Even after beating Oklahoma two straight years the main complaint that comes from the OSU faithful is that OU doesn't respect their Cowboys. I feel that my broadcast partner Robert Allen represents the thoughts of many OSU fans, and that is his major rallying cry just about any time OU and OSU football is brought up. The Cowboys want respect from the Sooners for winning the right to state bragging rights the last two years, and by gosh they better get it or the Sooners just don't have any character.
Well, sometimes it is not good to get what you wish for, because just moments after the Sooners held off a stubborn Colorado team, Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops took an uncharacteristic approach with the media and brought up the upcoming game with OSU. Stoops normally doesn't talk about the upcoming opponent immediately after winning a ballgame. Usually that is just saved for Texas, but now OSU has been lumped into that mix, which means that the Cowboys have the Sooners attention.
"We always approached the OSU game in a respectful manner and we realize we have to be on top of our game to win," said Stoops in the Sooner locker room following their 34-20 win over Colorado. "We realize that again this year. They are coming in a better team than when we played them a year ago and we believe that we are coming in a better team. So, it will be another big game for us."
It was obvious that the media wanted to get the Bedlam talk started immediately. While there were questions about the victory over Colorado mixed in there were an equal number of questions about the Cowboys, including a question on whether the Head Ball Coach takes the losses to the Cowboys the last two years personal.
"Absolutely, how can I not," said Stoops. "We were pursuing a national championship and just didn't get the job done the last two years. Now, we are 8-0 again and in the same situation with the regards to the national championship. And on top of that, playing a team that has beaten us the last two years. It is another big challenge and that is what is exciting about it."
The Cowboys are the only team to get under the Sooners skin in Big 12 play. Sure, other Big 12 teams have beaten the Sooners during the Stoops era, but it's the Cowboys who shocked the Sooners two years running. But Stoops reminded all that his coaches have had success against the Cowboys before.
"Hey, we are actually 2-2 overall against Oklahoma State," said Stoops. "That is something that is never talked about. We are also defending Big 12 Champions, so none of those things make you shy away from a challenge and it won't again this week."
So, for this year at least the Cowboys have reached the equal level of Texas as the Sooners arch-rival, and it appears that the Sooners can't wait to play the Cowboys November 1.
The Sooners were also happy to make it to 8-0. None of us thought the game would be close, but the Sooners thought their game with Colorado could be. The Sooners had great respect for the two-time defending Big 12 North Champions, and despite coming into the game 3-4 overall and 1-2 in conference play the Sooners knew the Buffaloes were better than their record indicates.
"I am really proud of our players and I am glad it all ended like it did," said Stoops after just walking off the field a victor against Colorado. "Our character was tested and our toughness was tested, and yet we stood in there and still made plays, and made plays that made a difference in winning or losing a game from home. Regardless of what anybody wants to write about Colorado, this is a team that has won back-to-back Big 12 Championships and has been in the Big 12 Championship game the last two years and won one of those. That is not easy to do. They have good people and a lot of pride, and for us coming into Boulder and making plays to win a tough game is special. My compliments to Colorado, who played us tough. They have good coaches and good players, and they played us with great passion and pride. They played to win and we were good enough to make some plays on our own, overcome our own mistakes and win the game."
Playing in front of the largest crowd ever at Folsom Field (54,215), the Sooners couldn't pull away because they kept shooting themselves in the foot. Going into the Colorado game the Sooners had amazingly lost only one fumble on special teams. Through seven games the Sooners had not lost a fumble on offense, yet against the Buffaloes the Sooners fumbled three times, two deep in Colorado territory.
"Turning the ball over like that is uncharacteristic of our team, but sometimes they are part of the game," said Bob Stoops. "I am glad it happened in some ways. It is hard to go the entire year and not have any turnovers. We had a few and overcame them and won, and when we get back to practice guys will learn from them. We have a young running back that hasn't played a lot and he lost a couple and he will learn from them. He lost one on an exchange and that should never happen. Renaldo was holding the ball loosely near the goal-line and he knows better than that. Jason got blindsided on his fumble, and despite the fact I don't like it, I can't blame him on it. But the running backs need to take better care of the ball. So, I don't like the fumbles, but we can improve from them, and we still won the game.
The Buffaloes rallied in the fourth quarter against the Sooners scoring twice, the last on a Joel Klatt to Derek McCoy nine-yard touchdown pass with 5:03 remaining. It was gut check time for the Sooner offense. OU kept the ball on the ground and KeJuan Jones hammered the Colorado defensive line and the Sooners picked up one first down. On the second series the Sooners ran the ball twice, but faced a third and six from their own 41, and that's when senior quarterback Jason White rolled left looking to make a first down.
