ARLINGTON, Texas — Oklahoma had a chance to strike a blow for the Big 12 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
Here were the Sooners, co-champions of the league, going against turncoat Texas A&M, which had spurned the Big 12 and joined up with the SEC this season.
Instead, it was the Aggies who struck blow after blow in the second half of a 41-13 win.
Afterwards, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was asked if there’s a silver lining in the fact that A&M is no longer a conference foe. He won’t have to face the Aggies and freshman phenom quarterback Johnny Manziel for the next three seasons.
“It’s fair [to say that] the way today went,” Stoops said.
It certainly didn’t go this way last season when Oklahoma and Texas A&M met in Big 12 play for the last time. The Sooners rolled then, 41-25.
A change in conference affiliation, a new coach and a new, dazzling quarterback has made all the difference.
“It’s the same talent level, same guys we played last year,” Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones said. “But they played well tonight and we didn’t … I wish we were better tonight, but that’s the way it is.”
The SEC has been better than everybody lately. SEC teams have won the last six national titles.
The SEC has also dominated the AT&T Cotton Bowl lately. With A&M’s win Friday, SEC teams have beaten Big 12 teams in nine of the last 10 Cotton Bowls.
The one Big 12 win during that streak was Missouri’s 38-7 triumph over Arkansas in 2008. Of course, in 2012 Missouri joined the SEC along with A&M.
For a half, it looked like Oklahoma and A&M might be on equal ground. Sure, the Aggies and Manziel struck quickly with two touchdowns.
The Sooners answered with plodding scoring drives of 16, 18 and 13 plays. Oklahoma ran 51 plays in the first half and trailed by a point, 14-13.
Keeping the ball for so long kept the ball away from Manziel and the A&M offense. When Oklahoma opened the second half three straight three-and-outs, that was all she wrote.
“In the first half, we played together as a team, limited them, used the clock, scored. That’s how you have to play them,” Stoops said.
“In the second half it totally broke down offensively and defensively. The defense couldn’t get off the field.”
This was supposed to be an offense Oklahoma could handle. Stoops himself said in the days leading up to the game that Texas A&M had taken a “Big 12 offense” into the SEC.
The Aggies’ coach, Kevin Sumlin, is a former Stoops assistant at Oklahoma, further eroding any sense of mystery. The Sooners were veterans of Big 12-style shootouts and couldn’t be expected to fold once the fireworks start.
And yet, just like the big, bad defenses of the SEC, the Sooners seemed awestruck once Johnny Football started working his magic.
“Coach Sumlin and his staff totally outplayed us, outcoached us the whole second half,” Stoops said.
“We had guys plenty of times in position to make a play, and they couldn’t make a play. That’s just where we are. They totally outplayed us in every way.”
Is Manziel really that much of a difference-maker? Or has switching conferences given A&M a big dose of SEC swagger?
It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question. But there’s no question the rest of the Big 12 was hoping the Sooners could exact a little revenge against their former conference foes.
Of course, if A&M had dominated the Big 12 the way it looks like it will dominate the next three years with Manziel, just maybe the Aggies wouldn’t have left.
“We knew what kind of player he was,” OU strong safety Javon Harris said of Manziel. “Clearly, you saw what he did to the SEC all year. We knew exactly what we were getting into, but we wanted to keep him in the pocket and it didn’t happen tonight.”
Oklahoma knew what it was getting into and still couldn’t stop Manziel and the Aggies. Score yet another one for the SEC.