There was pure jubilation heading into the locker room as the Sooners had finally got a giant Gorilla off their backs that they had been carrying for two weeks by beating Kansas State 43- 21.
Once in the locker room, those of us in the media room could still hear the celebration going on as the Sooner coaches joined in with the players to celebrate beating the Wildcats so handily.
During the off-week, the Sooners had what was described as' boot camp' by -many and as summer training camp two-a-days by others. No matter what you call it, the Oklahoma worked very hard during that off-week and worked on teams drills over and over and over again. Team drills that built team recognition against plays and alignments and team drills that built confidence in each player to know what his assignment is, and team drills that can give the player confidence that he knows the assignment and that he can just go turn it loose and let his outstanding athletic ability take over.
No matter what the players and coaches say, they also hear what their fans and media are saying. I know many say that they don't listen to the radio, read the newspapers or read the message boards, but we know that many of them do. And those that do then pass along what they read and hear to those that don't. The players and coaches knew that many fans were turning on them and many in the media were questioning their abilities. When you are Oklahoma and have won as much as they have won the last three years, it is shocking to have anybody questioning their ability.
However, when you start 1- 2 and lose to TCU at home, then people realize that this 2005 team isn't anything like the 2003 or 2004 teams, certainly not yet. Maybe they have the talent, but through three games the young Sooners had not been able to put their talent together, which was a shock to many. Remember, Oklahoma started the season ranked seventh in the country, but the they made too many mistakes, broken assignments and turnovers to be consistent winners.
So the Sooners went into the two weeks of boot camp to get better, and the win over Kansas State certainly showed that. OU did not turn the ball over on offense and mistakes where held to the minimum. On defense, one big bust in the secondary cost the secondary their first big play of the season, but the Wildcats were held to 248 yards total offense and just 22 yards rushing.
When are you 1- 2 and you feel the world is against you, then a big win over an opponent that has given you major problems in the past deserves a celebration in the locker room.
"This is a big game and a big confidence builder for us," said offensive coordinator Chuck Long said following the game. "You could just tell in the locker room following the game how excited they were how excited Coach (Bob) Stoops was for them and we were for them. We needed a celebration because when you have new faces in that locker room, as well as guys who have been here and have been used to winning, that really helped us in the game. It was a neat thing and a joy to see their faces after the game."
"This win is big, especially with Texas coming up next week," Long continued. "I guess we are going to show up now. We are going to have a good week of practice and we will have some exciting going in practice this week."
Loses to TCU and UCLA had robbed the Sooners of their swagger and put a grim feeling throughout the program. Many times that is tough for a team to practice through, especially when you are among the elite programs in college football. If things don't go well early, then that team is in trouble.
On Saturday, Oklahoma got off to a good start and took control of the game early, and following the game the swagger and confidence was back within the football team.
"We have won so much at home and prior to this year we have had back-to-back undefeated seasons in the regular season, so at times you can take winning for granted," said Long from his office today. "It settles in that way as a team when you win so much. There is not as much celebration after those wins when you are doing it so many times in a row. And all of a sudden, our backs are up against the wall in a crucial game to start the Big 12 season. We talked about the celebration today as a staff. The celebration was genuine in the locker room following the game. It was something to behold as a staff and players. It was something that we hadn't had in a long time in our locker room at home. To just see the elation from our guys, as a staff, we felt good about seeing that because we had not seen that in a while. That is a good thing that was really a special moment."
"As a staff, it was good to see that and it reminded us of that 2000 year," Long continued. "That year we started to get on a roll and as each game got bigger and bigger the locker rooms were fun after those wins. Just the excitement we generated on those locker rooms was great and important to our season. We had that kind of excitement in our locker room last night and we will see how it effects us the rest of the season.
"We have a young team that has struggled, but it makes it all the worthwhile when you have a moment like we had last night. We can see we are starting to reach them as a staff and we saw it come together even more as a team. Our confidence level went way up after that football game. You can feel and see that too. The players are feeling good about themselves for a change and they are excited to come to practice."
The new confidence is something that the players could sense as well.
"I think we are pretty pumped right now," senior cornerback Eric Bassey said following the game. "I have been here a long time and I am pretty pumped myself. I thought, as a defense, we played pretty well. I thought I played pretty well. I thought the secondary played pretty well and that victory seemed liked some of the victories we have had around here the last couple of years. We are excited about it and now we just need to work harder this week than we did last week and build on this, because as good as we think Kansas State is we know that Texas is better."
