NORMAN, Okla. — As the Sooners came into the locker room they were happy, but also seemed relieved as well. OU had just dominated North Texas 37-3, and a win always makes them happy. But in many respects, the Sooners took a very business-like attitude into the game and that is how they came out of it as well. OU is on a quest, a quest to win the Big 12 and win a National Championship, and beating an out-manned North Texas team was something that OU expected and executed like an experienced football team.
"We are just glad to get our first game out of the way," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops following the game. "We are so tired of practicing and hitting ourselves that we would have been glad to play the Cleveland Browns. As it is, North Texas gave us a chance to react against multiple formations and gave us a chance to hit and be hit by somebody that we didn't know anything about. As a defense, we were just glad to get back on the field and to get back into game mode."
It is always easy to start on the offensive side of the ball, because we all love offense, but at Oklahoma we should love defense, especially one as good at Oklahoma's.
"I don't know what else I can say about them," said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops on the defense. "It seems like for five months we have been talking about how good our defense can be, and certainly nothing happened in the first game that would indicate we are not going to be that good. Our front four is healthy and they dominated the game up front, whether it was putting pressure on the quarterback or stuffing the run. Our linebackers were active and seemed to be all over the field. And in the secondary we shut down their passing attack and made plays. Again, I don't know what else I can say except that we expect them to continue to work hard and continue to get better, which I think they will."
The Mean Green failed to score against the Sooners starting unit and actually managed only 54 yards when the entire first unit was in the game. North Texas finished with 154 yards of total offense, but 100 of that came against the Sooner reserves. The Mean Green could only muster 2.6 yards per carry and only picked up 11 first downs.
"I thought we played good and I thought our positioning was good," said Mike Stoops. "I thought we did what we wanted to do and that the kids executed well, except for the disappointing effort by our two's (second team defense). Besides that, everything was good."
It seemed like everybody on the Sooner defense had a big game, and that was pretty much the case.
"I thought Derrick Strait had a great game. It seemed like he was all over the field," said Mike Stoops. "I thought Brodney (Pool), Matt (McCoy) and Donte (Nicholson) all had good games. Tommie (Harris) and Dusty (Dvoracek) had real good games up front and all the backers were good too. We are much better up front and it is the best we have looked up front since we have been here. We have more speed and quickness and those guys are healthy now. All of them are good football players and last year they weren't healthy. This year they are and you can see just how talented they really are. Tommie created a lot of problems for them up front."
The fact that the front four was creating havoc wasn't lost on All-American linebacker Teddy Lehman.
"They played great up front and really made things easy for the rest of us," said Lehman. "Those guys were attacking so hard up front that we had all kinds of lanes to run through at linebacker. It seemed like their offensive linemen were always diving at our guys, because they were getting whipped so bad up front. They were diving just trying to get hold of something or to try to trip them up I guess. That just created lanes for us and we were running free most of the night. I think every single player up front had a great game."
At defensive end, Dan Cody, Jonathan Jackson and Larry Birdine all looked like world-beaters. All played a great games and each of them put pressure on the quarterback.
"Yeah, I thought our defensive ends played pretty good," said defensive end coach Bobby Jack Wright. "They got after it pretty good and made some good plays. Jonathan, Dan and Larry all played pretty well. All three are very athletic and Jonathan is so smart.
"Jonathan is one of the most intelligent football players I have ever been around. That is why he could play and play well the past couple of years despite the fact he didn't have the size to play defensive end. Now, he has added some size, kept his speed and he still has that intelligence that makes him such a good football player.
"Dan may be the best combination of size and speed that we have and all he has to do is stay healthy and he will post some great numbers. Larry is similar and his motor is always running so fast. He had a great first game for us and we expect him to get better."
Cody had two sacks in the game, but admitted after the game that he needed a lot of help to get them done.
"Yeah, I got two sacks, but it was really a matter of being in the right place at the right time," said Cody after the game. "They were doing slide protection and rolling away from me and I just kind of ran him down. It was really a coverage sack, because he had to hold the ball for so long. One time they were rolling away from me and the quarterback was holding the ball for at least five or six seconds before I even got there. So, the credit goes to the secondary for holding those guys out so long to enable me to get the pressure that I needed."
