By Clay Horning
NORMAN — Is this irony?
It went on to become a 35-20 Sooner victory over the Cyclones, but it was not looking that way as Iowa State kicked off 1:04 before the half.
Landry Jones had just thrown interceptions on back-to-back passes, each one leading to a Cyclone field goal.
They were not the Landry Jones’ specials that make the Sooner Nation cringe and some portion of it wish for Blake Bell to play every snap.
On one, he might have looked down his receiver too long and never saw Cyclone safety Durrell Givens coming. On the other, Givens was Johnny-on-the-spot after Jones’ pass was tipped. We’ve seen much worse.
Still, Bob Stoops, Jones’ primary defender for all of his quarterback’s record-setting and pull-your-hair-moments, given little time to try going down the field to score, chose not to.
Instead, he chose to hand the ball to Brennan Clay, which turned out to be a great idea in many other parts of the game, but was only a very safe idea in the circumstance.
Clay ran for five yards and the clock kept moving. So Jones handed the ball to Clay again and an odd thing happened. He picked up nine yards and ran out of bounds.
That put OU 61 yards from paydirt, well inside the half’s last minute. Only now, the threat of a third interception didn’t appear so daunting. If it came on a deep ball, it shouldn’t cost the Sooners any points.
Play-caller Josh Heupel dialed up a deep fade route and Justin Brown caught it for a 40-yard gain. Next, Jones threw a similar ball to Kenny Stills. It wasn’t a fade, but it was in the air long before Still turned to fight for it and, knowing it might be coming, Stills won that fight.
From 7-6 to 14-6.
It would become 35-13 before it was over, but OU’s defense struggled to play as well in the fourth quarter as it had up to that point, though Tony Jefferson had an interception in him and put it all away.
Imperfect, but big.
A 15-point road victory at a tough place to play is no small thing. Whatever remained possible for Oklahoma this season is still possible. And you can’t help but wonder if any of that would be the case had Clay not picked up nine yards and run out of bounds and Heupel, with Stoops’ approval, not dialed up a play designed to make something happen, rather than the couple of plays before that play, designed to make nothing happen.
Ed Cunningham, providing color for the ABC broadcast, said Stoops had seen enough interceptions.
Stoops, quoted after the game, said something about going fast if the offense picked up a first down. But that doesn’t make any sense. The Sooners had a minute to go score and spent most of it trying to run out the clock.
What’s left is what happened.
The quarterback had been intercepted twice and the head coach, typically the quarterback’s biggest fan, chose to rein it in, play it safe, not show the confidence in his quarterback his words had always described.
Then, finally given a chance, that quarterback made two great throws and two receivers made two great plays.
On television, you could see it so clearly. Stoops had this I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw smile on his face.
On something he’d never planned, even chosen not to pursue, his team picked up seven points and changed the game for good by going out and making a couple huge plays.
It was just a moment or two from the entire day. But Saturday afternoon at Jack Trice Stadium, it might have been everything.