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Dec. 30—SAN ANTONIO — Maybe, come spring, they’ll tell us. The players themselves will have had time to think about it, process it and come up with an answer to the question.

Why did they find themselves now?

Of course, they may not want to. Or, perhaps, they’ll be told not to, because who needs the headlines and the headaches.

It’s hard to know.

Easy to know?

All season long, Lincoln Riley’s Sooners appeared unmotivated, uncertain, unclear, in a fog, lost.

Never was Oklahoma as good as it ought to have been. Never did the Sooners threaten to reach the place their coach, over and over and over again, told everybody they were so “close” to reaching.

However, Wednesday night in the Alamo City, inside the Alamodome, at the Alamo Bowl, playing for Bob Stoops, they were none of those things.

Stopping Oregon 47-32, the Sooners presented themselves ready, motivated, excited and really, really good.

Playing with joy and passion, they were everything they hadn’t been the length of the season, when they offered their best only once, after a quarterback who’s since transferred to South Carolina had to be replaced by a true freshman and after their Red River rivals had embarrassed them for most of a half, necessitating that quarterback change.

Wednesday’s only real blemish was a poorly played defensive third quarter in which Oregon turned a 30-3 deficit into a 44-25 deficit, gaining 237 yards, 155 through the air.

Even then, OU kept answering.

Essentially, the Ducks were never in the game and the Sooners only let down, and only on one side of the ball, after the game had all but been put away.

OU offered so much.

First play of the Sooners’ second series of the second quarter, Kennedy Brooks found some space and took it 40 yards down the right sideline and the thing about it was, he’d never run so fast since he got to campus and it was clear as day and you could see just it.

Third quarter, OU’s third snap from scrimmage, Eric Gray was handed the ball, found some open field and didn’t come down until he’d zigged and zagged for 44 yards and the thing about it was, he’d never been that electric since leaving Knoxville for Norman and, just as you couldn’t help but wonder when Brooks took off for his 44, what was it that made it all happen now?

The only thing that makes any sense is a guy who had to know he’d be leaving, though he may have tried to give it his best shot, failed to give it his best shot and it showed.

That and, given the chance, Stoops, the staff retained by Brent Venables and the staff members on their way out, but who came back for one more game, altogether, were better in their single effort than the staff Lincoln Riley led — many of them the same people — could ever be in the 12 games it called OU’s shots.

“It’s been the absolute best,” said Stoops of his month or so back in the saddle.

It wasn’t just how the players responded, but the positions they were put in.

Cale Gundy, the former Sooner quarterback, who’s been on every staff since Stoops’ arrival and will be again next season, called a better game than Riley ever managed this season by keeping it simple, committing to the ground game from the start and giving Williams easy throws that built confidence.

It meant Brooks ran for 130 before the half and when it was finally time to go deep, Williams threw it on a string and hit Marvin Mims in stride for a 55-yard score and OU was on top 23-3 with 4 minutes left in the first half, a lead it would add to when Brooks ran for 29 3:24 later.

You could see it coming.

You could see it coming from the moment Stoops got on the microphone in a press conference he shared with athletic director Joe Castiglione and university president Joe Harroz and told everybody things were going to be just fine.

You could see it coming when Venables was hired, perhaps not making Sooner Nation any less upset with Riley, but ultimately making it happy he left.

You could see it, sort of, in retrospect, when Stoops took to the microphone down on the field, after the victory, when he sounded even more emphatic than the December day 23 years ago he told everybody there’d be no excuses.

“We’re actually going to keep climbing,” he said. “I promise you.”

Saying it doesn’t make it so, but it packs a punch and a fire hadn’t been out front of the program since opening day this season, at least.

It’s back.

From Stoops, sure.

Also from the guy who’ll lead OU into next season and beyond.

It’s been quite a month and it was quite a night. After all of it, Sooner football has found itself in a very good place.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

[email protected]

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