OU was just a few seconds away from wrapping up win No. 1 of the 2004 season and I was walking to the Red Room, located inside the locker room facility at OU, where the post game press conferences are held following games. I was in the good company of Carol Stoops, Gina McMillen and friends walking to the door to the facility when a security guard stopped us. I could tell that at first he didn't recognize the ladies, but then realized as I am silently mouthing CAROL STOOPS to him that he has made an embarrassing mistake by even stopping them. So, the guard tries to recover by asking Carol who her friends are and if they are allowed in the facility?
Please, if Carol Stoops wants to take 10 naked monkeys into the locker room she can do that. Carol takes 10 seconds to explain that they were her friends and the guard open the door and ushered all of us in. Going through the door I told Mrs. Stoops that she needs to get her own set of keys, and she laughed and said yeah 'a master key'. I was shocked that she didn't have a master key.
This lady represents OU in such a fine way that she should have a master key. As she was giggling, Carol said, 'I wondered if he would check us if we had won by five touchdowns?' Carol still had a smile on her face as she said it, but it is proof-in-point that to feed the monster that is Oklahoma Football is no easy task. Just ask Barry Switzer.
Oklahoma was on its way to beating a good Bowling Green team, 40-24, and in standing on the sideline and on my way to the locker room during the final five minutes of the game the five minutes of the game I heard some interesting comments. I was asked or told, 'Where was the OU pass rush?" That if the OL could become a little more physical that OU could be a better rushing the football. And did I think OU was going to be able to hold up in the secondary this year? There is no question that Oklahoma is in fine form, but since when did a solid 40-24 win created as many questions as answers?
No, Oklahoma didn't cover the spread, but they were in control of the football game against a good, solid Bowling Green squad. When true freshman Adrian Peterson finished his magical 35-yard touchdown run the Sooners held a 37-10 lead, and for all intents and purposes the game was over.
The Sooner defense lapsed and Bowling Green was able to throw for a score, and then they shocked the Sooners by picking off Jason White's screen pass and taking it to the house. At that point, the Sooners were only up by 13 and the Falcons were once again in a football game.
However, the Sooners did something that many questioned they could do, and that was control the clock when they needed to and pound the ball on the ground. With junior Kejuan Jones and AD (Adrian Peterson) leading the way, the Sooners had the ball for 13 minutes of the fourth quarter. The defense did their part as well limiting the Falcons to just six second half plays.
"One thing I liked about our football team was that they were able to take control of the game when we needed to," said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops after the game. "We played well throughout the game and came up with a number of big plays, but I was really impressed with our team when Bowling Green got a couple of scores and got back into the game, we put them away by controlling the football and shutting them down on defense."
In all, the Sooners finished the game with 496 yards total offense to just 269 for Bowling Green. The Falcons only rushed for 51 yards compared to 258 for the Sooners. And despite throwing 41 times, the Falcons threw for only 218 yards to the Sooners 238.
"I realize that we didn't shut them out and they made a few plays, but if we hold teams to 269 yards total offense the rest of year we are going to be a pretty darn good defense," said OU Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables Sunday from his office. "Can we play better? Yes, we can play better. There are some things that we can work on, but for the most part we played a good defensive football game against Bowling Green."
"I was pleased with the attitude running the football, "said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops after the game. "I thought Kejuan Jones (148 yards and one touchdown) was outstanding, but that doesn't surprise us. Kejuan has always been very solid and dependable, and he is great with the football. He gives us everything that he has and that has always been good. Kejuan did that again today. Adrian made his mark and really stepped in made some nice plays. It was a positive day for us rushing the football."
"I like the character of the team, because we go from being up 27 and looking like we have a chance to get things really in control," Stoops continued. "Then the defense goes out and gives up their only drive of the day and they score and get it within 20. And then they get that interception return and all of a sudden it is a game again. I appreciate the character of our football team, and that our guys just came out and just run the football down field for about eight minutes was a big factor.
"Their quarterback (Omar Jacobs) was outstanding," said Stoops. "He made a lot of those plays to with guys hanging on him or finding his way out of the pocket and finding an open receiver late. He made a few plays that way. They don't win 11 football games and go 6-1 against Big 12 and Big 10 opponents the last few years because they are not very good and not coached well. We knew they were a good football team coming into the game, even though many of you didn't. They may not be a good name to many of you (media and fans), but we know they are a good football program. We had the game in fine fashion and then made a mistake and let them back in it, but we fought that off and came back and took control of the football game."
