Oklahoma Sooner fans went to bed last night thinking the “what if” game so well known to Browns fans. Every week since before the Roman Empire, Browns fans have, win by win, imagined their team in the Super Bowl if only a handful of things went in the opposite direction.
Last Sunday in Philadelphia, a tipped interception instead falls harmlessly to earth, Robert Griffin performs like a normal quarterback and hits a wide open Andrew Hawkins for a touchdown and Cam Erving actually takes a peak back at his quarterback instead of flipping an exchange into the Schuylkill.
Elimination of some small bad luck and fixing the fixable and voila, no need to go for a touchdown conceding first down late in the game. Browns win! Week after week, two or three changes.
Browns in payoffs! Super Bowl baby!
Just as they did a few weeks ago, Sooner fans stared at the ceiling all night. More than a few had to ponder a simple change in fortune. And only on fourth down. Is that asking too much?
By the middle of the first quarter, with no score on the board, the Sooners at least were winning the momentum battle. They drove right down the field deep into Ohio State territory. A doink on a chip field goal attempt was offset by a stern defensive effort which had stopped the Buckeyes once and had them fourth and three from long field goal range.
Urban Meyer, who believes anything inside the 50 yard line is potential four down territory, called a time out. As the Buckeyes lined up, Curtis Samuel went in motion from the left, but stopped to line up right, next to JT Barrett in a three backfield set. Motion by tight end Marcus Baugh to set a left edge failed to tip off the defense. The resulting 36 yard Samuel scamper turned a potential defensive stop into a Buckeye opening touchdown.
After the ensuing kickoff the Sooners were driving again behind the slicing power running of Joe Mixon. But at the Buckeye 33 the Sooners found themselves facing a fourth and three. Against just a basic Ohio State defense, no problem for the talents of the other-worldly Baker Mayfield, right? Unfortunately, a deflection of Mayfield’s pass to the right by a blitzing Jalyn Holmes landed softly into the hands of Buckeye Jerome Baker who steamed 68 yards for the pick six. The Buckeyes’ fourth of the year.
Two Sooner fails on fourth down, two Buckeye touchdowns. Fourteen points.
After a 35 point first half Buckeye explosion—the worst ever surrendered to a visitor to Norman—the Sooners had managed to maintain a halftime deficit of eighteen and were approaching midfield in the fourth quarter. On cecond down, Mayfield went deep but Marshon Lattimore had the call measured all the way. Acting more as receiver than defender he completed what was ruled a diving interception inside the Buckeye ten yard line.
Unfortunately, the glee in Norman when the interception was disallowed on review soon turned to gloom. After a third down conversion fail, the futility of fourth down once again faced the Sooners. A Mayfield sack in his own territory advanced Buckeye field position by over 50 yards from where the Lattimore interception would have had them. The Buckeyes could only convert the windfall into a field goal, but the momentum had been stopped, the game effectively won.
An additional fourth down failure was to come, but the first three, had they merely gone the other way, could have very possibly have put the Sooners up by four—in the world of Browns’ fans.
Of course this ignores the fact that the Buckeyes took their foot off the pedal on offense in the second half, it ignores a potential Buckeye response, and it ignores that better teams perform on things like fourth down and weaker teams don’t.
But a win of the mind is a win nonetheless.
Just ask any fan of the perennial Super Bowl Champ Browns.