I found the scene somewhat strange following the Texas Longhorns' 45-12 win over Oklahoma. Just about everybody expected Texas to win the game, but very few this side of the Red River expected Texas to win by 33 points or put up 45 points on the Sooners.
Nobody this side of the Red River expected Texas to totally dominate the Oklahoma like they did either. Sure, Texas was a 14-point favorite, but the OU Football team thought that was a mistake and looked at that in anger. Publicly the Sooners said all the right things and pointed out that Texas deserved to be the favorite and deserved to be ranked second in the country. However, privately Oklahoma felt they matched-up well with the Longhorns and that they had a good chance to pull the upset.
However, following such a bad whipping at the hands of the Longhorns, it was painful to watch the Sooners come up the ramp to get into their locker room. Despite its youth, this is a football team with a number of players who had never tasted defeat at the hands of the Longhorns. As I watched a number of them that I have covered over the years walk up the ramp, I couldn't help but feel for them a little bit.
Captain and senior J.D. Runnels was one of the first up the ramp, and it looked as if it was a struggle for him to make it up the ramp. With his hands on his hips and his body swayed somewhat, he tried to hold his head high but found out he couldn't do it as it constantly dropped from being so disappointed. I have known J.D. for a long time and when he saw me standing next to the locker room he motioned towards me to acknowledge that he saw me, and then cursed out loud to nobody in particular as he tried to vent his frustration.
Senior receiver Travis Wilson had such a pained look on his face I thought he was injured. Captain and senior Dusty Dvoracek walked up with fellow senior Remi Ayodele, and looked puzzled and confused. DD wasn't saying a word to anybody, but he just looked at me and shook his head. I am used to seeing Davin Joseph smile, but he was almost in tears as he walked up the ramp.
Then my attention shifted to quarterback Rhett Bomar, who walked up the ramp very slowly. I don't know if he was in pain from the beating he had taken at the hands of the Longhorns or from the general pain of defeat. Bomar is a winner, and yet he hasn't been able to come up with any magic to get his offense through the tough times so far this season. He has come up short in losses to UCLA and Texas — two teams much better than Kansas State, his lone start as a winner. I am not trying to take anything away from his outstanding effort against the Wildcats, but the Bruins and Longhorns have given young Mr. Bomar a look at what good football teams look like. And thus far Bomar hasn't liked the view.
Bomar looked like a beaten fighter that just wanted to be by himself, but there were so many Longhorns celebrating up the ramp that he couldn't find anywhere to be by himself. He was still a short distance from the OU locker room when a UT fan screamed at Bomar that he was going to be the Longhorns whipping boy for the next three years. I don't know if Bomar could hear it or not, but if he did it was just more of what he heard all day long. Bomar was the target of the Texas fans all game and he couldn't help but hear some it.
"I heard some of the things that were said about me, but that comes with the territory," said a frustrated and dejected Bomar after the game. "They can say what they want. They won this game, but I will get three more opportunities to beat them in the future and that will be my goal."
A Texas coach's show photographer was standing by the OU locker room holding his camera at the door as the Sooners went into the room. Bob Stoops saw that and immediately went to a policeman watching the area and asked him to remove the photographer. They did, but the guy had a smirk on his face like he got away with something.
That was the kind of day it was for the Sooners. Normally, no camera guy can get within 20 yards of the Sooner locker room unless they are with the Bob Stoops show. But on Saturday, he stood their filming an angry and disappointed Sooner team for five to six minutes walking into their locker room for footage to be shown in Austin.
The Sooners felt they were ready for Texas. And that was even with the questionable status of star running back Adrian Peterson. AD worked hard all week to get ready to play in the game, and desite reports did not re-injure the ankle at Thursday's practice. In fact, he hardly practiced on Thursday. But AD and the Oklaoma coaching staff still hoped that he would be ready for Saturday.
All week the team practiced well, especially on the offensive side of the ball, giving the Sooners a great deal of hope that they were going to move the ball on Texas. But it was false hope because the SOklahoma never sustained anything against the Longhorns all day long leaving them with many unanswered questions following the game.
