Oklahoma-UAB Locker Room Report

Bob Stoops, Kevin Wilson, Brent Venables, Rufus Alexander, Adrian Peterson (pictured) and Paul Thompson break down the Sooners' 24-17 win over UAB.

As they were leaving Owen Field on Saturday, the Oklahoma football team wasn't celebrating or gloating. They weren't distraught either, but many of the players seemed mad despite their 24-17 victory.

This is life as a football player at the University of Oklahoma, where the expectations are so great that you have to temper your enthusiasm over not beating a respectable opponent by enough points to satisfy the fans and media.

Heading into the game, OUU was a 21-point favorite over UAB, but the Sooner coaches weren't buying it. I had two OU coaches tell me when they heard I was picking OU 31-3 that I was crazy. I have been told for a month now that UAB would be a tough opening opponent, and I certainly that thought was drawing strength when OU dismissed [b]Rhett Bomar[/b] from the team and moved [b]Paul Thompson[/b] back to quarterback from wide receiver.

The Oklahoma defensive coaches greatly respected [b]Watson Brown[/b] and his offense, and this reporter was told many times that from a defensive standpoint UAB was as difficult to prepare for or more so as any other season-opener since Bob Stoops has been the head coach.

The coaches also know that in college football more teams have good players, and unless your team is knocking on all cylinders early you are more than likely going to get into a battle in your season opener. Colorado found that out in losing to Montana State, Notre Dame didn't blow out Georgia Tech, and it took Florida a while to get going against Southern Miss.

Remember, because of the quarterback change Oklahoma didn't stay ranked among the top three in the country as they dropped to 10th in the AP Poll, and out of the top 10 in several other polls. Still, this a team that many feel, this reporter included, that can win the Big 12 Championship and the National Championship. And yesterday's game didn't dampen my enthusiasm as far as that goes. I mean, it was game one of the season and nobody was seriously injured.

However, the Sooners' performance left a ton of things to work on next week. But that is not always a bad thin. Oklahoma didn't tackle well and they turned the ball over on a 4-to-1 ratio, but they still managed to win the game, which is the object in game number one.

"They were happy in the locker room," said OU head football coach Bob Stoops following the game. "They understand that we can be better and that we have to correct mistakes. It is a lot more fun to be criticized when you win than when you lose. There is a big difference.

"We felt we can play better in a lot of areas, and we didn't and still won. We are not far off. I think that is what I am pleased about. I thought out offensive line was physical. For the most part, I like how they played. I will have to watch it on tape to see that, but I thought they did a pretty decent job as well."

***

Both sides of the ball can find things they need to work on, but when it comes to star running back [b]Adrian Peterson[/b], it is hard to find any fault with the junior Heisman Trophy candidate. Peterson finished with 208 yards of total offense, rushing for 139 yards and one touchdown and catching one pass for 69 yards and a touchdown.

"It felt pretty good to get that first pass," said Peterson following the game. "It set up nice and Joe Jon made a great block. And without that block, I would not have made it to the end zone. I saw him coming back and I gave the linebacker a little jab step, and Joe Jon made a great block and everything opened up for me. I saw the opposite corner trying to get the angle on me, but he wasn't going to catch me."

Throughout his career, Peterson has had better success in the second half than in the first as defenses wear down trying to bring down the 220-pound speedster. The same thing happened against UAB, as he ripped off his 69-yard pass reception and a 37-yard run in the second half.

"The first half, I was to indecisive. And in the second half, I started to run more downhill, " said Peterson. "I just had to come in with the second half and try to get something done."

But why didn't the Sooners get Peterson off and running sooner in the first half? That is something that you can expect in the future.

"I would have really like to have gotten him going a little bit more sooner," said Stoops. "However, we did move it well in the first half so I am not second-guessing what we did. We had it down there, but we just can't turn it over in a few of those situations. We have to get him the ball though. There is no question about that."

OU didn't do anything special to try to get Paul Thompson going either.

"We are not sitting here protecting anybody. We are running the offense," said Stoops. "I also think it is fair to say we just can't sit there and try to hammer Adrian either when they are cheating their coverage and sitting in there and squeezing it. That is why Paul had some of the opportunities that he had early. You have to get people off your back from cheating the box like that."

Peterson is happy with his start and the Sooners win, but he knows and expects to play better in future games.

