The Sooners, predicted by many to reach the four-team college football playoff, now might hold the honor of the most underachieving team in the nation. Dreams of championship No. 8 have been erased and replaced with a 6-3 overall record with all three losses happening in conference.
And loss No. 3 a devastating blow by Baylor in Norman last weekend where the Bears scored the final 45 points to run away with a 48-14 victory.
It was just a little more than 10 months ago when OU had seemingly kicked down the door of complacency in an eye-opening 45-31 win against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
The sugar that was oh so sweet in January has turned sour here in November.
“When you’re not executing really, it’s hard to have a great edge,” Stoops said. “They go hand in hand. When you’re executing really well, everyone calls it an edge. When you’re not, you don’t have it. It has nothing to do with effort or attitude.”
OU’s whipping was so bad that it’s actually hurting the Bears’ case for a spot in the playoff. OU entered the game ranked No. 15 in the poll and is nowhere to be found in the top 25 when it was released Tuesday evening so Baylor isn’t getting credit for a quality win.
“We’re definitely not having the season we thought we would be having,” linebacker Eric Striker said. “It sucks to lose. You hate to be in this position. I’m not so much disappointed because I felt like we gave our all. Whatever we had to do, we gave our all. Things are going to happen in the game, and we’ve just got to try to respond well.”
Through the first month of the season, there was a strong case being made OU was the most complete team in the country. At the end of September, OU was sitting at 4-0 and No. 3 or No. 4 in the polls, depending on your preference.
Where has it all gone south for OU in the last six weeks?
This goes both ways. The Sooners were flying to the ball during the first part of the season and even caused key turnovers in the loss to TCU. But since that time, when OU has needed a spark, it hasn’t received it from the defense.
In OU’s last four games, the Sooners have caused a mere two turnovers. One, a huge one, the interception returned for touchdown by Zack Sanchez against Texas. The other a fumble recovery in the blowout win against Iowa State.
However, OU’s home crowd could have come alive in losses to Baylor and Kansas State. No turnovers, though. The Bears and Wildcats played clean.
Conversely, OU hasn’t. In the same four-game stretch, OU has committed six turnovers with all of them being interceptions. The Sooners were turnover-free against the Longhorns but have made crucial mistakes when it has mattered most.
It has been well documented at this point the struggles of quarterback Trevor Knight. He threw a pick-six in the losses to the Frogs and Wildcats and had an interception returned to one yard line against Baylor.
And in years past where OU was good enough to overcome those things, it simply hasn’t been the case this season.
Toughness when it’s all on the line
It’s incredibly unfair to say OU hasn’t played physical on both sides of the ball. The Sooners experienced offensive line has done a tremendous job this season, and the defensive line has caused a lot of issues for the opposition.
But this hasn’t been a totality thing. It’s the little things in the big moments that have stood out. And it has been the short yardage situations where OU has faltered the most offensively.
Through the first four games of the season, OU was 9-of-10 when faced with third or fourth down and two or less, including a perfect 4 of 4 against West Virginia.
Since then, OU is 12-of-24 in the same situations that include two interceptions and big-time conversions failed in the final minutes at TCU and against Kansas State.
The signs were there in Morgantown. If opposing quarterbacks had time to throw, OU’s secondary wasn’t going to be able to make the plays.
It has been highlighted during this five-game stretch as defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has seemingly devised schemes not to lose instead of attacking offenses.
Obviously that all came to a head against Baylor on the first drive of the second half when the Bears cruised down the field going 75 yards in 10 plays. Quarterback Bryce Petty was 9-of-9 for 70 yards as he picked apart the scheme and the secondary.
OU’s defense was flying around everywhere in the first month. But the blitzing hasn’t been there in conference play. And OU has spent too much time reacting instead of initiating the action.
Alex Ross continues to be a threat as a kickoff returner, but the Sooners haven’t sniffed a huge punt return all season.
But the crux of this issue has been with senior kicker Michael Hunnicutt. Known as “Moneycutt” the last couple of seasons, he has fallen apart in the last month.
Against Kansas State, Hunnicutt missed one field goal, had an extra point blocked and rushed a 19-yard field goal that would have given OU the lead in the final minutes.
The next home game against Baylor, Hunnicutt was wide right on a 31-yard attempt. His confidence has never been lower for a team that has never needed him more.
OU has three games left in the regular season with none of them being marquee attractions or games where OU can have a sense of redemption around the nation.
Win them all and nobody is going to be singing their praises. Lose any of them, and more questions and head shaking and finger pointing are going to become the norm.
Through it all, Stoops reiterated he is never discouraged but only encouraged.
“Some are better than us, but we’re probably better than most,” Stoops said.
Being resigned to accept defeat, though, wasn’t supposed to be part of the equation in 2014.