The raging debate of how will OU play three running backs was settled on Saturday, but the Sooners primarily played just two. Sure, Kejuan Jones, Adrian Peterson and D.J. Wolfe all played, and even Donta Hickson got in for a few snaps in the fourth quarter. But it was Jones and 'AD' who combined for 48 carries, while Wolfe only got one carry all day.
"AD was very solid in just about everything that he did," said Stoops. "He has to improve on how he handles the ball, but as the game went on you could tell he was concentrating on it more. As the game went on he was more conscience taking care of the ball, even though they were reaching for it he was taking care of it."
"We don't have a plan lined up on how much he is going to play in the future or how many carries he is going to get," said Stoops. "It is just the first game. There isn't any situation. Bottom line is that there were some plays that Adrian fit better and there were some plays that D.J. fit better. D.J. probably played a little more than you realized in some instances, and in some instances their skills fit certain plays better. We didn't want to overload them too much early. And the reason why AD went into the game first was that we wanted to get outside on a toss sweep. We felt Adrian was really prepared and that is what we thought early in the week, and that was the gameplan. So, that is why Adrian went into the game first. That was the play that we wanted. There are some other plays that D.J. executed better and he was in for those."
Still, the fact remains that Wolfe only got one carry and he did not have a pass thrown his way, while Kejuan and AD were very busy carrying the football on Saturday. Wolfe had a fantastic camp and is a tremendous talent, but if he is not going to carry the ball at all, the question of whether he should have redshirted comes up again.
"We will see what happens. A lot will depend on how they progress in the future," said Stoops. "We will see as it goes. It is way too early to make any decision on set playing time or when so and so goes into the game."
"We want to play D.J. and he wants to play. And in our effort to keep our running backs fresh, we feel that he will get a lot of playing time before the year is over," said OU Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long. "All of our tailbacks were very good, and even Donta Hickson got in there and made some plays throwing some key blocks. Kejuan and Adrian were excellent as they ran with power and speed staying between the tackles like they are supposed to do instead of bouncing the ball outside. A lot of times when you have young running backs they want to always bounce the ball outside. Adrian did a good job of staying in there. I think the big challenge for Adrian is learning ball security."
"We felt in our package Saturday that Adrian suited it better, "said Long. "Not to take anything away fro D.J., because we feel he suits a number of our packages as well. However, we had some sweeps in our game-plan that we felt Adrian could do and that proved to be correct. In college football, you can never have too many running backs, and we are going to need all of these running backs before the season is over. We are also looking forward to getting Tashard Choice back into the mix this week. Tashard is a good back. I don't know how we are going to do, but we need to figure out a way to get Tashard going this year."
The fact that Choice pulled a hamstring early is the reason why the Wolfe debate is so strong. If Choice had been healthy the whole camp, then Wolfe would not have received a many reps and he would not have stood out as clearly. Plus, Choice is a good running back and his star would have been bright as well during camp. Now that Choice is back, it makes even more sense to redshirt Wolfe.
AD is playing up to his hype and Jones is greatly improved. Jones has become a team leader among the offense and OU running back Coach Cale Gundy respects him greatly. Jones is not going to lose any playing time, especially after rushing for 148 yards and one touchdown and doing a great Quentin Griffin imitation in pass protection. AD has to get more carries as he is the best home run threat among the running backs. Choice and Wolfe are similar players, and Choice has already been redshirted, thus it seems to reason that Wolfe should redshirt.
There is still a possibility that Wolfe will redshirt. There is a formula that the NCAA uses, and as long as Wolfe has played under a certain percentage of plays through the first five games, he can redshirt.
Peterson got his first taste of the Oklahoma media following the game and the Oklahoma media got their first look at AD.
Coach Stoops has a rule that no freshman or newcomers can be interviewed by the media until they actually play and have a major impact in a game. AD had a major impact, and thus he was allowed to meet the media after the game.
