Following the Sooners 58-0 win, without question the postgame locker room belonged to beleaguered junior quarterback Nate Hybl. Just a few minutes earlier, Hybl had delivered the type of performance that the OU coaches had expected all along. Hybl was spectacular completing 36 of 48 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns. And once he got in a grove he played the position as if he invented it.
"Nate was very sharp in the game and had a great game for us," said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops. "He had an excellent day. Threw the ball down the middle and played an intelligent game. Nate got us into checks, ran the option very well and his execution was excellent. He made a nice play on the shuttle pass to Quentin, by dumping the ball over the blitz so that he could get the ball to Quentin and that was a great feel play. It was nice to see that Nate made that play by feeling the blitz. His total game was very strong."
Things are starting to click for Nate," said Offensive Coordinator Mark Mangino. "Nate played very well and he did a lot of good things. He threw the ball well for the most part and did a good job sitting in the pocket. Nate got rid of the ball when he had to. Nate had the complete package today. He managed the line of scrimmage well. He did a good job of reading his pass routes and when Nate needed to be patient, he was. When he needed to get rid of the ball, he did. Nate took care of the ball. He did a good job in the option game, protected the football and did a good job of getting yardage. From top to bottom I thought he did a pretty good job of managing all facets of the game."
However, more importantly, Hybl's aggressive and tough play won over his teammates.
"I really don't think Nate has anything to prove to us," said Quentin Griffin, who normally is a man of very few words. "Nate is grown man and a tough one at that. We saw him get up time and time again in the Kansas State game and get back in the huddle and call another play. I don't know where any questions would be coming about his toughness. Our team knows that he is a very tough player and we respect him for it."
However, Hybl himself felt he had something to prove, not only about his toughness, but about his ability. Hybl says he doesn't read the papers, listen to talk radio shows or watch television sports. However, after getting to know him pretty well I know that he knows what is being said and written about him and is sensitive to it as well.
Since injuring his shoulder in the Texas game, Hybl has suffered through an emotional roller coaster. He lost his starting job, gained it back, but in the process he felt he lost the confidence of his team and the fans. Hybl knows the only way to win the fans back is to play well, and that would work with the team as well. However, a football team is made up of a bunch of gladiators, who each and every week give up their bodies for the good of the team.
Hybl heard the whispers. He heard that he was subject to head injuries. Many speculated that he suffered a minor concussion in the Kansas State game and that he was still feeling the effects heading into the Tulsa game.
Against Texas and Nebraska, Hybl took some tremendous shots to the head, and in both games he had to come out of the game because he was woozy. In all cases he returned too action, but he knew that people were wondering if he was injury prone. Nate knew that his teammates were wandering that as well. That's why early in the game Hybl is running like a fullback, lowering his head, fighting for extra yardage, even losing his helmet on one occasion.
"It's not wise to run like that a lot, but I wanted to send a message," said Hybl. "I didn't want my teammates to lose respect for me after last week. In the second half I fell away from some throws and I wanted them to know that wasn't me. What happened today was just instinct. I didn't plan anything. I wanted to do it and felt the crowd get into the game and it was really encouraging. My team responded to it as well. They know it is not wise for me to do it a lot, but as long as I can get up from it then it is fine."
The misconception concerning Hybl is that he never suffered a concussion and never was he not able not to return.
"Nate never suffered a concussion," said Stoops. "I don't know where everybody got that he suffered a concussion. Nate was never able not to return to the game after getting knocked woozy a little bit. Heck, every football player gets his head jarred a little bit, and they shake it off for a couple of plays and then they come right back in. That is what happened to Nate. In the Texas game he injured his shoulder and couldn't return. He never had a serious head injury."
After a slow start, Hybl's determined play sparked an excellent second half. Hybl was in a groove and his teammates were totally in his corner.
