As soon as Baylor quarterback Shawn Bell's fourth down pass sailed too tall and incomplete over the middle, everybody on the Sooner sideline finally took a deep breath.
For 30 minutes or so, the tension was thick on the sideline as Oklahoma found themselves in a major dogfight with the Baylor Bears. And I don't say the ‘lowly Baylor Bears' any more, because Guy Morriss is doing something I didn't think he would be able to do, and that is to bring respectability to the Baylor football program.
It you don't follow college football very closely or just don't want to admit it, then you don't realize that Baylor is a much improved football team. At the Big 12 Football Media Day in the summer, Coach Morris told everybody that would listen that he felt he was going to have his best team and that he was going to be pretty good at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. He said he if could hold up on defense and find some big guys in the trenches to hold their own, that his team would win a few games in 2005.
Heading into the Oklahoma game, Coach Morris was exactly right. No, Baylor is not a college football power, but they are no longer pushovers either.
Baylor opened with three straight wins — SMU (28-23), Samford (48-14) and Army (20-10) — which was goal No. 1 for the Bears. Granted, none of those teams are good college football teams, but in past years Baylor would have lost at least one of those games and maybe two.
Baylor jumped into conference play and battled Texas A&M to the wire before losing 16-13, upsetting Iowa State 23-13 and then against battling Nebraska to the wire before losing 23-14. Baylor could have easily been 3-0 in those games.
Yes, I realize that Nebraska and Texas A&M are not great college football teams this year, but they are still considered much better than Baylor. And, yet, in those three games this year Baylor proved they belonged on the field.
The OU coaches knew they were in a no-win situation this week, because they watched game film of the Bears all week and they knew that this was a much different Baylor team than the one's they played the last two years, and they respected the heck out of those Baylor teams. Despite losing badly to the Sooners the last two years, Baylor blitzed OU like no other team and they battled OU to the final buzzer.
The OU coaches respected Baylor and this year's Sooner team did as well. The coaches and players told everybody that would listen that Baylor was good and that OU would have their hands full against the Bears.
Oklahoma also knew they were in a no-win situation because they know that the local media and the OU fans didn't know or care to realize how improved the Bears were. They knew that if you combined the fact that Bears are better, with offensive weapons that can move the ball on anybody, including a young Sooner team still struggling to put it all together, that added up for them was a formula for tough game.
"We saw this one coming on paper," said OU Wide Receiver Coach Darrell Wyatt after the game. "Baylor has improved so much that as football coaches we can see it as soon as we turn on the tape. They have good skill people everywhere and as an offensive coach you have to respect the kind of skill they had on offense. You didn't have to tell us that they were going to play us tough, because we already knew it.
"We knew that if we didn't play well, helped them at all then it was going to be tough in the fourth quarter. It got a little to tight for us, but we certainly weren't surprised that we were in that kind of game."
So, it was not surprising that the Oklahoma sideline celebrated like they had just won a championship when Bell's throw sailed high. The 2005 Sooners are fighting for their college football life. They know that with their injury situation the way that it is and with their offense developing, that there are no gimmies on their schedule. The Sooners revised goals are to win out, get into the best postseason bowl possible and build momentum for championship runs in 2006 and 2007.
Oklahoma has so much bad happen this year that they are starving for anything good. And a double-overtime 37-30 win over Baylor is something good.
This young, depleted Sooner team had faced adversity and they had come up with a win. OU had allowed Baylor to come back and tie in regulation, and yet they stayed calm, played with tremendous heart and pulled out the win.
OU knew they should have never been in that situation, but that is life for the Sooners this year. However, after seven games OU is beginning to show some life and this time they found a way to win.
"I have been telling you, James, for a couple of weeks now that I see us getting better each day at practice," said a happy Dusty Dvoracek after the game. "We have lost so many guys to injury and we are so young or inexperienced in some spots. When a team gets that way you have to wait for them to grow up. Some players do that faster than others and this team hasn't been as fast as I would like, but tonight we took a major step in the right direction.
"We made enough mistakes to lose some games, but we played well enough to win and we should have won this game with no overtime. But considering how weird this season has been this kind of game doesn't surprise me. Now that we won — to tell you the truth it was a lot of fun to play in."