However, most of the media had no idea who he was when he came into he interview room and two guys walked right past him. Of course, I have forged a good relationship with AD when he was at Palestine High School, and I happened to say 'how are you doing AD,' and from that point he was mobbed by 30 media folks.
To AD's credit, he handled it all very well and was very polite when dealing with us grubby media guys.
MEDIA: What did you learn today in your first game?
AD: "I learned that I have to be patient and slow down a little bit. I just have to put the football down in the hole, because the hole will be there. You have to be patient and let the hole develop."
MEDIA: How did you think you played?
AD: "I think I played alright."
MEDIA: Have you seen your stats? Sixteen carries for 100 yards for your first college football game?
AD: "It is only going to get better."
MEDIA: Is playing before 83-thousand fans everything that you thought it would be?
AD: "It was no big deal."
MEDIA: Were there any nerves early?
AD: "Yeah, a little bit, but after the first snap I got going."
MEDIA: What did Kejuan say to you when he first got to you after your touchdown run?
AD: "He told me good job, and that is the way to run the ball. He told me to keep it up."
MEDIA: Talk about how you and Kejuan compliment each other?
AD: "Yes, we do, and it is very important that we go out there and keep doing a good job to make sure that we keep going and going well. We don't care who is in the game, because we just want the best for each other."
MEDIA: Talk about the difference that you experienced in playing your first game in college after a great high school career.
AD: "There wasn't really an adjustment. It is basically a little faster in high school, but it wasn't that big difference once I got on the field."
MEDIA: Where you surprised that you went in number two? Were you surprised that you and Kejuan had 48 carries and D.J. Wolfe, who was No. 2 on the depth chart, had just one carry?
AD: "I really don't know. I just go into the game when the coaches tell me."
MEDIA: Tell us about the touchdown run?
AD: "Coach told me that when I hit it, hit it in there tight. I kind of bounced off somebody, and from that point I just ran hard. I was determined to get into the end-zone. To be honest, I can't remember exactly how the play unfolded. I just know I was running as fast I could and then all of a sudden I was in the end-zone."
MEDIA: Was your first experience at OU overwhelming or just another day?
AD: "I was overwhelming at times, but once I got comfortable I settled down and play OK."
While most of the media attention went to AD, Kejuan Jones went out and had his best day as a Sooner. Coming off a great summer and his best camp as a Sooner, it wasn't any surprise to him that he had a good game.
"I have been getting ready for this kind of game all summer and all training camp," said Jones after the game. "I worked hard on my speed and strength and put on some good weight. That allowed me to carry the ball a bunch today and not get tired."
It also allowed Jones to run over, around and run away Falcon defenders all day.
"I am a faster running back this year than I have been. I am a better athlete than I used to be. I was getting stronger as the game was going along and our offensive line was blocking better as the game was going along. Our offensive line was fantastic today. All I had to do was run hard, hit the hole and then make one guy miss, and I thought we did that all game long."
Jones has been around OU for a while and he understands the star power for certain individuals, and thus he wasn't surprised that even on his biggest day that AD stole the headlines.
"That is OK with me. He deserves it, because he had a great game today," said Jones. "I am here to win football games and not hear for myself. Sure, I want to prove that I can be a big factor for us winning, but I don't have to be the most popular guy on the team. I have talked to a number of media people today and I was surrounded by media people. I heard the cheers from the fans as well. I hope every player on our teams gets cheers, because they work hard and they deserve it."
Jones was especially proud of the running game in the fourth quarter when he, AD and even Jason White kept driving the ball down the Falcons' throat.
"I didn't want people to leave this game and wonder if we still have our swagger," said Jones. "I never understood that anyway, because that would mean that we lost our confidence, and we have not lost any confidence. We knew that if we didn't answer that call then people would question if we have some kind of hangover from the last two games or something. This is a new year and I think we proved that in the fourth quarter."
Jones was surrounded by the media after the game, but not like AD. The more that AD is allowed to talk to the media the crunch will subside, unless he continues to rush for more and more yards. And if that happens, then all the players may have to take a back seat to AD in the media room.
By the way, AD became the first freshman to go over 100 yards since Kerry Jackson did it back in 1972 against Utah State, when he rushed for 109 yards on 10 carries.
