Oklahoma football: Does Red River win put the Sooners back on track?

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 14: Dimitri Flowers
DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 14: Dimitri Flowers /

Oklahoma football escaped another kill shot to its Big 12 title chances this past weekend with a come-from-behind victory over longtime archrival Texas.

It was the third consecutive conference game in which the Sooners had squandered a big first-half advantage and allowed their opponent to come all the way back and actually take over the lead. Perhaps even more troubling is the concern that these were not the best teams in the Big 12. In fact two of the three, if not all three, will likely end up with overall records below .500 this season.

Fans were anxious to see how OU would bounce back after its stunning 38-31 loss at home to Iowa State. The results early and late in the Red River border war with Texas were impressive and what fans are expecting from this Oklahoma team, but the cool-down pattern the Sooners have shown in the last three games, coming out of the locker room at halftime and continuing through the third quarter, is a troubling trend.

For the season, the Oklahoma offense is averaging almost 12 points a quarter in the first, second and fourth quarters of games, but just over seven points in the third quarter.

Despite the curious third-quarter cool down in recent weeks, the Sooners have managed to get it together late and come out ahead in two of the last three games.

Oklahoma raced out to a 28-10 first-half advantage over Baylor. That wasn’t even midway into the second quarter. From that point forward, Baylor outscored OU 31-21 on the heels of over 400 yards of offense. The Sooners finally won the game, 49-41, in a shootout that never should have happened against this season’s Baylor team.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

The same thing happened two weeks later, after an OU bye, when the Sooners jumped out in front 14-0 halfway through the first quarter. The Sooners would add 17 points the remainder of the game, and zero in the third quarter, while giving up 38 to Iowa State, 35 of those coming after the first quarter.

Although the story seemed much the same in last week’s win over Texas, an article this week by Oklahoma City Oklahoman OU beat writer Ryan Aber points out that both head coach Lincoln Riley and Baker Mayfield told him the Sooners’ attitude and mental outlook was different in the Red River rivalry game than it has been in the previous two games.

“I think we took some steps as a team,” the OU head coach said in his postgame comments on Saturday. “I think we prepared them better. I thought our team responded better when thing didn’t go our way.

It may be a natural tendency for teams that run out to big leads to become a little complacent for a period of time, but in the Sooners’ case, it has resembled more of a second-half collapse than simply complacency.

You could argue that the OU cool downs after their fast starts might have something to do with playing down to competitive level of their opponent. It is fairly obvious that the Sooners weren’t going to take Texas lightly, no matter at what point the game was in or what the records and rankings were.

:We know that we’re going to have to play better and be able to maintain some of those strong (offensive) runs,” said Riley. “Playing well early is a big thing; we’re doing that really well. We gotta do a good job maintaining that and stepping on their throats when we get the chance to.

“We’ll get better at that…we’ll coach better at that.”

Oklahoma is going to get plenty of chances over the next four weeks to show their staying power. On Saturday, they begin a stretch of four games in which they play teams with a combined overall record of 18-6, and two of those teams (TCU and Oklahoma State) are ranked in the top 10.