Long says OU's offense will learn from losses

Oklahoma Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long talks about the Sooners' offensive troubles in the Sugar Bowl and how it will be them be better in 2004. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

NORMAN, Okla. — Following the Sooners 21-14 Sugar Bowl loss to LSU, OU Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long went right back to work looking for ways to correct the Sooners anemic offense they displayed in the final two games of the year against Kansas State and LSU. Long is a very positive thinker and that always translates to his team, which in this case certainly can't be a negative for the Sooners.

Long recently had a chance to sit down with OUInsider.com to talk about what went wrong in the Sugar Bowl and what is in store for the Sooners offense in the future.

JH: Chuck, did you find out there was still life after the Sugar Bowl?

CL: "Hey, the sun is shining and the sun did come up."

JH: Congratulations on a 12-2 season, I know it hurts to lose the last two games, but to win 12 games in reality is a good season isn't it?

CL: "Yes, we still have a lot of teams looking up at us. Finishing number three in the country means we have a lot to be proud of. Our kids did a great job this year winning 12 games and we almost went wire-to-wire. I don't know how many teams that have gone wire-to-wire in the last 20 years or so, but we had an opportunity and we almost did it. We won 12 games, and I think we are looking at it as not a disappointment, but that we still have some unfinished business ahead of us. That will propel us into the off-season to get after it with our guys and give them reason to have hunger going into the off-season and into next year.

JH: What comes to your mind about the loss in the Sugar Bowl?

CL: "In both the games, but especially this last one, we just got behind the chains. We got into too many third and long situations. We had too many penalties this last game that hurt us. Whenever you play a good defense, I don't care what kind of offense you are in or what you have, if you get behind the chains and you get into to many third-and-longs, you are going to have some problems and that is what happened.

"We went into the game wanting to establish the run game and I thought our run game did pretty well overall. But we got into a lot of second-and-tens and second-and-12 or 15, where we had to throw it, because we were behind the chains so much. Stat-wise we weren't real good, but our guys fought hard and played hard all the way until the end. That is all you can ask out of your kids — is to play hard until the end, and we did have a chance to win at the end."

JH: Jason did not have a good game, so what threw him off in the game?

CL: "Here is a young man that had done a lot in one year's time. Remember this is his first full year to start as a quarterback here at Oklahoma. Each quarterback has to go through a process and this is his process. He has never faced adversity in a ballgame before. He has faced physical adversity with his knee surgeries and everybody knows that story now. However, he hasn't faced that game adversity yet, which is something that we have to learn from playing. In the game there were times that Jason struggled and he kept fighting through it, because he is a warrior and his has mental toughness, which is going to help him next year. A game like this is going to help him next year, just the experience of it. It is just one of those things like I said. We had those penalties and now we have those third-and-long situations, and you are asking your quarterback a lot to get you out of them. We can't consistently put him in those situations and be successful. We have been successful staying out of bad situations all year."

JH: Coming into the game all you heard was that they were a superman coverage team, but didn't they run a bunch of zone against you? And did that confuse Jason in the game?

CL: "We have played zone before and played against it all year. We had a feeling that they would play some zone against us — that they couldn't matchup all day long playing man-coverage against us. We do so much with our formations, personnel, shifting and motion that a man team really struggles against those things. So, we anticipated that they would play some man and some zone, and they did. They did everything that we anticipated, but they just played well. Hats off to Coach (Nick) Saban, who is an excellent defensive coach, and they played well by getting us behind the chains.

"I thought we shot ourselves in the foot a few times, more than a few times and the game didn't work out the way we wanted. The beauty of it is that we have all seniors coming back on offense for the first time that I have been here. I have been here four years and we finally have gotten to the point that we have a senior offense coming back, and we are excited about that."

JH: Many fans want to know if you should have put Paul Thompson into the game for a series or two as a change of pace against LSU?