Was this a game Oklahoma should have won easier? Yes, without question.
The Sooners dominated the game in many ways gaining 474 yards total offense to 291 for Baylor. OU had the ball for a whopping 41:40 minutes to just 18:20 for Baylor, and they were 9-of-20 on third down conversions compared to just 5-of-16 for Baylor.
In many ways, the Sooners totally outplayed Baylor, yet they had to go into double-overtime to beat the Bears because of a continuing pattern of mistakes and turnovers that is the frustrating to watch for OU head coach Bob Stoops.
"We had the ball over 40 minutes, the yardage, the conversions and everything. But the bottom line was negatives in three areas that I harped on all week," said Stoops from his office on Sunday. "One is turnovers. We put the ball on the ground way too much, particularly there in the second half where we had a chance to go in and score and run the clock out. If not run it out, we are inside the 15-yard line ready to make at least a good easy field goal. We fumble the ball on first down and we have a chance to run, who knows how much more time on the clock, and then we fumble it. Then on the series before when we settled for a field goal, we have the ball second down and six inches and we have a procedure (penalty). Now we have it second and six and have to settle for a field goal. Penalties and turnovers — those are the biggest factors."
"Then special teams, where our kickoff coverage has been really good all year. But we give up a 98-yard touchdown," Stoops continued. "Those three areas allowed them to hang around and have a chance, and in the end they had their chance. We had two plays that were over 20 yards, which we consider big plays. One was the screen in the second half and one the 55-yard pass at the end of the game.
"We had played really good defense for most of the night and then we give up one play. We shouldn't have been in that position. I understand the good parts of what we did, but I am still frustrated at the fact that we need to take care of those foolish penalties and need to take care of the ball."
"I don't even mind the first interception," Stoops continued. "We are throwing the ball and Paul (Thompson) trips coming out of the break, or they get tangled up, and he goes down and then there is the guy. Well, that is going to happen in some one-on-one battles here and there or if a ball gets tipped. However, when we already have the football, then you have to finish with it. That to me is what you can't have as a coach."
Oklahoma responded to Baylor's 6-0 first quarter lead by running off 24 points. At that point it looked like the route was on, but the Sooners had a major letdown in kick coverage, allowing Baylor wide receiver Shaun Rochon to take a kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown.
"They blocked it well and some of our guys that we have in there (kick coverage) don't react very well," said Stoops. "We don't cross over to where the ball is going. And more than anything, some of the guys don't realize where the return is going. They don't get themselves in position on the ball. We have been very good in kick coverage all year, but we need to continue to stress the fundamentals of kick coverage to keep that from happening again."
Oklahoma made a ton of mistakes, but they had a great deal of positive things go well for them in the game as well. And despite his frustration, Coach Stoops liked how the Sooners hung in there in the end and won the game.
"I would prefer to make a few more plays and win the game by a couple of touchdowns," said Stoops. "In the end, it tests you. I think a win like that does build some character, give the guys confidence in those kind of situations. I think in the long run it can really help them."
During the week Bob Stoops and the OU staff had decided that they were going to rest Adrian Peterson in hopes of getting is ankle injury over the hump for the remaining four games on their schedule. Peterson worked all week on getting the ankle in shape, but he never suited up for practice.
Travis Wilson did suit up for practice and he did try to go, but by Friday it was determined that he needed the weekend off as well. And on Wednesday, senior running back Donta Hickson suffered an ankle injury. At first it wasn't considered serious and he was immediately put into a protective boot. However, he never got out of the boot and he was scratched as the starter by Friday.
The starting role then fell to senior Kejuan Jones, who has been battling an ankle injury himself. But by his own admission throughout the week, he was back to 100 percent.
Jones has been a solid leader all year, but he dropped the ball Friday night. Jones was hoping to celebrate his birthday a little bit longer and tried to bring a party into this room after curfew, and was suspended for one game and one game only.
That left the Sooners with sophomore and OUInsider favorite Jacob Gutierrez and former safety Allen Patrick at running back, another sophomore who was a former South Carolina prep Player of the Year as a running back.
