The loss to Oklahoma State is a shocker. Never did I feel that the Sooners could lose to the Cowboys. I predicted that the Sooners would cover and I really felt they would.
I felt that the game would continue the progress of quarterback Nate Hybl and the Sooners' offense. I knew the Cowboys would play well and they did, but I really felt against a weak OSU defense the Sooners would put up impressive numbers and have an easy time in the fourth quarter.
I guess I should have known better. I guess Bedlam means more than I thought. How else could you explain the OU-OSU game over the last two years? Both times the Sooners were heavy favorites and in one the Sooners barely survived to win and in the most recent the Sooners let the Cowboys stay in the game and eventually make the big plays to pull off the nations biggest upset this year.
How did it happen?
First, don't blame coach and player preparation. The Sooners were prepared to play. The coaches put together an excellent game plan and the players were in good spirits all week. There was never any sign all week the Sooners were troubled going into the game. There were never any signs that the Sooners were looking past the Cowboys toward the Big 12 Championship or a bowl game. The OU coaches approached this game just like they had every other. It was the next game on the schedule and that game was the only game that mattered.
For those of you that have been following me over the years you know I believe that players have to play and they are responsible for making plays. This is especially true when you have a coaching staff like the Sooners. These coaches never leave a stone unturned and they had the players ready to play.
The problem for the Sooners Saturday against the Cowboys was its offense. You can't sugarcoat this one, the Sooner offense played their worst game on Saturday. This wasn't a top ten team the Sooners were trying to score against, it was a team that was giving up 477 yards per game over the last six games. However, I can't blame the problems on one position or one play. Everybody could see that Nate Hybl struggled in the game. After making tremendous progress in wins over Texas A&M and Texas Tech and putting up some great numbers, Hybl took a major stop backwards in the loss to OSU.
The Sooners had receivers running wide open down field on many occasions and Hybl wouldn't deliver the ball. Why wouldn't Hybl throw to wide-open receivers down field? The Sooners gave up seven sacks, so maybe he felt too much pressure. Maybe he was confused. Now, Hybl wasn't getting much help. The Sooners were whipped up front and the wide receivers didn't come back to the help a scrambling Hybl on many occasions.
The Sooner running game was an at all time worst. When you can't run against a defense like OSU, which is set up to stop the pass, then you have problems.
"There is no doubt that we had a total breakdown on Saturday," said OU Offensive Coordinator Mark Mangino. "There is no doubt that we didn't run the ball well. When we did get the running game going we would make a mistake or we would get a penalty. We got a key penalty on the shuttle play that would have given us great field position in their territory. We sure didn't execute on offense."
"We didn't play with any sense of urgency until the fourth quarter and then it was to late," continued Mangino. "Our quarterback didn't throw to wide-open receivers down field and on many occasions we had receivers open down field. He held the ball too long and took a couple of sacks that he shouldn't have, and in fact, if he executes then he would have found an open receiver down field."
"We once again struggled in the first half, which has been an issue with us all season. However, in most games we have been able to pull it together and play well in the second half, but this game we couldn't. We tried everything and nothing seemed to work. We didn't execute all night and that is the bottom line."
Offensive line struggles
The offensive line struggled against the Cowboys. It's enough said when the Sooners can't make half a yard on a quarterback sneak. The Sooners didn't protect Hybl like they could have and that is puzzling in itself. This was the same defense that had been giving up 447 yards per game over the last six games.
Vince Carter played so bad in the first quarter that he was replaced by journeyman junior Brad Davis, who played the second and third quarters. Carter returned and had a great fourth quarter, but that doesn't take away
from the fact that he played so badly early that he had to be replaced.
Jarod Fields struggled as well and gave way to converted defensive tackle Jammal Brown for most of the second half. Brown's athletic ability served him well, but twice he was bull-rushed almost on his back. Brown needs to get into the weight room this offseason and get as big and as strong as he can. His athletic ability and footwork is tremendous for an offensive tackle, but he needs some major weight work.