Without question the Oklahoma's win was their most complete performance of the season. Sure, there were still some mistakes, but not as many. And the fact that the Sooners played a sound football game had the head ball coach pretty excited following the game.
"It was big for us for a couple of reasons," said OU head coach Bob Stoops Sunday from his office. "One, it shows and proves to them that we are not very far off and that we are capable of playing like this. Second, it proves and shows them that the hard work is worth it — that we are getting better. It gives them confidence coming into this week that we are on the verge of still getting better and better and we can do it consistently. It gives them a lot of confidence. We are getting better and improving and we are gaining experience as we go. We said we need to do that and that is what we have done."
Offense always grabs the headlines, but it was the Sooner defense that took control of this game. After one quarter, Kansas State had zero yards and no points. And at the half, Kansas State only had 41 yards total offense as the Sooner defense had pitched a shutout 19-0. Kansas State was able to have some success in the second half, finishing with 248 yards and putting 21 points on the board, but you never got the feeling that Oklahoma didn't have control of this one.
OU's success on defense started up front where the Sooners' front-four put constant pressure on KSU quarterback Alan Webb. And when the Sooners blitzed they were always successful in chasing Webb out of the pocket or stuffed the Wildcats running game.
"That was our best effort putting pressure on the quarterbacks thus far this year," said Stoops. "When we blitzed we did a good job of that by getting pressure and then in our four-man rush did a good job and pressured a lot. We forced them out of the pocket and it all worked well. Our coverage was there and we didn't allow them to throw it when they wanted to, so it all kind of worked together."
For the Sooner defensive coaching staff, preparing for Kansas State is always a nightmare. So the fact that the defense played a sound game facing such a complicated team is something the team can build on.
"They make you work schematically as much as anything, but they are still working and putting things together offensively," said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables following the game. "Coach Snyder and his staff are always very creative and tough to prepare for. In the first half, they did a number of things that you don't see on videotape like we expected them to do. I am proud of our guys for making some adjustments and holding the course. In the second half, we gave up some big plays and we feel like we were in a couple of calls that should have worked. We had the one receiver double covered on the 73-yard pass, but we have to be a little bit smarter. Overall, we are proud of their effort and how they have worked, which is most important more than anything."
"We are proud of some individuals," Venables continued. "Eric Bassey continued to work hard, regardless of his circumstances and the hand that he has been dealt. He knew that at some point he had to have his bag packed and ready to go, and when that window opend he jumped through it and was prepared to perform. He did it in a great way. He was not perfect by any stretch, but he was very sound in how he played.
"This was a much-needed win at the right time. And you saw some improvement, which is the big thing. There are a few little things that you can use as a learning tool in getting better at in certain situations. We can point out here is where we need to be better at and have better awareness, and where we need to play with better technique. It certainly makes it a lot easier to coach it, teach it and improve it following a win than it does a loss. I think it will only lend credibility to all the hard work we have asked our players to put in and to continue to hold the course on what it takes to be a good football team. We are doing this little by little."
Webb and the Wildcat quarterbacks were never able to get settled in the pocket, and the seven sacks were a welcome sight to see.
"Some of it you want to give our guys credit, but certainly we do recognize that they were a little bit shorthanded up front with some injuries and stuff that they have had," said Venables. "We are not going to go around a beat our chest, but we got the pressure like we wanted to get it. I think we had seven sacks, and we should have had five others. However, we let guys break contain. That is what we will look at and emphasize with our guys — the ones that we missed, not the ones that we got."
For Bassey, his solid play was a long time coming. After several tries and failing in the starting line-up, Bassey never gave up on the hope that through hard work he would get another chance and improve all at the same time.
"I know I have had an up and down career here, but I have always tried to do my best and play as hard as I can," said Bassey. "I came here a corner and when they asked me to move to safety I did so without hesitation and played as well as I could. I was glad when they moved me back to corner, but I am the first to realize that things haven't always worked out for me. I have made mistakes. I have tried to correct those mistakes and I have never felt more confident about my abilities as I do right now."
"I thought for the most part we played pretty well," Bassey continued. "We made a couple of mistakes that we need to correct. We should never give up big plays. I don't know what happened on that one long one they had, but up until that play we had been great at not giving up the big play. We will still have a lot to work on, but I feel we are making great progress.