"We dug ourselves in a hole too many times in the game," said Peterson. "That happened, especially in the first half. Man, we had four turnovers. That is terrible. So to come out and perform well in the second half and come out with the win was alright. We didn't play OU ball. We need to start playing OU ball the rest of the season."

***

Sooner senior quarterback [b]Paul Thompson[/b] took a deep breath following the game as he walked off the field. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but I bet he was thinking, 'Finally, I have a win as the starting quarterback at OU.

"It was great. There is no question about that," said Thompson following the game. "No matter how you slice it this, it is a win at the end of the day. It feels real good, because we were definitely in tough spots and we were able to respond. That shows a lot of character and a great nature to this team. It definitely feels real great to get this win."

Thompson finished 14-for-24 with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but he was very close to having a better game than that. Sophomore wide receiver [b]Juaquin Iglesias[/b] should have caught one pass that was intercepted and dropped another one in the end zone, and sophomore wide receiver [b]Malcolm Kelly[/b] also dropped a pass. In all, an inch here or an inch there in the passing game could have made the season opener a big game to remember.

"There were definitely some things that I want to work on, like turnovers," said Thompsn. "As an offense, overall, I thought we were moving the ball real well. I think the guys felt real comfortable executing the plays that we had been practicing the last month. We need to work on the drops and I need to put a better throw on those. There is a big area for improvement and I can't wait to look at film tomorrow and get to practice on Monday."

Thompson's biggest play in the game was his swing pass to Peterson, which the superstar running back took the house from 69-yards out. Peterson, of course, gets all the pub for the big run and Finley gets all the kudos for the big block, but if it wasn't for Thompson doing what a good quarterback is supposed to do the play would have never developed.

"Paul started his reads on the other side of the field. He went through a progression and that was his last and fourth read," said coach Stoops. "A lot of guys, after two or three (reads), start to panic. I chuckled to him when he got to the sideline and said to him that AD was not a bad fourth option on first and 10 and you get a 70-yard reception out of it, and he laughed. Oddly enough Joe Jon (comeback block) ran the wrong route, but it put him in position to get AD into the end zone."

Thompson says it was just a matter of using what he learned in practice.

"That is just one thing that 'Hypes' (QB Josh Heupel) told me to definitely to do," said Thompson. "He told me I don't have to force it and to look for AD in open field. We all know what he can do when he gets the ball in open field. I got back to him on that read then tossed it to him and he made a great catch, picked up some great downfield blocking and made a great play."

Finley says he's a player doesn't get a chance to make that kind of block very often.

"I love making the big block. That is how I was raised," said Finley following the game. "When Paul threw it to Adrian I saw that he had some open space, so I just wanted to make sure I could seal the sideline for him and I wanted to make sure I got inside him. When I did that, I had the perfect angle on one of their guys and hit him pretty good. That was a lot of fun."

***

One thing that is evident is that Thompson likes to look for his tight ends.

"We have so many great tight ends. We use them so many different ways that I do look for them," said Thompson. "I am not going to say that I look for them over any other receiver, but they are so talented that they are always open. And if they are open I am going to throw them the ball."

Finley led the Sooners with four catches for 79 yards and one 21-yard touchdown. That touchdown pass came after a similar pass over the middle for 25-yards.

"I am real excited about what happened in game and what can happen for the tight ends this season," said [b]Joe Jon Finley[/b] following the game. "We lined up in that formation and we saw the coverage and what they were giving us on that play. We ran it twice in a row. It was pretty much the same play. They did the same thing both times and luckily it opened up for a touchdown that second time for us."

What is ironic about the two pass plays to Finley, is that up to that point OU was still running plays off their scripted sheet that they had put together through the week. However, the OU offensive coaches noticed a certain way that UAB was covering their offensive set and knew that a pass to Finley would be open. So they went away from the script and called the two pass plays that led to the touchdown.

***

The tight ends have become a major strength of the team, and the fullbacks played pretty well on Saturday.

"They played pretty good. Joe Jon played really well," said Wilson. "Joe Jon played really well without the ball. He really played hard. He played physical and got after it pretty well. Their effort was outstanding, his especially. He did make a couple of nice catches which were nice, but when he didn't have the ball he played really hard and really well. I would think he will be one of the guys that gets strong consideration for player of the game. His performance was very strong.

