Cotton Bowl media day: notebook

ARLINGTON, Texas — Head coach Bob Stoops met with the media Sunday morning, and Sooners Illustrated has a complete notebook of the major points.

  • The most interesting tidbit came about wide receiver Jalen Saunders, who was told last Friday he'd be able to go in this game. Stoops defended his decision to, uncharacteristically by Stoops' standards, play him (possession of marijuana) while sitting out defensive tackle Stacy McGee (DUI and driving with a suspended license): "Well, you said typically. Not always. So, we had a statement issued. That's the statement. You know, we've been pretty consistent on what we do discipline-wise, and I feel we continue to do that with the athletic department and myself."
  • Outside of that, lots of talk about the past rivalry between these two teams surfaced: "You know, it's funny how we seem to have all kinds of rivals. You know? Nebraska and then Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, so whatever reason we seem to be a lot of people's rival or close to being a rival. It was always a challenge. You know, they're an excellent program and you always knew you had to be prepared to play. So, you know, sad to see anyone leave. Hey, we're all businessmen. We're all doing fine, too. You know, if that's what needs to happen, it needs to happen. I say it a lot: very few things in this world stay the same forever. So, you just gotta keep evolving with it."
  • That said, he again was quick to point out the fact that A&M has looked very good in the SEC and excelled offensively, shedding some doubt on those naysayers criticizing Big 12 defenses: "Well, I've kinda all along have said—you know, everyone asks is it Big 12 offenses or the SEC defenses or lack of Big 12 defenses, this that and the other. I said it's always been a little of both and again, when you put offensively, they're a Big 12 offense when you look at them. And we run a lot of the same plays. Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, we all run a lot of the same plays, and they seem to have managed it pretty well when you look at they lead the SEC in absolutely every single offensive category. I already said they're third in the nation in scoring and total offense, number one in third down efficiency. So, they seem to have handled them pretty well. So, in that particular area offensively that's what they work on. Now again, we see it quite often in our league with five or six teams."
  • Of course, not many teams have as dynamic a player as redshirt freshman Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and that's got to be a huge part of why they've been so successful against those stingy SEC defenses in 2012, regardless of their spread style: "Just his ability to make plays. You know, if you don't cover guys, he puts the ball where it needs to be for completions. If you do cover him, uh oh, there he goes. Now he's running. You know, so he just has a knack for making something happen even when you've played pretty well. So, it's just hard to explain. I guess they've probably said the same thing. He just has a way to make plays."
  • There's no question Manziel hasn't done it on his own, however. He has a ridiculous offensive line, led by a pair of upperclassmen tackles in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews: "Yeah, Matthews and Joeckel. Just they got great ability, great size and then you can just see the experience and the technique, everything really, their whole offensive line. The guys inside do a great job as well, so they've been taught well. You can tell they're talented guys that have really worked their craft in a great way."
  • On the other side of the ball, Stoops believes they have all the tools for what is classified as an elite SEC defense, starting with their front seven: "Again, I really believe their front seven is incredibly active. Mark's [Snyder] doing a great job with them pressuring, you know, bringing pressure from different areas. So, in the end, sure they've done a good job defensively. You know, how they look? I don't know. You know what I mean? You can call it what you want. They're an SEC team now."
  • One of those guys that stands out more than the rest is rush Damontre Moore. He's had a ridiculous season and could present all kinds of problems for the Sooner offensive line. That's why veteran offensive tackle Lane Johnson will be huge in this contest for OU: "Yeah, it's difficult. And they do move him around some from each side, so both tackles, whoever's in there, are gonna have to deal with him. So, it's tough. You know, we've gotta be aware where he's at. We've gotta be aware whether we can get an extra blocker at times to him, whether we're aware of the timing of our routes and getting it out before he has a chance to get to you. So, we're conscious of all those things and we'll practice to try and make sure that we can hopefully limit what he's able to do. But he's a great player."
  • Not all the talk was centered around the challenges A&M presents, though. When asked about his fifth-year signal caller, Stoops again raved about him as he so often has in recent days: "Absolutely. You know, Landry's been a very steady and excellent football player for us for four years. So, he's been through a lot of games and a lot of challenges and in particular how he's played down the stretch for us. He's been fabulous, so we have great confidence in Landry. We recognize what a great quarterback Johnny Manziel is, but we love our quarterback as well and got a lot of confidence in him for sure."
  • He expanded even more on that when questioned about what he's meant to the program: "Yeah, Landry's had a long and great journey. You know, it started here just out of nowhere when Sam [Bradford] got hurt and he was genuinely [excited], couldn't wait for his opportunity to go out and play. And thought he really through the year did a good job in a tough circumstance with all the other guys around him that were hurt. So, and then he's just grown and developed through the years. He's a great worker. He's got a great talent. His arm and, so you know, you look at all the records he's broke, the championships he's won are all pretty special. He's been a great quarterback for us."
  • One storyline outside of simply the matchups is how well OU has been playing down the stretch. It finished with five straight victories after its second setback of the year to Notre Dame: "Well, I feel, you know, through the whole year everyone you play, each week's a little bit different. We fought through some tough games and found the right method to win them. So, this will be another challenge, but I feel good in that we have healed up a little bit from some of the sprained ankles and some of the sprained ankles we've had through the year that we kinda have managed and worked through. And hopefully we'll be a little stronger. I believe we will be coming into this game."
  • And you can't ignore the one major coaching storyline this contest brings. That's Stoops against his former assistant Kevin Sumlin. The two have demonstrated nothing but respect ever since the bowl announcement. Stoops even said today he's not at all surprised the success Sumlin has had early in his career: "Sure. Sure I did. You know, Kevin's a bright guy, relates with players well, has a great background and the enthusiasm and competitiveness, all the things you want from an excellent coach. So, he did a great job with us and felt he would moving forward continue to do well."
  • He was mindful, however, in saying that their familiarity won't provide any competitive advantages either way: "No, not really. I don't see that as a factor at all. Kevin and I, again, both of us are familiar with each other, but in the end we've got big staffs that are working, preparing strategies and whatnot that all [factor]. And you can see each other's personality all over videotape and what they do and you're not gonna change much in what you're doing at this point in the game. So, I don't see that as much of a factor at all."
  • Finally, when prodded about other conferences having proximity to major bowls (i.e. Pac 12 to Rose, SEC to Sugar), Stoops said he'd be all in favor of making the Cotton Bowl the Big 12 type of those: "Absolutely and I think this is the absolute perfect location when you look at easy for people to travel in and out of, incredible venue to play football and to practice. You know, and the way everybody here manages this game, it is like a BCS bowl in everything that they do, in the way that you're treated, facilities to practice, to gifts for the players. It is. They're all set up for it, and I would hope that would happen. And I would like to see it. The location is more favorable for us in this league just like it has been for some of the other teams we've had to play in their regions."

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