One guy who could care less if he is in the spotlight or not is senior quarterback Jason White. After a whirlwind nine months of Heisman hype, White has worked hard to be just a normal senior once again. However, the fact that he has won the Heisman never totally leaves him, and thus White can never come into a media room or press conference without having a hoard of reporters follow him.
White was outstanding again completing, 21-of-31 passes for 238 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on a screen pass that was returned for a touchdown. After the game, Bob Stoops said that the coaches were to blame for the interception return for a score. But White won't let the coaching staff take the blame.
"That is a play call that is always successful for us and it should have been successful there," said White after the game. "Maybe we gave something away at the line of scrimmage or maybe they just guessed right, but they were sitting on it and picked it off. Coach Long calls a good game and I can get us out of any set and go to something else. I should have seen that they had come out and set up to defense that play and get us out of it. I didn't and they intercepted it and scored. Coach Long didn't do anything wrong. I should have got us in the right play."
The fact that White is always a team player is something that endears him to his fellow players and coaches.
"No James, that call was my fault and that is all there is to it," said Long from his office on Sunday. "Jason is a straight-up guy and he is a great guy. I am not surprised that he is trying to take blame for the play. However, I called it and most of the time Jason runs what I call. Sure, he can check us out of any play and he does quite often, but when he doesn't and it is picked for a touchdown, then it is not his fault, but mine. I called the play in the first place, and we went to it one to many times in this game."
At this point in his career it is easy to take White for granted. He has now been so great for so long that it is more of a story when he doesn't complete a pass. However, on Saturday White was very good finding nine different receivers and once again demonstrating just how accurate he is.
"I have to be careful that I don't get to the point where I take him for granted," said Stoops. "It is so easy to think, 'OK, that was another good game for Jason,' and forget how hard it is to have games like he does. He is amazing and always plays well, and has for some time. I just need to always remind myself to tell people how good I think he is."
We forget it sometimes in the media as well. Many people across the nation have already forgotten how good White was last year, promoting others this year for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors and for the Heisman Trophy. Even those reporters that can watch White locally sometimes forget how good Jason is.
At halftime, the media always gathers inside the press box and talks about the first half. My partner at WWLS, Al Eschbach, and I usually meet and talk over some things. And the first things he says is "Boy, Jason White is really good." Then four straight media members join us or walk by and they all say the same thing.
It was as if we had forgotten how good he is and we were reminded just how good he is by how he played in that first half. I guess we have been spoiled by his greatness over the last year, and that is why we were shocked by the Sooners offensive performance against Kansas State and LSU.
I have said many times that all of negative people would forget those final two games if White comes out and lights up the scoreboard through the Texas game, and the Sooners run the table undefeated. Well, he is off to a good start.
Oh, by the way, White worked very hard this summer to regain some mobility and to get out of those knee braces. Mission accomplished on both counts as White's scramble for six years on a thrid-and-3 showed some renewed quickness in the fourth quarter, and he didn't wear his braces. White rolled out and threw a completion to Joe John Finley, which happened thanks to his new found mobility.
"I guess I haven't run like that since the Texas game," White said laughing following the Bowling Green game. "I have worked very hard on getting some mobility back, and tonight is only a start."
In fact, in the future the OU coaches want to explore more opportunities to take advantage of White's running ability, or at least they want the defenses to feel like White is going to run the ball.
"Jason looked very good running around out there," said Coach Long. "We want to take advantage of that even more in the future. We want to run him in some boot-legs, and don't be surprised if he doesn't run a quarterback draw in the future."
The offensive line went into the summer with a goal to go into the season with the ability to be more physical. From the looks of things, mission accomplished as the OL did not give up a sack and the Sooners rushed the ball very effectively, even with Davin Joseph out for a part of the game with a minor knee injury.
"I thought Chris Bush did a good job taking his place as he graded out well, "said Coach Long. "Chris was very aggressive and got some knockdowns in the line. He really did a nice job in pass protection too. He is a very versatile player for us as he can play both guard and center. We need a guy that can do that. We feel our offensive line is going to have a good year, and by most accounts they are off to a great start."
Overall Coach Long was happy with the team's offensive performance.