"I think Nate wanted to prove a point today and that is exactly what he did," said Stoops. "I think he wanted to show everybody that he was tough enough to play through a football game and tough enough to play a physical game. I don't know why he would have to prove anything, considering how he played in the Kansas State game, but every game is a new week with new issues I guess. At halftime, I told Nate that he had proved his point and that from that point on we needed him to play smart and don't risk any unnecessary injury."
Jason White has already been ruled out for the Texas A&M game and it's this reporters opinion that White can't return this season. However, he will continue to make an effort, but at the end of this week a decision could be made on whether to have surgery or not.
Once again, this is Hybl's team and while he realizes that some of the fans may not believe in him anymore, he knows the only real thing that matters is if his team believes in him anymore.
"I love the fans and I realize they are really what makes playing football great," said Hybl. "The fan support that we get at Oklahoma is one of the main reasons why I came to OU, but I realize that I play a position that the fans are always going to be split on, especially when you have other good quarterbacks like we have on the roster. However, it's the team that has to believe in me for us to be successful. As long as they are in my corner, then we will be good on offense."
Once again the left side of the Sooner offensive line continues to play up to All-American caliber. Frank Romero has been so solid since the second half of last year and even earned midseason All-American honors. Romero is now ranked as one of the top 100 players in the country and the NFL is taking a very close look.
Who now is going unnoticed is Howard Duncan. Duncan proved his worth to Coach Mangino back in the spring when he played tackle, guard and center and may have been the best player at all three positions. At the time I think Mangino forgot that Romero was on the squad at tackle, but Duncan probably had a better spring than his more celebrated teammate.
Mangino trusts Duncan so much that he moved the senior from right tackle to left guard to help freshman Vince Carter at center. Carter was holding up physically, but mentally he was struggling with all the calls a center has to make. Duncan is one of the most intelligent players on the Sooner team and making calls for him is a piece of cake.
Romero and Duncan are often outstanding on the left side, but they were dominant Saturday. Both graded out over 90 percent and both almost battled 1000.
"Frank Romero and Howard Duncan really had spectacular games," said Stoops. "Frank should be getting recognition on the national level. If you look at what he has done since the beginning of the year, you realize that he has played some outstanding football. Look at what he did in our opening game against Julius Peppers. He doesn't get a sack the entire night. What doesn't get talked about much is that Howard is having the same kind of year, and maybe his has been tougher because he has played two positions. Duncan doesn't lose many battles up front and our left side is outstanding."
Filling the void
At right tackle, Jerod Fields and Jammal Brown alternated every two series. They will probably do the same against Texas Tech as Wes Sims has been ruled out for A&M.
"They had a very solid game and are making some progress," said Mangino. "The most encouraging part of all was the pass protection fundamentals were very, very good. They are not perfect, but they are improved. Those kids are really doing all they can with little experience to catch up. With what we are trying to teach them and what we expect of them, they are doing a good job. I am proud of their effort and proud of the way they continue to work hard every day to improve themselves."
The general thought is that Brown has played a little better than Fields, but it doesn't look as if he has been enough for him to win the job himself. Both are expected to alternate again against Texas A&M.
We finally got a chance to see Brandon Jones in action and boy was he something. Jones alternated with Curtis Fagan on punt returns and came close to setting a school record.
Jones caught seven punts for 150 yards and drew rave reviews.
"Brandon Jones is a tremendous talent and a player that we are going to have to get in the game more," said Stoops. "He is a big, powerful player with a tremendous first step. He is very powerful, much like J. T. Thatcher's was a year ago. He is patient like Thatcher as well. We have been waiting to see the confidence from him in terms of catching the ball and we saw that the last couple of weeks in practice. Now, I think we will give him a chance to take over that role on a full-time basis, so Curt can concentrate at wide receiver."
Jones will also be more involved in the Sooner wide receiver game now that Andre Woolfolk is out three to four weeks with a sprained knee. Nothing was torn in the knee and it won't require surgery, but we may not see "Wolf" until the bowl game.
Jones caught two passes for 16-yards and got some help from his quarterback yesterday after he dropped an easy curl over the middle.