Oklahoma started two freshmen at safety in Reggie Smith at strong safety and Nic Harris at free safety. Harris came up big in his first start leading the team with seven tackles and coming up with one sack. Smith came up with his first interception and returned it 14 yards before getting tripped up. He finished with two tackles. Of course, it was the tackle he missed that Smith will remember most as he took a flyer along the sideline on Jordy Nelson's 73-yard touchdown pass.
"I think we played pretty well in the game. Except for two plays, we played pretty well," said secondary coach Bobby Jack Wright. "Our two freshman safeties played well. Reggie played well, except for the boundary route where all he had to do is push Nelson out of bounds. He didn't realize that the guy was right on the sideline and all he had to do was push him out of bounds. Knowing Reggie, I bet he doesn't make that kind of mistakes again. The object is to make the tackle or stop the receiver's progress so you don't always have to lay the guy out. You can just push him out. Outside of that, Reggie played well."
"Then we gave up the wheel route to the fullback where the linebacker didn't pick him up, and neither did anybody in the secondary," Wright continued. "So, on two plays they pick up 111 yards. If we just did the right things we could have held both of them to about 40 yards total. If we did things right, then things look a lot better for us.
"Nic played real well. Once he really gets comfortable and learns to trust what he is doing, he is going to be real good. Eric Bassey played very well and D.J. (Wolfe) is still struggling to line up right, but he played pretty well. Nic did a good job of helping D.J. at times. D.J. just needs to get better at lining up and learning our assignments, because when he does things right he plays pretty well. He plays pretty well anyway, so I am really curious how well he might play if he would line up right. He might be really good."
Immediately after the game, Smith realized he could have the play to prevent the touchdown.
"All I had to do was push the guy out of bounds, but I messed up," said Smith following the game. "I thought he was going to cut back on me and he didn't, and I tried to tackle him. All I had to do was push him about of bounds. The coaches certainly let me know that."
The Oklahoma linebackers played well in the game, especially junior Rufus Alexander who finished with six tackles overall. Along with his teammates, Alexander was very excited to get the win and was seen celebrating all the way to the locker room.
"It was just celebrating the joy of winning," said Alexander after the game. "Everybody went on the field excited and playing like they had something to prove. Before the game everybody looked at it as if we had not shown much before the game and that we needed to step up and show everybody that we can play. Coach Stoops hit it on the head when he said that he we had to go out there and stop the turnovers, penalties and mistakes. We went out and executed and won the game."
Count senior captain Dusty Dvoracek as another player who feels the Sooners' second season is off to a good start.
"It is always good to get a Big 12 victory. Starting off the conference 1- 0 is a big plus," said Dvoracek. "Kansas State is a good football team, so it is always good to get a win against them. You can't ask for more than what we got tonight. It is such a good thing to get the wheels rolling before we go down to Dallas. We need to get everything going in the right direction before we play Texas. If we had come out and played like we did before, then things were going to get real harsh for us. The win is definitely a big momentum boost and I can't wait to go down there and play."
The Sooner offense put together a solid game, despite the absence of star running back Adrian Peterson for most of the game. Peterson left in the second period because of an ankle sprain and never returned. Coach Stoops said after the game that Peterson could have played if they needed him to, while others on offense says they are not sure if he could have come back. However, on Sunday Stoops said that Peterson will play against Texas and the only question for him was on what day he would be allowed to practice.
Peterson was off to a good start — eight carries for 53 yards and one touchdown — before his injury, but the Sooner running game did not slow down. Quarterback Rhett Bomar picked up the slack with 67 yards on eight carries and one touchdown. Kejuan Jones picked up 48 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns, and Jacob Gutierrez saw his busiest day carrying the pigskin nine times for 35 yards.
"We have always said that we have a good group of running backs, and when you add Rhett to the mix then that even adds more depth to the group," said Stoops. "They also bring a different dimension to the offense as all of them are different running styles. Those guys, all together, did an excellent job.
"Jacob Gutierrez, Donta Hickson and Kejuan Jones all were good when they were in their together. I think they rushed for 115 yards from the running back position. That was a key for us on Saturday. And they also came up with a couple of touchdowns as well. They are good players, so they really complemented one another and gave us a different dimension with what they are able to do."
OUInsider favorite Gutierrez got the bulk of the carries in the fourth quarter and impressed his teammates.
"Let me tell you what — Gute can really run and he is a fun guy to block for," said captain and senior offensive tackle Davin Joseph. "Jacob is fast and he has those moves, so as an offensive lineman we just need to whip the guy in front of us and he will do the rest. I am not sure what he is going to do, but I know that once I whip my guy I need to go get another one because he is probably throwing some moves down field and probably going to wind up back on my side."
