NORMAN — Sometimes in covering the Oklahoma Sooner football team you have realize that you are covering a team that expects a great deal from themselves. First, they expect to win every contest and, second they expect to play at a high level of excellence as any team in the country. They certainly win more games than they lose and they come as close as any team in the nation of playing excellent each and every game.
However, no team, and that includes the Sooners, can play an excellent game every night. They certainly are never perfect, despite the fact they strive to be perfect. That was why following the Sooners 28-13 win over Texas Tech, both the players and coaches talked about all the opportunities missed and the total lack of execution.
"It was a good solid win, and we got a few interceptions and turnovers in this one," said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops immediately following the game." "Overall, it was pretty good. They worked the ball a little bit, but we kept them out of the end zone on defense. We also came up with some turnovers. Offensively, we were solid, but we missed on a few opportunities where we had some good field position. Overall, we ran the ball well and had no turnovers. Jason (White) was very efficient in directing the offense and our special teams were good and solid. It was a good win."
It is easy to see why the Sooners could come away with mixed emotions about the game, especially on defense where the Red Raiders finished with 425 yards total offense, yet only scored one meaningful touchdown against the Sooners. Oklahoma doesn't normally play with a bend-but-don't break defense, but that was what was used against Texas Tech.
"That was good to hold Texas Tech to only one touchdown when it really counted, but we can play better," said Stoops. ‘That is what we as coaches see and what is frustrating for us. We are not as efficient as we should be, and we have some players making some mistakes and busting their assignments concerning what they are supposed to do. That part of it can't continue to happen. We have to get some guys to play at a more efficient level, but we are capable of doing that."
"I don't like it when I see us not play as good as we are capable of," Stoops continued. "I don't like it when we have busted coverage's or when our linebacker and safety are not on the same page on a blitz. When we don't execute as well as we are capable of it is frustrating. We have to start playing smarter."
Nobody was more frustrated about the Sooners' defensive performance that Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. If we know anything about Coach Venables, we know that he expects his team to execute and play intelligent football. If they get beat physically, then he can live with that. However, if his team makes mental mistakes then that doesn't leave the former linebacker in a good mood.
"We are giving good effort and playing hard, but we are just making too many mistakes and giving up to much easy yardage," said Venables following the game. "I am not taking anything away from the win, because it is always good to get the win and that is our ultimate goal. We did better in getting turnovers and forcing them into bad situations, so we did some good things. However, on their big plays we didn't line up right and we busted on those plays."
What compounds the problem the Sooners have is that is the experienced players in the secondary who are making the mental mistakes.
"It is frustrating in that we start the second half and we have players in half coverage and for some unexplained reason one of our guys rolls into thirds giving them a big play," continued a frustrated Venables. "That gives up 35-yards on one pass. That is the kind of play normally we don't make on defense and we can't continue to make on defense. That was a tight ball game where you could never relax the whole day. You had to take into account how many times Tech had their backs to the wall and yet rallied back all season, and how many times they put us into a situation where we had to make big plays. We did come up with some big plays when we needed it."
Sometimes things look better after looking at film, but there is no mistake that the Sooners didn't play a clean game.
"There is no doubt that we weren't as efficient as we should be," said Stoops after watching the film of the game. "You shouldn't have mental mistakes, and our guys need to do a better job of pushing themselves to play smarter in those situations. We at times give people some things from our own mistakes and we need to make sure that doesn't keep happening. We can play a lot better and that is what we are going to keep pushing for."
After watching the game back several times, Venables also saw as many good things as bad things in his teams defensive play.
"I thought our performance was good outside of a few plays," said Venables. "We thought it was outstanding really. We were happy with the pressure. In our coverage, there were some breakdowns and Tech is not going to make many mistakes when you breakdown. They know where to go with the football. Otherwise, there are some things that we can fine-tune and get better. And certainly, things that we will be able to grab their attention with in film sessions. Again, overall I thought our play was good."
From here what does the defense take with them as they great ready to play a much better team in the Texas Longhorns?
"Everybody has to play their responsibility," said Venables. "The guys have to play with the discipline that it takes no matter who you are playing or what scheme that you are playing. Just fundamentals of playing the game should carry over with you. Playing your technique, your assignments, playing hard, playing tough, your tackling and your positioning on the ball. Just playing sound fundamental football is what is important from this point on."
Chijioke Onyenegecha earned his major playing time for entire second and third quarters, while starter Eric Bassey went the first and the fourth. Onyenegecha finished with only one tackle on the day, but for the most part played well.
"He played well for the most part," said Venables. "He did miss a tackle and he missed an assignment, but otherwise played pretty well."
For Onyenegecha, getting a little playing time was a long time coming.
"It seems like it is been years since I have played that much in a football game," said Onyenegecha following the game. "It was great to get back out there, but it seemed strange at times. I played OK, but I can play better and I will play better the more I play."
It is certain that Bassey and Onyenegecha will continue to share time at right corner.
Oklahoma came into the Tech game without an interception, but as expected the Sooners came away with three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
"I told you last week that I wasn't worried about us intercepting the ball," said junior safety Brodney Pool, who picked off two Sonny Cumbie passes. "Two weeks ago I said I wasn't worried about the picks, and just like in high school I knew that they would come. I wasn't worried about them because we were winning and if we keep winning I could care less about picks or anything."
Pool has a simple approach to his interceptions.
"I just go out there and play ball," said Pool. "I was looking at the receiver out of the corner of my eye and I saw his reaction. I knew they were going to throw over there. On one, he just threw it up and I just got to the spot and jumped for the ball. On the other, I kind of figured they didn't try to go deep on us except once before halftime. I kind of knew that they were going to go with a shallow route and I was right."
Senior safety Brandon Shelby has made a career out of playing against Texas Tech, and this year was no exception as he finished with nine tackles, one interception and one tackle for loss.
"I'm definitely glad that so far that I have always had good games against Texas Tech," said Shelby following the game. "They are a good team and it is great to be out there and make plays. Of course, I play more against Texas Tech. We are always in our nickel package and they test us because they are always throwing the ball so much. When you have an offense like that you know they are going to throw it every down. You have the ability to key off what they are doing as far as formations and stuff like that. That is definitely a great team to play against as far as I am concerned."
Shelby is normally the main blitzer when the Sooners go to extra defensive backs, but against Texas Tech linebackers Rufus Alexander and Lance Mitchell were going after Cumbie.
"Tech scouted us pretty well and they know that I blitz a lot when I am in the game," said Shelby. "So, teams are paying more attention to me. That is just opening things up for other guys and in this game they did a great job. They have been doing a great job all year and they can get to the quarterback."
For a middle linebacker Lance Mitchell, chasing wide receivers and running backs out of the backfield in pass coverage is not his favorite kind of football. But he admits that he is getting used to it. Blitzing as much as he did against Texas Tech was certainly something that Mitchell injured.
"That was fun chasing Cumbie around, but he is tough to get hold of," said Mitchell. "It seemed like every time that I thought I had a shot at him he would get rid of the ball or just throw it away. I put a couple of good hits on him, but they are not an easy team to play."
Mitchell is a humble sort and appreciates his teammates, especially the ability of Pool.
"Brodney is always in the right place at the right time due to his preparation," said Mitchell. "You have to have a whole defense to face that kind of offense, but it makes a big difference when you have a guy like Brodney in the back-end. We never worry if he is going to be on the spot or not. We just prepare for Tech well and they do what they always do year in and year out. If you react to what they do, then you will play well against them and that is what we do."
Mitchell wasn't the only person that noticed that Pool was positioned perfectly.
"Brodney seemed to be in good position all day," said Stoops following the game. "He played well. Another player that really stood out for us was Larry Birdine. Larry continues to make a lot of plays for us through the first four games of the season. He continues to show up in a big way."
The fact that Mitchell and Alexander were called upon to blitz against the Red Raiders was something that the Sooner defensive coaching staff came up with.
"We just came up with some different blitzes this week. I don't think they were going to know what we were doing from past film sessions," said Mitchell. "We really emphasized putting pressure on this quarterback and we did it by blitzing the linebackers."
Mitchell is one who feels the defense was successful, because Texas Tech couldn't reach the end zone.
"That is what counts — the fact that they couldn't score against us," said Mitchell. "We gave up some yardage, but we made them go for it on fourth down and then we made them get off the field. The bottom line is that we won and that they didn't score touchdowns."
Shelby felt the same way.
"Definitely. We had that bend-but-don't-break mentality," said Shelby. "When we needed to make plays we did. We held them for the most part to a couple of field goals until late in the fourth quarter. We just have to keep plugging away at it. I am proud that we won and I am proud that we didn't give away a lot of points. I am not proud of the yardage that we gave up, but you have to take the good with the bad. I think there is always room for improvement, and hopefully we do the little things next week to make sure the yardage is not so high."
Pool was another that feels the defense did a good job keeping Tech out of the end zone.
