- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- About the time Oklahoma benched quarterback Trevor Knight, 1,800 miles away BYU running back Paul Lasike stiff-armed his way through the Texas defense for yet another rushing touchdown.
What a strange Saturday it was in this brave new Big 12 where one traditional power can’t complete a pass and the other can’t stop the run.
And as Oklahoma and Texas showed why they’re still miles away from contending on the national stage again, the conference race looks even more wide open than it did in the preseason.
In Norman, the Sooners struggled to a 16-7 win over West Virginia, which struggled to escape William & Mary just last week.
The Mountaineers had the third-worst pass defense in college football last season. But they managed to completely shut down the Sooners’ once vaunted air attack.
After a lackluster first half, Knight’s confidence seemed to fade with every pass. In the second half, the freshman completed just one throw for six yards. And after he tossed back-to-back interceptions deep in West Virginia territory, the coaches’ confidence seemed to fade, too. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel called only one more pass play on the next two series before replacing Knight with Blake Bell.
“It wasn’t as good as we needed to be in the throwing game,” coach Bob Stoops said. “So we gave (Bell) a chance.”
But Oklahoma simply resorted to running a glorified “Belldozer” offense the rest of the way, as Bell attempted just one pass. By that point, the Sooners just wanted the game to be done.
“You don’t mess with the football gods,” Stoops said. “You do what you’re supposed to do and burn the clock.”
Last season in a 50-49 win at West Virginia, Landry Jones set an Oklahoma passing game record. Saturday, the Sooners scored their fewest points against a conference opponent since 2009 in a 10-3 loss at Nebraska – only Ndamukong Suh wasn’t on the other side of the line this game.
The Sooners did play terrific defense for the second straight week, and rushed the ball with tremendous efficiency.
“Tonight showed we can win a grind-it-out type of game,” said center Gabe Ikard.
But Stoops confessed that for the Sooners to meet their preseason goals of contending in the league and beyond, they’ll have to pass better than they have.
“Sure, we do -- we got to be able to,” said Stoops, who indicated he might make a quarterback change next week against Tulsa.
"We want to throw the ball and throw it well. We have to keep working on that."
Yet if Oklahoma’s passing game was a dumpster fire, Texas’ run defense was a full-blown forest inferno.
All preseason, Texas coach Mack Brown indicated this would be his best team since the 2009 Big 12 title team. In a humbling 40-21 defeat in Provo, the Longhorns looked like the same uninspiring program of the last three years.
The Cougars rushed for 550 yards -- the most ever against any Texas defense -- and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt.
“We missed assignments,” Brown said. “We missed tackles. They kept the ball and ran the ball up and down the field.”
Brown said afterward he would wait to “watch the video” before deciding what to do with embattled defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
But Texas’ troubles go way deeper than one assistant coach. And after losing offensive playmaker Daje Johnson (ankle) and quarterback David Ash (head) to injuries, the Longhorns appear to be on the verge of shambles with little time for recovery before surging Ole Miss arrives in Austin next weekend.
“We've got 11 more games,” said Texas receiver Mike Davis, “and we're trying to win them all.”
The weekend showed that won’t easily be done. As the Red River powers scuffled, the league’s other contenders shined.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield was surgical again in Texas Tech’s blowout of Stephen F. Austin. Through two games, Mayfield has completed 71 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
No offense, meanwhile, has looked more prolific than Baylor’s. The Bears piled up 70 points and a school-record 781 yards against Buffalo, prompting Bulls coach Jeff Quinn to suggests the Bears were more difficult to deal with than Buffalo’s last opponent, Ohio State.
“They've got a great team,” he said. “They're really good."
Saturday, the Sooners and Longhorns weren’t. And with those two struggling to regain their national perch, the rest of the Big 12 is looking better than ever.