It has become recent Oklahoma tradition.
Lose a game early in the season, then rally.
“We have been as good as anybody in the country the last three years of responding to the very few losses we’ve had,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said minutes after losing 48-45 to Texas. “We’ve got a track record right there that you could put up against any team in the country, and that’s absolutely what we expect to do again.”
The Sooners (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) are still stabilizing after their Cotton Bowl setback, which led to defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ firing. These have been tumultuous days around the program.
But ahead of Saturday’s game at TCU (3-3, 1-2), most of the primary goals are intact. Eleventh-ranked OU hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from the Big 12 championship game.
The Sooners entered Week 8 in 2015 and 2017 with one loss, ranked 14th and 10th, respectively, in the Associated Press poll. In both seasons they made the College Football Playoff.
In 2015, quarterback Baker Mayfield engineered seven straight victories after a 24-17 loss to Texas. That included a 55-0 shutout at Kansas State the following week and road wins at No. 4 Baylor and No. 9 Oklahoma State.
In 2016, OU ultimately wasn’t in the mix for a national title. But Mayfield took responsibility for September losses to Houston and Ohio State, then helped begin a 14-game win streak that spanned two seasons.
In 2017, the Sooners revived themselves after a stunning October home loss to Iowa State. Wins over Oklahoma State and TCU (twice) were part of a stretch run that included a third straight Big 12 championship and spot in the national semifinal.
Two weeks ago, OU rallied from 21 points down against Texas before losing on a last-second field goal. Disappointed players took that as a building block moving forward.
“If anybody’s going to do it it’s going to be us,” said senior left guard Ben Powers, a team captain. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something there that’s special … I don’t know what it is with this team, but we’ve got something.”
OU’s situation is similar to years past, except for an obvious detail.
There are unanswered questions about the defense, which was exposed after two easy victories to start the year and now must transition under new coaches. Interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, who will continue making calls from the press box, is now in charge, with analyst Bob Diaco moving to an on-field position coaching outside linebackers.
Riley’s decision to remove Stoops was based on his opinion new leadership could create a spark, which could ignite the deep run the Sooners hope to make.
Powers noticed more energy from the defense in practice last week. Sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray said players have taken accountability for fixing things. OU’s defense is near the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring defense (27.3 ppg) and total defense (480.3 ypg).
“We’re taking it upon ourselves as players to bring that spark,” middle linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “I think the coaches are doing a great job right now as far as being organized and stuff like that, just bringing the spark when we need a spark. And I think Coach Diaco brings great energy to the group. I think Coach Ruff brings great energy.
“But I think right now it's on us [the players]. … These last couple games we haven't been playing to our potential, and I take that personally.”
Murray felt last week’s open date came at a good time. It was an opportunity to rejuvenate in several ways.
Powers didn’t totally agree.
“Bye weeks after a loss are terrible,” he said. “You’ve got to sit with that loss for two weeks. I can’t wait to get back out there.”