"Like I told the guys after the game, we will go back to the drawling board and get back to work," said OU offensive coordinator Chuck Long following the game. "I told them that we had a lot better week of practice than we displayed today. In fact, we had our best week of practice since camp opened. It just didn't show up on the field today."
"We had a great week of practice and that is what is so disappointing about how we played today," said Bomar. "We were totally prepared to go into this game and execute against their defense, and they didn't do anything that we didn't expect. We didn't execute and that is just killing us right now. We have to execute better and start playing like we practice."
Of course, Oklahoma isn't practicing against their own defense any more, and they are not practicing against the Texas Longhorns. However, at least they feel they should execute better and at least be able to run the gameplan, which is still a work in progress obviously still a work in progress.
"The next step for us is to take what we do at practice and execute it consistently in the game," said Long. "Guys have to understand that gameday is different and you have to carry it over onto the playing field from the practice field. We managed to have some veteran guys the last couple of years who have managed to do that, but this year at times we are just trying to find our way, especially today. We will get better. We have a lot of guys who need some growth and the big thing from this game is that you can grow from it if you learn from the mistakes. However, you have to learn from the mistakes and not just keep making them."
Based on the showing against the Longhorns, the offense still obviously has a great deal to learn and a long way to go. The Sooners never got anything going against the Longhorns and finished with just 171 yards total offense.
Oklahoma never ran a play that netted over nine yards until 12 minutes left in the game, when Bomar hit Jejuan Rankins on a 17-yard pass. Playing without Peterson for the most part OU rushed for only 77 yards, but they could never take any pressure off the running game because they terrible in the passing game. OU finished with only 94 yards in the air, but Bomar did throw a 15-yard pass to Joe Jon Finley who made a great run to reach the end zone.
The Sooners could never sustain any drives, only picking up 12 total first downs in the game while leaving the defense on the field for what seemed like the whole game. However, the defense didn't do much better. The Longhorns racked up 444 yards total offense, rushing for 203 and throwing for 241. Once again, the defense played pretty well for most of the game, but a mental busts, mental mistakes, missed tackles and just lack of execution flat killed OU in this one.
"I am really disappointed in what was our execution and feel our lack of execution was the biggest reason for the loss," said OU head football coach Bob Stoops following the game. "I thought late in the second quarter was really the breaking point for us. We have an interception we think, and I am not in any way questioning the call, then we don't have it and they end up going down and getting a field goal. Then the last few seconds of the half they get the touchdown (64-yard pass to Billy Pittman).
"Those were plays that hurt us. As opposed to having the ball at the 30 going in, that is a big swing. So there we are in the second down (trailing 14- 6) and hanging in there having a chance to make some plays, and then we don't. I thought that was the breaking point and was tough for us to overcome. However, this team has a good attitude. They work hard and they will get better as the season goes along."
It certainly looked like the offense took a step backward against the Longhorns, as they couldn't run the ball and Bomar took a pounding getting hit 16 times in the passing game. Those hits were not always the poor results of the offensive line, but a total break down in pass protection, to which even Bomar has to take part of the blame. With Bomar under duress the entire game, Oklahoma could never go vertical in the passing game. He also appeared jumpy all game.
"Protecting the quarterback was the biggest factor," said Stoops. "To be able to stretch the routes out and get a more vertical passing game, you have to be able to protect the quarterback. And that was the first problem we had. At times we did protect him, but at times we didn't or we were covered and not able to convert. There were other opportunities were we could have executed better with the choice of who we are throwing it to and where we are going with it."
Playing without Peterson, Oklahoma couldn't run the football, nobody in the receiver corps was getting open, they couldn't protect the quarterback, and Bomar didn't execute. Ouch, that adds up to a very bad offensive day.