"I wouldn't say that I was intentionally trying to go back to him after the drop, but I will admit that I hoped he was open," said Hybl. "We realize what kind of talent he has, but he is just young and needs some reps. I was glad that he was open and I knew that if he caught it then we might have a great one on our hands."
Losing Woolfolk is like losing two players for the Sooners. Granted, he is playing much more at cornerback than at wide receiver, but he also plays on all the Sooner special teams. You can argue that he is the Sooners best special teams' player.
Antonio Perkins will step in for Woolfolk at cornerback and the Sooners will be fine. The coaches love Perkins' upside and feel he will be a great one. Brandon Shelby will be the dime back and he has improved since the beginning of the year.
Will Peoples and Derrick Strait will probably man the gunner position on punt coverage and there are a number of candidates that could take his place on kick coverage teams. Make no mistake, losing Woolfolk for an extended period of time is a big blow to the Sooner football team.
The game was another tremendous effort by the Sooner defense, but what else is new? Oklahoma always plays great defense and Tulsa was way overmatched. However, you have to like the fact that youngsters like Jonathan Jackson and Gayron Allen got significant playing time. That in itself was a great reward for the OU coaches.
"I think the experience that some of our backups received is what made this game important," said Co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "They got in the game somewhat early, so it was some quality snaps for them, which will do a world of good for their confidence. It also helps their experience factor being out on the field, when it is in front of 75-thousand people and not just practice. That will play some type of role before this season is all said and done for a number of those guys. We always say that if you suit up you better be able to play and the Tulsa game was a perfect example of that."
"Brandon Moore got some quality snaps with the dime package. Gayron Allen also received some quality snaps. Brandon Shelby came out there and became part of our dime package when Andre went down and really did a nice job. They all had their share of mistakes, but at the same time they were overshadowed by a great effort and intensity of wanting to play well."
Long awaited debut
There was finally a Juan Prishker sighting. With Dusty Dvoracek out with an infection, Prishker was in the defensive tackle rotation and after a slow start, showed the tremendous athletic ability that he has been known to have since coming out of junior college.
"Juan's size and speed is pretty tough for offensive lineman to handle inside," said Venables. "All that he needs is some playing time and he can be a pretty good player."
Back on track
Isn't it great to have Tim Duncan all the way back again? He if following a similar pattern that he followed a year ago and it looks like the senior place kicker is going to be very strong once again down the stretch.
Texas A&M will come to Norman off a shocking 12-0 loss to Texas Tech. The Aggies still have the Sooners respect and here is an early scouting report on Texas A&M from Coach Venables.
"Comparing things to last year, despite a new coordinator and three of their offensive coaches gone, you still see many similarities to what they did last year. I think that was Coach (R.C.) Slocum's plan going into last year. They were going to be a more wide-open offense and so they did that last year. I think that is still part of his plan. They still have the facets of the passing game. They are doing a lot more with their formations with their receivers and running backs. From way back to their very first year of the Big 12 Conference, they have many similarities to their two-back offense that they had at that time. They even still have their two-back passing offense."
"I know Slocum is a defensive coach, but let me assure you that he is in on those offensive staff meetings and has a great deal to do with the offense. A lot of is playing a ball control offense and not be reckless with the football and making sure they play a field position game. He will make sure they are good on special teams and disciplined on defense. They have added a more wide open attack to give them a little more diversity to their offensive game plan, but the bigger the games it seems they have an additional running back on the field. They try to pound you in regards to the running game. They have been banged up a little bit at a number of positions on both sides of the football. I know their offensive line, receivers and running backs have all taken their turns with the injured reserves. Of course, in this conference everybody is beating everybody else up and that has hurt their continuity at times offensively.
"Mark Farris is an outstanding quarterback with a live arm
and great accuracy. He is a very mature quarterback and handles things well. Terrance Murphy is a great young freshman for them at wide receiver and Derrick Farmer is a running back that we really went after hard. Some of their young guys have had to pick up the slack for them and they have done a good job."
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