The odds were stacking up against the 14th-ranked Oklahoma football team, tied with its host, the BYU Cougars, at halftime and on senior day with an overly excited crowd that was definitely into the game despite having seen its team lose three consecutive games.
Oklahoma was a 25-point favorite coming into the game, but that was not the way this game was progressing as the two teams headed to the locker room deadlocked at 17. The underdog Cougars were more than holding their own against the heavily favored Sooners.
It was abundantly clear by halftime that if Oklahoma was going to win this game, the Sooners were definitely going to have to step up their game and make adjustments on both sides of the ball. Then came the smack on the side of the head news coming out of the locker room to start the second half that starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel had suffered an unspecified upper-body injury and would not be available to finish the game.
That put the spotlight on true freshman Jackson Arnold, who had been used only sparingly in four previous appearances and never in circumstances as challenging and stressful as the role he was being asked to fill on the road on Saturday at BYU.
The thoughts of OU fans immediately shifted to the low point of last season when Gabriel was hurt late in the first half in a game against TCU. With Gabriel forced to the sidelines for the remainder of that game as well as the following game against Texas, the Oklahoma offense would score just seven points over the next six quarters.
Everyone recognized that the expectations for Arnold, a five-star recruit and former Gatorade National Player of the Year were sky high, but a mountain of a task was being asked of him on this cloudy, gloomy day in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains.
Just this past week, it was reported that Oklahoma was going to redshirt Arnold, which meant he would not play in either of OU’s final two regular-season games. That became apparent when Davis Beville entered the game in a clean-up role replacing Gabriel the previous week in the Sooners win over West Virginia. At the same time, though, Brent Venables made it clear that Arnold was still considered the backup quarterback and was preparing as such should circumstances warrant.
On Saturday, the circumstances Venables had alluded to came to pass, and Arnold was the man the Sooners turned to. The highly touted freshman held his own and made the plays when he needed to. Unlike previous seasons, the Sooner defense came up with a couple of game-changing second-half takeaways. As a result, Oklahoma did what good teams do; it found a way to win.
The Sooners are now just one win away from a 10-win season (a four-game improvement over last season), which they can take care of on Friday this week when they host TCU in the regular-season finale.
The Sooner QB of the future steps up in the heavy face of adversity
It was baptism under fire for OU freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold, who played mistake free and made several huge plays late in the game to lead the Sooners to a big road victory and keep their hopes alive to earn a spot in the Big 12 championship game. Arnold completed five of nine passes for 33 yards, the biggest of which was an eight-yard completion to Jalil Farooq for a first down on third-and-eight with 2:01 to go in the game. With BYU out of timeouts, OU was able to go into victory formation to end the game. This should make Sooner fans feel good about the near future of Oklahoma football/
The defense giveth and the defense taketh away
Brent Venables would be the first to admit this wasn’t Oklahoma’s finest defensive game. OU gave up 390 yards of offense, the fourth most all season, and the 217 rushing yards were the second most allowed in 11 2023 games. The Sooners also yielded touchdowns in two of the three BYU drives that reached the red zone. What’s been different with the defensive performance this year, however, as contrasted with the recent past has been the ability to create turnovers.
The Oklahoma “D” came up with three huge takeaways, including a 100-yard pick-six by defensive back Billy Bowman as BYU was knocking on the door of the OU end zone. That interception plus two BYU fumbles resulted in a plus-three turnover margin for the game and 21 Oklahoma points. the difference between winning and losing this game.
Danny Stutsman has his typical great game despite suffering from the flu
If you looked at the final stats, you wouldn’t know any different. Danny Stutsman was his typical game-wrecking self– except that the standout Sooner defensive leader wasn’t his typical self. We learned after the game that Stutsman was suffering from a touch of food poisoning and had not eaten in a couple of days. Despite all this, Stutsman recorded 10 tackles in the game, a sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble of BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff that led to Oklahoma’s winning touchdown.
Sooners still alive for spot in the Big 12 Championship, but help is needed
A win at BYU was a must for Oklahoma to remain in contention for the Big 12 Championship. The Sooners still must win their home finale on Friday but will need either a loss by Texas later that same day at home against Texas Tech or a loss by Oklahoma State at home on Saturday against BYU.
A Texas loss and an Oklahoma State loss would give OU the No. 1 seed in the title game. The Sooners would also get into the championship game with a Texas win and an Oklahoma State loss.
But here’s the rub insofar as the Sooners’ title chances: With an Oklahoma win, an Oklahoma State win, a Kansas State win and a loss by Texas, Oklahoma State and K-State would be awarded the top two seeds in the tiebreaker process and play for the Big 12 Championship.
So if you’re among the Sooner faithful, you want to root for a loss by either Texas or Oklahoma State and Kansas State next weekend. If Oklahoma State and Kansas State both prevail in their home finales, however, it won’t matter what Texas does, OU would be eliminated from the title game.
Gavin Sawchuk has earned No. 1 running back job
It took a while — 10 or 11 games, to be precise — but redshirt-freshman Gavin Sawchuk has rightfully earned the title of RB1 in the Oklahoma offense. Sawchuk ran for 11 yards on 14 carries, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt. His tackle-breaking16-yard touchdown run with just under eight minutes remaining proved to be game-winning score. Sawchuk has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last three games. That’s an average of 7.2 yards per carry in OU’s past three games.