Tramel: OU football report card in Cotton Bowl has high marks for Sooners' power football & clutch defense
OU’s 55-20 Cotton Bowl rout of Florida on Wednesday night was a many splendored thing, with only a few nits to pick. The Sooner report card reflects a dominating performance:
Power formations: A.
OU opened the game with a five-play, 79-yard touchdown drive. All five plays came with only two wide receivers on the field. The Sooners loaded up with two tight ends, either on the line or just behind the line. It wasn’t a formation that Lincoln Riley relied on extensively thereafter — just 24 of OU’s 65 plays were with multiple tight ends. But such power football set the tone for the game.
Remember when Alex Grinch’s defense seemed incapable of producing a takeaway, even when delivered via silver platter? That was a long time ago. Tre Norwood intercepted Kyle Trask’s second pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. Brian Asamoah intercepted Trask’s sixth pass, which was behind Justin Shorter and deflected off his hands. Then Woodi Washington intercepted Trask’s 11th pass, a wobbly lob speared in the end zone. Three interceptions in less than 11 minutes off a Heisman Trophy finalist who entered the game having thrown five interceptions in 11 games. Riley credited disguised coverages that befuddled Trask.
Offensive line: A.
OU ran for 435 yards. Its running backs averaged 12.9 yards per carry. Rhamondre Stevenson and Marcus Major consistently broke tackles. Seth McGowan ripped off a 73-yard run on his only carry (and also had a 47-yard gain off a swing pass, among his three receptions). But the key was the blockers. Riley said the OU offensive line played its best game of the season. And while Spencer Rattler at times was rushed on pass plays, he generally had enough time to throw.
Cotton Bowl tradition: B.
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The Cotton Bowl prides itself on its tradition — and it should. This was the 85th Cotton Bowl Classic, and all have been played either at JerryWorld or the venerable Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. The pandemic has sliced many of college football’s grandest rituals, including bowl festivities, but the Cotton Bowl tried its best. In pregame and at halftime, the giant video board showed performances from the Kilgore Rangerettes, the junior-college dance troupe which had performed at every Cotton Bowl since 1950. The Cotton Bowl also showed a video highlighting some of the great players who have competed in the Cotton Bowl, including OU’s Roy Williams and Oklahoma A&M’s Bob Fenimore, plus the likes of Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian.
Ball control: C.
With 2:50 left in the second quarter, Florida had run 50 plays and OU had run 22. That’s dangerous territory, even with a lead. The OU defense, when not intercepting a Trask pass, was struggling to get off the field. Sooners Rattler and Stevenson lost fumbles. The game seemed in peril. But OU finished the half with a nine-play touchdown drive and then played more equitable football in the second half, running 34 plays to the Gators’ 33, even though the Sooners produced four plays of at least 46 yards, which condenses drives.
Clutch defense: A.
When Trask wasn’t throwing interceptions, the Gators moved the ball in the first half, even when using backup quarterback Emory Jones extensively. At halftime, Florida had 313 total yards and 18 first downs. And the Gators’ final totals of 521 yards and 28 first downs were impressive. But hollow. With the game in the balance, the OU defense dominated. Florida’s two first-half field goals came after fumbles recovered at the OU 36- and 29-yard lines. And after the Gators drew within 17-13, their next six drives ended with missed 58-yard field goal, punt, punt, punt, fourth-down stop and punt. Florida’s final touchdown drive of 89 yards came after OU took a 55-13 lead.
Deep passing game: C.
Rattler threw a gorgeous 27-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Mims Jr. on a fade route that capped the opening drive. But there were no more deep connections for the Sooners. Don’t blame Rattler. On the final play of the first quarter, Rattler lofted a deep ball perfectly into Charleston Rambo’s hands. It dropped to the ground, though in fairness, Florida cornerback Jaydon Hill pinned Rambo’s arm, making a catch difficult. On the next play, Rattler went deep again. Theo Wease failed to hang on to what would have been a 57-yard touchdown play. And late in the second quarter, Rambo slipped after getting past the Florida defensive backs, and Rattler’s well-thrown pass fell incomplete, when a 37-yard touchdown pass seemed imminent.