"[b]Brody (Eldridge)[/b] played a fair amount in our two tights. It was the first time he really played in any games, and he did OK. He has practiced better than he played, but he didn't hurt us. I think just getting comfortable and realizing the game speed to make some of those blocks, and finishing blocks takes a little getting used to.

"[b]Jermaine (Gresham)[/b] played some and he did have the one mistake where he got held up and the ball did get stripped out. We have to teach him how to get down, but he is a guy we have to keep bringing along. He is a great talent. He is still thinking a little too much, but we have to keep him coming because he is a definite playmaker."

"[b]Matt Clapp[/b] played really well," Wilson continued. "He tweaked his ankle a little there at the end, and we had [b]Ian Pleasant[/b] finish the game. However, Matt Clapp was playing pretty well at fullback. That group was solid. Offensive line was pretty solid. And as far as hits on the quarterback and all that, we didn't have many. We had a few busts, but not a lot. The effort was good and except for the turnovers and a couple of glitzy penalties that got us behind the chains."

Because of the wealth of talent at the tight end position, you can expect the two tight end set to become a fixture in the Sooner offense.

"One of the reasons why we are going to the two tight ends right now is because they are pretty good," said Wilson. "They are playing better than any tight ends that we have had around here in a while, and they are some of our best players right now. They give us good match-ups. You can say that he (QB) should throw the ball to ‘X', but who that ‘X' guy is sometimes determines if he will get the ball thrown to him.

"It was hard to throw the ball to the tight end when you had Mark Clayton, Mark Bradley, Will Peoples and Brandon Jones, because those are four guys that you need to throw the ball to. It is not that we are trying to emphasize that position, but again when we have tight ends and fullbacks that are coming through it just makes you more diverse. You want to stay balanced, but you want to make sure you are doing it with good players."

"I think that position, with the talent and experience outside of our running back position, is probably our most complete position on offense," Wilson continued. "All three of those guys at tight end are potentially good players, and potentially really good players. It is not that I like those formations. A lot of guys will tell you that I honestly don't like the two-tight end one-back set, but those are two of our better players and when we get those guys on the field then you compliment your run and pass.

"Same thing if that fullback is coming through, then we are going to be a more complete offense. The more those guys can play the more diverse we can be. The more balanced we can be gives us a chance to maybe have a good year."

***

Wilson was happy with the play of his starting quarterback, but he knows he is not a finished product.

"He was OK. I think he got a little quick a couple of times getting his rhythm a little bit off," said Wilson. "A couple of times he needed to take a little time, but being a quick athlete, like Adrian, he can be almost a little to quick for his own good. He can be a smidge out of rhythm. I think, at times, we got a little off with a couple of receivers coming out of breaks. He went to the right places for the most part, but we were a little high on the ball that we deflected for an interception.

"Then protection breaks down and we can't complete a throw on the last interception at the end of the first half. We had two red zone interceptions that we don't want to have, but they weren't forced throws. On one, protection was breaking down and we weren't able to complete a throw properly. The other one we just missed a little, and that is going to happen some."

"However, I thought it was OK and a good start," Wilson continued. "I thought the pass game wasn't phenomenal or anything, but those guys played fairly well. It will be nice to get the ball distributed a little bit more. We didn't go into the game saying that each guy needed to get ‘X' touches, but it would be nice in some of those route-progressions where the balls could get into a couple of their hands a few more times than they did.

"Maybe as we go through the next few weeks we can see if we can get to where that will happen. That will give a couple of those other playmakers a chance. Our receivers played very well and very physical in the run game. They were OK in the pass game, but a little erratic. Paul was pretty good, but just a little erratic on a couple of plays"

***

Thompson was not sacked all day, but he did get pressured a couple of times. The offensive line struggled to open holes for Peterson early on, but as the game progressed the line performed better. But despite starting four sophomores on the offensive line, the Sooners did compile 370 yards of total offense and draw a positive grade from their offensive coordinator.

"We thought we played pretty hard watching the tape," said Wilson. "We had a lot of guys flying around giving great downfield effort. On one of the runs where Adrian, in the second half, breaks out the back end Paul is downfield 40-yards trying to get a block. (Jon) Cooper is down field 40-yards on a toss-sweep trying to get a block. We missed blocks as you always do, but we were trying to fly off the ball with some attitude and be aggressive, and I thought we did well.

