Cotton Bowl press conference central

NORMAN, Okla. — Sooner head coach Bob Stoops previewed the Cotton Bowl Tuesday afternoon, and SI was on the scene.

  • Let's start with a player availability update. There's no update on wide receiver Jalen Saunders, Stoops said: "Those matters are always handled internally and once that's determined, I'll say so."
  • Offensive tackle Daryl Williams' status is up in the air as well, his being an injury: "Not yet. That won't be determined until we get to the bowl site."
  • And offensive tackle Tyrus Thompson will be good to go in the Jan. 4 game: "Yes. He will not be [punished]. Nothing further will happen to Tyrus other than a bad penalty we got, which I mean the right call but it really hurt us."
  • That said, Stoops first reflected on the team's resiliency to win its eighth Big 12 Championship: "Yeah, I don't know how to rank things that way, but the players did show a lot of fight and grit and resiliency to fight through the whole season the way they did and to keep winning the way they did."
  • The eighth title was a co-championship, but it landed them in this upcoming Cotton Bowl, which will pit them against former conference rival Texas A&M. So, does it feel like a bowl game against an SEC opponent or just playing A&M again? "Well again, you can say, ‘Well, how long is it take for them to be an SEC team and not a Big 12 team?' I don't get into those. It does. It feels like playing another excellent football team, so whether they're in the Big 12 or the SEC—if they were in the Big 12, we would have already played. So, it just doesn't work that way, but it's interesting to me all that debate, all that coffee talk. ‘Is it SEC defenses and Big 12 offenses?' They seem to have done pretty well offensively in that league. I think they lead it in every single category and it hasn't hurt their winning. They've won a bunch of games there, too, so they're doing pretty good against all those defenses."
  • It'll also be quarterback Landry Jones' final game, which Stoops said he hasn't thought too much about: "You know, I don't get sentimental about any one guy. I'm that way, whether it was Adrian [Peterson], whether it's Sam [Bradford], whether it's [anyone]. You know what I mean? Landry's special. We all love him, for sure. He's been a great competitor. You know, the way he fought down the stretch and the way he played, you know, you look at what he [did against] West Virginia and Oklahoma State, just incredible. So, but it's time. You know what I mean? Every guy has his time in college and it's time for them to move on and he'll do well at the next level."
  • Stoops didn't want to talk too much about when he'll name a starting quarterback for next year, but he did say all the other guys are doing well: "Yeah. I've really noticed, you know, because they've got a lot more snaps here the last three days and they're doing well. I'm excited about the way they're all progressing. You know, Blake [Bell] and Drew [Allen] throw the ball really well. Blake throws a great long ball. I know we haven't seen it as much, but he's got an excellent arm to go with all the other stuff. And then the other young guys are coming. I mean, you know, Kendal's [Thompson] done some good things the last few days. Trevor Knight has been exceptional on our scout team all year and is doing well. But you know how it is. They gotta get in there now and when it really matters and perform, so we'll see. But there's potential there."
  • And there might be some minor tweaking of the offense, but nothing major: "Who we playing in the first game? I don't think so. Yeah, maybe. Yeah, you know, to some degree I think is fair to say with the fact that we've run Blake as much as we have that there will be a little bit more of some of the things you see from some other people."
  • With more on Jones, this will be his final collegiate game in the same place he played his first back against BYU in 2009. This will be the third time he's played in Cowboys Stadium. So, what does Stoops remember about his first? "I remember really when we got in at halftime and that was going to be the circumstance. Anyone who's been in the locker room, you can't fool anybody in the locker room. You can't fool players. You can't fool coaches. He was genuinely excited to play and looking forward to it. And that's what you love. You always have a chance when that guy has that genuine excitement and feeling that he's ready for this or wants it. And whether he's ready or not, here it comes. You know, and he was as ready as he could be as a young guy, and he was truly excited about going in and playing."
  • Back to more on the game, he broke down A&M's defense, which is led by first team All-American dominant defensive lineman Damontre Moore: "Yeah, they'll jump in and out of an even front and 50. They seem to like the 50 a lot, you know, and then they [do] a lot of different blitzing off it. Your standard coverages and zone coverages and then they'll mix in some blitz zone, you know, three under, three deep stuff with the blitz and sneak in some man here and there. But you see a lot of that basically from everybody anymore, and then it's just handling the pressures, making sure we can pick those up. We'll work hard on it. We've been pretty good at protecting. You know, that'll be a big factor in this game."
  • On the other side of the ball, it's all about Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel or Johnny Football or Johnny Heisman, whatever you choose to call him: "Yeah, sometimes the worst thing you can do is cover everybody. You know, he's that way. He could scramble, you know, and he has a great knack for even on his blind side to feel people getting close and to spin a couple of times and work his way out. So, that's something you really have to work hard at to contain him, to keep him in. But also you don't want to be tentative and not rush. So, there's a fine line there that we'll work hard at trying to get pressure and keep him in to have a chance to get him."
  • After that, he reflected on one of his guys that's been a huge inspiration for the team in 2012: center Austin Woods: "eah, Austin's been an incredible inspiration. It's just remarkable what he was able to do all through two-a-days, all through the season. He hasn't missed [much]. He's missed a day or two when he's out getting chemo and then he's back the next day. It's just [unbelievable]. He's just such a tough, inspirational guy. Players love him. I don't know that he missed two workouts all summer. What 300 pounder wouldn't want to miss one of those days where you're working out for two hours and running, but he never ever missed anything. He just fought through it and he's helped us a bunch, so we just all had a big standing ovation because his cancer is in remission. So, we were all glad to announce that to the team, so hopefully it'll continue on a positive path that way."
