NORMAN – Ryan Broyles is finished as a Sooner, his knee ligament twisted beyond easy repair. Even before OU's greatest receiver ever limped off Owen Field, crestfallen that his collegiate career is over, the Sooner offense wasn't clicking all that great.
But before we write off this Sooner season, don't forget the hope that rose from a 41-25 rout of Texas A&M. The OU defense has again grown fangs.
Against overall offensive personnel that Brent Venables called the best to invade Owen Field since 2001 (Kansas State) and the best O-line the Sooners had faced anywhere since 2005 (Texas), OU's defense excelled.
The Sooners stuffed the Aggies. OU allowed three touchdowns, but two came in the meaningless fourth quarter, after the Sooners led 41-10. The other was on a 79-yard pass play late in the second quarter. Those things happen.
But OU's defense also produced four takeaways, two by Jamell Fleming, who, don't forget, was missing in action when Texas Tech pulled that inexplicable stunner a fortnight ago. Four takeaways and just 10 points allowed through three quarters is championship football.
“We've got to step up our game, knowing a playmaker like Ryan is out,” said safety Javon Harris.
The Sooners certainly stepped it up against the Aggies. A&M has been a massive disappointment this season, but only because it blew big leads. The Ag offense has been productive.
I don't know if I buy Venables' hyperbole, but I'm in no great position to argue. This much is absolute: quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his offense has been excellent all season, and when this was a ballgame, the Aggies were stunted.
“Today, we played with a lot of tenacity,” Harris said. “We've had to go out and grind. We knew we can play strong, come up, make hits, force the turnovers.”
Here's how the OU defense made it easy on the offense. The Sooners blew open this one with a 28-0 third quarter, aided by a stiff wind. But three of those four OU touchdowns covered just 31, 28 and 39 yards, the first after a 14-yard punt and the latter two after turnovers.
“Our guys were really zoned in,” Venables said. “They anticipated what was coming. They had different mindsets on different calls. They were really on edge and played aggressively and were just really sure of themselves.”
The Sooner takeaways were mostly acts of aggression, including R.J. Washington's tip of a Tannehill pass that was intercepted by fellow d-end Ronnell Lewis, and Fleming's pull-apart from Aggie tailback Christine Michael.
That's the kind of help the Sooner offense will need in trying to rebuild without Broyles, one of the great security blankets in OU history. Whenever Landry Jones got in trouble, he could always dump the ball to Broyles for a short gain or more.
That crutch is now gone. And so is tailback Dominique Whaley, lost for the season against Kansas State a week ago. But no one will shed tears for the Sooners.
“Our expectations won't change,” said Bob Stoops, talking confidently as always, which is a good sign. More than one Sooner, and Stoops himself, referred to Broyles' injury as “heartbreaking,” but BCS computers and the Stillwater side of Bedlam don't care who takes the field for the Sooners. Or who doesn't.
Stoops talked of other receivers having to step in for Broyles, but truthfully, the best way to replenish his void is upgraded defense. I'd put more stock on Frank Alexander and Lewis and the gang getting even better than I would Trey Franks suddenly being a difference-maker.
“We need to peak,” Venables said. “Keep getting better. We'll be challenged, as we were today. Our guys rose to the challenge. Our guys are locked in.”
The Sooners had better be, without Ryan Broyles.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.