"I showed clips of the '04 team and showed some clips of last year's team, because we have a lot of guys who weren't here in 04. We tried to show them the difference in how hard we played. I think a lot of people thought that that the' 03 and '04 team had a bunch of talented players, but they played hard.

"We went back and looked at last year and we didn't think we played as hard, as physical or as tough. We tried to address that and I thought for an opening game we were trying to get our knockdowns, flying around. Watching the tape, it is pretty evident that some guys played pretty hard."

***

Sophomore center [b]Jon Cooper[/b] was back in the starting line-up for the first time since suffering a broken leg last season. For Cooper, just being back on the field was a tremendous feeling.

"It felt so great to get back out there and get some hits on people," said Cooper. "I didn't have any problems with the leg. It seemed like we didn't have any snaps on offense. I never got tired and thought I had a pretty good game. I think we really started to mesh as the game went along. I thought the coaches gameplan was outstanding. WE always seemed to be a step ahead of what UAB was going to do. In the second half, we started to wear down the UAB defense and that is why AD started to get a little more running room."

Sure, the offense can play better, but for a first game Coach Stoops saw a number of good things out of his quarterback and the Sooner offensive unit.

"I was pleased with him, I thought he managed everything really well," said coach Stoops on Thompson. "We were clean at the line of scrimmage, huddle and just managing the game he was very good. He made a lot of nice throws and led the offense in a good way. Turnovers were the issue in the first half. When you turn the ball over in the red zone, you are just cutting your foot off. You are right there for points and you throw an interception and those hurt. Juaquin (Iglesias) tipped one and they intercepted it. And the other guy had tight coverage and Paul got pressure and we needed to protect him better. When you are in the red zone, we have got to get points. That is the only part of it — those two turnovers."

"Then we have a couple of strips on us that can't happen," Stoops continued. "We have to be better. You can't turn the ball over four times and win usually. That was the big reason why we were in the fourth quarter situation that we were. However, I was pleased with what I did see.

"I saw Paul make a lot of nice throws, reads and he handled the offense in a good way. I saw AD running like he is capable of running. We just have to take care of the ball. If we do, we have a chance to get better and better. Our offensive line played hard and the receivers made a few plays, but they can play better as well. Overall it was a winning effort, but we need to play better to make sure we continue to post winning efforts."

***

The Sooners wide receiver corps finished with eight catches in the game, with [b]Malcom Kelly[/b] leading the way with three for 28 yards. Right with him was sophomore [b]Fred Strong[/b], who also had three catches for 27 yards.

"Fred has been a little bit inconsistent at camp because he has a quad pull," said Wilson. "However, he had an outstanding spring and it has been pretty solid. Our top three receivers are Juaquin, Malcolm (Kelly) and [b]Manuel Johnson[/b]. We expect to have Manuel to go full-go this week, but he was held out last week. Fred is our back-up ‘Z' and that also makes him our starter when we are in the spread sets with Manuel being out.

"He did well and he did well also when he didn't have the ball. I think he had one or two busts. One time he ran the route wrong and just mis-understood the communication we had in the huddle. He made a couple of plays for us early. We saw last night that he is going to play his year. He will have a role and he will be in the top three or four receivers all year if he stays healthy. Hopefully, he will have a solid year for us."

***

Considering their expectations, the Sooner defense may have left the field the most disappointed. I have seen many times in years past where the defense only gave up six points and a little over 200 yards, and yet they were still disappointed. So I always think they play better than the Sooner coaches and players give themselves credit for. However, Oklahoma's defense gave up a 15-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown that took up 7:26 on the clock, and that is never good.

Saturday's defensive performance certainly will not go down as one of the best in Sooner history, but it was far from the worst. A pretty good UAB offense finished with a hard earned 304 yards total offense, and most of the time they went three-and-out during the game.

"We had eight three and outs," said Venables. "You are going to win most games that you can do that. We gave them four extra possessions with turnovers, but on three of the turnovers they didn't score. One ended at the half, because they only had one play following the interception. They had the fumble, but then we got the fumble back three plays later. They got an interception and we forced them three plays and out and they punted.

"On the other one, we were able to hold them to a field goal. I liked the way our guys responded that way, and we held them out of the end zone in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, we did give up the one 8-play, 51-yard drive and they held onto the ball for ten minutes and just nickel and dimed it here and there. However, they scored no points and then on the other possessions in the fourth quarter, they were three and outs."