  • And some interesting discussion surfaced about coaches interviewing for other jobs and moving around during the bowl season. To make a long story short (which I'll tell at a later date), Stoops said it's not a problem. He also didn't see how the AFCA could step in and stop it: "I don't see how they could. You know, in the end I don't see how they could. Recruiting unless maybe the only thing you'd have to change, the only thing you could probably change is the entire recruiting calendar. But this time of year is probably—and I've said it for a lot of years—is the most difficult because of your recruiting, coaching changes, talking to juniors about whether they should leave or not. So many different things are happening and bowl games. So, it's tough, but it is for everybody. Or if you're in that situation that you're having some turnover, it could be, it's tough to manage."
  • One reporter asked Stoops about former running back Adrian Peterson and if he's surprised AD is close to setting the NFL single-season rushing record. Nope, he's not: "Sure. I mean, that's not [a surprise]. When you watched him, you watched him, he was just different than everybody. I mean it wasn't close. And then he gets here and you could tell the buzz of the players, meaning I'm not watching workouts but up walking through the halls and the kids are [saying] coach, ‘This guy doesn't [have trouble with anything].' He never [did]. What conditioning drill we ever did, he was always first and it didn't matter the situation. He was first. I remember Allen Patrick was pretty competitive and he'd be creeping up on him and he'd see him and he'd hit another gear. He wasn't gonna let anybody beat him, you know. So, he's just different, and everybody knows that, sees it. Again, this isn't the first time people are seeing it. He's just to go with the amazing physical ability, he's got the—he's so competitive and tough mentally. That's what separates him, you know."
  • Again, on the dynamic of the Cotton Bowl, one of the storylines is former Sooner assistant coach Kevin Sumlin is the head man at A&M. So, does that make this a different kind of contest? "It's really not different. I mean Kevin and I are great friends. We just—our wives are great friends. We've spent time in New York just a week or two ago. But in the end once you get to playing, you're playing. You know, and bowl games are a positive thing, so you're in that situation. You're both in good shape, you know, so it's just something you gotta go do. So, it's really not all that different, you know."
  • Something else, of course, is the talk about the Big 12 vs. SEC. Should this conference get more respect? "Well, now they're an SEC team so they don't count them as part of us. Right? But you see their style of offense is exactly what you see here with five, six teams, and it's tough. And again, it's pretty obvious they did pretty well moving the football and all the success they had winning and you look at all of them offensively, I mean there isn't anybody close to them."
  • How A&M has fared possibly has said something about the Big 12 and its defenses: "I've always [said], I think it's a little bit of both. The offenses are, I think, tougher to deal with overall in our league, and then defensively sometimes we need to play better. I don't disagree with that, but again they're having a hard time over in the SEC dealing with their offense, too. And you can say, ‘Well, they didn't win the championship.' Well, they beat the team that did in the last game of the year. So, you know, quite obviously they're tough to handle."
  • Stoops then raved about his starting center, Gabe Ikard, who stepped in for Ben Habern when he concluded his career with lingering neck and shoulder issues: "Yeah, I'm proud of the whole offensive line, just attitude, the whole thing. Gabe Ikard, the leader up there, captain and really the leader of that group, just to fight through the injuries like they did. We're in the TCU game and moving Gabe out to guard and so it's [that] they just kept hanging in there, you know, and one guy would get hurt and another guy was getting healthy enough to come back a little bit and play. So, you know, it was a challenge, but they did a great job just fighting through it."
  • He wasn't surprised about how well Ikard could shifted over and play there: "I knew that would be fine in that position, but it just makes you thinner at guard then. Still, I'm not [discounting Habern]. I don't want Ben [to be forgotten]. Ben was a very, was an excellent football player. So, you know, you do miss him, but I knew Gabe would play well there."
  • Another offensive lineman, tackle Lane Johnson has helped to anchor them: "Yeah, he's been a great young man, very responsible. He's worked really hard. It took us a little while to find the best spot for him, but it's really, I believe, paid off for him. He's played great for us the last two years, and most indications are he's got a chance to be in the first couple rounds. Hopefully that'll be the case. You know, so he's worked hard for it."
  • Perhaps the most intriguing question came with respect to OU's No. 21 ranking in the FOX Sports NEXT recruiting rankings: "You know, I don't have any idea. Those recruiting services you guys know I'm not picking on anybody, but they've been accurate and inaccurate every bit as much. So, in the end I don't have any idea. We haven't signed a full class yet, so it's not like we've got all 25 in and we're done and sitting somewhere. So again, I envision us we're in great shape. I think we got a lot of great players and we're working on others. So, you know, we're a long way from being [done], from February. So, in the end we'll see where it all goes, but that's not a big deal. Remember Sam was a three-star guy. Right? Yeah, so were a bunch of others…I was kidding. You could have got that one right."
  • Undoubtedly a victory in this Cotton Bowl could propel them into 2013, so that's a focus: "You know, it's always positive. You just answer a lot more positive questions than you do negative ones, but in the end the team will be different. Once that game is over, you got seniors leaving and you transition into a whole new team, you know, win or lose. And it's always that way."

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