WACO, Texas — As Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts are inextricably linked in Alabama history, there was an irresistible hypothetical: What if these former teammates were together for the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December, and then were matched in the College Football Playoff in January?
A Tua-vs.-Hurts reunion, in an Alabama-vs.-Oklahoma sequel, would have commanded maximum attention and a huge television audience.
OU’s loss at Kansas State and Alabama’s setback against LSU already had reduced a Tua-Hurts showdown to improbability, and now it’s impossible.
On Saturday, Tua sustained a season-ending hip injury at Mississippi State. That ended any chance of a clash of the current and former Bama starters.
Here in Waco, in a sold-out McLane Stadium and in one of the bigger games in Baylor football history, previously unbeaten Baylor rocked to a 31-10 halftime lead over OU.
As Hurts had lost two fumbles — the latter of which was bobbled at the Baylor 1-yard line — the Sooners’ playoff candidacy was on life support. Against an exceedingly confident Baylor team, the seemingly doomed Sooners were saved by their defense.
After 2½ games of performances that fluctuated from sub-par to sorry, the OU defense was heroic during the second half of a 34-31 Sooners victory.
During the fourth period, as OU outscored the Bears 17-0, there were examples of Sooner Magic. More than that, there was Sooner Grit and some big-time execution by Hurts. With 1:29 left, Gabe Brkic coolly booted a 31-yard game-winning field goal for the Sooners.
OU seems to have found a place-kicker. This redshirt freshman from Ohio now is 12-of-12 on field goals, but Brkic would not have been positioned for glory if not for the OU defense.
After halftime, in a dramatic, must-win road challenge, OU’s defense got two takeaways and pitched a shutout.
One play after having dropped what could have been — or, Alex Grinch will insist, should have been — an interception, Sooners linebacker Nik Bonitto sealed the outcome by picking off a Charlie Brewer pass with 29 seconds remaining.
Possibly on a collision course for a second meeting in the Big 12 Championship, the Sooners and Bears both are 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the Big 12.
Left on the Baylor regular-season schedule are next week’s home date with crumbling Texas and a Nov. 30 trip to Kansas. Baylor should beat Texas and will beat Kansas.
After hosting TCU next week, the Sooners bus to Stillwater for Bedlam.
It seems likely that Saturday’s OU-Baylor instant classic will be followed on Dec. 7 by OU-Baylor II in the Big 12 Championship.
During the build-up to another competition of the Sooners and Bears, the primary talking points would reflect on what happened Saturday: Baylor’s excellent first half and OU’s epic second-half response.
Before the score was 31-10, it was 28-3. For the second time this season, OU faced a 25-point road deficit. When it happened on Oct. 26 at Manhattan, the Sooners battled like crazy, but their comeback fell short in a 48-41 defeat at K-State.
This rally was more measured offensively because Oklahoma’s defense limited Baylor to a stunning 69 second-half yards (on only 16 offensive plays).
Without CeeDee Lamb, who participated fully in pregame drills but did not play, the Sooners got important production from the most celebrated collection of pass-catching recruits in program history.
Four-star freshman tight end Austin Stogner had two touchdown catches. With 13 minutes to play, as OU still trailed by two touchdowns and after Hurts barely converted on a fourth-down run, five-star freshman wide receiver Theo Wease executed a 10-star move after the catch and scored on a 19-yard pass play.
With eight minutes remaining, five-star freshman wide receiver Jadon Haselwood got involved with a 16-yard reception and run to the Baylor 19.
Five plays later, a Hurts-to-Braydon Willis TD pass completed OU’s scramble from the 28-3 deficit to a 31-31 tie.
This one had a weird vibe even before the kickoff. The pregame prayer was recited by a guy who ended with “Sic ’em, Jesus!” During the first few lines of the national anthem, a few dozen idiots chanted “OU sucks!”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt were involved in the pregame coin-toss ceremony. Abbott tossed the coin. OU won the toss and, ultimately, preserved its slight chance of getting back to the College Football Playoff.
More satisfying in the moment: The Sooners crushed the spirit of most of the fans who comprised the largest crowd in the six-season history of McLane Stadium.