CL: "You have to understand the circumstances. It is a huge game and Paul hasn't been in a huge game yet. You have a guy that brought us to this point and won 12 games for us as a quarterback, so you tend to lean towards staying with the guy that brought us here and you leave him in the game. We feel we always have a chance to win with Jason in the game at the end of the game and that was the philosophy that we took. He got us this far and it is hard to just put Paul in the game and say, 'hey, go do it.' Those are decisions that we could have made and risks that we could have taken of course, but we were staying with a guy that brought us to the dance and we were going to live with him. Jason is the top player in college football and we knew that he was a little banged up going into the game, like any other player at this time of year. Those are the chances you take, and remember at the end of the game we had a chance to win the game. Here is Jason White in the game and we had a chance to win it."

JH: "As much as you love Paul Thompson, isn't the reality of the situation that you really don't know if he would have had success or not?

CL: "You don't know and since Paul hadn't been in a huge game like that, and he didn't have that kind of experience, you don't want to put that kind of pressure on him in that kind of situation. You would like to get Paul some more time in other games before you put him in a National Championship game. Like I said, at the end of the game we had a chance to win it, or at least tie it to send it into overtime with Jason White in the game."

JH: On your big drive in the fourth quarter you got the running game going and with it drove down to the 12-yard line where you had a first down. Do you regret at that point throwing four straight passes, especially when it looked like you finally had the running game going?

CL: "We wanted to run some deception there at that point and on our first call was a fake run and a bootleg off of it. Jason threw it to J.D. (Runnels) and it went right trough his hands and just didn't work out. They were trying to get to Mark Clayton and double him as much as they could, and so we tried to work another deception play or trick play that we had been working on, where we roll Jason out one way and throw back to J.D., and that didn't work. Then we are faced with a third down where we had to call and we had the right call on. We anticipate the blitz and practiced all week with it and we got the exact blitz that we wanted. KeJuan slips through the line of scrimmage and there is nobody behind him, but we just don't make the play. Hey, our guys have been making plays like that all year, but we just didn't work out there."

JH: Something just wasn't clicking for you in this game was it?

CL: "It just didn't happen for us. Our guys have been hot all year and they hadn't faced any adverse situations all year, and many of the guys hadn't been there before. We still had a relatively young team this year. Guys just didn't have that kind of experience to be in those situations. I know it is tough right now, but those are situations that will pay off for us next year. Keep in mind that Jason is a one-year starter. Josh Heupel went through that his first year here and then look what happened his second year. Nate Hybl went through that his first year and looked what happened the next year. This is Jason's first year and this is going to help him next year."

JH: Now you will build toward spring football and next year. Is there anything specific that you hope to build on for next year?

CL: "Our offensive coaching staff did a tremendous job for us this year. We went into a situation without much senior leadership on offense and without seniors who had played a lot. This was our first year where we didn't have that, so we had to be the leaders as coaches. You always like guys to leaders, and we had that to work on. We also had a work-in-progress at the running back position and the tight end position. Those two positions continued to be a work-in-progress throughout the year. Nobody came to the surface at those two positions, so we had to open it up and work everybody in there and keep guys fresh. Our coaches did a great job and our players took to it as they understood there roles, and our coaches really did a nice job with that.

"Those are two positions going into the spring that we need to solidify and keep working on. We hope that players will emerge and lock those positions down. With the passing game we want to get back to spreading the ball out more instead of just zeroing in on one receiver. Mark Clayton had a tremendous year and we fed the ball to him because he was hot, but we are going to have games where he is not going to be. We need to spread the ball around a little bit more. Our young receivers have been around now, as they have a year in the system and they will be better next year.

"In the run game we want to establish more consistency there. I thought we did a good job this year overall with a work-in-progress situation there. I believe we will get better there next year.

"Overall, I think our offense is on the right track. We obviously had a break-out year in points scored and how explosive we became. We are going to be a year older next year and we will have that experience of an adverse situation, which is going to help us. I am real excited about next year."

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