"Our performance was good," Venables continued. "With a few mistakes here and there, the missed tackling were the most glaring things. Overall, there is a lot to build on. There are some things we have to improve, but structurally it was really good. Our effort was really good. We had some strong, physical hitting as well. We just need to be better at wrapping up, getting into a balanced hitting position. We need to continue to compete and not lose focus on some of those cheap balls over the top."

UAB had some success running the option and with the quarterback run game, and it was due in large part to a poor tackling night for the Sooners. UAB had a great deal of yardage after the first hit.

"We tallied them up and we are very critical of them, but I also tried to be realistic about whether a guy really has a chance to make a tackle or was he actually just putting a hand on a guy. We try to keep things in perspective, but we tallied up 115-yards after contact or missed tackle yards. Obviously, that is discouraging, that is disappointing, but at the same time I think some of our over-aggressiveness hurt us.

"One thing that jumped off the screen to all of us as a staff as we watched it, is how hard we played from the first snap to the very end and how we chased the ball. We didn't chase it necessarily smart and break down like we needed to. We hesitated at times and that is disappointing, but as hard as we played was encouraging. It was guys too who had not missed a bunch of tackles, and that leads us to believe that they will see it for what it is and that they have to get it corrected. And they will get it corrected."

"As far as when they were in passing situations and they were forced to pass, we were really, really good," Venables continued. "Where they caught us a couple of times was on the two fade routes for 60 yards. They hit us on the wheel route, which was a nice scheme. They got us matched up, but again we need to be better with our technique. Bbut still that was another 30-yards. On the swing screen, we missed the tackle at the line of scrimmage with a guy who is unblocked for a 24-yard touchdown.

"We missed the tackle on a clean opportunity on the other touchdown as well with one of our senior guys. Again, there is a silver-lining to it as those are guys who have made a bunch of plays for us. It was a lack of effort, which is what could crush you as a coach if the guys weren't playing hard or guys where being lazy, or things of that nature. That was far from the case."

The Sooners are a traditionally strong tackling team, but in years past they have struggled in this area early in the season. Oklahoma can't practice tackling much in practice or risk injury, and thus it takes a few games to get into the groove.

"Typically, early in the year your tackling is not as good because you don't do it full speed at practice," said Venables following the game. "We had two scrimmages, but we need to be a lot better — bottom line. That game did not need to be nearly as close. Obviously, we gave up four plays throwing the ball for 125 yards. They hit two fade routes when we were in man coverage and their wheel-route was a nice scheme. The screen was a nice scheme where we were stuck on blocks, but tackling overall was our main problem. We have to be better. We have to be a hell of a lot better tackling."

The Head Ball Coach expects the Sooners' tackling to be better in the future.

"That will solve a lot of things, and a little bit of discipline, "said Stoops. "Just the quarterback zone read when he keeps the ball is as basic as it gets. It is a play we have seen from everybody for the last two years. Our defensive ends were very poor in their discipline and where they were chasing the ball. They sit and play the quarterback, and that isn't hard to correct if they will have some discipline to themselves in what they are doing."

Senior Butkus Award candidate [b]Rufus Alexander[/b] said it was the little things that kept the defense from playing lights out.

"We were kind of over-purusing and it was tough just getting a beat on what they were doing," said Alexander. "They had a great scheme and the quarterback would pitch when he had to and tuck it up when he had to. We missed a lot of tackles and they got a lot of yards after contact. That is something that is not supposed to happen, because we are Oklahoma and we have to make tackles. Our head coach and our defensive coach stress that, and coach Sttoops wants us to strive for perfection. Coach Venables is always telling us he wants us to strive to make tackles, to get into position to make tackles and that we have to have it."

Rufus is usually lights out when it comes to tackling, but even he was off his game in the season opener.

"We missed one run-through on the power play," said Venables. "Rufus missed a run-through for 12-yards. When I say run-through, he has a gap and Rufus is usually 100 percent every game being where he is supposed to be. And he missed a run-through there. The running yardage on the yardage where the quarterback is falling forward and everybody is jumping on his back — that is somewhat embarrassing. We were kind of getting mushed that way.

