OU-Texas A&M Locker room report

The latest news and notes from inside the Oklahoma locker room a day after their 31-10 win over Texas A&M

In sports it's the athlete themselves that realize greatness more than any other. Those that play the game and play with and against the great players understand what it is to be special. It's a unique feeling and one that the Sooner offense feels every game when they take the field with their follow defenders.

I don't say this to pit one against the other, because that isn't the case at OU. The Sooners are a tremendous team and team is the key word. However, every team has its strong points and in some cases their weaknesses. OU is no different. OU's defense is truly great, while the offense is good, but I don't see a weakness. The defense plays great every game and has very few bad plays, while the offense may take a while to get going or may never get into high gear.

I compare it to the how the rest of the Boston Red Sox react when Pedro Martinez pitches. They are so in awe of him and marvel at how he pitches that many times they forget to play themselves. They know Pedro is not going to give up more than a run or two so they relax and many times fail to support him.

Sure, the offense had it's moments and in the second half of the Sooners 31-10 win over Texas A&M, the Sooner 'O' was outstanding. However, the offense could afford to take it's time, because the OU defense was stuffing Texas A&M.

The proud Aggies couldn't move the ball at all. The second and third quarters the Aggies failed to pick up a first down. For the game the Aggies only picked up five total first downs and only 132 yards in total offense. Mark Farris, the Aggies celebrated quarterback, hit only 10 of 20 passes for 59 yards and admitted that his offense had no chance against the Sooners.

"They stuffed us," said a dejected Farris after the game. "I have never played against a defense like that. They seemed to be playing with 13 guys. They were everywhere. I knew that OU had great speed, but I didn't feel it was that good. OU has the best defense that we have seen this year and I don't think it is even close."

Aggie Head Coach R.C. Slocum echoed those same thoughts and it's about the ninth time this year an opposing coach admitted the Sooners defense was the best they had played against this year.

The Sooners great 'D' allows Head Coach Bob Stoops to make all the gutsy calls he wants. To Stoops credit, when he does call for fake field goal or punt the Sooners are still in good field position if it fails, but he also knows that he has a great defense that can back him up if it doesn't work.

"I know that we were playing pretty good defense, so I had it in the back of my mind, if we don't make it then our defense would force them to punt and we could still get the ball back in good field position," said Stoops.

"The worst thing that could have happened is that we don't make it and Texas A&M has to start their offensive from the one. I just felt that we were playing such good defense that we could get the ball back in very good field position. The fact we play great defense is always in the back of my mind and the mind of our coaches. Now, we don't want to put them in bad positions all the time, but we certainly can be aggressive with some things, because our defense is playing so well. So, we took a shot at their end zone, because I have total confidence that our defense will stop them. It's gives us extra confidence in how we coach to know that we play such great defense."

There are almost to many great defensive performances to count, but the Florida State game is usually the standard with which all games are compared. This year's Texas game was another great game that certainly goes among the best. However, Saturday's performance against Texas A&M was equally as impressive.

"We played a real good game and the defense was really strong," said Stoops. "When you can hold someone to five first downs and two first downs from the second quarter on, that is just exceptional. We are playing really well. It is hard to compare all the way back to the Florida State game, but everybody likes to do that, because we had an outstanding defense last year. I have said it all along that we have been further ahead defensively than we were last year. We are playing at a better level, more consistent level through this whole season than we did last year. We have been playing above that level consistently."

"We are more familiar with what we are doing on defense, because this is our third year for our players to be in the defense," said Stoops. "Plus the increased maturity in our team is a big factor. Nobody talks about how young we were last year. We are still young, but a year older than a year ago. We have more experience and we added strength and speed through our added maturity. All of that adds up to a better defensive effort."

The Sooners were so dominant Saturday that the Sooner defensive coaching staff can find little wrong with their performance.