"Jacob and Allen did a great job in a tough situation for us," said OU offensive coordinator Chuck Long. "I have felt that before the season is over we would use all of running backs anyway, because of the physical pounding that those guys take at that position. Heck, we were even working J.D. (Runnels) as a tailback in our pregame warm-ups just in case we needed him there.
"Coach (Cale) Gundy worked with J.D. all day Saturday on the possibility that he might play some tailback. He was ready if needed, but Jacob and Allen did a great job for us. And J.D. did a great job at his normal position."
Gute finished with 173 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries (5.8 yards per carry). Patrick got half the carries but gave a good account of himself rushing for 49 yards (3.3 yards per carry). Despite having their top three running backs out for one reason or another, the Sooners still rushed for 205 yards, which wasn't surprising to the coaching staff.
"I wasn't surprised at all. Well, maybe a little surprised with Allen," said Stoops. "He has had very little work with us, but he is a tough, hard-nosed guy who really has a knack. In watching his high school stuff, he is capable. He hadn't had as much work as Gute, but I have seen Jacob for two-and-a-half years and I have seen that ability that he showed yesterday. His performance really didn't surprise me. I felt he would do really well."
There is an old theory in college football that if you stay in the program and you have talent, then eventually your opportunity will come. Last season the Sooners had a deep stable of running backs, but because of the emergence of Peterson and the solid play of Jones, the majority of them didn't see any action.
Knowing that Peterson would be the main man at running back the next two years, Tashard Choice transferred to Georgia Tech, where he is seeing some playing time as the back-up running back, and Courtney Tennial is at Tulsa sitting out this season due to the one-year transfer rule. Choice received a waver from the NCAA so that he could play this year. The Sooners also moved D.J. Wolfe from running back to cornerback, where he is now starting.
Thus when camp started, Oklahoma had four scholarship running backs. Patrick was moved over after the third game of the season when he wasn't stable in the secondary. OU run game coordinator Kevin Wilson developed the shot-gun run package and the quarterback read game, using all the running backs in different formations. So, Gute had played a little bit this season, but he was never the main man like he was last night.
"Those were good kids that decided to transfer and there reasons were valid," said Stoops. "Jacob is a special, special guy. His heart, his toughness and everything are things that all of our players recognize, and us coaches appreciate big-time. He is talented and I think as much as anything, last night is that he had confidence in this talent. He realizes that there is a place for him here and there is a place for him to really contribute to this team.
"He has been incredibly valuable on special teams. And that style of running that he has, as you know, is different than Adrian's. There is a place for it and there is a big place for it. It is productive and he contributes big-time. We have said many times that he runs a great deal like Quentin Griffin," Stoops continued. "If we had 22 on him everybody would think that ‘Q' was back. He has similar talent."
I felt for Jacob Gutierrez a little bit in the media room, because by the time I got over to him the first question that was asked of him was about the fumbles. Now, I got over pretty late to him and I am sure he was asked about his great play, but I still thought what a shame it was that some reporter wants to talk about the fumbles when he had more than his 173 yards rushing. However, even Gute has to handle the good with the bad and he had a lot more good than bad on Saturday.
"Coach Gundy does a great job of preparing all the running backs, because you never know if something is going to happen," said Gute after the game. "So, preparation-wise I was there and ready to go. I just had to get mentally right. I had a great deal of feelings and excitement coming through me and I had to calm myself down and focus."
Up until Saturday, Gute had never been in the game long enough to get into any kind of rhythm. But against Baylor he got 30 carries and caught two passes out of the backfield.
"That was a great feeling to get in there for a while and feel things out," said Gute. "I got a chance to get a feeling on where things were developing. It was a great feeling and a great opportunity for me."
Gute got two touchdowns on the night, one off a sweep right for seven yards and the other on a stretch play left for 28 yards.
"The first one — it was just a great feeling to get into the end zone again," said Gute. "My blocking was great on that play and it was great for me the whole game. J.D. (Runnels) was just going through guys and they were standing still. Then on my second touchdown, Joe Jon (Finley) made a great block around the corner and they all sealed them off. It was an easy run for me. When guys block that well for you, then you have to score."