"However, our guys up front did a nice job. It was option principles stuff where guys were out of position here-or-there. [b]Darien Williams[/b] missed a tackle on a lead-play that squirted through for 10 yards. Again, some of those rushing yards on that little quarterback lead-play we are not playing very good technique, or a linebacker blew an assignment when they kept it for 10 to 12 yards.

As far as getting knocked off the ball or them controlling the line of scrimmage, that didn't happen. The option forces you to not be as aggressive and getting up the field creating another line of scrimmage. What the option does is force you, from a defensive line standpoint, to neutralize your aggressiveness. You have to play technique, stay square and if not they will gash you. Our guys did a nice job of doing what we asked them to do. When they got into the two-back stuff and they ran their leads or their power, we smoked them."

***

One of the Sooners goals each game is to hold the opponent to under 100 yards rushing, but they missed on that goal against UAB as the Blazers rushed for 135 yards. Poor tackling and missed assignments kept the Sooners from shutting down the Blazers rushing attack.

"On one of their power plays when the tailback had the opening, our weakside linebacker didn't run through the backside gap and he scraped over the top," said Coach Stoops. "That left a huge gap in there. A time or two when the quarterback kept, the defensive end squeezed too far chasing the ball instead of sitting at home for the quarterback. We need to be better. There is no question about that. Defensively, we have gotten a lot of attention and they have even been bragged on. But they were not nearly as good as they were billed to be."

Coach Stoops said the Sooners didn't always stop the UAB's option game either.

"At times good, but obviously at times not so good. To me though, it was a couple of the big passes that set them up that hurt us," said Stoops following the game. "We missed some tackles a lot. I thought we were in position most of the time, but over-ran or missed the quarterback some and we need to tackle better. That to me was the biggest factor. We were usually where we should be. On a couple of the quarterback reads where it isn't an option, he just pulls it and our defensive end a few times played it very poorly. He chased the ball instead of staying at home for the quarterback."

***

The Sooners gave up four big plays in the passing game that gave up 125 yards total offense. It looked like they didn't get much pressure on the Blazer quarterbacks during the game, but we find out that they are not an easy team to pass rush.

"Because of the nature of their throwing when they were in third down, they didn't complete hardly anything except for the screen," said Venables. "You are not going to get any sacks on screens. You are not going to get any sacks when they are in three backs with a tight end and they play-action and throw a fade route. Or if they three-step and throw the fade route on the two completions over [b]D.J. (Wolfe)[/b], you are not going to get any pressure. It is a three-step throw.

"On [b]Demarrio (Pleasant)[/b], it is the same thing in that they were in the one-tight, three backs and they play-action and nobody is going to come through. They have nine guys back there and they have one guy out in the route."

"Going into the game I said they are not going to make themselves susceptible, and if the game is close they can continue to play that way," Venables continued. "If we convert on the other end of the field a couple of times when we had the turnovers and you put some more points on the board, now they have to open themselves up a little bit more."

***

During the Stoops era, the Sooners have had the best return man in the country. And this year may be no different.

"That guy back there returning it has a little bit to do with it," said Stoops. "It is the same schemes that we have been using for a long time. Remember, we had the best return man in America in [b]J.T. Thatcher[/b] way back when and we haven't changed anything. That guy doing it has a lot to do with it. The effort was there for the other guys playing with him, but our schemes are what they have always been.

"Our guys do a good job and that return guy makes all the difference. Guys like [b]Reggie (Smith)[/b] make a difference. Guys who have explosiveness and power, and ability to make people miss and run make all the difference."

***

Reggie Smith only saw one play on offense, but he played a big role in the win. Smith went the distance at cornerback and registered six tackles. He also returned six punts for 67 yards with long of 27 and one kickoff for 18 yards.

It seems Smith was going to break a punt for a touchdown every time he touched the ball. [b]Juaquin Iglesias[/b] also returned three kicks for 96 yards and he was close to talking one to the house. The Sooner return game looked once again to be in high form.

"That was another part of the game that I was really pleased with," said Stoops. "I anticipated that we had a chance to be better in our return game. Reggie (Smith) is a strong, really good football player with the football. Juaquin Iglesias is as well. Those are guys who can run with it and they did a really nice job. And the guys out there with them blocking, I was real pleased with. They were hustling and trying to make something happen."

Smith's all-around great play certainly impressed his coaches.