"It was good. We scored 40 points," said Long. "The turnovers are the negative thing that stuck out. We like to come out of games with no turnovers, and we had two. That is something that we can improve on. That was the glaring thing that came out of the game, but all the rest was good. We averaged 5.1 or 5.2 per rush, We had 68 percent completions. We were over 50 percent in third downs, and 100 percent in fourth downs. Our red-zone efficiency was real good, and we try to get less than 25 yards in penalties and we were right there. We had no sacks, so it was a real nice game. Our balance was very good."
The Sooners are so used to pitching shutouts that when they give up any points they don't feel they played well. However, after watching film the Sooners found plenty to be happy about on the defensive side of the ball.
"Our performance was good, but there were a few first game mistakes," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "Positioning, assignments and some busted tackling need to be improved. I thought our front-four played pretty good, and I was happy with our safety play outside of a couple of missed tackles. Rufus Alexander came on and played well. Lance Mitchell played solid, but you could tell he was bothered by his conditioning due to his missed practice time.
"Antonio (Perkins) got banged up and that wasn't a good thing for him, but Jowahn Poteat came in and played well as well as Chijioke (Onyenegecha). It was good to get the four corners a good amount of reps. It was good to get those guys under the fire for the first time and see how they are going to respond. We have a number of guys out there for the first time. I thought Lynn McGruder played hard and I thought that Larry Birdine had a big game. Brandon Shelby also played really, really well. Again, collectively it was good."
"We talked about the one drive that wasn't good," Venables continued. "Otherwise, some things happened that are going to happen early in the season. We had some busted assignments, some technique breakdowns and some missed tackles, but over all it was OK."
The defensive staff decided to play their dime package most of the game, and that put Eric Bassey and Alexander on the field almost the entire game.
"We have different personnel groupings for different things that we do," said Venables. "We have Gayron Allen at the weak-side and Clint Ingram and Demarrio Pleasant that start and plays when we are in our base defense. When we go to our nickel and dime package, we start Rufus at linebacker for Gayron and go with Shelby instead of the strong-side backer. I know we have talked a lot about going with the three linebacker package and we will do that more this year. However, it doesn't make any sense to do that against a team like Bowling Green that doesn't even hide the fact that they are going to try to spread you out and throw the ball all the time."
There is also a misconception about the pass rush against Bowling Green. The Sooners actually got pretty good pressure on Falcon quarterback Omar Jacobs, but when you are facing a team that has a goal to get rid of the ball no matter what, then you are not going to come away with many sacks.
"Yeah, it is a little different for our front guys and they have to have some patience," said Coach Stoops. "There are enough teams that play that way now that you find different ways to make plays. Those guys up front made plays in a lot of different ways. They tipped balls and put pressure on the quarterback. They ended up getting to him, and even if they didn't sack him they forced him to throw the ball early or forced bad throws because we were already hitting him as he threw it. There are just different ways that they get involved."
Defending on what an offense is trying to do will depend on the strategy the Sooners use on defense.
"Some offenses, like the one we just played, just want to dump the ball off very short instead of taking the sack, and we just decided to tackle them and keep them making first-downs that way," said Venables. "If teams are only going to try to average two to three yards a pass against us, then we will take that, cover them and then tackle them. Other teams will try to and be a little more aggressive down field, and that is where you will see our pass rush really get after them. We had a good pass rush on Saturday, but that is not going to show up in the stat department."
No matter whom the Sooner defense is up against, their attitude will always be to dominate. And most on that side of the ball felt they fell short of that goal.
"I don't think there is any question that our defense didn't step up like we did at the beginning of last year," said senior defensive end Dan Cody. "I think last year each game we set the tempo and we didn't set the tempo like I wanted us to today. We played some really good defense, especially when we came out for the third quarter and we really got on a roll. When we get on a roll we are really hard to stop."
"Last year when we played North Texas we made a statement from the fist snap on," Cody continued. "I don't think we made that statement today like we needed to. Granted, we have some new faces out there and the guys who have been making the statements for us in the past are gone. So, we have to figure who is going to step up and start making those statements. We know who we have and those new faces just need to go out there and play football. The only way they are going to get better is if they play."
However, if Cody admitted that playing this spread dink-and-dunk offense can be frustrating to play sometimes.
