DALLAS — Oklahoma may have hosted its Fan Appreciation Day more than two months ago, but based on the 63-21 rout of Red River rival Texas inside the Cotton Bowl — and the players and coaches who shined in it — Saturday sure felt like another fan day.
Mike Stoops commanded an impenetrable defensive unit. Damien Williams carried the ball 22 times, finding paydirt on an amazing 95-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Blake Bell scored four first-half rushing touchdowns
Heck, even Trey Millard saw a dramatic increase in his offensive touches, which included a 73-yard catch-and-run from Landry Jones for the longest pass play in Red River Rivalry history.
The Cotton Bowl on Saturday was chock-full of sterling performances from fan favorites. That it came on their favorite Saturday of the year — against one of their least favorite opponents — made it all that much sweeter for the Sooner faithful.
“The Sooners are back,” 36-year old Harrah native Bill Grozdanich proudly proclaimed from his seat in section 135.
“The defense looks like it's playing without thinking too much. That's because of Mike Stoops.”
The legend of OU's defensive coordinator, back for his second stint under his brother Bob, will only grow after Saturday, when his unit turned in as dominant a defensive performance as any in recent Oklahoma history.
Fans have longed for Mike Stoops — or a defense like his at least — since his 2003 departure for Arizona, where he spent the next seven-plus seasons as head coach. After the defensive collapses in 2011 losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State, the cries for a Stoops Bros. reunion only increased.
After two straight weeks of dominating defensive performances — the Sooners shut down Texas Tech last week in Lubbock — Mike Stoops' popularity is nearing an all-time high.
“We've really played well in every part of the game,” Bob Stoops said. “When those games happen that way, it isn't just one side or the other. It's offense; it's defense; it's kicking game. Fortunately this was another one. It shows both sides were really playing well together.”
After the first few — lackluster — 2012 games, Stoops was frequently asked why various offensive players weren't getting more touches.
Williams, a junior-college transfer from Arizona Western, averaged a little more than 10 carries a contest, despite his demonstrated big-play ability. He rushed for touchdowns of 65 and 89 yards in OU's first two games.
Saturday, he gained 167 yards on 22 carries. His 95-yard scamper in the first quarter was the third-longest run in school history — and the longest ever against Texas.
“All of our running backs did a great job obviously,” said co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. “Damien has great numbers, the big one coming out backed up in our end zone. But all of those guys ran hard and have the numbers that they do ... because our guys do a great job up front.”
Then there's Millard, the longtime fan favorite who was a frequent subject of preseason interviews with coaches, who assured everyone that he'd get the ball more.
But through the first four games, he received just 15 offensive touches. Saturday, he ran the ball three times for 45 yards, but made his biggest impact in the passing game with five catches, 119 yards and a touchdown.
“You never know what's gonna go well,” Bob Stoops said. “You never know how the other team is gonna react to different formations or plays. Then once you get in, and you realize certain formations they don't like or they don't handle very well, you go back to them.”
Stoops has often said this season that one of his goals is to increase the number of overall offensive plays in each game, which would lead to more touches for the various players he thinks need them.
Through OU's first four games, the Sooners averaged roughly 70 offensive plays.
Saturday against Texas? OU ran 90 of them.
Bob Stoops reminded reporters — forcefully at times — of the criticism he and his team have received in the early part of this season. But he later defiantly discredited any suggestion that he gets personal satisfaction from blowout wins like Saturday's.
“I don't need your or anyone else's validation on what we do or how I'm doing it,” he said when asked about it. “I'm pleased we won, sure, but not because of the criticism. That's just a bunch of people who think they know what they're talking about and most of the time they don't.
“You guys can all throw your perceptions out there because coming into this game they weren't all accurate either.”