If we were being true to recapturing the story of OU’s 56-14 win over Tulane, we would probably wait until Thursday to write this story.
Take a few days to recover before we really put in the real work.
That’s what happened to Lincoln Riley, Baker Mayfield and the OU football team following their season-defining win over Ohio State in Columbus over a week ago.
You could feel it coming during Monday’s first media availability. From the head coach to the players, to the media who made the trip, last week was a struggle.
Emotions ran high that Saturday night.
Bodies ran exhausted in the days following that celebration.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been to plenty of bowl games where OU players didn’t celebrate as much as they did that night in Columbus.
This Saturday night, the Sooners were still trying to recover from the emotions of Columbus.
“There was definitely a feel like that because not every game is going to be Saturday night 7 o'clock with the whole country watching - playing the number two team in the country,” said Baker Mayfield in the aftermath of this team’s 3-0 start. “There obviously was a different feel last week than there was tonight.”
From the moment pregame warmups started, you knew the Tulane game was about surviving and advancing.
OU went into this game without two starters in Cody Ford and Will Johnson. Even Johnson’s backup at free safety, Robert Barnes was in street clothes.
Cody Ford’s backup, Ben Powers basically played on one leg. OU’s starting left guard was playing with about two rolls of tape holding his right ankle together.
OU’s defense came out sluggish against a Tulane defense that repeatedly gashed them with a spread option run game.
On Tulane’s first possession, the Sooners gave up a 34-yard run to running back Dontrell Hilliard. They gave up an 18-yard run two plays later to another running back, Sherman Badie. Tulane went 65 yards in 8 plays to take a 7-0 lead.
It was an ugly start that mated itself to an ugly week of preparation.
“It was just a little slow, a little more lackadaisical than we’re used to,” said leading tackler Ogbonnia Okoronkwo of this past week. “We said during camp and we stressed starting fast. That sort of went away this week. We’re going to stress that when we get back.”
The first half wasn’t pretty, yet the Sooners went into the halftime locker room leading 28-14.
That was where the defense was reunited with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
Everyone knows Stoops’ fire. The TV cameras love to show it to you every game. Those who saw Stoops heading into the locker room said he was at DEFCON 1.
Nuclear meltdown Mike Stoops.
“At halftime, coach Mike really got us riled up. We decided to come out with energy and change the game,” recalled Okoronkwo.
Stoops’ message was a direct hit. After giving up 224 yards of total offense in the first half, the defense started flying to the football.
Tulane only gained 8 yards on offense during the 3rd quarter.
It was a sign this OU defense is pretty good, but also a sign this team had an Ohio sized hangover.
“You have to handle prosperity well too and people tell you how great you are for a week straight and then, again, you have to block out the noise,” said Stoops. “It’s a week-to-week season and you have to be smart enough to realize that. You still have to go out and execute.
“We didn’t have the focus early on, but we gained it as the game goes on.”
In the second half, you saw the talent of OU’s defense on display. Neville Gallimore was a beast up front. Okoronkwo was all over the field, finally terrorizing Tulane’s quarterback. Kenneth Murray was flying sideline-to-sideline all of a sudden.
Eventually there was nowhere left for Tulane’s offense to run.
The score started getting out of control as soon as the defense started locking down the opposing offense.
35-14, 42-14, 49-14.
Eventually Mayfield gave way to Kyler Murray at quarterback, the defense replaced the starters with freshman like Addison Gumbs and Tre Brown.
The game was over. The final score painted a picture of a beat down.
Riley didn’t even try to sugarcoat the slow start. He was just happy to have survived his first true hangover game as OU's newest head coach.
“I thought our response defensively was awesome. It kind of spurred our team on,” said Riley. “After those first two touchdown drives we didn’t give up another point the rest of the game. We also scored on on Parnell Motley’s interception return.
“Very excited about the kind of poise our guys kept. We know we’ve gotta play better early, but when you can respond like that, when things don’t go your way you’ve got a chance. So proud of those guys.”