In a normal season, a College Football Playoff contender beating Texas Tech 52-21 wouldn’t inspire much confidence or be the reason for much rejoicing.
That is the situation for No. 4 Oklahoma, however. One week after the Sooners barely got past Kansas, they needed a no-stress Saturday at home with a bye week coming up before their homestretch of games with Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
And that’s what they got.
The winning margin was greater than any of Oklahoma’s previous six wins against Bowl Subdivision opponents. It was also the third double-digit win in three starts with true freshman Caleb Williams at quarterback.
Williams was outstanding, throwing for 402 yards and six touchdowns before his final possession early in the fourth quarter. A measure of his comfort: He had one more incompletion than touchdown passes.
The game got so out of hand, it allowed former starter Spencer Rattler to play and he promptly threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Brian Darby to elicit some cheer from his home crowd that had booed him in his last appearance. There were good vibes all around.
Lost in all the offensive superlatives was an improved effort on defense. Ranked 113th in passing yards, the unit slowed down the Red Raiders until garbage time and had two interceptions that set up scores.
Does this mean all the issues that have cropped up in the first two months are solved? Not by a long shot.
Blowing out overmatched opponents is not an indicator you can play with the best teams in the country. Oklahoma’s defense still has to prove it can slow elite offenses like Alabama or Ohio State should it meet either in the playoff. The three games to end its Big 12 schedule will show if it can be physical enough against good opponents.
Those seeing the glass half full would point to the Sooners continuing to win despite all their problems. And there is merit to be gained from recognizing this is the first Oklahoma team to start 8-0 since 2004.
They could also point to the continued development of Williams, who clearly has taken control of the offense and will only improve as the season goes along. The Sooners are averaging 46.3 points in his starts, which doesn’t include his 35-point second half in the team’s comeback defeat of Texas that served as his coming-out party.
The talk of Heisman Trophy this season is premature, but it’s hard not to see him opening as the favorite next season. That’s talk for 2022, though.
The more immediate concern is how he will play in the tough environments of Baylor and Oklahoma State next month because his performance will dictate whether Oklahoma finishes in the playoff or its run of six consecutive Big 12 titles ends.
If the offense consistently plays to its usual dominant form under coach Lincoln Riley, which was a question with Rattler as a starter in the first five games, then some of the concerns about the defense can be papered over.
We’ll know more starting in two weeks. Between now and then, the Sooners can at least take a breath and know that they’re playing their best football at the most important time.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football: Is Oklahoma’s defense ready for spotlight in Big 12?