NORMAN, Okla. – Given a few extra moments to think about it, Bob Stoops made a pivotal decision about how best to stave off a surprising charge from Utah State.
Needing less than a yard to move the chains, he put the ball in DeMarco Murray's hands and went for it on a fourth down in his own territory.
Murray needed to dive and stretch the ball out in front of him as he headed toward the sideline, picking up the most crucial of his career-best 218 yards rushing and sending No. 7 Oklahoma to a 31-24 victory against the Aggies on Saturday night.
"I thought we could make a half a yard," Stoops said. "And I was almost wrong."
Two plays later, Murray went zooming down the left sideline for a 63-yard touchdown run — his second of the night — to extend the Sooners' lead to 28-17 midway through the third quarter. That was just enough to hold off Utah State and Diondre Borel, who shredded Oklahoma's inexperienced secondary for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
"No disrespect to Utah State, but they should have never been that close to us," said Murray, who also had a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. "We didn't help the defense out, going three-and-outs a couple times in a row, and offensively we should have put a lot more points out there.
"We're still young, we're still learning."
Oklahoma's Jamell Fleming secured the 800th win in the program's history by intercepting Borel's pass in the final 5 minutes, dragging his feet to stay inbounds near the sideline. The Sooners are only the seventh Division I school to reach that mark, joining a handful of powerhouses including Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame.
It certainly didn't come easy.
"As players, we thought we were at the top of the world, ranked seventh, all that," linebacker Travis Lewis said. "A Utah State team comes in here and they almost beat us. So, it's a great humbling experience as a team, as a defense and as players."
Utah State had lost 54-3 in Norman three years earlier and was paid $500,000 to come to Owen Field. The Aggies nearly got the biggest win in the history of the program to go along with that big payday. They have only one victory against a Top-25 team and they have never beaten a top-10 team.
"We came in and played our hearts out," said Aggies receiver Dontel Watkins, who had 91 yards receiving and a touchdown. "All summer long, coach told us, 'Don't put Oklahoma on a pedestal.'"
At least this one ended with a victory.
"Both sides of the ball, I thought we were inconsistent and I'm really not at all pleased with it in any way," Stoops said.
Oklahoma certainly can't feel comfortable with Christian Ponder and No. 20 Florida State coming to town next weekend. Ponder had four touchdown passes in a 59-6 rout of Samford, and he didn't even play in the second half.
The Sooners were still working hard after intermission.
After falling behind 21-0, the Aggies could have come back to tie it had receiver Eric Moats' touchdown pass on a fake field goal not been called back because of a penalty. Instead, they settled for Peter Caldwell's 40-yard field goal before Michael Smith's 4-yard TD run and Borel's 42-yard score to Watkins.
Murray, no longer sharing carries as he did in his first three seasons, rushed a career-high 35 times and was still out chewing up the clock after Fleming's pick with 4:12 to play.
"For the game to end the way it did, I'm kind of shocked, to be honest," Murray said.
Landry Jones, thrust into a relief role when Bradford was hurt in last year's opener, was regularly off-target and finished with 217 yards on 17-for-36 passing with two interceptions and two first-half touchdown passes to Ryan Broyles.
Jones said he rushed himself and didn't trust his protection enough — maybe
"I was a little off tonight. I didn't play very good," he said. "It's frustrating not playing the way you know you're capable of playing. I'll get better."
(This version CORRECTS No. 7 Oklahoma 31, Utah St. 24. New approach. Corrects typo in 5th paragraph.)