All-American Frank Romero played well, but wasn't his usually dominating self against the Cowboys. Same goes for Howard Duncan and Mike Skinner at guard. Nobody really stood out on the offensive line.
With the offensive line struggling the Sooner running game never got on track. Quentin Griffin finished with 53 yards rushing on the day, but sacks and other losses left the Sooners with 0 yardage on the day.
Teams have been running up and down the field on the Cowboys all year, but the Sooners could not manage a yard on the ground.
Defense does it all
The Sooner defense was spectacular, but they played well enough to win. OSU moved the football with 23 first downs.
The Cowboys couldn't rush the ball finishing with 76 yards on the ground, but they threw for 258. The fact the Cowboys finished with 334 yards of total offense is shocking. However, the Sooner defense was still in position to win the game when the Pokes started their game-wining drive. The Sooners felt in good shape with their all-stud defense on the field with 3:05 to play and the Cowboys needing to drive 65 yards for a game-winning score.
This time the Sooner defense couldn't bail out the Sooner offense The Cowboys make two big plays and the rest is history.
Injuries finally take toll
The Sooners have been covering up deficiencies on their offense all year and this time it caught up with them. The Sooners have also been covering up deficiencies in their secondary and it caught up with them. Injuries cost the Sooners the talents of Michael Thompson, Terrance Simms and Andre Woolfolk. The injury to Thompson forced Woolfolk to the defensive side of the ball, which hurt OU's wide receiver core.
Don't you think the Sooners secondary would have a much better chance in the Cowboys game winning-drive if Thompson or Woolfolk had been in the game at cornerback and Simms at the nickel? This would have allowed Antonio Perkins to play the dime and the Sooner secondary would have been loaded.
Sophomore Matt McCoy is a solid defender at the nickel, but he is not in the class of Thompson, Woolfolk or Simms. Playing Brandon Shelby in the dime package has been a risk all year and once again better players were sitting on the injured list.
Of course OSU burned two of the Sooners better talents in Roy Williams and Derrick Strait. Both Williams and Strait were outstanding on Saturday, except in the final drive. Strait came up with two interceptions early and had a solid game until he was beaten by Rashaun Woods for the game-winning catch. Williams was having his normal dominating game until T.D.Bryant leaped in front of him to pull down the miracle 31-yard catch to keep the drive alive.
It's amazing that Cowboy freshman quarterback Josh Fields could throw up two prayers in the passes to Bryant and Woods and both come up golden. For once, the Sooners weren't living right and the Cowboys were!
Gracious in defeat
Once again the Sooners were classy losers. Bob Stoops didn't want to take away anything from the Cowboys and their effort. He didn't want to point out problems in his own team, because that would have taken way from the Cowboys effort. One thing to be thankful for is the classy Stoops. He is gracious when he wins and classy when he loses.
I felt for seniors Frank Romero, Rocky Calmus and Roy Williams, but they were showed total class when they met with the media. Antonio Perkins, Derrick Strait, Jimmy Wilkerson and Jammal Brown all came into the media room and gave total credit to Oklahoma State. The Sooners win with class and the lose with class just like a championship team should.
More on injuries
Did you get the feeling that things finally caught up with the Sooners? No excuses, but fact — the Sooners lost some tremendous talent to injury this year.
Josh Smith was the starting center when he suffered his concussion. If he could have returned he could have played center or left guard, which would have allowed Howard Duncan to stay out at right tackle. This would have taken some of the pressure of redshirt freshman Wes Sims.
Then, just when Sims is coming around at right tackle he goes down to a sprained knee and is just now returning to action. This forces two players who had never taken a snap at offensive tackle onto the field in Jerod Fields and Jammal Brown. They have improved each game, but we all know that their best football is ahead of them.
Just when it looks like the Sooners find their quarterback of the future Jason White tears up his knee, on a non-contact play against Nebraska. White was just beginning to come into his own and the Sooner offense was just beginning to come to life.