"Reggie had an excellent game," said Stoops. "Reggie played great defensively and his return game is very exciting. He is a really good football player. I am always a little cautious bragging on guys, but Reggie is a very serious guy about the way he approaches the game and the way he practices. He is just different than a lot of kids. He is special in that he has that power and strength and he doesn't get tired. He has that power to run through people and he has that size to him. He is one of those special players."

"Reggie played well," said Venables. "Reggie made some nice tackles and he competed and played hard. He stayed on top of the ball and really did a nice job. He didn't have a lot of opportunities to make a bunch of plays on the ball from a throwing standpoint, but he played well and was in good position.

"I think maybe the new rules help a guy like him, because he is not getting a ton of reps. The nature of the game also had something to do with that, because of all the running. I didn't ask him myself, but it was never an issue on the field him getting overly tired or anything."

***

On the other side of the field, [b]D.J. Wolfe[/b] gave up two big pass routes. And this week he is going to be pushed hard at practice.

"He didn't play very well," said Stoops. Once they get you on something, sure they go after him. They probably went after him again, but when you are up there pressing people they are going to go after your corners. So in the end, he needs play better or otherwise we will have to work [b]Lendy (Holmes)[/b] more.

***

Tackling was an issue for most of the game with the linebackers as well, but this is a unit that will play better as the season goes along.

"I thought they played solid," said Venables. "[b]Zach (Latimer)[/b] missed too many tackles. He made a bunch of tackles and he probably missed four tackles for a good amount of yardage — 40-yards or so. That is something that we worked on all last year, all fall camp and we need to keep working on. There are some things in the fundamentals that he is doing that are hurting him. We just have to keep stressing it and emphasizing it and hope that he gets better at it."

Could we see a change at middle linebacker in the future?

"I don't see that," said Venables. "Curtis (Lofton) got in there and on a couple of different times he did some things that didn't necessarily earn him the right to get put in front of somebody else."

As expected, Venables played a bunch of players on his side of the ball.

"We had a bunch of personnel groupings out there, but they forced us to do that," said Venables following the game. "We were at their discretion, if you will. If you noticed, they did a great job of forcing us to wait for them and then adjust guys. If you don't then somebody up in the box gets it wrong and one time we had to call timeout. We thought we had the right personnel, but when they are mass substituting that is what happens to you.

"Overall we got a number of guys some exposure out there. [b]Nic Harris[/b] came out and did some nice things. But he did some other things too that he knows wasn't so good.

"Overall, our effort was good. Our tackling was terrible, our position was terrible and we need to be better at that. On the execution of the defense, especially on that little zone play with the quarterback where he keeps it or gives it to the running back, we need to be better. We see that all the time."

***

UAB is not going to play for a National Championship, but they will be one of the favorites in Conference USA. The fact the Sooners opened up with a quality opponent should pay dividends on the future.

"UAB is always a good team. They play everybody tough," said Stoops. "The way I look at it, is that we will learn a lot from it and there are a lot of things our players can see better. And we still won.

"Offensively, if we take care of the football it makes all the difference in the world in that game. I liked what I saw between the turnovers. The execution moving the ball, the ability is there. You look at Paul, who made a lot of great throws and he had a lot of great execution. I really only fault him on the one interception where it sailed on him. Other than that, the other interception we have to come back to the football a little better.

"The running game was there with Adrian," Stoops continued. "We have to make sure he gets enough carries early. I was happy with the win and I learned a lot from it. To me, the the area that I was most displeased with was defense and turnovers. On defense, I do have confidence that we can get better at and correct. And I believe we will."

***

The Sooner punt game was in good shape on Saturday with [b]Michael Cohen[/b] and [b]Michael Knall[/b] averaging a combined 40 yards. [b]Garrett Hartley[/b] also made his only field goal attempt of 30 yards, as well as hitting all his extra points. The Sooners' coverage units were also outstanding.

It is easy to see that this was not a perfect game for the Sooners and that it was frustrating in many ways. However, if everybody will remember last year when OU lost to TCU in their season opener, then you should like this opener a lot better.

The offense looked really good at times. They showed if they can cut down on turnovers they are going to be a very good unit. You also know that the OU defense is going to tackle better. And if they do, then you can slice off about 100 yards total offense off the UAB total.

Yes, there are still some questions to be answered, but this is still a young football team and talented young football teams many times grow up in a hurry. The University of Washington will find that out Saturday afternoon when they come to Norman.


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