By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
NORMAN, Okla. - Meet the Oklahoma Sooners, the most disappointed and angry No. 1 team in America.
OK, wait a second ... the final score here Saturday night was 38-28 and ... yes, the Sooners won. OU spotted Missouri a 14-3 lead before taking control in the second and third quarters. Oklahoma won its Big 12 Conference opener to improve to 3-0 and in the process knocked off a team that stunned the Sooners in Columbia last year.
So, no, Oklahoma wasn't an upset victim. The Sooners, who play host to Ball State Saturday before their Oct. 8 date with Texas in the Red River Rivalry, will remain atop the polls for another week. But the post-game reactions befitted a team that had lost.
"We played like a team ranked No. 25 to No. 30, not like a team ranked No. 1," said senior linebacker Travis Lewis. "I sort of saw it coming in practice. We didn't have the same mentality. I'm disappointed in myself as a captain and a leader of the defense. We're fortunate we won. They outplayed us."
Well, at least for the first eight minutes. Missouri (2-2, 0-1) forced a three-and-out then drove for a touchdown on its first possession. When sophomore quarterback James Franklin beat an OU blitz and hit L'Damian Washington for a 45-yard touchdown, the Tigers led 14-3 with six minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Would this be the end of Oklahoma's 37-game home-field winning streak? Would this be Missouri's first victory here since 1966?
Nope. Oklahoma responded with 28 consecutive points to take a 31-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Sooners' defense, which allowed eight plays of 10 or more yards in the opening quarter, stuffed the Tigers' offense for over 30 minutes. Franklin, who was 5-of-8 passing for 124 yards and one touchdown in the first quarter, finished 16-of-33 for 291 yards.
Missouri finished with 532 yards in total offense but many of Missouri's yards were "empty" - they came during the Tigers' fast start or in the fourth quarter after the Sooners had built a 17-point lead. When Mizzou needed to produce in the decisive second and third quarters, it couldn't.
"Our offense carried us tonight," Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander said. "After the first quarter, we just tried to stay poised and get stops because we knew the offense would score."
The Sooners had 87 offensive snaps that produced 592 yards. Landry Jones completed 35-of-48 for 448 yards and three touchdowns. Not bad for a quarterback who had trouble finding a rhythm. Jones was without his second-best receiver, as sophomore Kenny Stills was sidelined after suffering concussion symptoms late in the week.
Receiver Broyles, who was "shut down" last week at Florida State (seven catches for 55 yards) scorched the Tigers' secondary for 13 receptions for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
Oklahoma entered the season ranked No. 1 and the Sooners had its stars aligned - Jones, Broyles, Lewis, et. al. But the surprise star continues to be a player not on scholarship. Junior running back Dominique Whaley is perhaps the nation's top walk on player. Against Missouri, Whaley had a team-best yards rushing on 16 carries and caught five passes for 82 yards (he had two receptions in OU's first two games).
"Dom's a solid good player," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He's a good football player and he's showing people that. The more he plays, the better he should get."
Whaley set up two touchdowns with two nifty run-after-catch efforts. In the second quarter, he picked up 24 yards after catching a short pass and stutter-step juking a Missouri defender. In the third quarter, he caught a swing pass, made a tackler miss and stayed in bounds with a one-foot hop before racing to the Missouri 3 for a 19-yard gain.
But even Whaley wasn't satisfied with his play or the team's play.
"The offense didn't practice well this week and that's why we started out slow," Whaley said. "We know we won the game but because of the way we played, we could have lost it. We won it but we didn't dominate."
Maybe not for the entire game. But for the second and third quarters and midway through the fourth quarter, the game can be summed up thusly: When the Sooners needed a defensive stop, they got it. When they needed a meaningful offensive play, they made it. Once the momentum switched to the Sooners' sideline Missouri was swimming in a rip tide.
"We didn't panic early," Stoops said. "We felt we would settle in and play better. It was methodically getting back to business after the first quarter."
Missouri racked up 173 yards in the first quarter, just seven yards fewer than what the Tigers gained in the first quarter. Sophomore running back Henry Josey, the Big 12's leading rusher, finished with 133 yards - 57 of those came in the final quarter, including a 48-yard touchdown run.
"The number of yards we allowed, that's not the issue," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "I'm more concerned with the sloppy play and too many mistakes. We had a few guys play really well but we can't play our best with just a few guys playing well. We showed some immaturity this week in practice. We had too many guys not ready to play, guys who didn't bring their 'A' game.
"We played like we practiced and we told the guys they were gonna get their butt kicked. Our guys will own it. It's not acceptable here. It was a poor performance on defense."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel appeared to be speaking for both teams. “I give Oklahoma all the credit because they deserve it,” he said. “But you are not going to be a good football team unless you can play consistently.”
The frustration the Sooners felt after the game will disappear when the consistency returns.