PROVO, Utah (AP) — Opportunistic defense rescued Oklahoma from suffering another road setback.
The Sooners forced three turnovers and scored 21 points off those takeaways and edged BYU 31-24 on Saturday, despite playing the second half without quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
Gabriel threw for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he suffered what Oklahoma coach Brent Venables called an upper body injury just before halftime. Gavin Sawchuk led No. 14 Oklahoma with 107 yards rushing, including the go-ahead 16-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2 Big 12, No. 14 in CFP) already had road losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State this season. Avoiding another improved the Sooners' chances of reaching the Big 12 Championship Game. Oklahoma entered the day in a four-way tie for second place in the league, one game behind Texas.
“(The defense) stepped up really when we needed them,” Sawchuk said. “They did their job. Same with the offense. We did our job when the team needed us to. Everybody was stepping up when we needed it.”
Aidan Robbins ran for a season-high 182 yards to lead BYU. Jake Retzlaff threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had a pair of fumbles and an interception for the Cougars (5-6, 2-6 Big 12).
BYU was just the second opponent to outgain Oklahoma on the ground this season but could not overcome its own mistakes.
“Turnovers cost us,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “You cannot be careless with the football, whether its fumbles or interceptions, and expect to beat teams.”
Gabriel was nearly flawless while guiding the Oklahoma offense during the first half. He hit Jayden Gibson on a 55-yard strike to set up his first touchdown – a 3-yard toss to Nic Anderson.
Gabriel later connected with Gibson on a 27-yard dart along the back of the end zone for his second touchdown that gave Oklahoma a 14-7 lead. That score pushed Gabriel past former BYU QB Ty Detmer for ninth place on the NCAA career touchdown passes list (122).
Retzlaff made his share of big plays before halftime. His 23-yard touchdown pass to Chase Roberts on 4th-and-1 put BYU on the board in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Retzlaff had third-down throws of 29 yards to Kody Epps and 22 yards to Roberts to set up a 1-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Rex that tied it at 14-14.
BYU could have taken the lead in the third quarter after marching down to the Oklahoma 2-yard line on the strength of three long runs — two by Robbins and one by Retzlaff. But Oklahoma’s Billy Bowman swung momentum when he picked off a short pass from Retzlaff at the goal line and raced 100 yards untouched for a score that put the Sooners back in front 24-17.
“He was in a great position. Exactly where he was supposed to be,” Venables said. “Fantastic play. Showed his speed.”
Retzlaff converted another 4th down with a 26-yard pass to Epps and stretched over the goal line on a 10-yard keeper to cap the drive and tie it at 24-24 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Cougars were unable to take the lead though after Retzlaff fumbled at the BYU 25 following a third-down sack. Oklahoma’s Jacob Lacey pounced on the ball to set up Sawchuk’s clincher three plays later.
“Offensively, we saw some really good things, but the turnovers were such a downer,” Sitake said. “That’s the thing I’m going to keep going back on. I don’t care if quarterbacks or players think that we overemphasize. Take care of the stinking football, don’t put it on the ground, and don’t be careless with throwing the ball as well.”
Oklahoma: Losing Gabriel put the Sooners’ offense in a tough spot after halftime. Oklahoma’s defense stepped up by forcing three turnovers that led to three touchdowns.
BYU: The Cougars’ previously anemic offense finally proved capable of sustaining drives thanks to a robust running game. BYU finished with a season-high 390 total yards – with 217 coming on the ground.
Danny Stutsman didn’t let a flu bug slow him down on Saturday.
Stutsman was sick enough before the game that Venables said he wasn’t sure the Oklahoma linebacker would be able to play. Not only did the junior play, but he ended up leading the Sooners with 10 tackles. Stutsman also recorded two tackles-for-loss, a 12-yard sack and forced the fourth quarter fumble that led to Oklahoma’s game-winning touchdown.
“I was on an IV right until kickoff,” Stutsman said. “Haven’t eaten in two days, kind of hungry. But once it’s game time, I’m not going to let an external factor affect the team. ... Gotta do whatever it takes to get on that field.”
Jackson Arnold guided Oklahoma’s offense during the second half after Gabriel was unable to return. The freshman threw for 33 yards on 5-of-9 passing and ran for 24 yards.
Arnold appeared in just four games before Saturday and the Sooners had designs on a potential redshirt year until Gabriel’s injury. Venables praised the young quarterback for preparing for his moment and not simply resigning himself to being shelved until 2024.
“That’s not how he operates,” Venables said. “He’s a winner. He’s got tremendous courage and a belief in himself and a belief in the guys around him and a trust in the system.”
Venables said there’s a chance Gabriel could return to play against TCU on Friday but his status is still undetermined.
Oklahoma won’t move the needle much in the rankings after struggling with BYU for four quarters.
Oklahoma hosts TCU on Friday.
BYU visits Oklahoma State on Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll