A shorter, earlier WWU as we all head south this week . . .
"When you take your team down the ramp to play Texas, you better damn well feel the emotion," said former Sooner coach Barry Switzer. "When you hit the floor of the Cotton Bowl, there's electricity. And if you don't feel it, you ought to have your saliva checked."
BEAT TEXAS 'factoids:'
Good: Bob Stoops is 59-11 in 5+ years at OU. Mack Brown is 60-18 in 6+ years at UT.
OU has converted 66% (42 of 4) 3rd down conversions. UT ranks a lowly 110th in kick off returns. OU ranks No. 1 in victories over the past 60 years (494). Although they only rank 26th in games played (1078) , OU has scored more points than any other NCAA school (28,143). They rank 102nd (out of 117 teams) in points allowed (12,960).
Better: Bob Stoops is 18-4 vs. ranked foes. Mack Brown is 12-13.
Bad: The lower ranked team has prevailed in this series 15 times.
How close is this series? The teams are 6-6-1 in the last 13 games, 8-8-1 in the last 17 games, 11-11-2 in the last 24 games, 13-13-3 in the last 29 games, 17-17-3 in the last 37 games. Of course, OU has won the last 4.
Twenty years after and it still hurts . . .
Tomorrow marks the twentieth anniversary of the most infamous Cotton Bowl call since the 'Cisco riot' in the 1947 OU Texas game. In 1984, the Sooners were coming off of a 8-4 season with an offense ten years and in need of a make over. OU Coach Barry Switzer wanted to update the wishbone and employ more passing that year, he had recruited a kid named Aikman and had hired a new offensive coordinator who had been head coach at Appalachian State the year before. Mack Brown helped Switzer install the 'Mack Attack' that season, and by October the old bone, with a few new wrinkles, was off and running with Oklahoma undefeated and ranked #2 / #3 in the country.
But Texas, under Fred Akers, was next up next, and for the first time since 1965 entered the game with the number one ranking. "The one thing I remember the most was that it was an absolute downpour, and not one person left the stadium," Brown said. Playing in a driving rainstorm, the Sooners controlled the game and were up 15 - 12 when they appeared to clinch the game with a fumble recovery by Tony Casillas with just over a minute left in the game. Although replays clearly showed the ball was dropped, the referees ruled the Texas running back 'down' - and the drive continued. Texas went to the air in an attempt to score before the clock ran out, but OU's Keith Stanberry intercepted a 'Horn pass in the end zone, and skidded 15 feet across the wet turf with the ball firmly in his grasp. The Sooners had held!
But officials failed to recognize the catch, ruling that Stanberry was out of bounds. A 32-yard field goal by Jeff Ward's as time expired ended the contest in a 15-15 tie, and the Texas players and coaches celebrated like it was Christmas. Switzer, and Brown, were both livid afterwards, and even the Dallas Morning News, no friend of Switzer at the time, declared the fumble call a mistake and the last call a travesty.
Years later, the official that made the call ran into Switzer in Colorado. "I didn't see it coach," he said. "The rules say if you don't see it - you can't call it." Switzer forgave the official and there it sat - until last Saturday.
Switzer, for the first time - was shown the entire photograph of the play, clearly showing skid marks and all. But Barry had seen those many times before - as he could replay the interception in his head at will. What he saw Saturday made him sick. There was the official who had apologized, heretofore cropped out, but now shown in the photo, hands on knees, and staring at Stansberry as he slid with the ball clearly wrapped in his arms.
Switzer looked at the photo in amazement. "He told me he didn't see it. But look, there he is right in front of and staring at Keith." Switzer just shook his head in disbelief. The ref had blundered badly twice, but even more on the day he lied to Switzer about not seeing the play.
Keep that in mind as we watch the game tomorrow. Remember it if you begin to feel sorry for the Horn fans, and be thankful that the Big 12 now has crews that do not feel as much of the biased pressure that the Big 8 - SWC crews of twenty years ago experienced.
Red runs deep . . .
Many OU players have Texas ties, but for Brodney Pool, it hits even closer to home. His mom is the assistant track coach at UT, so who is she rooting for this weekend? "Of course she is going to root for Oklahoma! She told me not to talk about this, because she didn't want to get fired."
New looks for the Horn Defense / Offense?
On defense under Tomey and Robinson, Texas has moved from man into a zone coverage scheme. "It's a different playbook than they've had in the past. I think this probably gives them a better chance," Switzer says. "If they get beat, maybe they don't get beat as quick."
We asked Bob Stoops if Texas was really different on defense heading into this weeks' game. "I know structurally they're different, but some of their structure is what you see from a lot of different teams. They are playing well and playing with discipline and in (the proper) position, but I have seen them like that in other years too. I don't ever remember coming into this game where they weren't playing good defense."
What more can Texas do on offense? OU coaches look for Texas to employ TE's David Thomas and Bo Scaife tomorrow. Don't be surprised if David Thomas isn't a huge part of the game plan against OU.
Texas Weaknesses. . .
Even Mack gives the Sooners the coaching edge: "As a coach, you say that your team is a mirror of you," he says. "The last four years, I haven't been very proud of this when we've walked off the field. Bob's done a better job than I've done, and that's not something you're proud of," Brown says. "You know, I'm honest. I'm a big boy. So I can tell the truth." (Well sometimes - at least when he's not taking about wind currents, recruiting promises or whether he's obsessed with the Sooners).
While Mack Brown is not concerned about his running game, the passing game fails to get the same respect. That's why he called out his receivers last week and basically said 'step it up or we'll find someone who will.' Brown said freshmen Nate Jones and Myron Hardy will probably get game action because he's been disappointed with all the receivers except Tony Jeffery thus far. Note to Mack: Keep recruiting off of those Blue Chip lists, please.
Many have been critical of OU's lackluster play along the defensive front so far, but Texas is not batting 100% either, with no sacks by starters. It's hard to blitz scrambling quarterbacks, so you saw more 'contain' against Arkansas' Matt Jones than going for broke with a pass rush. That will change tomorrow. A pass rush will be critical against the Sooners if Texas has any hope of winning. You have to get to Jason White early or you will pay later. The last Texas player with double-digit sacks (10) in a season was Aaron Humphrey in 1999. Also the Texas defensive backs may be challenged to play their new zone defense against Jason White and OU's receiving corps. Of course, OU's DB's would even be challenged by that one.
Oklahoma is in the Longhorns' heads. The Sooners, who've won by 49, 11, 11 and 52 points the last four years, believe in themselves. And regardless of what they say, the Horns know it. Although Mack and some of his players deny it, DT Rodrique Wright admits that OU has a head lock on the steers. "I think last year, we denied it and we kind of backed away from it that those guys had a mental edge on us," he says. "A team beats you four times in a row, it's not that hard to start thinking, 'Hey man, this may be five' or whatever. Basically, we just have to think that those were different teams, so most of us couldn't control what happened in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003."
OK, Our breakdown . . .
Sooner coaches expect a much tighter game this year. Yes, the Texas defense will be harder to score against, but with Adrian Peterson, the OU offense is also better. On defense, neither team has looked great, with Texas better up front but weaker in the secondary. Reverse that for Oklahoma as the young tackles are still trying to adjust to D1 level play. We won't know until tomorrow, but it appears that both defenses are far from perfect.
On offense, Texas is getting smarter with senior Cedric Benson, and sophomore Vincent Young. Both are a handful, and a missed tackle means a long gain, or score by either. Still, Peterson gives OU's balanced offense the edge. To make it easier, the Sooners simply have to have some big plays on first or second down to force Texas into the uncomfortable position of flinging the pigskin skyward. The big question is 'which team has been holding back?' It would appear that both are holding cards, but Texas was forced into a last second win at Arkansas and it's hard to believe that you would not use every weapon available when faced with a defeat. Yet Mack Brown has not been sane since the 63 - 14 butt kickin' - and does not always make sound decisions when it comes to strategy vs Oklahoma.
Sooner coaches do not admit to holding back either. But if this is all they have with Heisman winner Jason White and perhaps college football's best receivers, you would have to think that LSU took far more away than a trophy.
Certainly OU wants a healthy Jason in January, and to accomplish that they will run more this year, (thank you God for Adrian Peterson). But the best way to beat Texas is to jump on them early and often. Even with the new Texas zone defense, it becomes a guessing game.
Chuck Long has received a bag of criticism since last Decembers' melt down. Naturally, second guessing will always follow defeats. But Long can shed the monster with a brilliant game on the Cotton Bowl turf tomorrow. It comes down to how well can Texas disguise and out guess Long and Jason White? Before the season, Chuck guaranteed us that Jason would have a better year than last. Tomorrow we find out if that could be possible. Our guess is that Stoops and Company will have plenty of homework for the 'horns, and for the first time Stoops admitted that they've been saving a few surprise themselves. But was this just more mind control by Stoops, or will we see some Sooner tricks?
In the end, Sooners are stronger, better conditioned, mentally tougher and should pull ahead in the second half. Barring OU turnovers, Texas scores late to make it . . . Oklahoma 35 - Texas 24.
Recruiting . . .
Yes, it's Texas week and almost all the talk is RRS and Texas. However, obscured by the landslide of Burnt Orange BS, is the huge commitment of offense center/guard Jesse White, (6-3, 287, 4.85), of Denver Mullen.
Why the lack of excitement for a player ranked in the nations top 100? And, on top of that, an offensive line recruit that the Sooners have been desperate for? Well for one, White committed to UCLA early, taking himself off of the most wanted lists nationwide. Two, Oklahoma did not plan on recruiting 'inside' OL's (center-guards), until the recent experiment of Davin Joseph to tackle looked more promising for 2005.
Make no mistake, White is among the fastest, strongest players in the country and has been ranked as Colorado's top prospect this season, and will be needed to help Tommy Grady, Rhett Bomar and Peterson win future championships. Head Coach Dave Logan at Mullen says of Jesse, "He's the strongest kid I have ever had. He is pretty athletic for his size." If White were playing in California or Texas, you can bet he'd be ranked in the top 10 of offensive line prospects.
White visited Norman for the Texas Tech game and committed to Bob Stoops Sunday morning. Upon returning to Denver he confirmed his pledge to the Stoops and the Sooners. "Yes, I did commit, and I'm very excited about that. My father, my family and all my family back in Oklahoma are really excited about it. I think it shocked Coach Stoops when I committed, as he didn't think I would. But my dad and I had a great conversation with him and he answered all of our questions. Coach Stoops and Coach (Kevin) Wilson are great family men and that is important to me and my family. Getting a chance to watch OU on game day and watch what they go though was a tremendous thrill. OU's program, what they do before each game, was incredible. It was something that I have never seen before."
Last week we asked if the Sooners could turn the head of the nations #14 ranked OL, Cory Zirbel, (6-7, 292, 5.3), from Michigan as he too visited for Texas Tech. A day after his visit he was asked what was the one thing that most stood out about Oklahoma. "I learned how great the people are and how great the players are. With all the success they have had they are not cocky and Coach Stoops impressed me more than anybody. He spent a lot of time with me and that impressed me a great deal. He had a big game to play, yet he sat with me and he drove me over to the hotel. And then picked me up at the hotel and took me over to breakfast."
You're right Cory, that's pretty unusual.
"Before this visit I would say that Michigan had a lead. I went up to Michigan for an unofficial and I was impressed, but that was until I took my official to Oklahoma. The whole experience at OU, from the game day atmosphere to how I was treated by the players was impressive. I rode the team bus over the stadium and sat on the sidelines during the warm-ups. I had a chance to see all the fans that were trying to get into the game. That was incredible."
And for now? "I would say that Michigan and Oklahoma are definitely the two that I am trying to decide between. After taking that official there that helped Oklahoma a lot. I am not sure I could name a leader at this time because I haven't been to an official at Michigan."
Oklahoma has only a handful of corner backs on their list. We were able to catch up with Lufkin, Texas corner back Alton Dixon, (6-0, 190, 4.48) , at the top of the Sooners wish list, and asked about rumors that he's close to committing to Texas A&M. "My recruiting is coming down to Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Basically, I will choose between one of those two schools. I have looked at it pretty hard and it is going to be a decision based on which school I like best. They are both about even right now and those are the only two schools that I am considering." Dixon denied the persistent story around Lufkin that the trio of Dixon, Javorskie Lane and (cousin), McKinner Dixon all want to go to the same school, and the one school that has offered all three is Texas A&M. "No truth whatsoever. They have to do what is best for them."
Stay tuned, this one may flip-flop until signing day.
OU Texas Quotes & Notes from the past . . .
"I am damned sick and tired of getting asked, "when are you gonna beat Oklahoma? Well, its about time. We're about due." Darrell Royal in 1976 after losing 5 straight to OU. The 1976 game ended in a 6-6 tie, and Royal, who threw up on the Cotton Bowl ramp returning to the locker room, retired after the season.
"When you beat the University of Texas, I don't care what your won-loss record is, it's the biggest day in your life." Barry Switzer, October 14, 1973. Oklahoma 52 Texas 13.
Here's to a big day tomorrow!
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