Gute couldn't help but hear the chants of GUTE, GUTE, GUTE. And he knows that he has a great following here on OUInsider.com, but he tries to keep it all in perspective.
"That is a blessing," said Gute. "To have that kind of response is a great feeling. Our fans were great tonight and I am glad that we were able to come back tonight."
By the way, Gute also said that he takes totally responsibility for the fumbles and that he will work hard this week to correct those mistakes.
J.D. Runnels had an exceptional game coming up with a team-leading six catches for 64 yards in receiving while showing off some tremendous moves in the process.
"I have always had a few moves, but I don't get many opportunities to use them," said Runnels after the game. "I kind of knew early on, and I didn't tell anybody, that the coaches were going to give me a chance to make some plays. That is what it has always been about here. When you talk about the Mark Clayton's, the Jammal Brown's the Jason White's — when they had their chances to make plays they made them. That is what I want to be remembered as — as I guy that made plays when he was called upon."
"We saw some moves last night out of J.D. that we haven't seen all season," said Coach Long. "Maybe we need to get it more to him in the backfield. He really had some good moves. He was in a good rhythm and setting up his defenders nice when he had the ball in his hands. We knew that he had great hands, but he showed a side last night when he is really playing well he has some jukes. That is tough for a fullback."
With Jones suspended, Runnels got some work at tailback during the pregame, and he was prepped before the game on some tailback plays just in case he was needed.
"We didn't know what we were going to do with that situation before the game," said Runnels. "However, we are a team and we understand what is going on. We are going to take the punches and roll with them. Today was a really weird day for me. I really didn't realize what it was until the fourth quarter. I was in the zone all day. That is not bragging, it is just flat telling the truth. Especially when you have a quarterback like Rhett throwing balls like he was throwing tonight."
Speaking of Rhett Bomar, he had his best game as a Sooner hitting 24-of-42 passes for 269 yards, one touchdown pass and one touchdown run. He continues to show signs of becoming that great quarterback that everybody expected to see coming out of Grand Prairie High School in Texas.
"I felt like he took some great steps," said Coach Stoops. "I thought he had a really good game throwing the football. More than anything, in the overtime he has a blitz coming down on him, and there is a guy right in his face about to hit him, and he is steady as you can be. You can tell he has his eyes right on his target and he throws a perfect pass right where it needed to be.
"So, that along with a bunch of other plays shows me that he is making great strides. The guy is going to be awfully good, I believe. He is making that improvement now and getting more comfortable. And again, he really managed the game well and threw the ball well throughout the night."
"We had good protection in the game and that is going to be important for us every week," Stoops continued. "When the protection is there we have the opportunity for success. There is no way around it. We have to be able to protect him, and even last night there was a time or two when he just needed to get rid of the ball. If we are going after something that is not there, just throw it over their head. That again is still part of his progression, but it will be big again this week."
In the second half against Kansas, Bomar started to show signs of getting his passing game going and that carried into the game against Baylor.
"At the beginning of the game I felt really comfortable out there and I was seeing things really well," said Bomar. "We had guys making catches and making plays, the o-line was blocking great and we had a good gameplan this week. Coach Long made some great calls and we just executed them."
Bomar knows that despite the great production, the offense was still its own worst enemy.
"We were trying to put the game away toward the end, but penalties and turnovers really hurt us," said Bomar. "We get a penalty on the one-inch line and that really backed us up and we didn't convert. We needed a touchdown there and we didn't get it, and that is something that we have to get better at. We could have put the game early and we played well in the first half. We struggled in the second half, but we hung in there and came through when it counted."
As a quarterback, you have to keep firing and you will find yourself in situations where you may have to be a hero several different times in one game. Bomar found himself in that situation in the second overtime when he threw the winning 21-yard touchdown pass to Juaquin Iglesias.
"We made a protection change and they just came down in man coverage and zero coverage," said Bomar. "We had the fade called and I just got rid of it and Juaquin ran a great route and made a great catch."
