Oklahoma football: Four telling takeaways from a win, season that got away

Nov 27, 2021; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams (13) is tackled by Oklahoma State Cowboys safety Jason Taylor II (25) during the second half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma State won 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2021; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams (13) is tackled by Oklahoma State Cowboys safety Jason Taylor II (25) during the second half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma State won 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

An Oklahoma football team is moving ahead to the Big 12 Championship. It just isn’t the one that resides in Norman.

For the first time in seven seasons, the Sooners will not be represented when the Big 12 title game is played next weekend at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Sooners (10-2, 7-2) gave it everything they  had — and actually had a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter — before falling 37-33 in another epic Bedlam showdown with in-state rival Oklahoma State that wasn’t decided until Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams was sacked on a fourth-down play at the OSU 24-yard line with just eight ticks left on the game clock.

“Gut-wrenching loss tonight. No other way to describe it,” said Lincoln Riley in his postgame press conference. “Came up one play away. Agonizingly close on that last drive.”

What at the beginning of the 2021 college football season was touted as the most complete team in Riley’s five seasons as the Sooners’ head coach ended up underperforming its lofty expectations, with Oklahoma State delivering the final blow in a highly enigmatic regular season for the Crimson and Cream.

The loss to the 7th-ranked Cowboys eliminated what slim hopes Oklahoma had of reaching the College Football Playoff as well as the chance to defend its conference crown for the sixth consecutive year. With a highly respectable 10-2 record, — but not necessarily by Oklahoma standards — the Sooners should still have the opportunity to compete in a notable postseason bowl.

But it clearly won’t be the same. What happened on the field at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater on Saturday was a microcosm of the entire 2021 Oklahoma football season.

“Agonizingly close” were the words Riley used all season to explain how close the Sooners were to putting it all together on offense and defense and performing up to preseason expectations. Ironically, close is also a term that described Oklahoma’s body of work for a good part of the season and fully exposed what many of us refused to acknowledge.

Six of the Sooners’ 10 wins have been by a school-record seven points or less. On Saturday at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma came close again, this time, though, it resulted in a four-point loss.

This Oklahoma team is not as good as we had hoped or wanted it to be. Oh, the Sooners are a very good team, maybe even a great team in the making, but not this year.

The term “bedlam” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a place, scene or state of uproar and confusion.” The 116th edition of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State Bedlam series clearly lived up to that description, as so many have in this longtime rivalry.

Here are four telling takeaways from Saturday’s primetime epic Bedlam clash:

Caleb Williams shows his special skills and mettle in a very tough road environment

In Caleb Williams’ previous two games, he threw for a combined 233 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. In Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State, the true freshman registered 253 passing yards (20 of 39) along with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also added a 56-yard run late in the fourth quarter that set the Sooners’ up at the Oklahoma State 24-yard line, trailing by four points with under a minute to go in the game.

Only one other team passed for more yards against OSU No. 3-ranked defense this season (Iowa State threw for 307 yards in handing the Cowboys their lone loss in the regular season.

Penalties continue to haunt the Sooners

Oklahoma was penalized 12 different times for 74 yards, but a number of those yellow flags came late in the third quarter and into the fourth. The Sooners were flagged for three consecutive penalties on the offense late in the third quarter that thwarted OU offensive possessions.

Facing a second-and-23 possession from the OU eight-yard line late in the third quarter, Kennedy Brooks broke free for a 26-yard pickup that was subsequently negated by a facemask call on WR Mario Williams. The Sooners ended up having to punt from the five-yard line, giving Oklahoma State a short field that led to a touchdown. These are the kind of hard-luck calls that have plagued OU on both sides of the ball all season long.

Special teams puts OU up and takes them down in same game

Oklahoma took its first lead in the game early in the second half when OU defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey forced a fumble recovered by Oklahoma State in its own end zone for a safety. That gave the Sooners a 26-24 lead, which quickly grew into a nine-point, 33-24 advantage when OSU punt returner Brennan Presley mishandled a 51-yard boot by OU’s Michael Turk and the ball was recovers by the Sooners’ Justin Broiles in the end zone for a touchdown.

While Oklahoma found itself the beneficiary of a game-changing special teams play, the Sooners also found itself on the opposite end of special team miscues. Before Presley fumbled the punt that led to an OU touchdown, he returned a kickoff 100 yards for an Oklahoma State touchdown in the second quarter.

Then it was Oklahoma’s time to serve up a quick opponent’s touchdown courtesy of a special teams misplay. Sooner returner Eric Gray wasn’t able to handle a punt by OSU’s Tom Hutton early in the final quarter, and the Cowboys recovered the ball at the OU five-yard line. Three plays later, OSU scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on a one-yard run by Jaylen Warren

Set, match, game…although no one knew it at the time.

Oklahoma offense gives highly ranked OSU defense its sternest test of season

Despite the losing effort, Oklahoma can take some pride in knowing that it had the most success against the vaunted Oklahoma State defense than any team this season. The Cowboys entered the game sporting the country’s third-best overall defense (266.9 yards per game), fourth in rushing defense (84.9 yards per game), 10th in passing yards allowed (182.0 per game)  and tied for second in points allowed (14.9). The Sooners blew the cover off all of Oklahoma State defensive season averages and tied the Cowboys’ season high for offensive turnovers created (3).