"That is a big accomplishment," said Pool. "If you look at the games that Texas Tech has played they have been scoring 50 points in games. They are a tough team and they have a good offense. They have the No. 1 passing offense in the nation. Those guys are good and they know what they like to do. They are coached well. Keeping them out of the end zone is a big accomplishment for us."
The Oklahoma offense has finally come full circle, and it happened on the day they played the man that brought the Sooner offense to life. In 1999, Texas Tech Head Coach Mike Leach was Bob Stoops first Offensive Coordinator and he ran a similar offense that we watched on Saturday, except he didn't like to run the ball as much then. Leach passed the ball so much that first year that it drove the OU defensive coaches nuts as they were starved for more ball control.
Well, during Stoops fifth year those defensive coaches have offensive ball control as the Sooners rushed the ball 40 times compared to 24 passes. The Sooners were so good in the rushing game that Leach himself called the Sooners a running team after the game.
Are the Sooners now a running football team?
"I don't care what anybody says as long as we get the job done," said Coach Long. "That will make people play the run and that will open some things up for some downfield shots. With our running backs performing the way they are right now, I don't care what kind of label we have as long as we are producing and performing at a good level, which we are right now."
Coach Long has always maintained that he wants a balanced offense. Last year the Sooners lost their balance becoming a passing team late in the year, and many blame that as one of the reasons why the Sooners lost their last two games. One of the main goals this season was to get back to being a balanced team and to get back to throwing more to Mark Clayton at wide receiver. Thus far this season has been mission accomplished.
"We are very happy with our offense and really excited about what we have," said Long. "After watching the tape today we had excellent physical play in there and that is going to go a long way for us down the road. Guys were really blocking well and we had some crack blocks by some of our wide receivers (Clayton and Travis Wilson) — that laid their DBs just flat out. Guys are having run with the running game right now and you can feel that on the sidelines. You can feel it in the huddle and our coaches on the sideline feel it. It is really good stuff and really bodes well for us down the road."
"Our third down production has improved because of that," Long continued. "Third and short was really good yesterday and third and medium was good. We missed a couple on third and longs, but because of our physical play and getting better at it, we have improved our third down production."
Adrian Peterson got his first start and responded in spectacular fashion rushing for 146 yards and one touchdown, including a 61-yard rush on a toss sweep in the first quarter. n the third quarter, another toss sweep would have resulted in a 65-yard touchdown run if it wasn't for a holding penalty.
With his effort, Peterson becomes the first freshman running back to go over 100 yards in four consecutive games. Through four games, Peterson has rushed for 546 yards, leaving him on pace to rush for 1,501 yards during the 11 game season. And that would easily better the freshman rushing record set by DeMond Parker in 1996 when the former Tulsa Washington product rushed for 1,184 yards and ten touchdowns.
"Adrian is playing in a strong and mature way," said Stoops. "Sometimes you get young running backs that care a little more about dancing around and making exceptional plays. Well, he is pretty decisive when he turns it up and seems to know where he is going. He has great vision and he brought some big plays in the running game today. We are just going to continue to bring them along and he is going to continue to be a big factor."
Peterson is a very humble sort which is very refreshing, to be honest. He still answers every question 'yes sir' and 'no sir', and he still gives all the credit to his teammates, especially when asked about his long runs.
"Mark Clayton made a great block and so did Bubba Moses," said Peterson. "They were so good I almost turned around to look back at them. Bubba blocked his man outside and all I had to do was cut it up. After that it was off to the races and I got tripped up. I don't know who got me, but it was a good run."
Adrian and running back coach Cale Gundy have been working on Peterson's steps and his patience in the running game. Early in his career, he was too quick on a lot of his runs the blocking did not have time to develop. He has improved in this area a great deal and the toss sweep is a big help.
"The toss sweep gives me a chance to get up to speed and look for the right seam to run through," said AD. "I do have a chance to wait just a split second and then explode though the hole. We are running that play very well because we are blocking that play so well."
Can you say OU Student Body Right or OU Student Body Left?
"It gets Adrian the ball with a lot of space in front of him and gets him downhill. He is pretty darn good when he has the ball in his hand going downhill," said Long. "The toss sweep is an old play that has been around a long time and it gets people out in space and out of their gaps. For us Saturday, it was there. We saw something early in the week on tape that said they are going to have trouble with this play. We have run a lot of what we call the power game, running inside in our jumbo sets in previous years. With the addition to that we have been able to get Adrian on the corner with it, and it is going to open that up again. The two plays go hand-in-hand and complement each other. And now we have some balance in our short-yard sets."
The capacity crowd at the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium fell silent when Peterson went down early in the fourth quarter and laid on the Owen Field turf in obvious pain. However, after a couple of minutes AD was helped up and he jogged off the field.