"There are two reasons," said Stoops from his office on Sunday when asked why the offense didn't execute. "The first is that Texas is a very good football team. They executed and pressed us in different ways. The other is when we have had opportunities for plays we are not executing. We have a guy wide open and we don't throw the ball in a position where he can catch it, or we did throw some where the guy could and they drop it. Or the guy bobbles it and the guy intercepts it off of his chest. Or you have a guy open and we don't have time to throw it to them. All of that together results into some very inconsistent and poor passing. And then when you are not passing, running-wise it becomes more and more difficult when everybody is sitting in there waiting for it. They go hand and hand."
Bomar struggled for most of the day. Early on, he was pressing so much that he was inaccurate. Then when he finally settled down, he tried to force passes to covered receivers. Later on, he didn't read the pass rush well enough to avoid the rush.
"We had some chances and they just didn't work out," said Long following the game. "We threw one in the end zone there and it just didn't work out. Like I have said before, Rhett, just like all of our offense, is going to get better. He is going to be get better with gametime. This was his first big game as far as the OU/Texas dealm and I felt for him. We have had a lot of guys who have struggled in this game and he definitely struggled somewhat, but I know with his competitive nature he will get back on track. He has already displayed some moments already, but he is going through some growing pains right now."
"A lot of our problems were that we got behind and we ended up having to throw and they know we are throwing it." Long continued. "Then all of a sudden we put too much on a young guy, because we have to do it. That was something that we did not want to happen. When it did they got to us, and that is going to happen to anybody whether he is a freshman, senior or with any offensive line when we are forced to throw in every down. We will overcome this if we just keep working hard and grow up a little bit."
You don't have to tell Bomar that is tough to play from behind…
"Yeah, it is always tough to come from behind because we are playing a great team and it makes you a little bit one-dimensional. Against any defense, it is hard to be one-dimensional. I don't care who it is against. We all have to do a better of job of executing our offense, because today we didn't do a good job in that area. We had a great week of practice and everything was in place, as far as a good gameplan and believing in that gameplan. But we didn't play well in the game. That is all that matters. We played pretty well last week, and while we seem unsettled on offense everybody knows their roles and we should be better in the future."
Bomar was totally off the mark in the first half completing only 3-of-13 passes for 22 yards. And the fact Bomar got off to such a poor start certainly effected OU's poor offensive play in the game.
"He had some rough throws in there early. You always want to get this guy off to a good start, and we didn't have a good start as an entire offense," said Coach Long on Sunday. "We just weren't very good on third down, which is disappointing because last year we were the best third down team in the country. That has been a tough deal for us as a staff, because in the past we have been so good in that department. But we haven't been good in third down when we want this year. We do have a different team, but we have to start doing different things on third down. It all starts up front, as we don't feel good about our pass protection and we have to work ways to get the ball off quicker if that is the case."
Is it just the offensive lines' fault that the Sooners had their quarterback getting knocked around in the pocket, or is there more to OUstruggling to protect their quarterback? The Sooners went with junior Chris Messner at right tackle and senior Kelvin Chaisson at left guard most of the game, but the question is how and why didn't freshmen Duke Robinson and Branndon Braxton play more?
"The decision was made just at practice, as the young guys struggled the bulk of last week and Braxton had a little problem with his achilles at K-State," said OU run game coordinator Kevin Wilson on Sunday from his office. "He didn't practice that well and the same thing with Duke going on silent count. And as loud as it was going to be, they both struggled. Both of those guys played a little bit at the end, but quite honestly the old guys continue to play pretty fair.
"We had some problems, but Kelvin, Chris and Davin Joseph were solid. J.D. (Quinn) struggled playing the most he has played in a big game and he had a couple mental lapses. He is probably lacking some confidence playing for the first time in a big game. He was starting to over-think and making it a little bit bigger deal than it is sometimes."
"Chris was solid and we did not have a problem on protections in the offensive line until late in the game. So we went with some stuff when we went empty and they were playing six and he (Bomar) was getting hit. Again, that is on the quarterback when it is a zero blitz to know where to go with the ball and get rid of it. When you spread them and you have five blockers and they bring six, there is one guy free. He took a couple of hits there and one was on the big fumble return there at the end."
