DALLAS -- Chants for Oklahoma freshman quarterback Caleb Williams began during the sub-par performance against Nebraska, a 23-16 win, just three games into a season with national championship dreams in Norman. The No. 7 overall recruit and No. 1 quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class came to campus as one of the most hyped quarterbacks in history.
Against No. 21 Texas on Saturday, though, Williams did more than live up to the nearly unreachable hype of being a five-star quarterback. He instantly cemented himself as a Red River Showdown legend.
Down 35-17 in the second quarter, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley decided to roll the die. Starter and preseason Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler turned the ball over twice with both leading to touchdowns just plays later. It was a nightmare start for Oklahoma, the kind of deficit the Sooners had never overcome against the Longhorns.
"I was just going to kind of feel it out as we went and I just wanted to go with my feel on it," Riley said. "I had confidence in both of my guys or I wouldn't have put Caleb in the game for long stretches and I wouldn't have put Spencer in on the most important play of the game."
The first drive was solid, a 10-play march ending in a field goal. But after punting on the first drive of the second half, Williams' confidence rose. First another field goal. Then a beautiful 14-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Mims through traffic. Then a field goal. Slowly but steadily, the lead fell away.
Texas tied up the game at 48-48 late behind a historic performance from freshman receiver Xavier Worthy, but Williams never faltered. He completed passes to Jadon Haselwood, Marvin Mims and Austin Stogner for 30 yards before running back Kennedy Brooks broke away for a game-winning 33-yard touchdown to pull off the second-biggest comeback in Oklahoma history.
"[Williams] just came in and did his job," fullback Jeremiah Hall said. "Look at everything from Caleb's perspective: It's the Cotton Bowl. It's a big game. But just do what you do in practice and everything else will be okay."
Oklahoma's players were hesitant to take away from Rattler, a projected No. 1 NFL draft pick, entering the year, and for good reason. Rattler has become a lightning rod for criticism, both locally and nationally. But after posting the three worst scoring outputs of the Riley era in its first five games, Oklahoma caught a glimpse of the future in the second half.
Williams' poise under pressure allowed him to complete 63% of his passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns -- both of those scoring strikes coming under pressure. His comfort running the ball directly led to a 66-yard touchdown on what was supposed to be a short-yard package, but also opened the game for Brooks to thrive.
Brooks carried the ball 15 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns with Williams in the game. Next to Rattler, Brooks posted 10 carries for 47 yards. Williams completed four passes to Mims for 124 yards and two scores. Rattler's only connection with Mims was a 12-yarder.
Riley said that he held back parts of the offense with the freshman Williams in the game, but only about 5%, nowhere near enough to impact the game plan.
"Caleb came in and did a great job," Brooks said. "He just went in and did his job. He kept it simple and that's what I told him to do is just keep it simple...it took pressure off me and made my life easier."
Williams' performance could not have come at a more perfect time for Oklahoma. The Sooners are one of just two Big 12 teams to make it through Week 6 unscathed. With No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State playing, at least one of the teams in front of Oklahoma in the rankings will fall. With the Sooners' win, Oklahoma is now given at least a 65% chance by ESPN's FPI in every game remaining.
"I feel like we've been in these situations so many times," linebacker Nik Bonitto said. "Thank god we've been through this adversity because it played out today."
Riley isn't ready to name a starting quarterback for Oklahoma's matchup next week against TCU, but that in itself is a statement. Thanks to Williams' heroics, the College Football Playoff remains well within reach.
In a season filled with chaos, Williams' poise under pressure could be the final piece for Oklahoma to finally live up to its lofty preseason hype.