"It was third down and all we were trying to do was just pick up a first down and move the chains," said White in the Sooner locker room. "We just wanted to keep the clock running and keep the defense off the field. We rolled left and Mark Clayton was out there all by himself, and I am thinking to myself, ‘this guy is wide open.' I just threw it to him and I saw him get the first down, so I stopped watching as I am thinking that he will get tackled and we are going to have run another two minutes off the clock. However, I look up and I think ‘wow' he is way down field. I can't believe it, but I guess by now I shouldn't be surprised. There is no real strategy here, it is just getting the ball into Mark's hands and letting him do his thing. Mark just makes big things happen and that is just a credit to him."
Coach Bob Stoops has run out of words to describe Clayton. The Head Ball Coach loves how Clayton competes and loves to watch the Arlington junior play. He always wants the ball in his hands, especially any time the Sooners reach crunch time. With the Sooners desperately trying to run out the clock it was crunch time again and Clayton responded with his 59-yard touchdown run to earn another game ball.
"Mark is sensational. And what a run and what execution too," said Bob Stoops. "I am really proud of our players and I am glad the game ended like it did. I don't know what to expect from Mark, but I always expect something good if that makes sense. I love the fact that we played well under duress, under pressure and played well in a hostile environment," Stoops continued. "I am glad that we have had our backs against the wall, away form home likes this, against a proud team that wanted to get something done against us. We also dug out of our own mistakes and came back to make some great plays when we were really up against it. This will really build character in our team and confidence in our team."
Along with Clayton, both Renaldo Works and KeJuan Jones were given game balls. Works finished the game's leading rusher with 130 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. Jones was back in the primary back-up roll thanks to an early Donta Hickson fumble and responded with a tough 68-yards on 13 carries. Jones showed renewed determination and quickness and ran with a purpose.
"I think you could say that KeJuan wanted to show us something," said OU Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long on Sunday after watching film of OSU. "Last week he watched Donta explode on the scene and he realize that Donta might cut into his playing time. I overheard KeJuan say last week that when he got another chance he was going to run so hard that his playing time would not be cut again, and he ran very determined yesterday. KeJuan had great quickness and explosiveness and looked good. Our running game was exceptional. We rushed for over 180 yards and were able to come up with great runs."
As expected the Sooner run game is getting better each game. Works is shaking off the rust of being a three-year back-up and is beginning to flash the form that made him a top 10 national running back coming out of T. Washington High School in Tulsa. Jones and Hickson are providing solid back-up behind works and J.D. Runnels has become one of the best blocking fullbacks in the country.
Runnels was tremendous time after time with his lead blocks and the Sooner offensive line is getting more physical with each game, maybe not enough to please Run Game Coordinator and Offensive Line coach Kevin Wilson, but they are getting there. The Sooners were able to run the ball late in the game and despite facing maximum blitzes all night only gave up two sacks.
"It was good that we got tested tonight and maybe that is not the right way to say it," said Wilson immediately after the game. "We have had some success this year and maybe at times things have come to easy for us. It was nice to come into a place where we struggled some the last few years and they still have some good players. They have a lot of guys that we played twice last year. They had a good plan and they played hard. We helped them with a couple loose balls and some turnovers and right before the end of the first half. We gave up a hit on Jason, that really hurt us, that we need not have. We were very fortunate to overcome some miscues and all year we had not experienced that."
"It looked like we ran the ball better, but I think protection-wise whether it was an individual breakdown or maybe it was a scheme problem we had a couple of hits on Jason that we don't like," Wilson continued. "We will take a good look at the individuals and we will take a look at our schemes to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect Jason. Our protection could have been cleaner, but our run game for the most part was solid. But a couple of fumbles were uncharacteristic of us. However, it was good to not be at our best and be mature enough to come back and get a good and tough win."
The Sooners have been blitzed all year, but they haven't seen an all out blitzing scheme since Phil Bennett was Defensive Coordinator at Kansas State. Colorado went blitzed OU on nearly every play and seemed to bring defenders off the bench, but White still finished 19 for 28 for 248 yards and three touchdowns.
"You want those blitzes to be blocked on his plays, or at least you want answers for them no matter where they come from," said Wilson. "It is no good for Jason to just sit out there and get hit. We need to look maybe scheme-wise, because we may be doing some things that aren't sound against the blitz. I really don't know without looking at the film. We need to study and find out is it just one guy breaking down or was it an assignment mistake or just one guy getting beat. We may also be getting to predictable in our blocking schemes, which is something we need to look at. Whatever it is, we will find it out and fix it so that we do a better job of protecting Jason in the future."
