Stoops says his Sooners have earned their way

Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops talks about OU's invitation to the Sugar Bowl, the BCS, LSU and his Sooners' 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game in the OU-KSU Locker Room Report. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

NORMAN, Okla. — This one is going to be hard to explain, or maybe it is easy to explain. OU threw up a stinker at the worst time of the year against a good football team that took advantage of it, and maybe that is it. Maybe that is the end of the story.

I really don't think it is that simple, but I can say without question that Kansas State is a heck of a football team, and if they had been healthy all year they might be going to New Orleans instead of the Sooners. However, Kansas State isn't good enough to beat OU 35-7 and they know that as well. In fact, if both teams play up to their capabilities, OU still wins this game by ten points or so. If they played 10 times, I still think OU wins seven or eight. Am I in denial? No, I don't think so. But this proves that if you don't play your game and you grossly underachieve on the field, then another good team can beat their tail.

None of us saw this coming, and in talking to Sooner players and coaches after the game and today they still can't believe that it happened. OU had set the bar so high all season, and to play in the biggest game of the year and totally blow it is unbelievable. As the coaches hit the road recruiting they now know what happened, but it is still startling. In fact, the coaches will have to regroup as they hit the recruiting trail. They certainly didn't expect the team to play this badly and they didn't expect to have a loss to hit the recruiting trail with. They are still shaking their heads about it but nonetheless, they still know that OU played a terrible football game in their biggest game of the season.

OU will kick themselves about this loss for a long time, because they had so many plays that looked like they were going to be good that turned out to be a disaster for them. The circumstances of this game were so unusual that even OU Head Coach Bob Stoops had to admit he had never been a part of a game like last night.

"No, not in a game with this importance to it — playing in a Big 12 Championship game," said Coach Stoops Sunday as he readied to hit the road recruiting. "Routine plays that we have made so often were not made. I could go on and on, but their first touchdown we blitz right into it (Derrick Strait) and hit (Darren) Sproles five yards deep and he breaks the tackle and goes right through everybody for 60-yards. That certainly didn't happen to us much this year. Then you have the fourth down pass and our guy (Lance Donley) is two steps behind everyone and we are not able to finish it off. Again, it goes on and on. We had plenty of opportunities to make plays that we have made throughout the year and we weren't able to do it. They made their big plays — three or four of them in the game that made the difference."

"There is a lot of that game where we play excellent defense," Stoops continued. "You look at the first quarter and you look at the first four or five possessions, our offense has great field position and we are stopping them. Then on defense we gave up the one run after we hit them in the backfield. And then on third down a guy (tight end) right up the middle and we have coverage for it, but we don't cover the guy. Then they come back with a long pass and two guys are back there and 'Perk' (Antonio Perkins) is in great shape. They under throw it and the guy adjust to it and there it goes. Then the screen goes out the gates, so those three or four plays were really the game."

The missed opportunities weren't just on defense alone, but the fact the offense misfired didn't put the defense in a good frame of mind.

"We went out and held them for the first five series and then started to misfire and make mistakes," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "On offense, we were leaving opportunities on the field and then we compounded the problem by not doing our job and give up big plays. We can't convert on third down or in the red zone, which is something that we have been good at OU. Then we can't stop them on third down, which is what we have been the best in the conference at all year. We missed two field goals, which is something that we haven't done all year. We gave up big plays in the secondary, which is something that we haven't done all year. We call a perfect blitz, which should have resulted in a five-yard lose with one of the best players in the country (Strait) and we don't make the play, and then nobody else on our defense is there to back him up. This is the first game in a long time where the defense didn't pick up the offense and visa versa. And to have it happen in such a big game is something that is hard to understand."

***

The Sooner offense couldn't run the ball and certainly couldn't make anything happen in short yardage. It was one of the worse days for the offensive line in sometime.

