Over The Hill: Punt Return Sparks Cowboys' Bedlam Upset
NORMAN, Oklahoma - If we've learned anything over the years, it's that Bedlam football, regardless of the lack of hype or lack of stakes, always delivers.
Saturday, Oklahoma State was just fighting for a bowl berth. Oklahoma was just trying to finish an already disappointing season on a high note and deprive the Cowboys of a bowl trip.
Instead, a disappointing season got even worse for OU, while OSU will head to a bowl game after all, thanks to a stunning, 38-35 overtime victory in Norman.
The Sooners, No. 4 in the preseason polls, finish the regular season with four losses, three of those at home and all of them coming in games where Oklahoma was favored. Meanwhile, the Cowboys achieved at about the level they were expected to this season, but it didn't come quite the way anyone would have thought.
This year's edition of Bedlam served up an improbable ending, one that will be talked about for a long time by Oklahoma State fans and avoided by Oklahoma fans at all costs.
Zach Sanchez's interception with 3:16 remaining and Oklahoma clinging to a 35-28 lead seemed to be the icing on the cake for the Sooners. But with positive field position at the Oklahoma State 41-yard line, the Sooners promptly moved backward four yards in three plays.
The Sooners punted with a little over a minute left, leaving Oklahoma State with possession on their own 15-yard line. But the Cowboys ran into OU punter Jed Barnett and the Sooners accepted the five-yard penalty, opting to kick to the speedy Tyreek Hill once again.
As they say, hindsight is 20-20 and Bob Stoops would love to make that decision over again. Instead of burning off more time and pinning the Cowboys deeper in their own territory, Hill fielded the punt at his own 8-yard line, made two men miss and was gone, sending the OSU sideline into hysterics and leaving the sellout crowd in Norman holding their heads in disbelief.
In the overtime period, the Sooners lost two yards on its possession and Michael Hunnicutt pulled a 44-yard field goal wide left, opening the door for OSU to run the ball down inside the 5-yard line before Ben Grogan kicked the ball and the OU spirits through the uprights for the incredible win.
This game completely changed midway through the third quarter when OU running back Samaje Perine left the game with an injury. While fighting for extra yardage on a 3rd and 1, Perine suffered a sprained left ankle while getting tackled and fumbled, his first of the season and the first recovery for Oklahoma State.
Before the injury Perine was plowing through the Oklahoma State defense like he had through so many other defenses earlier this year. Perine finished with 26 carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Overall, the OU run game was very successful, as the Sooners piled up 304 yards against the Pokes' defense. The loss snapped a 39-game winning streak when the Sooners ran for at least 200 yards.
While OSU didn't capitalize until three possessions later, the loss of Perine had a massive impact on the Oklahoma offense. The Sooners were unable to generate much of anything on offense the rest of the game. After Perine's injury, Oklahoma ran 30 plays on offense for 95 yards. That includes a nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that pushed the OU lead back to 35-21 after OSU had cut the lead to seven a possession earlier.
A 14-point lead wasn't airtight, but it certainly looked to be enough, especially after OU forced a 3-and-out on the next Cowboys possession. But the Cowboys cut the lead to 35-28 on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph to Brandon Sheperd with 4:51 left. Sheperd beat Julian Wilson—who came in for Jordan Thomas because Sheperd was consistently beating him—and then shook off the tackle attempts from Wilson and Ahmad Thomas to coast into the end zone.
While the OU offense struggled, the OSU offense continued to look much-improved under freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph. Just like in his first start against Baylor, Rudolph was very composed and did a great job directing the Cowboys' attack. Rudolph finished the game 19-of-35 for 273 yards and two touchdowns.
While the future of the OSU quarterback position is exceptionally bright, the Sooners have serious questions with the uncertainty about Trevor Knight's health and Cody Thomas' ability. Thomas was decent on Saturday, going 10-of-17 for 120 yards and a touchdown pass, but all of his completions were easy passes and the Sooners were unable to generate any semblance of a downfield passing game.
Even crediting the touchdown pass to Thomas is extremely generous, given it was a swing pass at the goal line to fullback Aaron Ripkowski. The throw was wide, but Ripkowski made a great adjustment on the ball before bulling through six OSU defenders for the touchdown.
Ripkowski had a career day on his senior day, scoring twice on fullback plunges at the goal line in addition to his touchdown catch. Four touches and three touchdowns is a pretty good ratio for the Don Key Award winner.
But Ripkowski's status as Bedlam hero was snatched away as Hill dashed toward the end zone for the tying touchdown. And as Hill etched his name into Bedlam lore, the Cowboys generated the first positive feelings of their season at precisely the right moment.