"We got a good challenge tonight against a good defense that is very comparable to the defense to we will see against Oklahoma State," Wilson continued. "It is a very similar defense as far as their style and their scheme, which will be very good for us as we start preparing for the OSU game. Sure Colorado blitzed, but they blitzed everyone, so we had a blitz plan coming in. We just didn't execute it well, because they changed it a little. They put a wrinkle in it and we didn't adjust fast enough. We need to protect a little bit better and hold onto the football. If we do those two things we are going to continue to be pretty good."
One again the riverboat gambler in Coach Stoops resurfaced with an on-side kick late in the first half. However, Coach Stoops didn't think it was much of a gamble.
"Coach (Bobby Jack) Wright noticed during the week that Colorado was bailing out early on their kick return team," said Stoops. "If they are going to give you extra cushion then it is really an easy play. Trey (DiCarlo) executed it perfectly and he did a great job of getting on the ball. So, I called it, but several coaches were pushing me to call it. Actually, we have should have done it later in the game as well, because they didn't change their scheme at all. But we didn't get a good chance to use it again."
On the downside, the Sooners gave up a fake punt and a fake field goal and Stoops took the blame for both.
"Hey, I take the blame for both of those," said Stoops. "I call some of those with my gut. I always tell you that our special team calls are well thought-out. Where this is a case where I should have trusted my gut and I didn't. I had a hunch on both of those fakes that they were going to run them and I should have had our punt safe on and I didn't call it. So, you can lay that one on the ole Head Ball Coach. I knew something was going on with both and didn't play my gut. Maybe I need to coach with my gut more in the future."
We all know that nobody coaches by feel better than Coach Stoops, and you can bet he won't let his gut betray him in the future.
Junior Dan Cody didn't play in the game, but he suited up and could have played if he needed.
"Dan went through our pregame warm-up and actually looked pretty good," said Stoops. "However, we didn't want him to have a set back and so we held him out. Jonathan Jackson and Larry Birdine played well in his first start. Calvin Thibodeaux got his first significant action for us and played well. He got a chance and made several good plays for us. Defensive end is a very good position for us and are developing some depth there."
Cody rode a bike throughout the game just trying to stay loose in case he would be needed in an emergency situation.
The Sooners have now opened the game with points in eight straight games, and on Saturday it was a a 54-yard touchdown pass form White to Brandon Jones. Jones had his best game since early in the season with three catches for 79 yards.
"We really want to start off the game in a good fashion. We come into the start of the game with a gameplan geared to beating our opponent's defense right off the bat," said White. "Every game our coaches give us the perfect gameplan for starting a game and it works every time. This time we knew they would be coming hard on a blitz and we got man coverage on Brandon and we will take that every time. Brandon got wide open and all I had to do was throw the ball up and let him run under it. Our o-line gave me the time and it was a pretty easy score."
Mark Clayton continues to have a big season and he led the Sooners with six catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns despite the fact he was injured early in the game.
"I got leg-whipped early in the game and that hurt worse as the game wore on," said a tired Clayton after the game. "Then in the third quarter I got hit on the same spot again and man that was painful. It wasn't anything that I couldn't play through, but when I would trot back to the huddle or walk it would hurt. When I ran at full speed it didn't hurt as much."
So, when White found him in the flat with under two-minutes to go he wasn't running with any pain.
"No, I didn't feel a thing," said a chuckling Clayton. "I was so wide open that when I caught the ball I turned around and couldn't believe that nobody was around me. I braced myself to get hit and when I turned nobody hit me, so I just took off. Once I got into stride I just kept running and nobody caught me. I really don't know how to explain it outside of that."
Isn't it great that Clayton can never explain his runs? This guy is the most natural runner in a Sooner uniform in some time. He just runs and really doesn't know what kind of spectacular run he had until he watches it back on film. Is this guy an All-American yet?
The Sooner defense played an outstanding game overall and gave up only 227 yards of total offense. However, the Buffaloes did score twice in the fourth quarter, which wasn't something that the Sooners expected.
"We let the game get away form us a little bit," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops. "We had control of the game and then for some reason lost it. We lost our intensity a little bit and they made some big plays. However, we hung tough for most the game and really when you look back at it we played a pretty good game defensively."
As soon as the game was over OU's attention was on OSU. I got the same feeling in the OU locker room that I got when the Sooners has finished off Iowa State. It wasn't two minutes after the victory that the Sooners were already talking about Texas, and it wasn't two-minutes after Colorado that the Sooners were already looking forward to playing Oklahoma State.
"Man, for the last two years Oklahoma State has put it on us and that is a terrible feeling," said junior defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. "We have all been pissed off, humiliated and disappointed the last two years against Oklahoma State. Both years the losses have cost us a chance to play in the national championship game and both times we played terrible games. I am not going to lie and say that when we were working out in the summer that we didn't have OSU on our minds. It has drove us to a certain extent and I can't wait to play the game. I think our fans are going to be crazy and I am looking forward to playing them again."