As Bomar was reading the play coming up to the line of scrimmage, Iglesias was doing the same thing running out to his spot at wide receiver. Both, at the same time, saw the same thing as they saw that Iglesias' was going to get man coverage with no safety help in the picture.
"I have been playing wide receiver all my life and I can read coverage's pretty well," said Iglesias. "Coach Wyatt has helped me even more on how to recognize coverages and he told me that at some point in this game I was going to see man coverage with a zero blitz coverage.
"Every week Coach Wyatt is right on the money about what we are going to see. So when I lined up I knew what I had. I knew that Rhett was going to throw the ball to me. I saw all the safeties down near the line of scrimmage and they were in press man. We had a fade for the inside slot receiver called and when I saw the coverage I felt the ball was coming to me. I was excited when the play developed and I am excited now, because it is my first college touchdown and it won the game for us."
The Sooners finished with 266 yards passing, which was the gameplan as Oklahoma felt they could throw the ball against Baylor.
"That was the gameplan going in because they were a load the box type of team," said Long. "They brought those safeties down low on film so we wanted to mix in the pass, especially on first down. I think most of our first plays of the drive or first down plays were passes. We then wanted to eventually get to those shots and then take them. And we got a few, which was good.
"We felt good about our plan going in. Our offensive line did a great job, as we used the same group that we have for the last couple of weeks and they might have had their best game of the year. Hats off to J.D. Runnels, who had a great game receiving and he did a great job blocking. Rhett did a nice job of throwing it and then you have Jacob and Allen Patrick, who weren't expected to start but they came in and did a good job."
"I think we were balanced and had good production all the way through," said Long. "We wanted to have a better third quarter than we did. We wanted good balance and at one point late in the game we were about even between runs and passes. We controlled the clock and we felt we made improvement. We felt in the second half of the Kansas State game that we were climbing, but then had a setback against Texas But then we started to climb again against Kansas at the end of the game.
"That was the theme to our guys all week — to keep climbing here not knowing who specifically we were going to have in the line up. Considering all the circumstances, I thought our guys really gelled in a short amount of time and we produced right off the bat in that game. For us, as a coaching staff, it was a good day. We can take this game and do a lot of positive things off of it."
OU put 299 yards of total offense on the board in the first half and then stalled coming out of the halftime locker room. OU managed just 35 yards in the third quarter, and only 147 yards overall in the second half.
So why was Oklahoma so much better offensively in the first half than the second half?
"Baylor brought the house in the first half a little bit like we expected, and then in the second half they backed off a little bit." said Long. "We were throwing and completing passes and picking up some big gains, so they decided to back off what they were doing in the first half. They started backing off in the second half and I think every team that we play is going to go into games and do that. They didn't blitz us as much in the second half and they played more coverage. So we went back to more of a run game in the second half, because they were lying off of us more. We didn't get a good rhythm in the third quarter, but we finally got it together in the fourth quarter and that helped us."
"Teams are seeing our receivers coming up with big plays now and they are getting one-on-one coverage," Long continued. "Malcolm Kelly had some big third down conversions and Manuel Johnson had a nice game with four catches. And what can you say about Juaquin?
"We had not thrown a ball to him all night and he makes the biggest catch of the night. He has become one of our big-play receivers. I felt those guys grew and are growing as a group," Long continued. "They are all growing as a group. We really believe we have a good receiving group, but they are working through it right now and really grew last night."
Defensively, it was another mixed bag for the Sooners. In reality, the OU defense played pretty well for the most part, but they gave up a 65-yard drive at the end of the third quarter that pulled Baylor within five. And then they gave up the game-tying 55-yard touchdown pass and following two-point conversion try immediately following with just 1:17 left in the game.
Statistically, the Sooner defense forced a number of three-and- outs and for most of the game controlled the game. But they still didn't put a complete game together.
"Our performance was solid, but it could be a lot better," said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables on Sunday. "It is technique and fundamentals for us, for the most part. There is a good portion of the game where we played better and played well, and then there were some key times when we played really well and some times we didn't. It was pretty much like most games for us this year."
While it is easy to get down on the negatives from the defense, Venables saw some good things as well.