As a total unit, OU was very successful for the most part at getting penetration up front.
"Considering North Texas plays with all the max protects, having a bunch of backs coming in and helping off the edge, we did a great job," said Cody. "He (QB) could feel our presence, because he was always moving around in the pocket. I could tell he knew that we were around. They had only 100 yards worth of offense heading into the fourth quarter. That is a good accomplishment, especially against somebody as good as North Texas. They are a good football team who had a tough night tonight, but we had something to do with that as well."
Brodney Pool made a ton of plays, especially early in the game, and Donte Nicholson, for the most part, was solid. Sure, Nicholson needs to watch out for the boots, but considering it was the first start for both, everybody seemed happy.
"For the first start I thought Donte was really good and Brodney was good too," said Mike Stoops. "Brodney was in on a lot of plays and he was in some miss-alignments here and there. Just little things with him, but I thought he played really well and tackled really well for the most part. I was happy with them for starting their first games. Both are very instinctual players."
The Sooners went into the game wanting to watch out for the misdirection and reverse boots. And once again, it was a job well done.
"It was a slick field and the footing wasn't great, but we were in the right spots to spot their misdirection," said Teddy Lehman. "That is the toughest thing about playing in our defense. You don't want to hurt our aggressiveness, but you have to play smart. We were rushing their quarterback so hard that we were pushing him out of their game and he had to cut back. For the most part, we stopped that part of their game, but because of the field we looked bad on a couple of plays. Until we came out (first unit) they only had 60-something total yards. We were pretty happy with the shutout, until they got a field goal on us."
Since Lehman has been at OU the Sooners have been playing great defense. How many different games have we come home and said that is one of the best defensive performances during the Stoops era or in OU history? OU played a great defensive game against North Texas, but considering all the great games OU has played on defense, has the bar been raised on what constitutes a great defensive game?
"Most definitely, because we have really played some great defensive games during my era or whatever," said Lehman. "We made some mistakes against North Texas and we have to improve on that. We are not as good yet as we are going to be. We have time to get there, but we can't take to long with Alabama coming up next weekend."
On offense all eyes were on Jason White and senior from Tuttle came through with flying colors. White looked in midseason form and appeared to be free of worry about his surgically repaired knees while hitting on 23 of 35 passes for three touchdowns and just one interception. Those numbers are pretty impressive for a quarterback who has basically been a spectator for two years while healing from two ACL injuries.
"You actually can learn quite a bit even when you are not on the field or even going to be on the field," said White after the game. "You sit in all the meetings and you watch the film of the opponents, and even though you are not going to play you still watch it and that helps out a bunch. I have been watching how teams have been trying to defense us the last couple of years and watching what kind of coverages they like to use in the secondary. I have been paying attention, and because of that, I didn't see anything tonight that I wasn't used to seeing. Sure, it was different in that I had to execute on the field, but I have always trusted in my abilities, so I just stepped up and played tonight."
"When I stepped in the huddle I just had to calm myself down," White continued. "My teammates calmed me down more than anybody. Just being back on the field with them and looking at them in the huddle was a great feeling. It builds your confidence when you see those great players looking back at you and you realize all you have to do is trust your abilities and step back and trust my abilities."
Just like Josh Heupel and Nate Hybl before him, White found eight different receivers and it would have been nine if Renaldo Works hadn't dropped a sure touchdown pass.
"That is just the nature of our offense. You a credit to the receivers," said White. "They all work hard to get open and they work hard through the offseason and it paid off for them tonight. I have talked all spring and all during two-a-days about the talent of our wide receiver corp. You saw tonight what I see every day in practice. I have several wide receivers that are very talented, and I don't mind throwing to any of them."
Now we see why White was named the starter so early in the summer. He was so impressive that many media members in the press box were raving about his throwing ability. I got the feeling they thought they were watching somebody else, but White's performance certainly wasn't a surprise to Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach Chuck Long.
