Oklahoma football: Four takeaways from Brent Venables’ biggest win as Sooner HC

Oct 7, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) celebrates with the golden hat after the win against the Texas Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) celebrates with the golden hat after the win against the Texas Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite playing the game of its life — at least in the time Brent Venables has been head coach — the Oklahoma football team found itself down by three points to Texas in the 119th Red River Rivalry game, 75 yards away from the end zone with just 45 ticks remaining on the game clock.

Had this been the scenario one year ago, the game probably would have been over. The Sooners lost five games last season by seven points or less and four by a mere three points. But this is not the 2022 season and not the same Oklahoma team.

That was apparent through the Sooners’ first five games of the season, and it was legitimized on Saturday as Oklahoma avenged the horrendous 49-0 shellacking to Texas a year ago with a clutch 34-30 comeback victory over arguably an even better Longhorn team than the one that showed up in the Cotton Bowl last October.

Venables and his players had been saying all week long leading up to Saturday’s annual Red River battle royal that the past does not dictate the present. On Saturday, they not only walked the walk, they talked it as well. The message was sent right from the beginning, with defensive back Gentry Williams picking off a pass by Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers on the second play of the game and setting up the Oklahoma offense at the Longhorn 22-yard line.

The Sooners led or were tied for most of the game and trailed for just five minutes the entire 60 minutes. Nevertheless, Texas managed to fight back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game on a 29-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Brooks with 6:10 to go and took the lead for just the second time in the game on a 49-yard field goal by Brett Auburn with 1:15 remaining.

That set off a celebration in the north half of the Cotton Bowl, only to be short lived.

Texas actually outgained Oklahoma 527 to 486, which belied how well the Sooner defense played in this contest against one of the country’s most prolific offenses with explosive playmakers and NFL-caliber talent all over the field. Both teams averaged over six yards per play, which is a credit to the OU offense, which was facing off against the No. 17 defense in college football.

No way around it, this was a massive win for the OU football program in Venables second season at the helm. There is still half a season still to go, but all of a sudden college football experts that were cautious about an Oklahoma turnaround just one season after going 6-7 in 2022 are now elevating the Sooners to legitimate College Football Playoff consideration.

Here are four main takeaways that tell the story of OU’s dramatic Red River Rivalry victory, its 11th in the last 16 games with Texas.

Dillon Gabriel the player of the game

It became pretty clear that had Dillon Gabriel been available to play in last year’s Red River debacle, the outcome would have been much different. The Sooners might not have won, but they wouldn’t have been held scoreless, either. Fast forward to 2023: Gabriel threw for 285 yards and ran for a career-high113 more, totaling 398 of OU’s 486 in the game. He threw for a touchdown and ran for the Sooners’ opening six points. Gabriel is the first Oklahoma quarterback to pass for at least 250 yards and run for 100 or more in a game against Texas.

Sooners have become a turnover creation machine

One of the keys for an Oklahoma victory over Texas was to win the turnover battle. The Sooners intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble while not turning the ball over themselves. OU’s two interceptions gives them 12 for the season. Oklahoma entered Saturday’s game with a nation-best 10 interceptions. The last time OU had as many as 12 interceptions through the first six games of the season was in the national championship 2000 season. Could that be an omen?

Defense did its job, but dramatic goal-line stand was the game-winner

Brent Venables’ swarming, physical defense gave Texas fits throughout the game. The Sooners did allow a season-high 527 yards to the Texas offense, but they came up with the big play when it was needed and stopped the Longhorns on 9 of 15 third-down tries. The biggest of those stops came late in the fourth quarter when the Oklahoma defense kept Texas out of the end zone on four consecutive attempts from the one-yard line.

Brent Venables and his staff outcoached the Texas staff

The 119th edition of the Red River Rivalry was a beautiful chess match to watch between the offensive-minded Steve Sarkisian and the defensive genius of Brent Venables. Trickery all over the place in the opening quarter and back and forth between the two teams on both sides of the ball. Good offense, better defense; good defense, better offense. It was ironic at the end that it was the Oklahoma offense that had the final word in this one.