ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s sort of fitting in a way. It was at last year’s bowl game when all the excitement about the 2014 Oklahoma Sooners squad started to surface.
And it’s in this year’s bowl game when it has seemingly all come crashing down. OU, once thought to be a contender for the national championship, suffered one more demoralizing beatdown in a 40-6 thumping by Clemson on Monday evening in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
The sugar that was oh so sweet in January has officially turned sour as the calendar year turns to 2015 for OU.
The Sooners, who were at one point 4-0, finish the season 8-5 and easily the most disappointing of the 16 seasons Bob Stoops has had in Norman.
From Clemson’s first play, the writing was on the wall. A simple bubble screen was taken 65 yards by Artavis Scott for a touchdown. Missed tackles, no pursuit, common problems for the OU defense all season crept up one final time.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing with how the season transpired,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “It’s been frustrating for all of us.”
Mike Stoops has been honest about OU’s troubles in the passing game, but the issue has been he hasn’t had any answers. The Sooners really never had an answer either offensively or defensively when things were no longer going to plan.
Life was supposed to be easier for OU because Clemson decided to not roll with freshman stud quarterback Deshaun Watson. Instead, the Tigers gave senior Cole Stoudt one last outing, and he made it one to remember.
Stoudt played the best game of his career, going 26 of 36 passing for 319 yards with three touchdowns. He also ran for another.
His counterpart, Trevor Knight, played arguably his worst game. Returning after missing the final three games of the regular season, Knight looked like a quarterback out of rhythm.
He missed some reads, his protection broke down, he made some errors. His numbers reflect that type of outing, completing just 17 of 37 passes for 103 yards with three interceptions.
The undisputed guy coming into camp, everything is a question mark heading into 2015, including the quarterback position. Stoops said after the game it’s a fair assessment to say the quarterback spot is up for grabs.
“It’s the direct opposite of last year,” Knight said. “Coming off a big win, everything thinks I’m God’s gift to earth. Now everybody to go into the offseason saying, ‘he shouldn’t be the guy.’”
Down 27-0 at halftime, the air was well out of the balloon for OU. A season once so promising was now just about limping to the finish line and seeing it end. No energy with the players, with the coaches, a team beaten in every way possible.
“Energy comes when you’re having success,” Stoops said. “Hard to have a ton of energy when a number of plays go against you. It doesn’t make you really excited.”
Stoops didn’t say it was a lack of preparation. He made a point to say nothing was wrong on that end. It wasn’t what the Sooners did leading up to the game. For this season, it was the game itself.
Linebacker Eric Striker didn’t have the answers, saying it was a series of unfortunate events for the Sooners this season. His only solution? To get that edge back, and he’ll be the guy as Striker squashed any rumors of him leaving OU for the NFL Draft.
“I’m not going to finish like this,” Striker said.
But there are a lot of lingering questions that will have to be answered by Stoops and about his staff. The next month is all about finishing strong on the recruiting trail and that could happen as early as this weekend.
“Got to keep recruiting,” Stoops said. “We have to keep developing the players we have. Have to keep analyzing what we’re doing as coaches. I need to do a better job. We all have to do a better job of what we’re doing.”
Running back Alex Ross scored OU’s sole touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to help OU avoid being shutout for the first time in the Stoops era.
Freshman running back Samaje Perine had another solid outing, running for 134 yards on 23 carries in the losing effort.
A season that was supposed to be about the chase for eight ended with media researching the worst losses in OU history. How quickly it all fell apart. And now the question is how long will it take to get OU back where it feels it belongs?