Special teams playing special this season

The latestt news and notes from inside the locker room following OU's 44-3 win over Air Force in Colorado Springs

As you might expect the OU coaching staff had a lot of positive things to talk about after reviewing film on Sunday following the Sooners 44-3 win over Air Force.

Head Coach Bob Stoops admitted that special teams played a huge role in the Sooners big win.

"Jeff Ferguson had a great day kicking the ball for us and he once again showed that he has a cool head under pressure," said Stoops. "On our first punt, his awareness to pull that ball down and avoid the rusher, and then getting off a great punt was big in the game. That is just Jeff being a heads-up player, which he demonstrated in our national championship game and he did it again yesterday. He just felt the guy there and knew he wasn't going to get the punt off, pulled it down and then got it off. I don't know if you can coach that or not. It certainly is not something that you practice. So, Jeff was given a game ball for his outstanding play in the game. "

The Sooners are very gifted athletically on special teams, but without question they are a very intelligent special team squad as well.

"Well, hopefully because we work at special teams in practice and pay attention to schemes and to what we are doing and what the other team is doing," said Stoops. "

Special teams are more than just hustling and hopefully we are thinking and are in the right positions. We work at that pretty hard."


OU struggled late in the game against North Carolina, but excelled against Air Force in the fourth quarter. Playing with a passion in the fourth quarter was the big difference from game one and two.

"We lost our interest in the first game and our concentration and discipline," said Stoops. "However, I would think our track record would show that we can play four quarters and certainly that was the point of emphasis going into the last week, and it always has been. I would like to think that first game was out of character for us, but anyway, it was good to see us finish like we did yesterday."


Air Force players and coaches raved about the Sooners speed on defense following the game, even comparing the Sooners to the Super Bowl champion defense of the Baltimore Ravens.

"I think we do have good team speed and we certainly work on that in our training with strength coach Jerry Schmidt," said Stoops. "Our players and the kids we have been brining in will always be recruited with an emphasis on speed."


Bottom line... the Sooners went on the road, played a pretty good football team that had been gearing up for them all summer and came away with a decisive victory. In all, the victory was a great day for the Sooners.

"Definitely, it was a big challenge and you can check with Coach (Fisher) DeBerry and find out how many teams don't want to go up there and play them on their home opener, and I do believe there are many," said Stoops. "I don't believe they have lost a home opener in about 11 years. We realized that the game was a big challenge. We had great respect for their program and they have proven to be winners year in and year out. So, we knew that it was going to be a challenge to be mentally and physically ready to play away from home. That was part was good and we got something out of it."

"Defensively, with our preparation for option football— which we will see from Kansas State and Nebraska — it gave us a lot of work in defending that offense in the future," Stoops continued. "Those will be big games for us in the future and even though their option can be somewhat different, there are parts that are similar. So, it gave us some solid work that way as well."


The Sooners injury situation was good after the Air Force game. The Sooners came out healthy and they hope to get safety/nickel back Terrance Simms back for North Texas. Starting defensive end Dan Cody is still ill from the flu, but was better on Sunday and OU hopes he can play against North Texas.


The Sooners weren't happy with the officiating throughout the Air Force game and ironically, it was a Big 12 crew working the game. The play that really irritated the Sooner coaching staff was in the third quarter when it appeared that Falcon quarterback Keith Boyea was over the line of scrimmage delivering a third down reception.

"I don't see how they (officials) can miss that," said Stoops. "I think everybody saw it, so you just count on them (officials) to do their job and do it correctly. I just thought some things were pretty obvious that weren't called, but I can't do anything about that."


Junior Andre Woolfolk continues to go both ways at cornerback and wide receiver, plus play a key role on special teams. Woolfolk saw action on 62 plays in the game, including 31 with the offense, 17 on defense and 14 on special teams. Woolfolk is so important to the Sooners on special teams that the coaching staff will give up a few plays on offense and defense to make sure he can handle on his special team responsibilities.

"Andre is very good on special teams, playing with a lot of heart and when he plays he plays well," said Stoops. "He is very versatile in what he is able to do."


The OU coaching staff wasn't happy with at least four dropped passes in the game, two coming to stall drives on third down.

"We hit Andre Woolfolk on third down in the end zone right in the belly and we drop it right," said Stoops. "There is plenty of evidence that we are stopping ourselves in poor execution. If you are going to be good throwing the ball you better catch it as well."


You have to think that the Sooners offensive line had a great day with Quentin Griffin rushing for 201 yards and Air Force failing to give up a sack.

"I thought it was a solid day for them, because Air Force mixes up those fronts with that angling defense that can every once in a while catch you off guard," said Sooner Offensive Coordinator Mark Mangino. "I thought they did a decent job, but I still feel we have a ways to go and we are not where we need to be just yet in the run game. We are improving in pass protection. Our pass protection schemes were good, but I still feel our fundamentals in pass protection are not sharp yet."


In the game, quarterback Nate Hybl played with more confidence and seemed to have his coming out party. Without question, Hybl made improvement from game one to game two.

"I just think it is a matter of confidence. You have to remember when he played against North Carolina it was the first time he had started a game since 1997," Mangino continued. "Against North Carolina, he made sure that he played to the sign of caution a little bit and he didn't want to make any big mistakes. In the first game he wanted to get the offense going without taking to many chances. We jumped out to an early lead in that game and I can understand his mindset a little bit. However, he is capable and he proved that this Saturday, and he will continue to prove it."


The Sooners managed to get true freshman Vince Carter some time at left guard. Carter will continue to work at guard and center in practice.

"I thought Vince did some good things obviously, but being a young guy he needs to work on his fundamentals," said Mangino. "He is enthusiastic, bright-eyed and he likes to play. He is a very smart player and I thought he did some very good things. Vince is still our number two center, but if we can get him on the field working some at guard we will. He still has to work hard at practice at center, because he is our backup center."


The Sooner offensive line ran zone play to spring Quentin Griffin for his 201-yards and ‘Q' wasn't stingy, getting yards over the left and right side.

"He ran it both ways," said Mangino. "We got some push on the offensive line up there to give him some room. All you need to give him is a little space and he can do the rest on his own. If anybody plans to play us with five in the box and a lot of zone coverage we are going to run the ball. We are not going to try to force the ball down field into different types of coverage's when it is not there. We are just going to give the ball to our running backs and have them go. We feel we are capable of running it well, at least respectably well. We still spend the most of our time working in the pass game and that is no secret. However, we still feel we can run the ball pretty well if you are going to unload the box on us."


In reality the Sooners return three starters in the offense line, but only two that are playing the same position that they played a year ago. Throw in two brand new offensive linemen and it figures that the Sooners will be much better later on this season.

"I am proud of the fact that we are doing some good things up front and we are making progress each and every week," Mangino continued. "From the North Carolina game we made progress to the Air Force game and we need to make progress this week. We have just a few weeks before conference play where we really need to be sharp and iron out our fundamental problems. We need to improve in both our run and pass protection. This group is going to be a really solid group. I feel it has a chance to be pretty good. If we stay healthy and continue to progress then this might wind up being our best group since I have been here."

Against North Texas this weekend the offensive line should be getting the progress that it is looking for.

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