NORMAN, Okla. — There it was. The ball, the momentum and maybe the game were there for the taking.
All Nino Williams II had to do was come down with the ball.
Instead, Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton snatched everything, leading the No. 1 Sooners to a 34-13 win against No. 24 Missouri on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
The Tigers fell to 5-2, 1-2 in the Big 12 Conference. Oklahoma is 7-0, 3-0.
With 7:05 to go in the first half, quarterback Jason White dropped back and looked deep to Clayton, who was streaking down the left sideline. It became a jump ball, Williams vs. Clayton.
Clayton grabbed it and came down as Williams wrapped his hands around the ball. With no indication from the referees, Williams and Clayton grappled for the ball before Clayton emerged with it, leaving Williams empty-handed. Oklahoma took a 17-10 lead and the rout was on.
Williams said he had more of the ball when he came down and probably should have made the interception.
“I feel like I had it,” Williams said. “We both came down and I had more of the ball, but it took the refs so long to call the call that by the time they did he had more of the ball. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
After the game, Clayton told a different story.
“The ball was in the air, and I just went up and made a play,” Clayton said. “I had it from in the air and he tried to get his arms under it to grab it out. I just held on tight.”
Try as Missouri might, it could not keep up with the Sooners’ high-powered offense. Oklahoma scored 14 points in 1:38 to take a 31-10 halftime lead.
Leading 17-10, the Sooners started their next possession from their 18 and drove 82 yards on six plays.
It resulted in a 30-yard touchdown strike from White to receiver Jejuan Rankins with 2:40 left in the half.
Sooners punt returner Antonio Perkins continued his stellar season 1:38 later when he took Todd Gohsler’s punt 69 yards for a touchdown. The return was Perkins’ fourth of the season, tying the season record for punt return touchdowns.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Perkins’ big play ability leaves him in awe.
“You have to talk about him,” Stoops said. “What a special young man. He just has an incredible ability and it showed again tonight. You just hold your breath every time he has it.”
Oklahoma dominated the Tigers in almost every facet, outgaining them 424 to 266. White, who has emerged as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, threw for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Clayton, White’s favorite target, caught eight passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
The three-play outburst might have made the difference in the game, but Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the Sooners’ talent was too much to overcome.
“They outplayed us,” Pinkel said. “I’m not gonna act like if we make three plays we beat them. They are good enough they can put up 28 points in 6 ½, 7 minutes.”
The Tigers did almost everything possible to hang around before Oklahoma’s outburst. Missouri tied it at 10 on quarterback Brad Smith’s 26-yard touchdown run. Smith started the drive with a deep strike to freshman receiver Brad Ekwerekwu for a gain of 40. Two plays later, Smith hit Marcus James for a first down on third-and 13.
Smith took the next snap, faked a handoff and darted down the right sideline. Mike Matheny’s extra point tied it with 9:40 left in the half.
Missouri missed an opportunity to take the lead when White looked for Rankins down the right sideline. The pass sailed to MU outside safety Terrance Curry, who had nothing but room in front of him.
Curry started running before he intercepted the pass and let it slip through his fingers. Instead of a possible 17-10 lead, Missouri took over at its 12 after Blake Ferguson’s 50-yard punt.
Oklahoma scored first on running back Renaldo Works’ 1-yard touchdown plunge. The Sooners made it look easy, driving 72 yards on 11 plays, spanning 4:50.
Missouri responded with a drive that was almost a mirror image of Oklahoma’s, except for the result. The Tigers went 73 yards in 5:55, setting up Matheny’s 26-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
MU had a chance to take the lead after Dedrick Harrington came up with a key stop on fourth-and-1 from the Tigers’ 37. Harrington dropped tailback Donta Hickson for a loss of 6, giving Missouri the ball and momentum.
The Tigers failed to convert, though, for Gohsler punted four plays later before DiCarlo added a 19-yard field goal to give Oklahoma a 10-3 lead.
The scoring slowed considerably in the second half. DiCarlo kicked a 30-yard field goal with 3:17 to go in the third for the lone score of the relatively uneventful third quarter.
Harrington gave Missouri its final glimmer of hope with an interception and 24-yard return to the Oklahoma 10 with 5:14 to play. The Tigers couldn’t reach the end zone, though, and settled for Matheny’s 25-yard field goal for the final margin.
Sonny Riccio replaced Smith with 5:14 to play. Smith finished with 230 total yards and a rushing touchdown.
MU’s defense found positives out of its second-half effort. The Tigers held Oklahoma to 116 yards, including 21 in the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Calvin Washington said he hopes Missouri can build confidence on the heels of its second-half performance against the nation’s top scoring offense.
“We played them hard,” Washington said. “The way we played in the second half is how we can really play when we get after it.”