Losing Damien Mackey at the slot really hurt the Sooners. Mackey was a possession receiver that the quarterbacks trusted and without their security blanket they looked lost at times.
The offense never fully caught fire this year, which put tremendous pressure on the defense. OU never exploded on offense and then Saturday against the Cowboys it finally cratered.
The Michael Thompson injury during the summer not only cost the Sooners their best cornerback, but cost them their best wide receiver as well. Andre Woolfolk has played both ways this year, but he has concentrated more on defense, which hurt his offense.
Then, the Sooners lost nickel back Terrance Simms in game one, which totally turns their preseason plans upside down. This forces sophomore Matt McCoy into action before he was ready. He struggled early, but came on late and has turned into a good player. However, Simms is bigger, faster and has more of an upside to him. With a healthy Simms available, McCoy plays the dime and is a solid backup at either strong safety or free safety.
Woolfolk was the last to go down, costing the Sooners three of their top six defensive backs. Antonio Perkins has shown that he is a talented player, but Brandon Shelby has been inconsistent in the dime package. If you are playing with Thompson, Woolfolk and Simms in the secondary OU then plays with the best dime package in the country. So, considering all that the Sooners had to face this year, their 10-2 record is really something. Despite all their injuries and all their problems this team still almost made it to the Big 12 Championship game and we all know should have made it. No question the Sooner coaches did an exceptional job this year.
Back to the drawing board
Can OU develop a power running game next year? Sunday, after the OSU loss the coaching staff met and one of the topics discussed was revamping the Sooner offense for next year. Things like this are talked about all the time on both sides of the ball, because the coaches are always looking for ways to improve the team. However, I sensed their was a little more sense of urgency in this discussion following the offensive disaster against the Cowboys.
Oklahoma will look to redesign their running game so that the can develop more of a power running game. Currently, OU runs behind zone blocking where the offensive linemen will take a defender in his area and he will try to block him straight ahead. OU runs no isolation plays, no fullback blocking game and no counter treys.They currently don't approach the running game like Nebraska or Kansas State, but they could if they want to devote the time to do it.
With running backs on the roster like 'Q', Renaldo Works, Jerad Estus, KeJuan Jones and Donta Hickson, Brian Odom and Larry Pinson, the coaches need to find a way to take advantage of them. This will be a priority in the offseason.
Speaking of Jones, there has never been a day gone by that somebody within the OU football program doesn't tell me that he is going to be a star and win the Heisman Trophy someday. I can't wait to watch him in the spring.
Signing a couple of big time safety prospects is critical in this year's recruiting class. The Sooner coaches are not to excited about current young safety's Darren Stephens, Justin Williams or Avery Shine. None of the three are progressing like the coaches have hoped.
Matt McCoy has proven that he can play the nickel and he has potential be a solid safety. Brian Hodges is in the same boat. However, both look more like solid players and not super stars.
However, with Roy Williams possibly leaving for the pros after this season it's important that the Sooners sign R.W. types to take his place. Vickiel Vaughn of Plano West, Texas and Brodney Pool of Houston Westbury, Texas are very important in this class. Both have great size, speed and are considered big hitters with coverage ability.
I am not saying they are Roy Williams, but at least they sound like him.
Time to regroup
The rest before the bowl will do junior quarterback Nate Hybl some good. He is a very beat-up football player. He injured his hip against OSU and now has that problem to go along with slightly separated left shoulder. There are about 12 more minor injuries that he has been playing through.
So, this week with no practice on the agenda, Hybl will spend it in the whirlpool.
Rawls to get extra reps
When the Sooners start bowl preparation all eyes will be on redshirt quarterback Brent Rawls. The Sooner coaches will work with the redshirt and younger players during the early portion of bowl preparation and for Rawls, it will be like an early spring practice.
Rawls has the talent to jump right into the quarterback race in the spring and the bowl prep will allow him the extra time to get ready for the competition.
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