Oklahoma football: Turnovers, penalties doom Sooners for second straight week

Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Drake Stoops (12) is brought down by Oklahoma State Cowboys cornerback Kale Smith (10) after a reception during a Bedlam college football game between the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) and the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. Oklahoma State won 27-24.
Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Drake Stoops (12) is brought down by Oklahoma State Cowboys cornerback Kale Smith (10) after a reception during a Bedlam college football game between the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) and the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. Oklahoma State won 27-24. /
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For the second week in a row the Oklahoma football team couldn’t get out of its own way in the final quarter, and Oklahoma State made the Sooners pay with a 27-24 victory in what could be the final game in the 118-year history of Bedlam football.

The 9th-ranked Sooners had won seven of the last eight games played against their in-state rival, but that one loss had been two years ago in OU’s last visit to Stillwater in what was Lincoln Riley’s last game as Oklahoma head coach.

Oklahoma started slow offensively a second straight week. Yet, despite possessing the ball just three and a half minutes in the opening quarter and running just 10 plays to 24 by Oklahoma State, the Sooners and Cowboys were tied 7-7 after the first 15 minutes. The OU offense played better in the second quarter as did the defense, but OU trailed 17-14 going into halftime, the first time this season the Sooners have failed to lead at the intermission.

Tawee Walker gave Oklahoma its first lead in the game, scoring on a 23-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. The Sooners held on to a 21-17 advantage for nearly 15 minutes before the ill-fated developments in the final quarter.

The Sooner defense, which had played a reasonably strong game for the majority of the contest without its best player and team leader (LB Danny Stutsman, including three stops on four short-yardage fourth-down attempts by the Cowboys, allowed Oklahoma State to complete a 97-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter to wipe out a four-point deficit and take a 24-21 advantage that proved to be the difference in the game.

Four different penalties were called on Oklahoma on OSU’s lead-changing touchdown drive halfway through the fourth quarter, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on head coach Brent Venables for running on the field to protest a pass-interference penalty called on OU defensive back Makari Vickers on the previous play.

The pass interference on Vickers came on a third-down play that otherwise would have forced an Oklahoma State punt from their own end zone and given the ball back to the Sooners holding a 21-17 lead. Instead, the call awarded the Cowboys a new set of downs at their own 23-yard-line and 15 more yards were added on after the unsportsmanlike flag on Venables. That’s all the momentum OSU would need to finish off the drive, with the Sooners contributing a couple more penalties along the way to help out.

It was almost a replay of what happened in the fourth quarter a week ago at Kansas, and it ended up costing Oklahoma the game both times.

The 97-yard Oklahoma State drive that really didn’t need to happen was bad enough, but it was two other back-breaking plays that actually cost the Sooners the game.

On the first OU offensive play following the OSU touchdown drive that regained the lead for the Cowboys, Dillon Gabriel wasn’t ready for the center snap, which bounced off his leg and was recovered by Oklahoma State at the OU 19. The Sooner defense stiffened and held the OSU offense to a 16-yard field goal that stretched the lead to 27-21, and it remained a one-score game.

The death knell, however, occurred on the subsequent Oklahoma possession after the OSU field goal. Oklahoma advanced the ball to the OSU 16-yard line on a 16-yard pass completion followed by a 46-yard dime from Gabriel to Jalil Farooq. Faced with 3rd-and-12 at the Cowboy 18-yard line, Gabriel lifted a pass to Drake Stoops in the corner of the end zone. Stoops was pulled to the ground by the OSU defender before the ball reached him in what appeared in real time to be an obvious pass interference call, but a penalty flag never followed.

Despite all of that, Stoops actually caught the ball, but the official who was looking directly on the play ruled that he was out of bounds when he caught it.

Oklahoma had to settle for a 46-yard field goal instead of having the ball 1st-and-10 at the one-yard line the result of a pass interference call. That non-call was the straw that ultimately broke the Sooners’ back.

The Sooner defense was able to force a punt on the next OSU possession and had one final chance to pull out the win, but on a fourth-down play Stoops was tackled two yards short of the first-down marker at the Oklahoma 49-yard line with one minute left, forcing a turnover on downs and effectively ending the game.

The loss overshadowed a career performance by OU’s Stoops, who caught 12 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown and just missed a second TD catch that potentially could have won the game. Redshirt freshman running back Gavin Sawchuk also had a breakthrough performance with 111 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a 64-yard touchdown run.

The Sooners outgained the Cowboys 492 yards to 480 despite possessing the ball 14 fewer minutes (22:46 to 37:14).

With three games remaining in the regular season, Oklahoma now needs help to make it to the Big 12 Championship. The Sooners fall to 7-2 after suffering a second consecutive defeat and are in a five-way tie for third place in the Big 12. A week ago, the Sooners were undefeated and at the top of the league standings.

OU returns home next weekend to host West Virginia, one of the four teams tied with the Sooners at 4-2 in conference play.