This is the second game that Peterson has gone down with an ankle injury and the back-up running backs realize that he will need a break from time to time during the course of a game.
"We are always ready to carry the load for AD if he ever goes down," said Jones following the game. "We are always confident and we don't ever doubt ourselves when we have to step up and make plays. It was sad to see AD go down, but every time that I get my opportunity to get in the game I am going to get in there and make the most of it."
Among the back-ups Jones is the most well-known, but he will tell you that the other two are just as talented as him.
"We have four great running backs on our team and another who just switched over in Allen Patrick," said Jones. "Adrian would tell you the same thing. He knows if he goes down that he doesn't have to worry about a fall-off because we are going to go in there and bust our tail to keep up the same level that he was putting out in front of us. Our offensive line took it upon themselves to do a good job tonight and we had some great holes to run through. And we are talented enough to do just that."
Hickson also got his first extensive work of the year and was outstanding finishing with 30 yards on just four carries. One of Hickson's better runs was a five -yard touchdown run where he stiff-armed two defenders and ran over two more to get into the end zone. Bubba Moses was called for holding on that play, but Hickson's effort was still worth talking about.
"Donta is a very good running back. Like I have told you many times before, I am not afraid to play him in any game or in any situation," said OU running back coach Cale Gundy. "That was a great run. It is too bad it got called back, but that run proved how determined that Donta when he runs. He is a senior that knows what is going on and he had a great game on Saturday."
If any individual player stole the show against the Wildcats it was junior quarterback/wide receiver Paul Thompson. Thompson came in on the third series to a thunderous ovation. And when he caught his first pass on an eight-yard slant one series later, the junior received a standing ovation.
"I have to admit I got goose bumps when I heard the roar," said Thompson. "I was caught up in the game so I don't know if I was so excited because I had just caught my first catch or because the crowd was cheering for me. The two go hand and hand I guess. I was just going on natural reaction out there some tonight and playing like I was younger, when I played wide receiver all the time. I still have a lot of questions on who to block and where to stem on my route, but overall I was just out there having fun and trying to make some plays."
Thompson caught two passes for 21 yards, and Bomar just missed him on a couple of other potential deep balls.
"Hopefully he will develop some confidence in me, because I have some confidence in him," said Thompson following the game. "He has built up confidence with the other receivers and he is going to hit the open guy. What I have to prove to him is that I am going to be that open guy."
Don't be surprised if Thompson works his way into the starting line-up against the Longhorns. Thompson is playing much better and with more poise that the coaches thought that he could at this time. The fact that Thompson can already make plays just showcases his tremendous athletic ability, despite the fact he has only been at wide receiver two weeks.
Even more importantly, when Thompson comes into the game he brings some juice to the offense. The crowd picks up and the offense can feel the excitement when he comes into the game. If Thompson continues to make progress this week he is the odds-on-favorite to be the starting outside receiver along with Travis Wilson. That would put Malcolm Kelly with the second group outside with Jejuan Rankins. Manuel Johnson would also be with the second group with Rankins in the slot with freshman Juaquin Iglesias.
Of course, Bomar continues to grow up right in front of our eyes. It is easy to tell that Bomar feels more and more comfortable in the Sooners' offense, and there is no question that this offense has become his offense.
"From game one to game four he has improved tremendously. Now, he has gone two games in a row without an interception," said Long. "That is really good. On top of that, last night he didn't have any fumbled snaps and he took care of the football. I think with a young team the two things that really stuck out last night were that we had big plays, which we haven't had much, and we took care of the football. That is winning football and winning offensive football. With a young team you talk about it, but it has to happen for them to see it, for them to quantify it, for them to say, ‘Hey, that does work.'
Bomar threw his first touchdown pass of the season on a four-yard fade to Joe Jon Finley in the fourth quarter. And he hopes it will be the first of many more to come.
"It is great to get that first, but it is only going to be the first of many," said a confident Bomar following the game. "We threw the ball well tonight and we can throw the ball well. We are going to be a team that can beat you every time we take the field in the passing game. Like I have said, we want to be balanced and we are always going to try to run the ball, but to run the ball we need to throw and we can throw it well. I thought we did some good things in the passing game tonight, but we really didn't throw it that much. The more we throw it the more success we will have. Of course, if we are not throwing it that means that we are ahead and trying to run the ball in the second half."