"That is true. Their offense takes away a lot from where out defense excels," said Cody. "They way they were no-huddling all the time, changing plays at the line of scrimmage and kept us on our toes all the time. They were trying to slow the pace of the game down some and that threw us off a little bit."
The secondary was also tested to make sure that they kept the Falcons in front of them, but not get surprised deep.
"Bowling Green is a very good football team. They come out in the spread and they are very sound in what they are doing," said junior cornerback Eric Bassey. "Any time they come out and spread you around, we have to be on our game mentally on every play. You can't take any plays off. We are having a track meet in the secondary as we are running back-and-forth. They were sending four and five receivers into the secondary basically the whole game, and not to mention the hurry up offense. We have to be just mentally sound."
Coach Venables said all four cornerbacks played good, but that all can play better.
There was no player happier in the Sooner postgame media gathering than sophomore linebacker Rufus Alexander. Alexander played almost the entire game as the Sooners went with nickel and dime package the entire game. Smiling from ear-to-ear, Alexander enjoyed talking to the media and talking about his experience.
"I really wasn't surprised that I played because we play that package enough," said Alexander. "It was just good to play again. I was nervous at the start of the game, but I settled down as the game went along. I was out there for a long time and nerves went away as I was trying to keep up to the speed of the game. The first few plays I was playing like a deer caught in the headlights.
The crowed got into Alexander's play, but he said he couldn't hear the chants of Ruuuuuufus!
"I couldn't hear it because I was in the zone out on the field," said Alexander. "I couldn't hear anything, but my teammates and coaches told me about it. I wasn't aware that the crowd was doing anything, but my name is pretty easy …ruuuuuuuuuuuuuu, so my name is not hard."
You have to take your hat off for Alexander, coming all the way back from ACL surgery. It hasn't been easy for him, but it appears that he is all the way back.
The running game was impressive, and of course the tailbacks and offensive linemen deserve credit. But if you don't give junior fullback J.D. Runnels credit, then you weren't watching the game.
"J.D. had a fabulous game. I gave him a game ball as well with our offensive line," said Stoops after the game. "J.D. is one of our better players, and I have told you guys that many times. They need to create a position on those All-American teams for fullbacks and their blocking ability. If they did, he wouldn't have any competition in the country. He is the best in the country at what he does, and he is valuable to our football team as any player that we have."
Especially in the second half, Runnels was punishing Falcon linebackers, defensive ends and safeties. I don't know how many pancakes he had, but I am sure it was close to 10. The crowd got behind Runnels late in the game and on every successful block the fans close to the field on the Sooner side let him know they were enjoying his efforts. The fans would yell encouraging words to Runnels, and he would look back at them and point at them and give them a thumbs up.
I still say if they are ever going to five out an All-American award for knocking the $%&@ out of people, then it is going to go to Runnels.
Wes Sims also had a great game at left tackle for the Sooners. Sims had several pancake blocks himself, and he didn't allow his defender close to Jason White.
Also, kudos go out to the Sooners wide receiver core for their outstanding blocking effort against Bowling Green. Travis Wilson was blocking Falcons off the field and Mark Clayton was throwing crack back blocks on middle linebackers. The OU wide receivers are a big, physical group, and they will knock your head off down field.
Lets see what else can I say about Clayton as a receiver. Oh yeah, HE IS GREAT. OK, that is as original as I can do at this point. Sorry.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Lawrence Dampeer did not dress for the game on Saturday, but he has not been suspended and he has not been kicked off the team. Dampeer practiced with the Sooners all week, and by all accounts is making major strides. He has lost 13 pounds since the start of camp and he is attending class, but until he gets his weight down and shows some consistency in his work habits, he is not going to be allowed to suit up with the team.
"We have a lot of guys that don't dress for games," said Stoops. "Some guys dress for different guys and some don't. He has not been suspended at all. There is nothing wrong with Mo whatsoever. He practiced with us up until Friday, but didn't dress for the game. That is all that it is. He didn't dress for the game. I would tell you if he was suspended, and he is not. Mo has actually made a lot of good strides in the last couple of weeks."
Players that don't dress with the team don't stand on the sidelines with the team. I don't know if Mo was at the game or not, but if he has another good week of practice he should dress and be available against Houston.
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