No. 7 Oklahoma may have already locked up its spot in the Big 12 Championship Game, but the end-of-year rivalry game with No. 21 Oklahoma State still had College Football Playoff implications. The Sooners made sure to deliver one more statement ahead of their rematch against No. 9 Baylor with a 34-16 win over the Cowboys.
The usual suspects got their numbers. Quarterback Jalen Hurts tallied 228 yards of total offense and had three touchdowns -- one rushing, one passing and even one receiving. But then Oklahoma's other rushing playmaker got involved, too. Running back Kennedy Brooks hit 160 yards -- a season high for him. On a night when leading wideout CeeDee Lamb was mostly held in check (four receptions for 36 yards) the Sooners' ground game got it done. A new-look offensive line has had its ups and downs this year, but it was a total road grating unit on Saturday. Oklahoma averaged 6.5 yards per rush.
However, it's the defense that continues to anchor this team in a surprising way. Outside of giving up a touchdown on its first possession, the Sooners played generally very well on that side of the ball. Once Oklahoma State got away from a scripted drive, it didn't have much success. Oklahoma goes to Arlington in a week to play Baylor for the second time in a month. If the Sooners win that game, they'll be firmly in the conversation for a playoff spot.
Here's what we learned from Saturday's game in Stillwater.
Oklahoma's defense has quietly been very good. That's been a theme for most of the season, but it's really come up huge over the last month when the offense put it in tough spots by turning the ball over. It hasn't been perfect, mind you. The Kansas State loss was a reminder of last season's frustrations. But against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma allowed just 5.5 yards per play. It kept running back Chuba Hubbard in check -- or, as much as it could -- with one first-quarter touchdown and nothing after. It forced two turnovers -- more on that below -- and made two key red-zone stops that forced the Cowboys to kick field goals instead of score touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has done a nice job in Year 1. Last season, Oklahoma won 12 games in spite of its defense. This year, it's won 11 (and could win more) largely because of it. So don't let the narrative fool you. Oklahoma can win with defense.
This was a redemption game for Parnell Motley. Speaking of defense, Sooners cornerback Parnell Motley can feel great about his effort on Saturday. The senior had an interception and really could have had two more. He was everywhere with two forced fumbles and six tackles. Keep in mind that Motley was benched in this very game two years ago for giving up big play after big play. Good for Motley for sticking it out through hard times and coming away with a big game.
Oklahoma State was limited offensively. Some of this has to do with injuries. When you lose starting quarterback Spencer Sanders and leading wideout Tylan Wallace for the year, it's going to limit what you can do. Hubbard is brilliant, but there's a ceiling on just how much he can affect the game. Overall, coach Mike Gundy had a decent gameplan to start. He got quarterback Dru Brown involved in a couple of designed runs that resulted in first downs. The Pokes didn't need Brown to rush for 100 yards, but they did need a few key plays. However, Oklahoma State saw plenty of drives stall in plus territory. In particular, Gundy's play-calling in and near the red zone was suspect. Between unsuccessful runs with Hubbard on third downs and some behind the line of scrimmage passes by Brown, there wasn't the aggression that you'd expect from Gundy. Again, injuries play a role in this, but when the field got shorter, the Cowboys didn't have the punch.
Oklahoma will have its hands full again with Baylor. The Sooners keep winning, but the rematch with Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game is going to be tough. It's hard to beat the same quality team two times in a row, and Oklahoma is fortunate it came out of Waco with a win earlier this month. The Bears were dominant in the first half of that 34-31 loss and handled Texas and Kansas with absolute ease in the two weeks following that game. Baylor is tough, physical and the type of matchup that can give Oklahoma problems. With a playoff spot on the line, don't be surprised if Baylor throws a wrench into the plans for Oklahoma.