So much has changed since Dillon Gabriel threw a pass into BYU’s secondary in the fourth quarter of the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl in Florida. For one, that was a Cougars team with seven future NFL players on the field, including Zach Wilson, Tyler Allgeier and Blake Freeland. Second, Gabriel wasn’t surrounded at UCF by the bevy of talent he currently enjoys at Oklahoma, ranked No. 14 in the latest AP poll.
Cougars on the air
No. 14 Oklahoma (5-2, 8-2)
at BYU (2-5, 5-5)
Saturday, 10 a.m. MST
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
This time around, as the senior transfer makes his 48th consecutive start and takes a second aim at BYU on Saturday (10 a.m. MST, ESPN), the numbers are significantly different.
Gabriel leads the Big 12 in total offense (340.6), passing offense (306.9), passing touchdowns (25) and completion percentage (.705). His top target is sixth-year senior Drake Stoops, who leads the Big 12 with 62 receptions and nine touchdowns. Gabriel’s second favorite receiver is redshirt freshman Nic Anderson, who leads the nation averaging 25.7 yards per catch and has eight touchdowns.
As a team, Oklahoma averages 41.8 points on offense and allows just 19.8 on defense.
The Sooners are a well-oiled machine. Not only is the program the winningest (698) in college football since World War II, but it also owns 14 Big 12 titles in 27 years. No other program, including Texas, has won more than three.
Oklahoma (8-2, 4-2) is in a four-way tie for second place in the conference with a date to the championship game still possible. BYU (5-5, 2-5) is in a five-way tie for ninth place and needing a victory to stay above water and become bowl eligible.
So here come the Cougars. BYU is on a one-sided, three-game losing streak with the starting quarterback for Saturday still undecided. The Cougars average a meager 21.9 points on offense and allow 28.7 on defense. BYU is ranked No. 124 in rushing, No. 123 in total offense, No. 104 in scoring offense, No. 128 in third-down offense and No. 112 in third-down defense.
If this was a only numbers game, the local health department would intervene before kickoff. But it’s not. It’s a battle to be played in front of BYU’s home crowd and on national television, and it’s a game where anything can happen.
Cougar Nation has scoreboard-watched in the Big 12 all season and there have been plenty of head shakers. For example, South Alabama won at Oklahoma State, 33-7. The Cowboys upset Oklahoma, 27-24, and then got thrashed last week by UCF, 45-3.
Kansas was hammered by Texas, 40-14. The Jayhawks beat Oklahoma, 38-33, and last week lost at home to Texas Tech, 16-13. TCU looked invincible beating BYU, 44-11, but the Horned Frogs haven’t won since (0-3). Houston upset West Virginia on a Hail Mary pass and stunned Baylor on a two-point conversion in overtime.
Why couldn’t some last dash magic happen for BYU? If there is any vulnerability on the Sooners side, it’s that Oklahoma is 2-2 in conference games away from Norman and except for last week, LaVell Edwards Stadium has proven to be a tough place to play.
Adding to the intrigue is the 10 a.m. start time. This is the earliest kickoff for BYU since hosting New Mexico in 2004. It’s also the earliest for Oklahoma since 2002.
To pull off the unthinkable, BYU will need to be so much better in the same categories where they are playing so poorly. They need to run a little, throw a little, convert third downs regularly, protect the football and score a lot more.
On defense, they need to hold their ground on third downs, stop the run, pressure the quarterback and force turnovers. Easily said, harder to do, except on those every-once-in-a-while, special Saturdays when Austin Collie’s “magic happens” shows up and the underdog prevails.
Big names like Miami, Penn State, Notre Dame and USC each learned the hard way that being favored in Provo doesn’t always mean you leave town with a win. Whether Oklahoma and its star quarterback join that illustrious hit list is up to the Cougars.
History is on BYU’s side. The Cougars are 2-0 against Oklahoma and 1-0 against Dillon Gabriel. Sometimes, with no explicable reason, history repeats itself. Saturday would be a great time for that.