and
clutch offense that padded precarious late leads (Texas A&M 2004, Florida State 2011, for instance). They had lost a few when the offense failed to produce when given a chance at a come-from-behind victory.
Then came Landry Jones’ November.
At West Virginia, the Sooners took the field with 2:53 left, at their 46-yard line, trailing 49-44. Jones proceeded to complete all four of his passes on the drive, including a 36-yarder to Justin Brown and a 4th-and-3, five-yard TD pass to Kenny Stills with 24 seconds left.
At home the next Saturday against OSU, the Sooners took over at their 14-yard line with 6:18 left, trailing 45-38. Jones took OU 86 yards, using all but four seconds. The Sooners made six first downs on the drive; Jones completed 10 of 13 passes on the drive, for 77 yards. The touchdown came on a 4th-and-1 play, on Blake Bell’s four-yard run out of the Belldozer. Then the Sooners won in overtime.
Two straight weeks, two straight come-from-behind, fourth-down touchdowns in the final 30 seconds.
The Sooners grew some chest hair that month. But the quarterback who directed those drives now is trying to win a job with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Can OU build from the experience of winning in such a fashion, even with a new quarterback?
Yes, says Bob Stoops. The Sooners can glean from those achievements.
“The quarterback is not doing it alone,” Stoops said. “I think the offensive line is a very integral part of that happening. And receivers and running backs making plays to go with the quarterback.”
Well, he’s got a point up to a point. The offensive line does return virtually intact; playing with poise on the line is paramount in such situations. No major penalties. No blown assignments. No letting your quarterback get hit. So the Sooner line indeed was fortified by those successes.
And the running backs who were part of both drives return. Against OSU, Brennan Clay had two catches, including a 12-yard gain that put the Sooners at the Cowboy 24-yard line, and three runs for 10 yards, including a tough, two-yard gain on 3rd-and-1 from the OSU 15-yard line. Trey Millard also had a catch on the drive. Both Clay and Millard return this season. Against West Virginia, Damien Williams was the tailback, and he’s back, too.
But the receiving crew is missing two key contributors to those drives.
Justin Brown was huge in both games. At West Virginia, Brown had the 36-yard play put OU in scoring position, then a 10-yard catch to the Mountaineer 4-yard line. Against OSU, Brown had four catches for 32 yards on the drive.
Kenny Stills wasn’t involved in the Bedlam rally, but he had two catches on the final drive at West Virginia, including the game-winner.
Both Stills and Brown are gone.
But Jalen Saunders returns, and he had three catches for 33 yards in the Bedlam rally, including a 12-yard reception on a critical 3rd-and-10 play early in the drive.
The Sooners have a deep receiving corps – who doesn’t, these days? – but they will miss Brown and Stills.
So all told, Blake Bell or Trevor Knight or even Kendal Thompson, whoever quarterbacks in a crucial situation this season, will have some teammates who have been there before and produced.
“In the end, like I said all along, that position will be supported in a strong way,” Stoops said of the quarterbacks. “And yes, I do believe all those guys around him in the huddle have done that and it can help them.”
When the Sooners broke in a new quarterback in 2005 (after a Rhett Bomar/Paul Thompson competition) and 2009 (after Sam Bradford’s season-opener injury), they also were breaking in predominantly new support players. Revamped offensive line. New receivers.
This time, Stoops said, a good way of saying it is that the Sooners are in their best shape to break in a new QB. In part because the new quarterback will be surrounded by players who have produced in the most demanding of situations.