NORMAN, Okla. — The act was a simple one. As he finished a run to the left side, Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard met Missouri safety Matt White at the sideline. Millard could have just stepped out of bounds for a simple eight-yard gain on first down, and that would have been it.
But that wasn’t it.
Instead, Millard put his shoulder down and sent White violently to the turf, leaving the safety looking more like a receiver getting pummeled over the middle rather than a defensive player trying to make a stop.
It was all the 85,547 in attendance needed to see to figure out who was the better team in every way at Owen Field on Saturday night.
Either that, or they could have looked at the final score: Oklahoma 38, Missouri 28.
Tiger fans will argue about focusing on bright spots — and there were a couple. Henry Josey had 133 rushing yards; the Sooners only outgained Missouri 592-532 in total yards; and if it weren’t for those two Grant Ressel missed field goals, it would have been a much different game.
But make no mistake, this game was never really close. Even when Missouri led 14-3, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the Oklahoma offense, which ran 87 plays in the game, found its rhythm.
The Tigers saw it for the first time late in the first quarter. Three Landry Jones completions in less than a minute came like the staccato beats of the snare drums in “The Pride of Oklahoma.” If you left to go to the bathroom, the Sooners were on the 50, and while you were away, they ran those three plays, scored a touchdown, kicked the extra point before you could even flush.
Deeper into the game, the undeniably quick-but-steady rhythm that the Sooners eventually found sucked the air out of the Missouri defense like an expensive Dyson, leaving defensive players either standing out-of-breath with their hands on their hips in between plays or frantically scrambling off the field for some temporary relief.
“Especially in the second quarter we got worn out,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “What happens is you get three or four plays, you get a big play in there, and you have a five play drive and you go 70 yards in two and a half minutes. It takes its toll.”
What the pace of the offense does is more than just wear a team out physically. That effect is obvious. It also allows momentum to swing so fast that a defense might forget they ever had it in the first place. All it takes is two successful plays back-to-back and the defense is instantly on the ropes, feeling like the Sooners have been driving for eight or nine plays instead of just two.
Until then, the Tigers had managed to interrupt the Sooners’ flow enough to stop it. They wouldn’t do it much after that.
It didn’t help that the Missouri offense struggled to stay on the field. It’s no secret that the more physical team makes the plays when it matters. The Tigers quite simply didn’t get it done on third down.
“We left them out there too long,” T.J. Moe said. “We had a lot of three and outs and a lot of times where we didn’t capitalize on our drives.”
Missouri tried what seemed like everything to keep its drives alive. Quarterback runs and handoffs came up short, while rhythm passes and long, downfield attempts fell harmlessly incomplete. They lined up in their standard spread, with five receivers and they lined up in the I-formation, something rarely, if ever, seen during the Pinkel era.
None of it mattered because none of it worked.
“It’s a good observation,” Pinkel said of the team’s third-down struggles.
In the end the Tigers were run over, just like White. Unlike last year’s game against Oklahoma, it was clear which team was ranked No. 1. And also unlike last year’s matchup against Oklahoma, that team will stay there.