"I guess the only thing that I can find that we did wrong was when Rocky dropped that interception," Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables said with a chuckle. "He was two yards outside the hash mark and got his hands on the ball and Rocky let it slip right through his hands. No, they played pretty good and they played a complete game. We didn't have too much to get on them about. From the d-line, to the backers, to the back-end the players all understand their roles and how they fit into our schemes in our defense extremely well. Everybody is seeing the field right now and everybody is seeing the field very well. Everybody is anticipating what the offensive play is very well and they seem to be a step ahead of the offense. Our defense certainly has jelled at this time. We are certainly where we were last year and if it wasn't for some guys being banged up we could have been way ahead of where we were last year."

Special teams playing special
The Sooner special teams seem to be back on track. After a disappointing performance in the loss to Nebraska, the Sooners special teams has taken their game up a notch. More starters have been placed on all units and even special team great's Rocky Calmus, Roy Williams, Trent Smith and Derrick Strait are playing special teams with more fight and enthusiasm.

"After looking at all the game film we gave Jeff Ferguson a game ball," said Stoops on Sunday following the game. "Jeff was outstanding punting the ball inside the five a couple of times. He also had big kicks and just plays with such intelligence. Tim Duncan's effort and play on the fake is just a great play and a great individual effort on his part. Tim doesn't ever get to run with the ball, yet he has enough football intelligence to reach across the goal line and to stretch for the goal line was just a great effort on his part. Tim has to be a great player to make that and he kicked the ball well all day. We also covered well."

One of the reasons why Stoops has a great deal of confidence in calling a fake where Duncan is carrying the ball is because he is confident in Duncan's athletic ability. Both Duncan and Ferguson went through Jerry Schmidt's entire summer workout program. While the offensive and defensive members were improving their athletic numbers, so to did Duncan and Ferguson.

"In the summer I was just like everybody else, meaning that I didn't like Coach Schmidt very much," said a happy Duncan after the game. "No, I am just kidding, but I wanted to improve as an athlete as well and I went through his entire program. I improved in every area strength-wise and I dropped my forty time under 4.7. I played wide receiver and defensive back as well in high school so it's not like I don't understand how to play the game. When you get to college as a kicker I have to work so hard on my specialty, that I don't get much of an opportunity to work on other football skills. However, early in two a-days the kickers get a chance to catch some balls and go through some drills and that stays with us. Because of my summer work, I knew that I was a better athlete and ready to do whatever is called upon me to do."

Both Duncan and Ferguson are bigger and stronger players and that is playing off as the season goes along. This football team is a team and that is one big key behind their success.

It all works out in the end
By the way, Duncan's knee was down at the two yard-line before he stretched and was giving a touchdown. However, that is a tough call for the officials and the official breaks always tend to even out. On Hybl's interception return for a touchdown, one official blew the play dead and Sooner players stopped competing on the play. However, none of the other officials heard the call and the one that was blowing the play dead said nobody heard him so the referee let the play stand. Bummer! What goes around comes around I guess.

Williams for Heisman?
Just how good is Roy Williams? As each week passes more and more, national sportswriters are looking at Williams as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

"I think Williams is a legitimate Heisman candidate," said ESPN the Magazine College football writer Bruce Feldman. "There really hasn't been an offensive player that has jumped out and just taken hold of the award, but I am not sure that should matter anyway. I think in today's football, the award should go to the nations best football player and I am not so sure than isn't Williams. He is as dominant a player as there is in college football. I don't know if I have seen a player who controls the game more from his position."

The problem for Williams and the Sooners Sports Information Department is that both Williams and Calmus are looked at by many as Heisman Trophy candidates. It's tough enough to promote one for such a prestigious award, but almost impossible to promote two.

"Our problem is who do we promote," said OU Sports Information Director Kenny Mossman. "I have had phone calls from voters in the Heisman poll that want information on both Rocky and Roy. From my standpoint I can't and won't push one over the other. We believe both are deserving and so do our coaches. If at some point we start getting more requests on one or the other then we might start pushing one and not the other, but both are up for national awards, so both get our attention. Rocky is up for the Butkus and we believe he is the leader for the award. From what I hear Roy is also the leader for the Jim Thorpe award, which goes to the nations best defensive back. It's so hard for a defensive player to win the Heisman that doesn't return kicks or punts, but Roy and Rocky are so good on special teams that they might pull it off."

