The story has to start on Kyle Field, where I was standing on the Oklahoma sideline with a little over five minutes to go and the Sooners desperately trying to hold onto a lead that they held the entire game. The Sooners almost blew Texas A&M out of the state of Texas in the first quarter, only to find themselves in their traditional fight in the fourth quarter with the Aggies.
Oklahoma was so good running the football in the first quarter that it litterally put their passing game to sleep. That is what happens when you are basically picking up a first down every time you rush the football. Junior Allen Patrick was prolific in the first quarter rushing for 101 yards, which marking the 46th time in OU history that a player has rushed for 100-yards or more in a quarter.
OU led 14-3 after the first quarter and if one of three Sooners could have recovered an onside kick that coach Stoops had brilliantly called, then OU could have put the Aggies away right there. I mean, is there anybody out there who thinks the Aggies could stop OU at that point? The Sooners were blowing the Aggies off the ball and it wasn't even competitive. OU would have scored in four plays if they had recovered that ball, but as it is they didn't and the Aggies had new life.
So we fast forward to the fourth quarter and the Sooners had already made the mistake of letting Texas A&M hang around. Now the Aggies actually believe that they can win the game. After that brilliant first quarter, the Sooner offense went into a tank and the Aggies kept plucking away with two field goals in the final quarter that cut OU's lead to 17-16 with 3:28 to go in the game.
The Sooners got the ball back at their own 20 with 3:22 remaining in the game and knew that one first down would seal the victory for them. If the Sooners fail, then Texas A&M is going to get the ball back with around 1:30 remaining with the wind at their back against a tired OU defense.
Standing right next to bench, I could see a coaching staff composed and still coaching up a storm. Oklahoma's coaching staff always coaches to victory and never to defeat. That means they are always exhibiting confidence and they never show concern. They show anger and they get mad over things, but you never get the feeling that the coaches feel they are going to lose. They all believe that the Sooners will do something to pull the game out, and that's the way they coach.
Every person at Kyle Field knew Oklahoma was going to run the ball. as they had a miserable day throwing the ball finishing with just 39 yards through the air. After the first quarter, the Sooner offense bottomed out. OU managed only three first downs and 5 yards in the second half after rushing for 169-yards in the first half the Sooners had rushed for only 46 in the second half.
However, as the Sooners trotted onto the field they were confident that for one more time they could find the resolve to rush for one more first down, and the confidence of a lesser team would have been shaken after Patrick was stoned for a three-yard loss setting up a 2nd-and-13.
There were so many great runs and so many big plays in this game, but maybe none were as big as the next one. Facing 2nd-and-13 from the their own 17-yard line, Patrick ran off left tackle behind senior Chris Messner and tight end Joe Jon Finley, and found the same crease that he had found many times in the quarter, and running as hard as he could for 12 yards and almost a first down.
"That was a great run and one of the most important runs we had in the game," said OU head football coach Bob Stoops. "That was a big play that just gets down to execution, and on that play guys blocked. Duke (Robinson) pulled up inside and made a nice block and Allen got in behind them and hit a seam. Sometimes in the run game it is that way lot of times where it is cloudy, cloudy, tough and tough, and then bam you hit a seam. Fortunately, we hit a seam at the right time and Allen did a great job of hitting it up in there."
The Sooners were faced with a 3rd-and-1 and called timeout. As the players walked over to the sideline, Patrick was pounding his chest telling Stoops to give him the ball. Duke Robinson and Jon Cooper were pounding their chests and their hearts letting Stoops know they would get the first down if he would let them run it. Adrian Peterson was also right in the middle of the offensive huddle pumping up each and every player telling them to get physical and get ready.
To a man on that offensive unit, a quick look into their eyes told coach Stoops all he needed to know about whether or not his offense could get the first down. So a run over the left side was called again and with the Aggies putting 10 men in the box, Patrick landed right at the stick, twisting, turning and fighting for ever inch he could get. AP came up limping and after a bad spot, the Sooners were two inches short of a first down.
Thus it was decision time and Texas A&M called a time out. Again, the offensive line comes over pumping their chests and O-line coach James Patton jumps in the middle of them and starts pumping them up. AD jumps back into the middle of them and tells them to strap it up and knock them off the ball. Stoops' wheels were turning and he wasn't sure what to do. Should he punt or should he go for it with around a 1:34 remaining?
"I went through a range of (emotions) what to do several times," said Stoops. "There was a certain point early on that I thought, you know, what we will just punt it. And then I started to consider the wind. Then when I said I was going to punt it, I looked at all the offensive guys in their eyes. And I was like, 'I can't punt it'. None of them chatted anything to me, but I could tell I had hurt them, and I said I can't punt.