Thus another aspect of Bomar's maturation process is learning how to read the blitz, so that he can find the open receiver to burn it for six.
"There are certain protections that we have, and every team has that. You have to feel comfortable with as a quarterback," said Wilson. "In fact, yesterday I heard their guy (Vince Young) say that he felt comfortable with his protections and with blitzes, knowing where the problems were, and knowing when you are good and when you are not good. He knows when they are blitzing into your protection, and you got it or they are bringing one more into a protection side where you have a problem. And if there is a problem, what is your answer? Early in the game we got a couple of hits where we had the protection wrong on the edge with our tight end. Joe Jon missed one, Bubba (Moses) missed one and AD missed one."
"Sometimes we scheme where we have extra blockers where the tight end, fullback or tailback involved in blocking," Wilson continued. "Those guys got him hit a couple of times. Adrian busted one time, as the guy came off the side. Joe Jon just basically whiffed a guy one time. So, we have to protect better and be stronger. We need to play better, but I saw some good things in them after the game and told our seniors that those guys need to continue to work hard and play their best football down the stretch.
"I told the young guys they need to continue to practice and practice in a strong way, so that I will gain more confidence in playing them. I do think they need to contribute more, because I see some things in practice that scare me. When that happens you back to some guys who I am a little more confident in, but it turns out to be a double-edged sword."
Wilson does see better days ahead.
"We definitely need to, have to and we will play better as an offensive line," Wilson said. "I think there were a lot of factors yesterday why he got hit so much, and by any means I don't think they were the group or the group that let down. We got behind and got away from the run. We probably tried to do too much in the run not knowing for sure if we were going to have Adrian or not have Adrian. We allowed those guys to load the box up on us.
"We need to be careful in our quarterback run game. But he did get hit a lot, so you have to pick your spots how many times you want him to run the ball. How many times he is getting hit in a course of a game, because those do add up. We blocked for the run game OK. We tried to get outside on the option a couple of times, but we didn't block the edge correctly. Inside we were OK, but nothing great. We got into two tight ends a couple of times and ran our stretch play for four, five and six yards, but we could get nothing big yesterday."
You can blame any one particular unit on the Sooner offense for Saturday's poor play, but you can say as a whole the Oklahoma have to get a better to finish the season on a strong note.
"As an offense, we have to do better," said senior and captain Davin Joseph. "The receivers have to catch the ball, they have to get open and we have to protect the guy (QB). We can't keep on getting him hit back there. Rhett is a young guy, but he is going to be good. We have to help him become good. We never established the running game and that was our fault, but that never gave Rhett an opportunity to get anything going in the passing game.
"We had many opportunities in this game to score touchdowns. We had a short field numerous times. We had turnovers and we were just not able to score. We didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter, and that just kills an offense. We hung our defense with so many three-and-outs, we just have to start moving the ball and moving the chains."
It is interesting isn't it that so many people now doubt Bomar's abilities and place so much blame just on the true freshman from Grand Prairie, Texas. It is true that Bomar has struggled for the most part, but so has the team around him. If you put him under center with last year's veteran offense, do you think Bomar would be playing as bad? If Bomar had last year's veteran offensive line protecting him and a senior corp of receivers that turned out to be the best group in the country, do you really think Bomar would be struggling? Of course not.
Bomar's main problem is that he has only played five college games. I know people don't want to face the reality of this, but Rhet is young unfortunately at the same time that his whole offense is young. OU is not as good in the offensive line as a year ago, and when Robinson, Quinn and Braxton are in the game they become very young. The OU receiver corp is very young and going through growing pains. And with Peterson hurt, the Sooners are playing back-up running backs that are solid, but not great. So, it is no surprise that Bomar is struggling.
Almost every outstanding quarterback you can named struggled as a freshman or sophomore in college and on the first or second year level in the pros. Sure, you can find an exception to the rule like Jamelle Holieway in 1985, who came in for an injured Troy Aikman to lead the Sooners to the National Championship. Of course, Holieway stepped into the line-up for a team that was one of the best in Sooner history and loaded with talented on both sides of the ball.
