Digging for Answers

NORMAN, Okla. — Sooner Nation is visibly frustrated after the lackadaisical performance the other night against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State, but just what are the real issues with this team? Why have they not lived up to expectations? Sooners Illustrated discusses it inside.

1. They bought into the hype—Former tight end Brody Eldridge said the Sooner program has become arrogant in the last few years, citing the ESPN All-Access preseason special as an example of it. Eldridge said it's something head coach Bob Stoops never would have allowed in the past. Fact of the matter is it may or may not be an arrogant program, but the players bought into the hype that came as a result of the ESPN special. For awhile it benefited them psychologically in tough contests like Florida State and the Red River Rivalry against Texas. But then came teams like Kansas and Texas Tech, ones OU knew they should beat so they gave less effort because they bought into the hype that they were just that good. As history tells, Kansas, who went winless in Big 12 Conference play, battled OU tough for a half. A week later, the Red Raiders knocked the Sooners off. They didn't win a game after that the rest of the season. Entitled is the best word to describe it, and frankly the Sooners have been just that in 2011.

2. Injuries plagued them—It's fair to say season-ending injuries, both torn ACLs, for running back Dominique Whaley and slot receiver Ryan Broyles took their toll on this team. Whaley led the team in rushing yards when he suffered the injury at Kansas State and still does at 627, just 16 yards ahead of running back Roy Finch right now. Broyles, likewise, led the team and still does with his 1,157 yards and 10 touchdowns prior to tearing his ACL against Texas A&M. So, those are two pivotal pieces to the offense the Sooners have sorely missed. But Stoops won't allow it to be an excuse, and it shouldn't be, although it has certainly changed things both schematically and production wise in the offense.

3. They've been poorly coached at times—Stoops will admit it more than a lot of coaches will. When they lose, he is the first to take a large portion of the blame and admit the other side out-coached him and his staff. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables does the same thing. It's been true a number of times this year, especially the other night. A number of coaches took blame for not putting the players in the right situations, but offensive coordinator Josh Heupel's efforts largely stood out. The Sooners could have ran the ball very effectively against the 93rd rushing defense in the country, and Heupel instead elected to throw the ball 38 times in the first half to just 10. Needless to say, it didn't pay off. These are the kinds of coaching issues OU has had this season. At times, it's also looked like defensive backs coach Willie Martinez hasn't been coaching up his unit right. Whether that's true or not is solely based on opinion. Fact, though, is part of the job is putting the players in winning situations, and that hasn't always been the case this season.

4. Guys just haven't made plays when they've needed to be made—As much as coaches can put their players in positions to succeed, it's on the athletes to do so. And the Sooners just haven't done it at some crucial points this year. Not to single players out, but place kicker Michael Hunnicutt uncharacteristically missed a pair of crucial field goals against Texas Tech, free safety Javon Harris was burnt on a few key plays against Baylor, quarterback Landry Jones misfired twice for interceptions and fumbled twice the other night, which both resulted in touchdowns against Oklahoma State. Had a few of these plays went a different way, it might be another situation. Ultimately at the end of the day, players must make plays. Coaches can't do that for them.

5. They've had some bad luck—For a national championship run, a team needs luck. The Sooners just really haven't been fortunate in that regard. The long touchdown that was tipped and found its way into Kendall Wright's hands against Baylor comes to mind. Little plays like this throughout the year have to go differently if a team hopes to maximize its potential. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

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