"I think the factors that were there for me and I admit there weren't a lot. Though there wasn't a lot of wind there was enough to effect a punt 10 to 15 yards, and enough to affect a field goal 10 to 15 yards. In pro ball, I probably wouldn't have (punted) because the clock doesn't stop on first down. In college, you get a first down and that clock stops and 1:30 is an eternity. I just felt we are going to make an inch and that is it. Fortunately, we did."
And indeed they did…..twice.
Coming out of the timeout, the Sooners lined up from the sideline with Jacob Gutierrez at tailback. Thompson walks up under Cooper and he taps him on the fanny three times, and to me that meant he was getting under center and looking the for the snap. He was going to sneak it and that is exactly what he did. Running behind a great block by Cooper and Robinson, Thompson easily gets the first down and the players start to celebrate on the field but not on the sideline.
They aren't celebrating on the sideline because coach Stoops had called timeout just before the snap of the ball. The sideline official was blowing his whistle, but the players on the field and other officials couldn't hear it, and thus the play didn't count because Oklahoma was given a timeout.
"I wanted to see what their look was," said Stoops on his decision to call timeout just before the play. "We were considering going around the edge and just talking it through we just said we are going to slam it in there (media laughing again) and we might be able to get it. Paul did a great job on that play if people see it, because he initially doesn't have it. He keeps pushing. Paul is a strong guy and he keeps driving it. He works his way over and he made a really nice play there."
"We had milked some time off the clock and they took a timeout," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. "We took a timeout after Allen's run and that was a huge play by Allen. He (Bob) just said, 'What do you think?' And I said, 'We had just run off tackle and that it was so close that we maybe could sneak it. I was worried about them putting their goal-line front in, which can really load up the middle. You go to run those sneaks in critical downs and the center gets knocked back, you get a back snap and we are going back-and-forth on what to run. Should we go off-tackle, or should we sneak it as close as it was? Coach decided to go for it and we went out there the first time, and we didn't like it after taking a look at what they had on defense, and we took a timeout kind of like icing a field goal kicker.
"We wanted to take a look at it to make sure we really liked it or not. That is why we took that extra timeout when we went back out there the first time. He took it late and the kids were ready to run the play, and then we get it (first down) but we have to do it again. I thought maybe we jinxed ourselves there a little bit. He is in touch on every play during the course of a game giving us direction. It got so close he asked what do. I think and I told him that I know it is a big call, but that we should be able to get three inches. He said, 'I don't want to give them the wind, so you feel good about it?' And then I think the kids made him feel as good as anything."
Stoops went with his gut and it worked out. He went on a hunch that the players were letting him know that they could make it, but he can't always rely on what the players want in that situation.
"All players want to go for it in all situations," said Stoops. "In the end, I just knew in my gut by looking at them that we had to go for it. To me, that is the right thing to do — to take their opportunities away if we can make two inches. Fortunately I did and fortunately we made it."
On fourth down, for the second straight play, the Sooners ran a quarterback sneak and Thompson, with a little help from the running backs pushing him from behind, picks up the first down. From there, the Sooners run out the clock and start celebrating on the field.
Oklahoma has won seven games on the year, but this was the happiest the Sooners have been walking off the field. This game doesn't really mean more than any other, but OU knew they are playing at a tough place to play and they played tough and got out of there with a win.
"It was a fun, exciting game," said Stoops. "It was a great atmosphere, and it was fun to compete in it. I am just proud of the players and the way they played. I want to compliment Texas A&M, as they did an excellent job. We had a fun night out there (media laughs). I mean, really with everybody competing. I think kids on both sides played well. It was a well-played game."
With great irony, Texas A&M was caught with 12 men on the field on both of the Sooners' fourth down tries. How amazing is it that the Aggies, with their 12th Man tradition gets caught with 12 men on the field. Texas A&M felt that OU might quick-kick and their staff didn't communicate with each other that decision to put a deep man in the game. By the way, who in the OU backfield would have quick-kicked? Gute? PT? Brody Eldridge? Malcolm Kelly? OU would have been better off kicking into the wind sending Michael Cohen back out there and letting him punt it the best he can.
Defensively, the Sooners played a great game. OU gave up only 267 yards of total offense and 204 on the ground. Texas A&M converted 6-of-14 third downs, but most of those came in the first half. Twice the Aggies had great field position off of Sooner turnovers, and twice they were pushed back. In all, it was a great day for the Sooner defense.
