Improbable 10-win year for "Big Game" Bob
December, 7, 2013
By Brandon Chatmon | ESPN.com
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma just found a way.
That explains the Sooners’ 33-24 Bedlam win over Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday.
Yet, it might more aptly sum up the Sooners’ season.
OU scored touchdowns on a fake field goal and punt return before Blake Bell, the third Sooners quarterback to enter the game, led OU down the field with less than two minutes left in regulation for a game-winning touchdown drive that destroyed the Cowboys' dreams and could catapult the Sooners into a BCS berth.
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma got two big scores from Jalen Saunders to upset Oklahoma State.
“‘Big Game’ Bob must be back,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops quipped of his brother and boss.
Bell, who came in to run the Sooners offense for the majority of the second half after Trevor Knight was injured in the first half and Kendal Thompson was ineffective, took his game to another level when he stepped on the chilly turf with 1 minute, 46 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and his team trailing 24-20. The junior completed 4 of 7 passes on the final drive before connecting with receiver Jalen Saunders for a 7-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left. And he did it after having very limited practice repetitions heading into Saturday because Oklahoma planned to use a lot of the quarterback run game, the system within which Knight and Thompson are supposed to excel.
“I’m still in shock of the whole deal,” said Bell, who finished 10-of-16 for 140 yards and one touchdown. “That was everyone being out there, doing their job and marching down the field and getting the game-winning drive.”
It was a measure of redemption for Bell, who had been up and down this season but played like an elite quarterback with his team’s back against the wall. His response to being the third signal-caller to take a snap during the game was the perfect portrayal of how the entire Sooners squad has responded to adversity throughout the season.
For this Oklahoma outfit to finish 10-2 makes it easily one of the best coaching jobs of Bob Stoops' career. Scheme changes and the lack of a reliable quarterback hindered the offense. And a seemingly endless string of injuries saw the defense’s starting lineup crippled.
Yet OU kept winning.
“We had some adversity but the guys kept going,” Bob Stoops said. “Nobody flinched, nobody said anything about it and everybody just kept working.”
During the course of the season, OU lost three of its top players -- fullback Trey Millard, linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips -- for the season and dealt with various injuries that forced other starters to miss games during conference play.
None of that adversity, however, kept Sooners from loading their buses and heading back to Norman with a victory over a Cowboys team that had played the best football in the Big 12 since November.
“It shows a lot of toughness on the players' part to continue to battle back,” said Bob Stoops, who likened this season to the Sooners’ injury-riddled 2009 campaign.
The difference? OU finished 8-5 in 2009, which is the last time it didn’t win 10 games in a season. This year’s group won 10 games in the regular season and could secure its first 11-win season since 2010 with a bowl victory.
“Another disappointing 10-win season at Oklahoma,” center Gabe Ikard said. “Some people didn’t think we were going to be very good, it’s a rebounding year, you heard a lot of that before the season. So to win 10 games this season, I’m really proud of the coaches and players on this team to get us to this point.”
It was an improbable season capped off by an improbable win led by an improbable hero in Bell. The only consistent thing was the Sooners’ ability to find a way to get it done, no matter what obstacles dropped into their path.
“With our inexperience, our youth, our changing of quarterbacks, we played three quarterbacks today,” Mike Stoops said. “We’re still consistently good, all the way through. When you look at the totality of what we had to go through, we’re moving in a very positive direction.”
And still among the best the Big 12 has to offer.