"We get into third-and-two and because of our self scout we thought they were going to do certain things and it turns out they don't, so we don't convert in short yardage. That is my fault," said Run Game Coordinator and offensive line coach Kevin Wilson. "The next time it is third-and-three on the 40 and Mark (Clayton) gets re-routed and doesn't bend it, and Jason (White's) timing is off a little so we miss another short one. The next time we miss a field goal and blow a couple of plays. So, in the first quarter you've got a touchdown, a third-and-two you don't get, and a third-and-three you don't get. And then on their 25-yard line we bog down and miss a field goal."

"Then you go to the next quarter and they score to make it 7-7," Wilson continues. "We have a third-and-one that we don't get, because Jammal Brown misses a backside slant and guy crosses his face and makes the tackle. They don't make anything and we get the ball back. We have a third-and-three and Jason throws a slant pass and it is a little bit behind JeJuan (Rankins) and he can't catch it. They score to make it 14-7, but we come back and go down the field and get it inside the ten and Jason throws the interception. They pop the screen pass and it is 21-7. We come back and we have a fourth-and-one and we don't get it and we go to the half."

"We come out the first drive of the second half and we take it all the way down inside the ten again and we don't score points and we miss the field goal," Wilson continued. "So, for us at that point it is pretty frustrating. Then they go and score and make it 28-7. We are not playing great, but we are moving the ball and we have a chance. It is just making our plays. It is just converting this third down and on our second third-and-two we didn't make a good call. It is just making a competitive catch and Jason has a fourth-and-one open and he just misses the guy. He had the fullback open as well and could have it either one of the guys and it would have been good."

Wilson says in looking back it is easy to say that the Sooner offense left a ton of points on the field.

"Unless they just totally overwhelmed you, usually it is your lack of execution more than their dominance," said Wilson. "They are a great defensive team and they played very, very well. I guess that we couldn't convert because they are a pretty good defense as well, and I don't want to take anything away from them. You would like to think as an offense that when you have third-and-short you would like to think you are going to make three or four of those. At times we have been better than that in converting short yardage. You would like to think when you have an opponent inside the ten yard line you are going to get touchdowns. We didn't and that is something that we have done all year."

"Shoot, the linebacker tipped the one pass to (Will) Peoples so we don't get a break there," Wilson continued. "Then on Jason's pick in the end zone, he has JeJuan Rankins so wide open in the back of the end zone and he could have lobbed it to him. He just missed him, which is another example of something that hasn't happened to us all year and another example of us being off our game. We didn't make any plays in the kicking game as well. When you don't make any plays on offense, don't make any big plays in the kicking game and then give up big plays on defense you typically lose, and we did."

***

The Sooners are a proud football team, but they were as low as I have ever seen them over the last couple of years. OU has always been a team of great losers, and once again they were very respectful of Kansas State.

"I can't say we played a great game at all, but I can say that Kansas State is an excellent football team," said junior defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. "I mean, we didn't help our own cause today, but they are a very good football team. Sproles is the best running back we have played against all year and they made more big plays than we did. In fact, I am not sure we made any big plays in the game. They deserve to win."

***

Despite the loss the Sooners still have a big goal in front of them. The Sooners will still play for the National Championship in the Sugar Bowl against LSU, so the Sooner coaches have to go back to work to get ready for a big game.

"The football part I don't think is a problem," said Coach Stoops. "We were so close to having an excellent game. Again, plays we have made for 12 straight games we don't make, but we are not going to sit here and lose confidence that we can't make those plays. We have made them too often and too regularly to think that we can't make them again. I am not worried about our mental aspect either. We are not a fragile team. Our guys understand that we have been number one in the country for 13 or 14 polls, or the entire season. We have not been sitting around here and playing like a good football team and not knowing what it takes to win. We have what it takes to bounce back from this and finish the year off in a strong way and with a lot character. The players understand that their body of work through an entire season in a winning manner is not easy to do."

"We just need to understand who we are," Stoops continued. "Don't let the media get to you. Everybody is going to have their opinions and just had their opinions before the game. Everybody has been tooting our horn for the last four, five or six weeks, and now in one week they are going to reverse their position. We should have never listened to them before then and shouldn't listen to them now. We know what we are about and we have been a very good team for 12 weeks of the year. There is no shame to losing to a team ranked in the top 10 who played well and made some plays in the game that mattered. We will be fine."