Nobody knows that better than Vince Young, the winning quarterback on Saturday who in his first two years at Texas, with younger teams, lost both games. Young talked to Bomar after the game and told him to hang in there and that better days would be ahead.
"I just told him that when I was a redshirt freshman I tried to do too much. And that like me, he had to be patient and let the game come to him," said Young after the game. "The biggest thing is that he is going to learn what his protection is doing when a team blitzes, and he is going to learn where to go with the ball when that blitz comes. Right now he doesn't have a good feel for it, but I didn't either as a freshman.
"You have to study, and I am sure that he is all the film he can get, but the bottom line is that he has to learn it while he is playing. The more he plays the more he will get a feel for it and the better off he will be. I will tell you one thing. He proved to me that is a very tough guy. Our defense laid some licks on him, but he got up every time. He earned my respect today. And some day he is going to be a great quarterback."
The bottom line on Adrian Peterson was that he worked all week to get ready to play, but only got part of the way back. AD could run straight downhill, but couldn't cut and couldn't run laterally. He obviously got into the game, but was used more of a decoy, which wasn't determined until after he went through pregame warm-up.
"AD worked all week to get back and got better and better as the week went," said Coach Stoops. "He got close on gameday, but he just didn't have the lateral movement at the pace that he really needs. So he was limited in what he could do for us Saturday. The fact he didn't re-injure it at all, or we didn't have enough opportunity to re-injure it the game, I believe he will be a lot better here this week. I think he will be able to practice at more full speed and be ready to go for Kansas."
As bad as the offense was on Saturday, things may be even more frustrating on the defensive side of the ball. For 95 percent of the game the Sooners played pretty good defense, but on the other five percent the busts costs them touchdowns and the bulk of their yardage.
A case in point yesterday ws the Jamaal Charles 80-yard touchdown run and the Vince Young to Billy Pittman 64-yard touchdown right before the end of the first half. The rest of the game a talented Texas offense was held to just 300 total yards, which is not a bad effort for the defense. However, their mental mistakes appear to be is costing them in every game.
For a team that is used to playing some of the best defense in the country, right now they are not finding many bright spots on defense.
"We were just so-so and just OK," said Coach Stoops. "Everybody on defense is playing very average at best."
Oklahoma hasn't played smart football at this point on defense, and that is killing them. The OU coaches are struggling to find the right personnel because they aren't sure who can hold up mentally. OU may not be as talented as they have been on defense either, and that combination is not a good thing.
"You would always like to believe that, but at times our problems are a little bit of both," said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables on Sunday. "There are some areas where we are a little bit shorthanded from a physical standpoint. However, I think some of the things that happened out there were self-inflicted. You don't want to take anything away from Texas, their players and their performance. They have a very good team, but what we have to get over are the things that we do that put us behind the eight-ball."
"You want and demand perfection and when you don't have it then it gets frustrating," Venables continued. "You continue and drive to push forward, and that is all you can do. When you do then maybe you are satisfied, but until that happens you are not satisfied at all. Everybody needs to be better and that includes coaches and players alike. Again, there are a lot of really good things in that game. In the run defense, pass defense, when we were making sacks and putting the ball on the ground. We chased the football and came up with an interception, but again we did a number of things that weren't good as well."
The most frustrating thing for the Sooner defensive coaches is getting all 11 players on the field and on the same page at the same time.
"This game is another example that it doesn't take much for us to have a losing play," said Venables. "One guy out of position, two run the same blitz through the same gap, then good people are going to find you and expose you. That is a lot of what we have experienced. We have to do a better job as a staff of preventing those things from happening. Players are not naive and you have to be forthright and demanding as ever. They can see rather quickly that they can correct a number of these mistakes that can make a difference. We are capable of doing it, as we have the physical capability and the mental capability to get it done. We have to take it with the right kind of attitude and approach, so that they will not tune us out and that they will want to follow our lead and get excited about getting better."