It's hard to pick one over the other, but this reporter has not seen a more dominating defender at OU than Roy Williams since the great LeRoy Selmon. I thought I would never say that a player was playing up to LeRoy's level, but I believe that Williams is and he should win the Heisman on that fact alone!

Boobirds migrate to Memorial Stadium
Why the boobirds? I can't believe anybody would boo this football team or any individual on this team. Those that did boo, I question what they know about football. Are you kidding me? This is a football team playing its way into its second straight national title shot and they get booed?

You have a quarterback playing his eighth game of college football and he gets booed in the first quarter? Those that did boo, I wonder what they thought in the second half when Hybl played so well that it reminded Sooner coaches of the way Josh Heupel played his senior season?

Never forget that these are college athletes and they are playing their hearts out for nothing more than for the University of Oklahoma. They are leaving everything they have on the field each and every Saturday, good or bad and they never... I repeat never should be booed.

O-line improving
It looks like Jerod Fields is beginning to pull away from Jammal Brown in the race for the right tackle spot. Fields played most of the first half, with Brown alternating in the second half.

The two will have to continue sharing the right tackle spot against Texas Tech. It's looks like starter Wes Sims won't be ready until Oklahoma State. The Sooners coaches are privately getting upset with Sims as he struggles to get healthy from his sprained knee. Many feel if Sims would show a tougher backbone that he would be ready to play against the Red Raiders. As it is, Sims has already told the coaches that he doesn't feel like he can play against Texas Tech and that irks the Sooner coaching staff.

They would at least like to see Sims says that yes, he will give it everything that he has and that yes, he plans to play against Texas Tech than to already call his effort off. It's a general feeling that Sims isn't doing everything he can to get back to health.

Jones back on the backburner
Brandon Jones spot as the Sooner punt returner may be short lived. Jones dropped the first punt against Texas A&M and then didn't catch the second one. He was pulled the rest of the game and my early guess is that Curtis Fagan will start as the punt returner against Texas Tech.

Sure, the Sooner coaches love an athlete that has big time return ability like Jones, but more importantly they want somebody that will catch the ball. Jones isn't as sure-handed as Fagan.

Backup DB's step up
Matt McCoy and Brandon Shelby played well as extra defensive backs on Saturday. McCoy has improved each week as the Sooner nickel back and Shelby played well as the dime on Saturday. The Sooners like to blitz Shelby out of his dime look and he is outstanding coming out of the secondary.

Star in the making Jimmy Wilkerson continues to get better and better as a defensive end. Bob Stoops says Wilkerson is further along as this stage of his career as a defensive end than Jevon Kearse was when he was at Florida. Both players started as linebackers, but Kearse was moved to outside linebacker, where he rushed the quarterback from a standup position.

Wilkerson is already rushing the quarterback from a pure defensive end stance and is already getting a feel for the defensive end look. Kearse hit it big-time as a pure defensive end with the Tennessee Titans, but still struggles with fundamentals.

Kearse and Wilkerson have similar skills and OU coaches believe that Wilkerson will similar success in the NFL.

Coming of age
Nate Hybl continues to grow into his role as the Sooner quarterback. Hybl's determination to turn around a sluggish Sooner first half impressed his fellow teammates and coaches alike.

"Nate Hybl played with great courage, determination and guts," said OU Offensive Coordinator Mark Mangino. "He continued to battle throughout the game and never lost faith that he was eventually going to get the ball in the end zone. He missed some throws early, but didn't miss them as the game wore along. If you remember, Josh Heupel did similar things during his career. Nate played great in the second half and showed tremendous fight. He is one tough son-of-a-gun and this football team believes in him as their quarterback."

On Hybl's touchdown run he once again dinged his shoulder. We all have to realize that Hybl is playing with a tender left shoulder than is going to be dinged from time-to-time. He will play through it and Hybl won't let it take him out of the lineup.

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