"Our quarterbacks played well and that includes Paul Thompson (5 of 6 for 38 yards and one touchdown)," said Long. "They both came off the field with some raised confidence from what they had before. That is what you want from your quarterback every game, because that position is one where confidence is so important in every game and his confidence will spread throughout our offense. I thought our quarterbacks played really well."
The Sooners finished with 391 yards total offense (5.4 yards per play). The Sooners threw for 286 and rushed for 105. The rushing total was the only disappointment on the offensive side of the ball.
"We didn't run the football very effectively and we have to get better than that," said Bob Stoops. "Maybe a better way to put it is that we didn't rush the ball like we are accustomed to. There are a lot of factors that went into it, but we will get better at it this week in practice."
Starting tailback Renaldo Works dinged a knee early and was held out for precautionary measures.
The Sooners also started two new members along the offensive line, who drew their first starting assignments. Redshirt freshman Chris Messner started in place of Wes Sims and Chris Bush started for the injured Vince Carter. At times it looked like the offensive line was out of sync, but for the most part the offensive line received a passing grade.
"Our offensive line, overall, did pretty well," said Long. "We have some young guys in there still that are learning, especially at the guard positions. We had Bush at center and he has not played a lot of center since he has been here. He had to fill in for Vince, who is banged up and I thought he did a nice job. He is still learning there. We are still learning with Chris Messner at left tackle, but for the most part they played well."
Sooner Run Game Coordinator Kevin Wilson has worked to improve the Sooner offensive line the last couple of years and had mixed emotions with his groups' effort, especially with the Sooner effort to block Mean Green All-American nose guard prospect ‘Booger' Kennedy.
"We struggled in some ways. I think a lot of people will look at that and say that Chris Bush struggled at center with Kennedy being a nose guard," said Wilson. "Quite honestly, it was the guards on a lot of plays instead of Chris. Chris did get beat a couple of times, but there were several times that Kennedy got after Davin (Joseph) or Kelvin (Chaisson). Those are two talented guys, but we started a redshirt freshman and three sophomore's inside and they are all going to be good, but we are still a work in progress and going through some growing pains.
"All in all, it is a good game if we will learn from some situations and experiences that we got in," Wilson continued. "We need to be more physical, as we didn't knock them down near enough. We had a few hits on the quarterback and one was a busted assignment. We had some hits on Jason, which were foolish hits on plays where he should have never been hit. Sometimes on a long pass play you are holding up the defensive line and maybe a guy will get to him. However, on our quick passes he took a shot or two that we don't need to have happen. Also, on a screen pass one time he got hit and we don't need our quarterbacks to get hit at all. If we learn from that, it was a good game. And if we don't, then we are not going to be as good as we want to be in the offensive line."
Wilson also stuck with his promise to start Messner if Sims didn't come on in practice. For the most part, both alternated at left tackle, but the key question is how did they play?
"They played pretty good," said Wilson. "Chris started and if we scored he stayed in and if we didn't score Wes went in. If we scored when Wes was in he stayed in and if he didn't then Chris went back in. All night they kind of just went back and forth and they both did well. Chris, on three of his first four plays, had knockdowns. So for the first time out of the gate I thought he had one of our best performances.
"I thought our best player last night was Jammal Brown. And the next best performances were by Wes and Chris. I thought the tackles were pretty solid. Chris had a couple of pass pros that need to be better, but he will get better. Inside, we just didn't do a good job. And it wasn't just Chris Bush, as it was Davin and Kelvin as well at the guard spot on some combos and some double-teams. They are all talented guys who should be OK. Hopefully, we can get that cleaned and corrected and move on this week so that we can have a good game against Alabama."
I realize that many of you noticed that Chris Messner missed on some blocks and so did other members of the offensive line, but Wilson says that is just part of the game.
"You are going to miss blocks, whether your want to or not," said Wilson. "That is just the nature of the game. The offensive line is playing defenses every week who are good players and they are fast and active. You are not going to knock them down and make your block perfectly 100 straight snaps in a football game. You are going to miss blocks, but it is how you respond and how you play the next play. It is also learning that when you get beat that you don't get beat in a way where you kill your teammates and kill a drive. We had a holding call in the scoring zone that took points off the board, and you can't do that. We had a short-yardage situation where we flinched on the edge. We had a blocked punt and those are things we can't do. So, Messner, Bush or Davin are going to miss blocks every once in a while, but it is not one block that will hurt you, it is being mature enough to come back and have success on the next play."