For the first time since Stoops has been at Oklahoma the Sooners spent some major time on OSU this summer. During their off-week following the win over UCLA, the Sooners spent some major time on OSU, especially the OSU offense.
"They are one of the best offenses in college football," said Bob Stoops. "They are very balanced and can both run and throw the football very well. Tatum Bell is a thousand yard rusher and had good success against us last year. Josh Fields is one of the best quarterbacks that we will play this year and Rashaun Woods may be the best receiver that we will play. Both teams are ranked very high and there is a lot at stake in this football game. We are looking forward to playing against them and I am sure they are looking forward to playing us."
All the early focus on this game centers on the OSU offense against the OU defense. Last year the Sooners came into Stillwater a beat up defensive football team and one that wasn't sound. The entire front-four was hurt and didn't get any pressure on the quarterback until they became somewhat healthy against Washington State in the Rose Bowl. Lance Mitchell was slowed at middle linebacker and safety Brandon Everage sprained a knee walking down the ramp at Lewis Field.
The Sooners were already a safety short and when Everage lost his speed he was of little use against the Cowboys. Andre Woolfolk also was slowed with a knee, but the fact he busted more times against the Cowboys than at any time his entire career was something that nobody can explain. The Sooners couldn't stop the run and couldn't stop Fields and Woods either. It was the worst performance by a Sooner team since Stoops has been at Oklahoma and that hasn't been lost on the Sooner coaching staff or players.
"They beat us in every way last year and that has certainly stuck with us," said Mike Stoops. "We didn't cover them or tackle them last year and we almost seemed helpless at times. OSU played a great game against us and Fields was tremendous. He just seemed to know what we were going to do all day and guessed right all day. When we had a defense to stop the run he threw and when we played back to stop the pass he ran."
The Sooners were a banged up football team, but as usual the Sooners weren't going to use that as an excuse.
"Hey, we weren't that beat up last year," said Bob Stoops. "The last time I checked we were able to put 11 players on the field, but I guess at times it seemed like we only had 10 out there."
It is obvious that OU goes into the OSU game a much better football team than they were a year ago, and they weren't bad back then. OU won the Big 12 Championship and won the Rose Bowl. However, the Sooners had holes in their defense a year ago, especially at safety, which Fields and Woods picked apart. That game along with the Texas A&M fiasco inspired the Sooners to sign Donte Nicholson and accelerate the development of Brodney Pool. The Sooners front four is healthy and getting tremendous pressure on the quarterback and Wayne Chambers has stepped in for the injured Lance Mitchell.
OSU is better on offense as well, but they will play an entirely different OU defense this time around.
"We are a lot better on defense this year, but we have talked about that all year," said Mike Stoops. "Our front four has been so good for us that it allows us to do so many things in the back end. We had to simplify some things in the secondary last year, but not so much that we couldn't run our defense. Many of our players are a year older this year, but that is the same case with OSU. They have the nucleus of their players back, but they added more stuff to their offense to keep you on guard and to try to free up Woods. They are more diverse in their running to try to keep you from taking Woods away. They know what they are doing and they are very smart. Fields is very good at attacking your weakness in whatever particular defense that you are in. We hope that we execute our defense better and we hope to come up with some things that maybe he hasn't seen before. If we can confuse Fields a little then maybe we can get a few breaks and slow them down a little."
"We are just going to do our normal stuff, but we will try and confuse them at the line of scrimmage," M. Stoops continued. "The game that Fields calls is at the line of scrimmage and we have to be strong and smarter at the line of scrimmage. We have to understand our strengths and weaknesses of every call as well and understand how they are going to counter it. It becomes a chess match and they got us checkmate pretty early last year. It is more of a chess game with these guys than some other teams we play. They have tremendous balance and have a great scheme. I think we have a better understanding of them and our secondary guys are playing pretty well right now."
Where OU has the big advantage this year is the match-up of the Sooner offense against the OSU defense. The OSU defense may be better than they were a year ago, but they have not come as far as the Sooners have on offense. OU is one of the top five offensive teams in college and Jason White is the best player in college football. The big question is whether OSU can match up with that, and right now that is a big advantage for the Sooners.
OSU Head Coach Les Miles always has tremendous confidence and already the coach is taking small shots at the Sooners. After the Cowboys big win over Texas A&M Miles had this to say about next week's game.
"We are playing Oklahoma next week. They are the best team in college football... we are told," Miles smirked.
The Sooners don't plan to leaving Miles laughing on Saturday.
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