NORMAN, Okla. – Somewhere in between winning the biggest game of the season and getting ready for the next biggest game of the season, the Oklahoma football team lost.
Beating Texas Tech, 38-30 with a comeback filled with excitement and drama was spoiled when the Sooners were gut-punched with the news All-Big 12 fullback Trey Millard is done for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.
Just like that, and once again, Oklahoma is down another captain.
Earlier this season it was linebacker and senior Corey Nelson. Now, it’s Millard, another senior, so the good news of ending Texas Tech’s unbeaten run and surging into Waco, Texas, to take on Baylor, is nice, but not great. Good to get a win. Uh, oh, what’s next?
“I love our team and they way they work,” said coach Bob Stoops Saturday night after the win over Tech. “Obviously, I got to mention the key pieces that we don’t have now. Are we in great shape? No.”
Millard went down blocking on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter.
And now instead of talking about how far the Sooners might jump, what waves they can make in the BCS and what could or might happen at Baylor on Nov. 7, the only thing that seems pertinent is how Oklahoma will react to losing Millard.
“The whole team is just crushed by it,” Stoops said. “He’s such a strong part of our football team. It will be tough to overcome that loss.”
Overcoming Texas Tech was tough enough. Despite leading 21-7 in the third quarter, the Sooners had to rally when Tech used a combination of trick plays and momentum to take a 24-21 lead. But OU did that, played their best game – it’s most-satisfying game – of the season. Running the ball, running a trick play of their own and running its record to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12.
The defense, already down Nelson as well as starting defensive tackle Jordan Phillips for the season, seems to have found its way. They gave up 460 yards to Tech, but forced a pair of interceptions, turned over the Red Raiders on downs twice and forced a fumble.
And the offense, which has struggled through the first portion of the Big 12 schedule and without a complete game since beating Notre Dame a month ago, found it’s direction, too.
Damien Williams ran for 97 yards. Jalen Saunders had six catches, 153 yards and two scores. Sterling Shepard had five catches. Blake Bell didn’t turn the ball over and completed 14-of-22 passes. The Sooners converted 7-of-14 third downs and drove the ball down the field when they needed to most, holding the Ball for more than 18 minutes of the second half. You know, the kind of game that gives a team, needing a pick-me-up victory after a crusher of a loss to Texas, confidence.
Doesn’t seem like this team is No. 17 in the country and will be closing in on the top 10 of the BCS standings when it’s released Sunday evening. Not with Millard out.
“He is the best player on our football team,” center Gabe Ikard said. “He’s the most-versatile person on our football team. My heart is just broken for him. He’s the heart and should of this team We’re going to miss him a lot and we’re going to have to make some serious adjustments.”
Millard has never been a high-volume performer, but he was a high-impact player. A crushing blocker and a threat out of the backfield. Did the Sooners use him enough? Maybe not, but the idea he was back there and could make a catch out of the backfield or get the hard yardage was a security not many teams had.
“All our guys can play, so we have to get those guys ready,” Ikard said. “We have a great challenge with Baylor ahead. We’ve got to adjust.”
Millard wasn’t available for comment after the game, but the university thought his injury was important enough to issue a statement saying Millard was out for the season.
Stoops started his press conference talking about it.
Now I wonder how much it will come up next week in Waco.