September 17, 2011
Oklahoma 23, Florida State 13.
The general obsession coming into this game, in this space and elsewhere, was almost entirely over how Florida State's defense would hold up against the prolific pace and production of Oklahoma's offense, and for good reason. The Sooners brought back almost everyone from the attack that incinerated FSU's secondary in a 47-17 massacre last year in Norman, including quarterback Landry Jones and all four receivers he hooked up with there for touchdowns. If you had put together a checklist for beating the Sooners, the first four items would have been a) Contain the passing game, b) "Shorten the game" by winning time of possession, c) Force multiple turnovers, and d) Play them at home.
And the Seminoles hit every item on the list. They got OU in front of a record crowd in Tallahassee. They held them to 314 total yards on just 66 snaps, Oklahoma's worst effort on both counts since 2009. They forced four punts and a pair of field goals with their backs against the goal line. They fought hard, hung around and caught a big break in the fourth quarter, on a 3rd-and-28 prayer from backup quarterback Clint Trickett that somehow found its way to Rashad Greene for a 56-yard touchdown to tie the game with less than 11 minutes to play. And they still lost. By double digits.
After the game, Landry Jones mentioned in an interview the importance of proving the team could "win ugly" on the road, something it failed to do last year in losses at Missouri and Texas A&M, and he's right: The basic doubts about Oklahoma's credentials as a national championship frontrunner (as the national championship frontrunner, according to the current polls) all boil down to that basic question. Every offseason hangup revolved around the defense — Is it tough enough against the run? How much would it miss All-Big 12 linebacker Travis Lewis during his recovery from a foot injury? How would it cope with the stunning, tragic death of senior linebacker Austin Box? — and all of them were emphatically answered.
Lewis showed up to play, after all, at least two weeks ahead of schedule. FSU's top three running backs combined for three yards on the ground on 13 carries. Between them, Trickett and starting quarterback E.J. Manuel were sacked five times (including once by Frank Alexander, who was wearing Box's No. 12 jersey for the night) and served up three interceptions (including one by Box's replacement in the middle, sophomore Tom Wort). By itself, the fluky heave from Trickett to Greene accounted for the Seminoles' only touchdown and more than 20 percent of their total offense. Yes, the Sooners can win ugly when the offense is taking it on the chin.
Still, they never looked more like a team that deserves to have the '1' floating next to its name than immediately after Florida State tied the game, when the offense responded with an eight-play, 83-yard drive to reclaim the lead on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jones to sophomore Kenny Stills. Less than a minute later, the defense delivered its third interception of the night in FSU territory, setting up Jimmy Stevens' 31-yard field goal to put the game on ice with a little over two minutes remaining. The ten-point spurt came almost two full quarters after the Sooners' last points, and most of what happened in the meantime — six punts, two turnovers, multiple injuries — was legitimately ugly all the way around. With its back against the wall, though, in the most hostile environment it will face this season, Oklahoma was up to the occasion.