"A guy hit me in the leg and it got twisted up and everything," said AD. "It was just a bruise. It is OK."
So, if you think the run game is fun for AD, how about the guys blocking in front of him.
"Our main thing is that we need to be able to run the ball. We need to run the ball whenever we want to and not just when we need to," said junior fullback J.D. Runnels. "Our main thing is that we have a great o-line, some great tailbacks and some great wide receivers who can block. On that sweep for Adrian Peterson, my man Mark Clayton threw a great block on the corner, and it is one of those things where running the football is one of the most fundamental things in the game. We have to be able to do it."
"Every team but Texas Tech wants to be good in the run game," Runnels continued. "Last year we had some problems with it, but this year it was our main goal to have a bigger attitude and have to be more physical in the run game."
One key for the Sooners' running game is that it appears that AD is a well-grounded individual.
"Adrian is big, strong and fast, and he is a really good athlete," said Stoops. "However, more than that, he has had a really good attitude of working and doing things the right way. I think that helps him to."
Chris Bush drew a start at left guard in place of Kelvin Chaisson, who has been suffering from mononucleosis. Chaisson did see action in the second half, but once again Bush proved to be a valuable reserve for the Sooners.
"I think he is a starter for me and I have said that for a while," said Run Game Coordinator and offensive line coach Kevin Wilson. "One of the reasons why I haven't played him as much is because he bails me out at center, left guard and right guard. I throw him all over the place and maybe in my eyes I haven't got comfortable seeing Chris a lot at one spot where he kind of grows on you. He plays with a lot of heart and character when he plays and he is playing well. Even though those other cats have started more games, I don't think they are significantly ahead of him. I think he is as every bit as good and better sometimes."
Bush is another quiet sort on the team and never brags on himself. However, he was excited to draw a start against Texas Tech.
"That was a lot of fun today. I just hope that I gave a good account of myself," said Bush following the game. "It was fun blocking for AD and Jason today. I thought we did a good job up front."
To a man, the offensive linemen will tell you that they would rather run block than pass block. I have always wondered if that was really true or not, but Bush certainly wasn't one to look at it in any other way.
"I love to run block. I think, we, as a unit, like to run block," said Bush. "We have some great tailbacks around here, and if we do our jobs we can get into the end zone from anywhere on the field."
Running the ball with authority was a primary goal in the summer and in double sessions, but did the Sooners become a super rushing football team on Saturday?
"I think we ran the ball OK. We have emphasized the running game here and we have shown that we can run it," said Wilson. "Bottom line is that we have some great playmakers at quarterback and receiver and we are trying to stay balanced. At the same time, when we have the opportunity we can take some shots and make some plays. Jason and Mark and all those guys are great pass guys, so we don't want to go much where it looks like we are trying to run it to much either."
"We are just trying to take what we need and what the defense is allowing us," Wilson continued. "They can't stop it all by alignment, and I thought Tech numbered the box and tried to stop the run. We are running the ball as well as we ever have because of Adrian's ability to make some plays and the way the receivers are blocking on the perimeter. The line is doing well, but if you would just look at those stats and pulled out a bunch of 200-yard games last year, you would see that we were blocking pretty well last year. We just got a way from it and now we are getting back into it."
We also asked Coach Wilson to give an early scouting report in the Longhorns.
"It has been kind of hard for us to study Texas so far because they have played two option teams and another team that ran the ball a bunch," said Wilson. "They got on North Texas early and with Baylor got a lot of points. I don't know much variations of blitz they will show off of their blitz package. It is hard to say what they are going to do blitz-wise. You have to go back and get a feel for some things that we saw him do with the Kansas City Chiefs. I think we are the first team that he has seen that poses this much of a passing threat."
"They run a four-man front and they have moved Derrick Johnson to 'Willie' from 'Mike' linebacker, and he is playing great there now," Wilson continued. "(Aaron) Harris is playing inside, who is a very physical player. I do not think that Rod Wright played in the last game as they started the freshman Frank Okam in there with Larry Dibbles. I have a feeling that Rod and Dibbles will be inside with Okam providing good depth. Tim Crowder is there one true end and the other end is a converted linebacker and tight end. The try to cheat to get their edge players in unblocked positions, and they stack to try to stop the run. Derrick is playing better than he has ever played this year, but we don't know how they are going to blitz because they haven't played a team that throws as much as we do."
After the hoopla surrounding the running game, it almost seemed like an afterthought that Jason White became the Sooners' career passing touchdown leader.