Truth be told, the OU coaches really don't know any other way to get better at the moment. They can't trade for better players or smarter players, so they have to keep working with the ones they have and they have to keep working them harder.
"We just put ourselves in some situations in the game where if we can just play a little smarter and execute what we practiced doing, we have a chance to make more plays," said Stoops. "We have got to do it. We have to press ourselves mentally and the players have to step up and realize that we have six games left, take them one at a time and we will have a chance to win in each one. But will they? We have to keep making improvement and show some character to do it."
The main problem for Oklahoma on both sides of the ball is that they can't get all 11 players on the same page.
"No question," said Stoops. "I looked and did made a big deal about it, but on the one third down there where Taylor catches the ball on an under and looks wide open. Well, we have a blitz on and on this particular blitz we are zone blitzing and playing two-deep. So, we are kind of stretched in the middle and we are a guy short. So, you are kind of latched onto people if they hit the under route we as a defense has to close. My point being, we run the blitz and they have one running back for two blitzers, but our inside blitzer runs outside and cuts off the outside blitzer. If he doesn't, then the timing of it is that we are going to hit him.
"That is my point because it is something that we go over and over. And why we don't execute it there is aggravating. They don't do it on purpose, but that is an example of where we have to be sharper, and in a lot of cases we do some things that end up hurting our self. We have to push through that, we have to coach better, they have to listen better, retain it better. And when we get a chance to do it, they have to do it."
Eric Bassey has pulled a groin muscle and is questionable for Saturday's game with Kansas. Secondary coach Bobby Jack Wright would love to put Marcus Walker in his spot, but Walker is battling shoulder and knee problems or he would have played a bunch against Texas.
The coaches have soured on Chijioke Onyenengecha because of his continued mental busts, but they may have no choice but to play him on Saturday. D.J. Wolfe will man the boundary corner, but he has to get to the point that he can pitch a shutout. He got beat on the touchdown pass to Ramonce Taylor and has yet to play a game where he didn't get beat for a touchdown or big gain. True Brian Jackson will again get a look at corner this week, and the OU coaches may experiment with Darien Williams at corner once again.
The Sooner wide receiver corp struggled on Saturday to get open and to catch the ball. In all, five wideouts caught a combined five passes for 43 yards and no touchdowns. And so far this season, a wide receiver has yet to catch a touchdown pass.
All of the fault in this can't be totally blamed on the wide receivers, but they have were not productive in the Texas game, and thus the passing game wasn't productive. And without question, this group has under-achieved because they are much more talented that their production has shown thus far.
Paul Thompson drew his first start at receiver and despite getting his hands on three different passes, only caught one. Manuel Johnson caught his first pass of the season, only to bobble it and watch as a UT safety Michael Griffin out-wrestled him for the ball.
Lendy Holmes finally showed some of that great athletic ability in two kick returns for 50 yards, and the hope is that he will start to come alive at receiver. Jejuan Rankins returned to the starting line-up at the slot and came up with the biggest catch of the day for 17-yards.
It goes without saying that his group must become more of a factor for the Sooner offense to really take off.
Finally, this season has now become what OU hopes is a build-up for National Championship runs in 2006 and 2007. The Sooners are now playing for bowl position and pride, plus momentum for the next couple of seasons.
OU must get Bomar up to championship form by the end of the year so that he goes into his sophomore year ready to win a title. The Sooners must also get Peterson healthy and get him some momentum for a Heisman Trophy run next season. Oklahoma must also develop their young offensive line to add to another solid recruiting class for next year, as well as develop some go-to receivers in the remaining six games.
On defense, Oklahoma must learn to play winning football again and to play smart football. OU must improve in the secondary and come up with playmakers in the back end. Reggie Smith is a wonderful talent, but this is the second game in a row that his bust has cost the Sooners a touchdown. Smith must become a shutdown safety and play up to his great talent level.
So, there is still something to play for the rest of year. It is not the best of circumstances, but the Sooners need to make great strides over the next six regular season games and the bowl game to get back into championship contention next year.
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