Everybody has been waiting for Brandon Jones to have a breakout game and that came last night against North Texas when he hauled in 10 passes for 121 yards and one touchdown.
"I told Brandon early in the week that he could have a great game against North Texas," said OU wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt. "Brandon had a great camp on top of a great summer and spring. He has improved so much on the technical aspects of being a wide receiver and his athletic ability is as good as anybody in the country. Yesterday, he just seemed to put everything together. Sure, he came up big on the post route (64-yard TD), but he caught a number of short routes that moved the chains and kept drives alive, and that is a key to being a great receiver."
"The wide receivers were probably the best group overall on the field last night," said Long. "They did not drop a ball and just really played well and came to play. The emergence of Brandon Jones really helped. He caught ten balls and had a big one over the top. He showed us his power and strength after the catch. Right now, wide receiver is the strength of our offense."
The Sooner running backs didn't compile a bunch of yards, but they did other things well.
"I thought our running backs ran hard and I thought we blocked pretty well at the running back position," said Long. "I thought they played pretty well considering that North Texas was playing eight to nine men in the box on most plays we ran the ball pretty well."
"I thought it was fair," said Wilson. "I don't think we came off real hard and knocked them down enough. We need to just get our running backs to keep sticking it in there and being decisive and stuff. I think it was average at best and it will be a lot better."
As you might expect, the OU coaches were already concentrating on Alabama. And without question,they all believe the Crimson Tide is a good football team.
"Oh, they are good with a good quarterback and a good style of offense," said Mike Stoops. "This style of offense fits him (QB Brodie Croyle) better and you can tell he is just getting used to it. He has been through three schemes in a short period of time. They run a pro-style offense, and Coach (Mike) Shula uses his personal well and tries to create mismatches. They are going to pound you on the ground, then play action you and try to get you off balance. They have as good of people as anybody that we will face all you. Up front they are big, strong guys and it will be physical game."
"It is going to be good to get Brandon Everage back," Mike Stoops continued. "We are going into a hostile environment and into a tough road game. I am sure he will be anxious to get out there and play. We need him and we are anxious to get him back, especially in this type game where that is where he usually shows up the most."
"Alabama is a very good football team on defense and they are team that just seems to reload," said Chuck Long. "They just seem to reload down there and their defense they can really run. They have some big guys and they have some guys who can run. They are coming off a good year, and even though they have a new coach, they have the momentum of coming off a good year. They have a lot of those guys back. It is a traditional game with two great programs clashing. It is a road game for us and one of our goals off of our performance last year is to play better on the road. This is a big challenge right off the bat. They are a physical football team, and despite the fact they have graduated a few players off of last years team, they have replaced them very well."
"I think they are pretty good and they are excellent up front," said Wilson. "They had a couple of guys like Antwan Odom, who is an outstanding defensive rusher off the edge. Their starting defensive tackle from a year ago, Ahmad Childress, has been beaten out by a Kyle Tatum, a redshirt freshman. We heard that they had lost some guys, but they still look pretty good. They are a very good football team up front. Their linebackers are very good as well. And in fact, their front seven is pretty good. Again, we are going to have to find a way to have some run mix and we have to do a better job of protecting for Jason. They have good team speed with Freddie Roach and Derrick Pope at linebacker and they have good speed in the secondary."
So, the Sooners had a good solid effort in game one. They did what they needed to do against North Texas, and in most respects played well. OU did nothing to doubt peoples opinions that OU is one of the best teams in the country. Now, the Sooners will get a real test from Alabama.
It is easy to tell that Alabama has the Sooners full focus and they should. The Sooners know they will have their hands full with the Crimson Tide and they know that the game will be a tight fit, but they are encouraged with how they opened against North Texas. OU is certainly looking forward to the challenge. I can't wait. Can you?
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