Turnovers cost BYU an upset win against Oklahoma
BYU football lost on Senior Day to No. 14 Oklahoma in a start-to-finish battle, 31-24.
The two biggest storylines in Saturday’s game were BYU turnovers and OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s injury.
Late into the second quarter, the Sooners were driving and in the red zone. Gabriel took the ball on a QB keeper and appeared to whiplash his head on the ground. He finished out the drive, and never returned to the game.
True freshman Jackson Arnold was thrust into the game for the rest of the half and entrusted to take the Oklahoma offense down the field and break the tie. Arnold wasn’t too successful, passing for a modest 33 yards, but luckily for him, BYU gifted the Sooners points, amazing field position and ice cream for their fans after the first quarter.
In just his third Division I start, Jake Retzlaff impressed in a lot of ways. Where he did not impress was ball security. All three of BYU’s costly turnovers came at Retzlaff’s expense. Even worse, each giveaway resulted in seven points for Oklahoma. In a game decided by just seven points, it was completely devastating to the Cougars.
“The ball doesn’t belong to him,” said head coach Kalani Sitake, “It belongs to the program. It belongs to Cougar Nation.”
The first turnover came late in the first quarter after a big defensive stop for BYU. Tied 7-7, Parker Kingston returned a punt for 31 yards. With all the momentum on the Cougars’ side, and great field position, Retzlaff fumble the handoff and gave the ball right back to Oklahoma. The Sooners scored seven plays later.
In the second half, it was beginning to look all BYU. Gabriel was out and the Cougars had begun to figure things out in the run game. In the middle of the third BYU had marched 58 yards in three running plays. On the one-yard line, BYU ran an RPO and Retzlaff elected to throw it. Oklahoma’s Billy Bowman, Jr. jumped the pass and took it back 100 yards for the touchdown.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Cougar defense was stifling the true freshman quarterback. With the ball back in Retzlaff’s hands, BYU looked poised to take the lead. However the ball left Retzlaff’s hands once again when he was strip-sacked deep in his own territory. The Sooners scored three plays later.
In all, Oklahoma turned three BYU mistakes into 21 points. Counting the goal line pick that should have been a BYU touchdown, it was a 28-point swing for the Sooners.
A 20-plus point underdog simply cannot afford to lose the turnover margin by three and expect to win the game. Surprisingly though, BYU almost pulled it off.
“From before the game to the end of it, we thought we had a chance,” Sitake said.
It doesn’t help anything to play the “what if” game, but without just one of those costly giveaways, the Cougars had a great chance of ending Senior Night with a bang. Instead, they walk away with a 5-6 record, with one last chance to become bowl eligible.
To their credit, the Cougars very nearly overcame their mistakes and were in the game down to the final kneel down.
BYU punted the ball away late in the fourth with two timeouts and once last chance to get the ball back. Oklahoma’s run game proved to much however, and they ran out the clock to walk away with a win.
Despite a tough loss, there were a lot of highlights for this Cougar squad.
Aidan Robbins ended the game with 22 carries and 182 yards for an average of 8.3 yards per carry. It is both his, and BYU’s, best game on the ground this season.
The BYU defense was also much-improved, holding the best offense in the Big 12 below its season average in points, passing yards and rushing yards.
Cody Epps was also back healthy and finally looked like himself for the first time in perhaps years. His six catches for 90 yards led the team.
If nothing else, BYU competed for the first time in nearly a month. After being blown out three weeks in a row, it was refreshing to see excitement and passion against arguably the Cougars’ best opponent this season.
Their final chance to become bowl eligible will be next week in Stillwater, where they take on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will be fighting for a spot in the Big 12 championship game.
BYU will need to put up an even better performance, and avoid turnovers, if it wants to extend the season by one more game.
Chase covers BYU football and basketball for the Daily Universe. Follow him on X: @chase_rogers0