The Sooners learned that despite the loss they will still play in the Sugar Bowl against LSU for the National Championship.

"Really, right now we don't know what to make of it," said Stoops. "When you haven't had a loss for so long they don't know how to deal with it. But they do see the ray of light of a possible national championship. We still have something that could be awfully special to finish off the year. If it finishes off that way it is going to be very exciting for them and something that they will be determined to pursue."

***

One of the key factors in the loss was the health of Jason White. White got hit on his interception and for about quarter didn't have much feeling in his arm. He was also knocked woozy several times in the game.

"He still, for the most part, threw it very well, but his whole arm was numb at one point," said Coach Stoops. "He was pretty dazed for a period of time. And afterwards, for some of the sequences of the game, he has a hard time remembering what happened. He is going to be fine for the bowl game and since they have about a week off he is going to have time to get totally healthy. It wasn't an ideal situation for Jason, but give Kansas State credit. We don't make excuses."

***

The Sooner coaches hit the road recruiting and many of the players will hit the road as well for award shows. The Sooners will not practice again until Friday, and of course this weekend the Sooners have a big recruiting weekend planned. Coach Stoops, Athletic Director Joe Castiglione and Sports Information Director Kenny Mossman will be traveling around the country to make it to as many events as possible.

"We have players that are up for just about every award there is and you feel like you want to be there to support your players," said Coach Stoops. "You get stretched because you want to recruit, especially since we lost a week of recruiting last week. It gets hectic to manage. Renaldo Works is involved with the College Hall of Fame and there is something for us to go to every day this week. We will do the best we can to make it to each award while also taking care of our recruiting needs."

***

As expected the Sooners are still ranked No. 1 in the latest BCS poll with LSU second and USC third. USC finished No. 1 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA today poll, with LSU second and USC third. This of course has created a lot of controversy as OU and LSU have been tabbed to play for the National Championship in the Sugar Bowl, while USC plays Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Trojan Coach Pete Carroll claims that USC and Michigan will play for the national championship and the winner of that has a claim in the real national championship.

That will be argued forever, but the reality of it is that there is a good chance of split national champions if both the Sooners and Trojans win.

"I don't have any control over the BCS. If we're in that position, it speaks for itself," said Coach Stoops. "Our strength of schedule, our quality wins, everything they take into consideration indicates that we've earned our way. We'll do our best to do everything in a positive way and to win. I think it's pretty obvious that, although I respect both those programs (LSU, USC), we've come 13-14 straight weeks of being No. 1 in the BCS. I find no shame in that. We (OU and LSU) each played an extra game, playing a top 10 team, to get where we are. I'm not going to apologize. We're No. 1 in the entire system. There is nothing to apologize for."

Stoops also has great respect for LSU.

"It's the same thing when we played Florida State in Miami. We look at it as a challenge. We can reflect on the fact that we won the Orange Bowl. You draw on whatever positives you can make. You get on the field and if you're doing things well enough you're going to hear you crowd. If you don't, you're going to hear theirs. In the end, that's the thing that matters most."

Oklahoma didn't seem on edge in this game and who can say why. As I state at the beginning of this report, this was a strange game for a Stoops coached team and one that is hard to explain.

Notes as the Sooners great ready for the Sugar Bowl.

* This OU team is gunning for the school's eighth national title. Three of the previous seven also endured a loss.

* This is the second time in a row that Oklahoma has gone to play a team in its home state with a national crown on the line. In 2000, the Sooners defeated Florida State, 13-2, at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

* This is Oklahoma's sixth appearance in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners are 4-1 in the game. They downed North Carolina in 1949 (14-6), defeated LSU in 1950 (35-0), lost to Kentucky in 1951 (13-7), defeated Auburn in 1972 (40-22) and turned back Penn State in 1973 (14-0). None of Oklahoma's previous seven national titles came as the result of a win in the Sugar Bowl.

* Oklahoma won its first national championship in 1950 and played in the Sugar Bowl season. Ironically, the Sooners lost (1951 game) to Kentucky, 13-7.

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