"There were a lot of good things, and I think one of the biggest was how we stuck together and really dug down there in the second overtime," said Venables following the game. "I think the penalty that they got when they roughed the passer, putting the ball back on the 40, helped us. But our guys' attitude was very strong and very confident, and we had an aggressive approach. They bought into it and we made an adjustment putting in a blitz there that we ended up running on the fourth down play that they executed really well.
"More than anything, we are proud of the way they stuck together and fought through a few of the bad things and found a way to get it done. It is a mark of great character and determination, and a lot of intangibles that you ask of your guys and hope that they have. It is hard to coach, and you can't put it on a chalkboard.
"They displayed that when it counted most tonight. We can be better, that is obvious as I am preaching to the choir, but we will be and you have to love their attitude. Winning makes it a lot easier going to back to work to get ready for Nebraska."
Following the game, most everyone wanted to talk about two different plays or series of plays.
One, of course, was the 55-yard pass over sophomore free safety Lewis Baker. And the second was the great goal line stand by the Sooners in the first overtime to force a field goal.
"It is going to happen for him," said Venables said on Lewis Bakers' talent. "He just has to have a little bit better awareness to stay deep, and they had good execution on their part. Second, I liked the way they competed in that first overtime. There were some timeouts called and kind of a chess match with personnel and things of that nature.
"Our guys did a nice job on the last play before the field goal. Zach (Latimer) showed some great hustle and the guys did a nice job of containing and forcing a bad throw. They almost caught that one. They have a nice quarterback and a good group of receivers.
"We knew that coming in and we knew that it would be a tough challenge. They have won four games for a reason, and they had only lost those two by 12 points. However, when it was all said and done our guys rose to the challenge and I am proud of them."
Coach Venables touched on it, but again to those that ask the question… "Why can't OU have a safety back deep late in the game when you know that a team is going to try to throw deep against them?
"At the end of the game, in the secondary, we're in the safest coverage that you could possibly be in," said Stoops following the game. "Then we (Baker) don't keep position and stay on top of somebody when you see the clock ticking down and you know what the situation is. To me, that is just another major mistake."
I was down on the field at that time in the game and had a chance to observe the Sooner coaches. Coach Stoops, Venables and Wright were all yelling at Baker to backpeddle and to keep position. They were all telling him to get deep and to not let them get behind him. So what happens? The receiver gets behind him and scores. Baker is in his first year as a safety and pass coverage is still not his strong suit. He can knock your head off, is a good tackler, plays the run well, but still needs a lot of work in pass coverage.
However, Baker is another player that works hard after almost every practice, and at some point he is going to become a very good all-around safety. Until that day come,s he will give up a play or to and the Sooners will just have to live with it.
During the week the Oklahoma made a decision to take out the quarterback run game, but then they decided to go ahead and run of some it.
"Coach Long and Coach Wilson saw that we could do some good things with it, so we ran a couple of things," said Bomar. "We didn't run much, but I hope we always run a little of it during the game because I think it is a good package for us."
This a key play for the Sooners. And, hopefully, it will always be a part of the offensive package.
Congrats to Garrett Hartley for showing great poise with four field goals on the day, especially that 39-yard field goal in the first overtime.
For those that think Adrian Peterson is out there for himself and doesn't care about his team…think again. Peterson knew that he wasn't going to play in the game, but he asked to suit out because he wanted to be a part of the team.
He also told Coach Gundy that he would be ready to go in case of an emergency. OU had no bigger cheerleader than Peterson all night, and nobody celebrated the victory harder than AD. While he is a star, he is also a good teammate one that cares about each individual on his team.
Finally, why does everybody feel compelled to qualify this victory?
Don't we all know by know that a win is a win this season for the Sooners. Why do all of the newspaper writers, or radio guys or whoever, have to say, but it is only against the lowly Bears?
The Bears are pretty good this year and they will play everybody tough, but Texas and maybe Texas Tech, because I don't know if the Bears have the depth in the secondary to match-up.
Anyway, this is a good victory for the Oklahoma because every victory is a good win for this team in 2005.
Just keep winning Sooners. Keep growing and build toward that championship in 2006.
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