Bomar picked up the slack when AD went out, taking charge of the team and proving that the Sooners have more weapons than just Peterson.
"It hurt us when AD went out, but we didn't panic," said Bomar. "We still had weapons on offense and we just went out and proved it. A lot of people think we are not going to be able to do anything since he went out, but that is not the case. In saying that, we are gong to need AD in every game because he is our best player. However, we have talent to get the job done if he is not in the line-up."
The Sooner offensive line took two more hits during the game when starting center Chris Chester went out with a knee injury in the second quarter and starting tackle Branndon Braxton went out with an Achilles problem. Braxton could have gone back into the game, but Chester is going to miss the next two to three weeks.
"When Chris went out we put Chris Bush at center, and that is just the way we are going to play it," said OU run game coordinator Kevin Wilson on Sunday from his office. "I think Jon Cooper is close and he is playing pretty good, so we may be playing Jon Cooper there. Jon played the final two series against Kansas State and played pretty well. If Cooper could play center for us then Bush could stay at guard. We will probably be playing three guys at those two positions with J.D. Quinn, Bush and Cooper in some kind of combination at center and right guard. We will stick with Kelvin (Chaisson) and Duke (Robinson) at left guard, and the same three guys (Davin Joseph, Branndon Braxton and Chris Messner) at tackle."
"We have been rotating a lot of guys, and when that happened last night we shuffled guys in and went on down the road," Wilson continued. "It wasn't a huge, huge glitch. I thought we performed well. And again, we would like to get settled and we are trying real hard. In many ways, we have gotten settled. Fortunately enough, guys have had to play a number of spots that when that happened last night it wasn't a huge issue.
"It was just, 'OK, you are here and you here. Let's go.' And they went out and did a good job. So because of the shuffling that we had to do earlier, what happened last night wasn't a huge issue for us, or it didn't seem to be a huge issue on the sideline.
We were better last night, better at our guards, but we just need to keep working and get better each day this week and then have a strong effort this weekend down in the Cotton Bowl."
A great deal of talk in the Sooner locker room was centered on the Texas Longhorns. While nobody seems to give Oklahoma a chance in this one, the Sooners player and coaches are not buying it. In fact, the win over Kansas State has given the Sooners renewed confidence. And don't forget they have won the last five games against the Longhorns.
"That gives you confidence. Any time you beat a team five years in a row, you know that you match-up well with them," said Stoops. "We understand how they like to play and we what are able to do. I think our players do get a certain amount of confidence from that. And more than anything, it will be how they prepare during the week. That will determine how well and how ready we will be to play against them."
Just how good is the Longhorns offense?
"The challenge in stooping Vince (Young) is that he is such an improved passer. They have done some things schematically that has helped him become a better passer," said Venables. "That has taken some pressure off of their run game, and they have playmakers all over the place. They are utilizing them in the right way. Ramonce Taylor has become a huge weapon for them at receiver. Their running backs, between Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles, are doing an outstanding job. Their receivers overall are really stepping up. They might have the best offensive line in the country and Vince has great command of their offense right now. They are clicking on all cylinders. If we want to have any chance this weekend, we need to put together a great defensive plan and play great on Saturday."
"This is a huge game in the Big 12 South. We know if we want to have any chance to compete for the South Division Championship we have to go through Texas," Venables continued. "Everybody knows that, and we know that. And we make no bones about it. We get excited because it is a great atmosphere, it is a huge rivalry for all the right reasons long before all of us current coaches and players were here. The game has a great tradition and a big-time atmosphere to go play college ball. It is very hard not to get excited about it."
Dvoracek didn't get a chance to play against the Longhorns last year because of his suspension, so he is really looking forward to getting back on the field against Texas.
"We are just excited to play just like they are," said Dvoracek. "I am sure after they beat Missouri today they got their hair on fire to play us. To me, it is the best game in college football and it is going to be a lot of fun to play in the game again. Both of us are good teams, I just can't wait to play. Our backs are up against the wall, so we are going to come out and play hard. We are going to fight, scratch, claw and do everything that we can to win."
One more interesting offensive note. The Sooners didn't make many offensive mistakes against the Wildcats. And in fact, they only had seven yards in negative yardage. No fumbles, no interceptions and only seven yards negative yardage is a good formula for a win if you have talent to make plays in the process. OU has the kind of talent that if they continue to not make mistakes, they will have a great chance to win every game they play.
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