OU football: Sooners' defense — and Tre Brown — come up with redemption in wild Red River win
DALLAS — After running down the field in celebration, Tre Brown had to take a moment.
OU’s senior cornerback bent over, hands on his knees, and fought to catch his breath.
“It took a lot of guts to do what we did,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said of his team’s defense after Brown sealed a Red River Shootout like no other, coming away with a 53-45 win. “Just kept fighting, hung in there, trusted the defense.
“We had a lot of guys that were hurting, a lot of guys that were absolutely gassed and everybody was just begging to go back in the game — guys that had not a whole lot left in the tank and were all banged up.”
Sure, the game is now dubbed the Red River Showdown, but it’s hard to use any other descriptor for this one than “shootout.”
Texas kept firing, willed to overtime by a gritty performance from Sam Ehlinger, but in the end the Sooners’ defense came up with a pair of stops to pull out the win and Brown once again came up with a big play late in a big game to help the Sooners pull it out.
The way the game finished seemed improbable until not long before it happened.
For much of the first four quarters, the Sooners were excellent defensively. It was instead the offense that put OU in tough spots with the defense bailing them out with two turnovers — Isaiah Thomas’ fumble recovery early and Woodi Washington’s interception with five minutes left.
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Washington’s pick in the end zone seemed to pave the way for OU to put the game away, but the offense stalled and the defense fell apart.
Two touchdowns in the final 3:28 forced overtime, and Alex Grinch’s group seemingly had no answer for Ehlinger’s legs.
Ehlinger ran for 90 yards in the final 4:38 plus the overtime sessions.
“He has a unique ability to make guys miss,” Grinch said.
But instead of selling out to stop the run game, Grinch kept a large group of defensive backs on the field.
On third down in the third overtime, though, linebacker Nik Bonitto was there in the middle, keeping a watchful eye on Ehlinger.
When he saw an opening, he took it, crashing in and bringing down Ehlinger for OU’s sixth sack of the game. The sack set up Perrion Winfrey’s blocked field goal.
As the overtimes wore on, some of the defensive leaders — guys like Pat Fields, DaShaun White and Brian Asamoah — gathered their group.
The message was simple.
“Redial and focus in on the task at hand,” David Ugwoegbu said. “Like we always talk about, strain to the ball, give it your all. After the game hits zero, then we can worry about being tired, but the game wasn’t over yet, so we just had to dig deep and get that stop at the end.”
After the Sooners’ offense took an eight-point lead in the fourth overtime, the defense sealed off Ehlinger’s running lanes.
Brown was one of those Sooners hurting, racked by cramps after playing 86 defensive plays before his interception.
But after having an interception wiped out early in the game when he was called for defensive holding, Brown wasn’t about to let a chance at redemption slip by.
“I just kept telling myself there’s a play that needed to be made. I wanted to be the one to do it,” Brown said. “This is my last one, so that’s what kept going through my head.
“I was like, OK, I got another one to make. I just went up and made it.”
Brown dove in front of Longhorns receiver Joshua Moore, pulled it down and the celebration was on.
It was Brown who sacked Ehlinger for a safety late in the 2018 Big 12 Championship Game to help lift the Sooners after knocking down a two-point conversion try late in Bedlam a few weeks earlier.
He turned in another big moment Saturday after Grinch made some changes to his secondary rotation, giving some younger guys — like Washington — a shot.
Grinch has preached the importance of turnovers since his arrival, and their importance was never more clear than against Texas.
It was the first time the Sooners forced more than two turnovers against an FBS opponent since Bedlam 2017.
Now, only after Brown’s interception and his run down the field, could the Sooners afford to think about the exhaustion.
“I was proud to see us not fold under pressure,” Ugwoegbu said. “I was proud to see us really finish the game out.”