OU football: The Sooner defense found its pride, and now the season looks different
NORMAN — Parnell Motley was on the field in Lubbock three years ago next week, when Patrick Mahomes torched the Sooners in that 66-59 fireworks show. Motley was on the field in Stillwater the next season when OU survived a 62-52 Bedlam. Motley was on the field in Dallas last October when Texas ripped out the stitches and won 48-45.
Moments like that make defenders thankful they have a helmet to hide their face.
So we can forgive Motley if he left the Cotton Bowl turf last Saturday bursting with pride. The Sooners beat Texas 34-27, and while 27 points is no shutdown, OU held the Longhorns to 310 total yards, sacked quarterback Sam Ehlinger nine times and had six other tackles for loss.
The Cotton Bowl undercurrent was that for the first time in what seemed like forever, the OU defense had carried the offense. The Golden Hat was passed around and worn by Sooner defenders not as ceremony, but as tribute. They had earned that stripe.
“Man, it feels great,” said Motley, a senior cornerback who has turned into a big-time pass defender. “For once in a lifetime, the defense carried this team, not allowing the offense to carry us on their backs.”
OU hosts West Virginia on Saturday to begin the back half of the 2019 season. For the Sooners to return to the College Football Playoff, and even moreso win there, the defense will have to keep playing well. Lincoln Riley has warned us all that Texas is only one game.
All true. But don’t let that keep the OU defense from feeling pride over what it did last Saturday. Some long-time beleaguered players — Motley, Neville Gallimore, Kenneth Murray — had their day in the sun.
“I definitely don’t want to take that away from our guys,” Riley said. “Some of those guys have been through a lot. To be able to play the way that we felt like we were capable of and do it in a game of that magnitude for a large portion of it was awesome.”
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It can’t have been easy, being on the OU defense these last few years. A coordinator change in mid-season 2018, then a post-season coordinator change. Monday after Monday, dragging yourself to class knowing everyone is euphoric about the offense and disgusted with the defense. Knowing the settled science is that defense cost the Sooners another national championship in the Baker Mayfield/Kyler Murray years.
But now, maybe the defense has stepped into the sun.
“I feel very good, just to live up to the hype on a really good Texas team and just play to our ability,” Motley said. “We just wanted to prove to ourself who OU really was but still a lot more to improve on.”
The Cotton Bowl turned surreal. The Longhorns punted on their first four possessions. They kicked a field goal to end the half, then opened the third quarter with another punt.
OU led 10-3. You’d have thought it was 1977.
“We were really proud and really enjoyed the moment,” said junior cornerback Tre Brown. “Knowing where we came from and where we’ve been … that was a statement right there. As time went by, you saw Texas with three points, and it’s like, wow, the defense is doing something. We didn’t have to talk about what we were going to do. It was there on the scoreboard. It felt good that we could be there for the offense.”
Soon enough came Monday, and the West Virginia gameplan, and practice, where coaches tend to point out everything you did wrong, not so much what you did right. The Sooner defense knows it must be even better to make this season finish the way the last few have not.
But for much of a sunny Saturday in Dallas, the vexed OU defense broke its curse and carried the offense, finding that which had been lost.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.