DALLAS — In the evaluation of an OU football player’s career body of work, you ask two questions.
Was he good in big games?
Was he great against Texas?
As a wide receiver who excels as a target, as a blocker and as a punt-return specialist, CeeDee Lamb already was considered one of the more significant Sooners of the past 20 years.
On Saturday, he was at the maximum level of significance.
It’s undeniable: While the Sooners defense was heroic, sixth-ranked OU doesn’t beat 11th-ranked Texas 34-27 without Lamb’s 10-catch, 171-yard, three-touchdown performance.
“I’m certainly proud of how CeeDee played on a big stage,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “He’s a big-game player.”
In March, I expressed the opinion that while Jalen Hurts is Oklahoma’s most important player, Lamb is Oklahoma’s best player.
In March, it was a belief.
In October, it’s a fact.
No other player has gashed the Tom Herman-era Longhorns like Lamb, whose career numbers against Texas are phenomenal.
In four games against the Longhorns — the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Red River Showdowns and the 2018 Big 12 Championship game — Lamb has 25 receptions for 487 yards and five TDs.
Scouts representing 10 NFL teams were in the press box Saturday. At the end of this season, Lamb will be eligible for the draft.
You never know, he might stick around for a senior season in 2020, but I doubt it. The NFL scouts were among the 92,100 Cotton Bowl witnesses to Lamb’s brilliance.
In the minds of NFL decision-makers, Lamb was at a certain place on Saturday morning. Maybe a middle-of-the-second-round type of place.
By Saturday night, he was in a better place. There’s always a place in the first round for people who do special things while possessing the football.
Before the season, Riley indicated that Lamb still had room for improvement on getting yardage after the catch. On two of his Saturday touchdowns, Lamb was fantastic after the catch.
Instead of leading by three touchdowns at halftime — as should have been the case — Oklahoma’s advantage was a modest 10-3 because Hurts had lost a fumble at the Texas 7-yard line and threw an interception in the Texas end zone.
OU had a first-half advantage of nearly 200 yards of total offense, and yet the lead was a flimsy seven points. In the third period, Texas executed a 93-yard TD drive and drew even at 10-10.
At that time, Lamb recalled after the game, this was his thought: “Why not me? Why can’t I make the play? Why can’t I be the reason that we just turn it up a notch?”
As Lamb was the reason, OU regained control of the game.
Hurts found Lamb for a gain of 11 yards. While voluntarily falling to the turf, Lamb was rocked by Longhorns defensive end Malcolm Roach. Lamb wasn’t injured. Roach was ejected after being flagged for a targeting foul.
Two plays later, Hurts lofted a perfect trick-play pass to a wide-open Lamb. Texas’ Joseph Ossai had a spotlessly clean opportunity to make the tackle at the Longhorns 20. Ossai outweighs Lamb by 55 pounds, and yet Lamb wasn’t the least bit affected by the linebacker’s contact.
Lamb redirected his momentum toward the front-right corner of the end zone and scored his second touchdown of the game.
In the fourth period, Lamb caught a pass near the Sooners sideline. One Longhorn tried to drag him down at the 10. That didn’t work. Another Longhorn tried to knock Lamb down at the 7. That didn’t work, either.
Lamb danced into the end zone, completing a 27-yard play that gave the Sooners a 10-point cushion. He reacted like a pro — with minimal celebration and a casual jog back to his bench.
Through six games for the unbeaten Sooners, Lamb has 10 touchdowns on 28 catches. He is averaging 22 yards per reception.
Is Lamb as good a big-game performer as Riley has coached?
“We’ve still got some time together, so I’m not going to anoint him yet, (but) he’s a special player,” Riley said. “I’m certainly proud of how CeeDee played on a big stage.”
For the Sooners, be it in the Cotton Bowl or in an AT&T Stadium battle for the Big 12 trophy, Texas always is a big-stage adversary — and Lamb always brings his best against the Longhorns.
What he did on Saturday fortifies his status as one of Oklahoma’s all-time best in the Texas series.