NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma’s depleted defense stepped up, and now the Sooners are in prime position to make a run at a spot in the College Football Playoff.
There were questions heading into Saturday night’s showdown with TCU for the Big 12 lead. Safety Kahlil Haughton and cornerback Jordan Thomas were out with injuries, and safety Will Johnson missed the first half because of a targeting call in the second half of the previous game against Oklahoma State.
In stepped three first-time freshman starters — cornerbacks Tre Norwood and Tre Brown and safety Robert Barnes. They helped the fifth-ranked Sooners beat the eighth-ranked Horned Frogs 38-20 .
“I don’t know if it’s ever been done here at Oklahoma, but that’s the position we were in,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “We felt it was the best thing for our team, and we went and did it.”
Barnes had four tackles, Brown had three tackles and a pass breakup, and Norwood had two pass breakups.
“Proud of those guys,” Stoops said. “It’s a tough position to be in, but they competed well.”
The Sooners took sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and have a one-game lead with two regular-season games remaining, against Kansas and West Virginia. They rose to No. 3 in the latest AP Top 25. With Notre Dame and Georgia losing Saturday, Oklahoma also is expected to jump from its No. 5 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings.
“Our hunger to get better can’t go away if we want to be the team that we want,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’ve given ourselves a great opportunity here, but we’ve got to be ready to seize it. Nobody’s going to give it to us, and we’ve got to be ready to go take it each week.”
Oklahoma’s offense has been explosive all season, but the defense has had rough moments. Against the Horned Frogs, the defense led the way and allowed the offense to slow things down and manage the clock in the second half.
“Really great win against a really, really great football team,” Riley said. “I thought our most complete performance of the year as a team.”
The Sooners slowed TCU quarterback Kenny Hill. He passed for 270 yards but completed only 13 of 28 passes. The Sooners were satisfied with limiting him to 40 yards on eight carries.
“We didn’t want him to get comfortable and tried to keep him off balance,” Stoops said.
As he has so many times before in his Oklahoma career, Stoops bounced back. The Sooners had been criticized for giving up 52 points in a thrilling victory at Oklahoma State the week before. TCU gained 424 yards, but the Sooners held them to six points in the second half after taking a 38-14 halftime lead.
“Overall, we seemed to have better control of the game,” Stoops said. “We even gave up a couple big plays in the first quarter. After that, I thought we made them at least work, and we had some opportunities to make some plays.”