NORMAN – Fitting that Oklahoma’s final Big 12 Conference game at Owen Field ended with a Big 12 Conference score.
Cries of “S-E-C!” went up in the stands during the fourth quarter of OU’s 69-45 victory over TCU Friday, and even on the field afterward when players, coaches, administrators and alumni mingled. Safe to say not many at OU Football Inc. will miss their old league.
As for their final regular-season game as a member…
Reason to feel better about the past
The strength of this OU team, the offense in general and the passing game in particular, flexed again.
It didn’t happen last week at BYU, when Dillon Gabriel’s late-first half head injury knocked the offense off stride because it knocked offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and the passing game off stride. The Sooners were extremely careful with backup Jackson Arnold and, as a result, escaped with a 31-24 victory in which they totaled 368 yards.
Gabriel’s return Friday unlocked Lebby and OU’s receivers, and restored the identity of the ‘23 Sooners.
Remember midseason when OU was 7-0 and holding opponents down to the point we wondered if defense had overtaken offense as Venables’ foundational element? It doesn’t feel worth asking any longer. Not after Friday’s second half in which Venables called OU’s defense “abysmal.”
Reason to worry about the future
The next week or so.
OU finished its season with 10 wins. Venables unquestionably has the program headed the right direction one season after finishing 6-7. There are all sorts of reasons to be excited about what’s ahead.
This being college football, there are just as many excuses to sweat some upcoming details.
How many Sooners enter the transfer portal for more playing time, a better name, image and likeness deal or for personal/geographical reasons?
Does Venables keep his staff intact with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby having restored some play-calling shine and likely to be considered for his first head coaching gig elsewhere?
What postseason destination awaits this team? If OU is boxed out of a New Year’s Six bowl and settles for the Alamo, does Venables start counting players who opt out to prepare for the NFL Draft?
Coach who can put up his feet and crack a beer: Lebby
Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss 17-7 Thanksgiving night, meaning MSU athletic director Zac Selmon could pay very close attention to OU-TCU if he chose to, meaning there is at least potential for OU-TCU to become Lebby’s audition for Selmon’s vacant football job.
Call it whatever you want, it was a pretty sweet day for the Sooners’ offensive coordinator.
Lebby took advantage of a 10-15-miles-per-hour wind at his offense’s back in the first quarter and cuit his quarterback loose. Gabriel hit Nic Anderson for 50 yards on his first play, setting up his own 8-yard touchdown run, then connected with Jayden Gibson for a 59-yard score on the fourth play of OU’s second drive.
Gabriel had 5 completions for 147 yards at the end of the quarter. Then, seizing on his quarterback’s lively arm and TCU’s 96th-ranked pass defense, Lebby dialed up a 52-yard touchdown bomb to Brenen Thompson on the second quarter’s second play.
TCU’s run defense was loosened by then, so the Sooners balanced their offense the rest of the first half. Gavin Sawchuk scored their next two touchdowns and Tawee Walker ran one in late in the half to widen OU’s lead.
Coach headed straight back to the film room: TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie
College football is a crazy enterprise.
Gillespie did consistently good work on Tulsa’s defensive staff for seven years before Sonny Dykes hired him at the end of the 2021 season. Gillespie did good work to help TCU win 13 games and reach the national championship last year.
Now the Frogs are fading badly down the stretch of this season with a defense that ranks 74th against the run in FBS, 96th against the pass and 86th in total yardage allowed.
TCU was a defensive mess in Friday’s decisive first half. The Sooners scored touchdowns on six of their seven possessions while amassing 375 total yards and an average of 9.6 yards per play.
It didn’t get much better from there. OU closed with 62 offensive points and 607 yards, the most the Sooners have ever gained on TCU.
Gallery: OU’s 69-45 win over TCU in pictures
SportsCenter highlight: The Gabriel/Stoops sequence in the third quarter
The Frogs’ 14-point run had them within 45-31 when the Sooners went for a 4th-and-1 from their own 34, less than 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Cue two important seniors on OU’s Senior Day.
Gabriel ran an option left, away from motioning tight end Austin Stogner, and elected to keep into an alley created by guard Cayden Green. He turned upfield and motored to the TCU 26 before being caught by linebacker Shad Banks.
Next play, Gabriel was gifted several seconds by his protection and eventually spotted an open Drake Stoops along the sideline for a 17-yard completion.
The next snap from TCU’s 9, Gabriel had another snack while surveying the field. Stoops worked free of safety Mark Perry, caught Gabriel’s crossing pass inside the 5 and fought his way into the end zone for a touchdown.
OU was ahead 52-31 and could breathe easier.
Name to remember: Zach Schmit
It’s easy to lose sight of two field goals on a day the kicker’s team hangs 69 points. Don’t overlook Schmit’s 23-yarder early in the third quarter Friday, or his 40-yarder early in the fourth.
Schmit’s 2-for-2 effort was his first multiple-field goal game without a miss since he went 2-for-2 at Cincinnati Sept. 23. He came in 3 for his last 5 since OU’s loss at OSU Nov. 4, and 4 for his last 8 since OU’s victory over UCF Oct. 21.
Venables has been asked about Schmit several times the past few weeks. It’s likely the questions will stop, or at least slow, between now and the Sooners’ next game.
“He’s a dog, man. I’ve been saying it ever since my first interview after Arkansas State. He’s just a guy you want to follow, something that gets the team going.” – Gibson on Gabriel
Could you repeat that?
“To me there’s a time and place for all of it. Had great focus on today, finishing the regular season here at home. Hopefully the chips fall in our favor and we get to play next weekend. We’ll see about that. But that’s about it.” – Lebby on rumors linking him to Mississippi State head coaching vacancy