"Jason was the first guy that I gave a game ball to and I made sure that he knew that he broke Coach Heupel's record," said Stoops. "Coach Gundy is getting way down the list isn't he?"
White certainly deserved the first game ball, and once again Coach Stoops reminded all of us to not take White for granted. What surprised many people only throwing 24 passes, completing 15 of them for a modest 151 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, when you throw three touchdowns that is a good day.
"I think we had a great day throwing the football because we threw three touchdown passes," said White following the game. "I would rather throw three or four touchdown passes for just 80 yards than throw for 400 yards with no touchdowns and a couple of interceptions."
That wasn't a knock at Cumbie, but that could sum up the Red Raider signal callers day. Many media members and fans alike were taken back by White lack of opportunities. Many also worry about how the Sooners new-found success in the running game will affect White's chances of winning his second Heisman? That doesn't appear to be a concern with White or the Sooners.
"I have said this many times, and I mean it. As long as we win I don't care if I throw a pass or not," said White. "I just want to win. If we can run the ball every down and win the game, then that is what we will do and I will be totally happy with it."
The Sooners seemed to settle for a lot of short passes as Tech played their corners back and their safety's deeper. So, White didn't get many opportunities to strike deep for the big play.
"We come in with a lot of deep opportunities all the time," said Stoops. "We did in this game as well, but sometimes they are there and sometimes they are not. And when something is working for you (run game) you stay with it. We don't go into any game looking for individual numbers, nor are we looking to put anybody's numbers where they should be. We go into the game to win and Jason operated our offense in a very efficient way. We had very few penalties and Jason is so good and you forget about his efficiency and the way he directs the team. He was really strong again today, but we are not out there pushing anybody's numbers.
White realizes that he is climbing the career passing charts in all the categories in the Sooner record book, but still he tops each one in a very humble fashion.
"It is a great honor, but I think more credit goes to the guys on this years team and last year year's team," said White. "It is mostly the same guys and that is where most of the same touchdowns came from. They are just as big a part of it as I am."
Tashard Choice earned his first career playing time subbing for Peterson and rushed for 71 yards at 4.4 yard per carry.
"It felt pretty good to just come off the injury (hamstring) and step up and have a chance to play," said Choice. "I was trying to make the best of it while I was out there. My injury was frustrating, but I just kept fighting it and kept having faith in me. My teammates never gave up on me telling me to be ready to step up if I was ever needed. I did that today. I felt pretty good. I wish I would have put the ball in the end zone, but I came up a little short. Our line blocked very well. I had a chance to see some gaps, so I was just trying to get down hill and hit the hole hard."
There have been a few mentions of the great blocking day for the Sooner wide receivers.
"We had our best day yet blocking downfield," said OU wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt. "Travis Wilson threw the best block that I have ever seen from a wide receiver just blowing up one of their defensive backs, and Mark Clayton also had a knock down on AD's big run. Mark is not only a great wide receiver catching the ball, but blocking downfield as well, and he proves it every game."
Jonathan Jackson had his best game of the season and is stepping up his play now that the Sooners are going with just three defensive ends the rest of the way.
Game balls went to the offensive line, Tashard Choice, Peterson, Travis Wilson, Jason White, Brandon Shelby, Brodney Pool, Jonathan Jackson, and Trey DiCarlo with a string on it. Coach Stoops said after he missed that field goal that he thought about not giving one to DiCarlo, but because he was so good on kick-offs he gave one to him anyway.
As for those rotten, scummy Texas Longhorns ... here are some early thoughts.
"Texas has more of a traditional offense than the teams we have faced thus far," said Stoops. "However, that doesn't much matter as teams are going to play as they play. It is our job to line up and adjust to it and defend it. This isn't anything new because we see this style of offense through the year in our offense, and all spring we go good-on-good as well as two a-days. We run a lot of the same attitude runs, o we are familiar with what Texas does."
"Our practices are the same as every week," said Stoops. "We go about our business and try to be very detailed about our preparation. It is the same as always, but you can't help to practice with a little more attention to detail and more energy."
"To say that I enjoy it is not the right thing," said Stoops. "I can't enjoy it. It is not my place to enjoy it. I more or less stick to what matters to us, and that is to be prepared to play the game. I have to admit that when you get there it is fantastic environment. It is a great challenge with two really good football teams in a great venue and atmosphere that is exciting. Actually, the game can't get here soon enough, but you get tired waiting for it. We get anxious and we want to go play tomorrow. However, we have to pace ourselves and be ready for it when it comes up."
"I am glad that we are playing Texas this week," said Peterson. "I am looking forward to it."
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