Oklahoma football: Sooners outgunned, outcoached and almost outscored

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 22: Running back Kell Walker #5 of the Army Black Knights dodges linebacker Curtis Bolton #18 of the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeated the Black Knights 28-21 in overtime. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 22: Running back Kell Walker #5 of the Army Black Knights dodges linebacker Curtis Bolton #18 of the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeated the Black Knights 28-21 in overtime. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) /

There are no two ways about it. Oklahoma caught a big break on Saturday in its battle with unranked Army.

Army had its caissons rolling on Saturday night at sold-out Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and the Black Knights had the Sooners on their heels before two critical Army mistakes turned the game and allowed Oklahoma to escape with a narrow 28-21 overtime victory that easily could have gone the other way.

Hand it to Army head coach Jeff Monken and his coaching staff. The Black Knights came to Norman with a brilliant game plan, and the players executed the plan nearly flawlessly. The Army coaches knew that the only chance they had to stay in the game with the Sooners was to control the ball on offense, shorten the game and keep the high-octane Oklahoma offense off the field.

And that they did, running a total of 87 plays on offense and retaining possession for nearly 45 minutes of the 60-minute regulation game clock, the equivalent of three full quarters.

Oklahoma had little difficulty moving the football against the Army defense. The problem was the Sooner offense was on the field for only 15 minutes the entire game. OU received the opening kickoff and went 68 yards in six plays in two minutes and 40 seconds to open the scoring and take a 7-0 lead.

Army came right back with a 16-play, 75-yard drive of its own to tie the score. The Army touchdown drive, however, consumed nine and a half minutes on the clock.

And so it went, with both teams marching downfield and scoring on their second offensive possessions. The Sooners scored on each of their first three possessions and managed to get a defensive stop on Army’s third possession of the first half to take a 21-14 lead into the locker room at the half.

By that time, the die had been cast. Although the Sooners had a seven-point advantage at intermission, they had run only 23 offensive plays, consuming just eight of the 30 minutes in the first half.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

The Oklahoma defense recorded its only three-and-out of the game on Army’s first possession of the second half. On the ensuing change of possession, however, Kyler Murray threw an interception on the Sooners’ second offensive play, which Army prolonged into a painstaking and punishing 85-yard scoring drive over 10 minutes in length to pull even at 21-all and send a resounding scare throughout the Sooner Nation.

The Oklahoma offense was on the field just over five minutes total in the second and third quarters combined. You’re not going to win many football games when you run only 17 second-half plays, taking just over seven minutes off the game clock, no matter how good your offense is. Unfortunately, the OU offense was unable to come away with points on any of its three second-half possessions.

Despite the enormous disparity in the number of offensive plays (87 to 40) and time of possession (44:41 to 15:19), OU had several golden chances to put this game away in regulation, only to squander each opportunity.

First and foremost, the Oklahoma defensive unit had no answer for Army’s three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust ground attack. The Black Knights were successful in converting 13 of 21 third-down chances and four of five fourth-down tries. By the end of the game, it was fairly obvious that the OU defense was well spent and on wobbly legs.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Sooners had the ball third-and-goal at the Army one-yard line and couldn’t punch it in on two successive off-tackle bursts by Trey Sermon, who ironically was the leading rusher in the game with a season-high 119 yards.

The Sooners also blew an opportunity for a walk-off win in regulation when usually reliable kicker Austin Seibert missed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide left as time expired.

Remarkably, Army did not turn the ball over once in its 78 running plays (something the Sooners did frequently back in the days of the Wishbone). The Black Knights rarely put the ball in the air (and they did so just nine times this night), but it was two Army pass attempts by quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. that proved deadly and ended up costing the visitors what would have been a monumental upset.

Army took possession at its own one-yard line after stopping the Sooners on fourth down at the 12:23 mark early in the fourth quarter. Sixteen plays and 10 minutes later,  Army was driving and faced with a third-and-14 at the OU 32-yard line with 2:23 remaining in the game. On the third-down play, a pass attempt by the Army quarterback Hopkins’ was deflected at the line of scrimmage and landed in the arms of Sooner linebacker Kenneth Mann, saving the Sooners from what could have a disastrous ending and providing them with a golden shot to pull off the victory in regulation.

Seibert’s surprising missed field goal sent the game to overtime. Oklahoma took possession first in the OT session and scored a TD in two plays on a 10-yard pass from Kyler Murray to CeeDee Lamb. Army’s upset bid ended when Parnell Motley intercepted a pass from Holmes at the two-yard line, bringing 86,000 screaming Sooner fans to their feat, overjoyed in relief over what could have been.

Winning isn’t everything, and this one was pretty painful when you get right down to it. But a win is a win, as they say, and Sooner fans will gratefully take it.

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P.S.: In the postgame interview session with both head coaches, it was learned that Army was planning to go for a two-point conversion to win the game had it been successful scoring a touchdown in its overtime possession. Shades of Boise State in 2006?