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Monday, October 10, 2011

Sooners slap Horns back to earth

Denial, as the joke goes, is a terrible place to live. Leading up to last Saturday, it would seem most of the common sense in Austin, Texas had just such a postmark.

Desperate to shake the 5-7 embarrassment from a year ago, Texas had allowed itself to take a comeback win over BYU, a victory over a hapless UCLA team, all capped by a double-digit win at Iowa State as proof to the world it was back, and was ready to stun the nation with an upset win over Oklahoma last Saturday.

In that vein, it was somehow strangely apropos that it was none other than Bob Stoops and Oklahoma to groin-kick the Horns back into reality.

With a rabid, red-meat defense to back its secondary-carving offense, Oklahoma browbeat the Longhorns into embarrassing submission with a 55-17 rout, exposing Texas as a team drastically closer to its 5-7 yesteryear predecessor than anything resembling the long-gone Case McCoy years.

The Sooners tossed around Texas' two-headed quarterback monster of David Ash and Case McCoy like a Toys-R-Us ragdoll on a Christmas closeout shelf. Hurried, beaten, slammed, and pressured, the Texas offense found itself unable to establish even a feint of rhythm, with the darkest series coming ironically at the end of its greatest success. After having driven to the Oklahoma 18, successive plays of fumble, sack, sack left Texas facing a fourth and forty-nine from its own 47. The ensuing punt didn't even reach the first down marker.

When Oklahoma wasn't pushing Texas around, they were stealing their football. In all, Oklahoma defenders forced five turnovers - two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, including one pick-six and two fumbles returned for touchdowns. The five turnovers led to 31 Sooner points, over half Oklahoma's total on the day, and left Oklahoma's defense having outscored Texas' offense 21-10.

Even when Texas showed signs of life, Oklahoma managed to respond. After Fozzie Whittaker's 100-yard kickoff return brought Texas to 24-10 with less than three minutes to the half, Oklahoma's Landry Jones guided the Sooners on a masterful 83-yard drive capped with a 17-yard strike to Kenny Stills with :31 remaining before intermission, extending the Sooners lead to 34-10.

Oklahoma's defense snuffed any remaining possibility of a Texas comeback on the first series of the third quarter. Frank Alexander pressured and hit David Ash on a 2nd down play at the Texas 20, and the ball sprang free. Oklahoma's David King scooped up the unattended pumpkin and raced (well, galloped) 19 yards for a score that sent OU up 41-10 and Texas fans looking for corny dogs on the State Fair midway.

When all was said and done, Oklahoma enjoyed a 55-17 blistering of Texas in the Cotton Bowl. For Texas fans, the greater frustration is in wondering when the sudden malaise that's hit Austin will end. Any illusions of a sudden return have been painfully washed away, and Oklahoma State returns to Austin next week with an offense every bit as deadly as the Sooners. Moreover, the real questions may stem from Brown himself, who blew up his staff and rebuilt his offense on the back of a coach whose philosophy isn't run or pass, but trick, fake, reverse, and gag. And every trick play the Horns tried on Saturday looked more like a bad gag than an offense of the future.

Youth and inexperience may solve part of Texas' woes, but one can't help but wonder if a gamble-first defensive concept combined with a trickeration-oriented offense is going to lead the Horns out of Denial anytime soon.

The Sooners certainly hope not.