"It was just really good, "said Stoops. "I thought the guys played in a great way. They made a few plays, but we played the option outstanding, outside of the first one (Goodson's 58-yard run). I think early on that led to a big play. After that ,in the second half they quit running the option. We played it really well. They ran the sprint draw a little bit on us and made some nice plays there where we got out of position on it. They are going to do that. If you are out of position, they are going to take advantage of it.
"They made some nice plays, but then we buckled down and got them stopped. Those stops down in the red zone are big at forcing field goals. To me, the biggest plays defensively, were they got game balls, were after the two turnovers in the second half. We actually backed them up considerably and changed field position without the ball, and that was big."
Venables and his staff put together a great gameplan, and for the most part he was pleased with how his troops performed.
"I thought it was good, outside of the second option play," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "We had a guy who misses a tackle. I really thought our guys played really well and played really hard. We had constant pressure on them and we played all their gadget plays. We played the option, outside of that one play, extremely well. On the day, they probably lost yardage on the option. It was a really outstanding effort by our guys with their awareness, technique and playing responsibility and assignment-sound football."
The effort by the Oklahoma defense was magnificent. And two plays demonstrated that as much as anything whenLendy Holmes ran down Aggie speedster Michael Goodson on the second play at OU 13-yard line, giving the defense a chance to hold, which they did giving up only an Aggie 28-yard field goal.
"Lendy's effort was tremendous," said Venables. "However fast No. 3 is, and we all know how fast he is, it was a great effort play by Lendy. It is just a great example and it will be a tremendous teaching tool on why you never give up on a play. It obviously made the difference between seven and three points.
"In the end of the game, it makes a huge difference on the scoreboard. It is those types of effort plays that when you play with that frenzy go-for-broke attitude, then good things will happen. It will make a difference in the game and it did there."
The next great effort play came midway through the fourth quarter when Goodson breaks through a seam again on first down at the Aggie 43 for a 31-yard gain. On the play, it looks like he will outrun the Sooner defense and score, but sophomore linebacker Curtis Lofton dives and trips him up at the OU 26.
"He should because that was his play to make in the first place," said Venables on Lofton's tackle from behind. "It was making up for, but it is the same thing though. It is a great effort down the field and we ended up holding them out of the end zone. I appreciate our guys and how hard they played from beginning to end."
Ever since the Texas game, Oklahoma has played good defense. Now the Sooners one of the best defensive teams in the country and they are playing at a very high level.
"I see great effort and more discipline, which you see on virtually on every snap and is an improvement from the beginning of the year," said Venables. "We said before that it wasn't magical calls or anything else outside of trust, discipline and playing technique of playing hard every snap. It is encouraging to see that we are doing those things and it pays off."
The Sooner defense is playing at such a good level that even when teams seem to have their backs to the wall, they find a way to keep them out of the end zone.
"Any time you have sudden momentum changing plays for the opponent and you can take the life right back out of them and keep them out of the end zone, those are huge stops," said Venables. "They are again character-building type stops and instills a great deal of confidence in your players. You want to see a true test and see who they are as players, and those stops and situations prove they are tough."
Senior linebacker Rufus Alexander tied for the team honor in tackles with nine, including one tackle for a 1-yard loss. All day, the Sooners had great pressure on Aggie signal caller Stephen McGee, and that was a major part of the defensive gameplan.
"We had a good pass rush the whole game," said senior linebacker Alexander following the game. "Larry Birdine, Calvin Thibodeaux and C.J. Ah You went out there and played a heck of a game. They went back there and made a bunch of plays and caused those guys to hold them. They were getting off the ball so well that it really helped us in coverage.
"We expected our guys to play great and they went out there and did. We had a couple of blitzes that we got burned on, but that is going to happen. We kind of controlled the game in our base defense, but Texas A&M did a good job later on in the game. They made a few adjustments and started to run the sprint draw against us, and that made it a good game in the end."
Alexander and the linebackers were involved in pass coverage as well, and you didn't see many Aggies running free in the secondary the entire game.
"We did a great job covering them," said Alexander. "We read their routes and did a great job of keying on their receivers. We just did what Coach 'V' told us to do in practice. He told us when they get in this formation or that formation, they are going to do this. And for the most part that is what they did. We were just all over them and he (McGee) had to pull the ball down a few times."
The Sooners played assignment football on defense and they needed to, especially with the great skill plays on the Aggies' side of the football.
"You have to have a lot of discipline," said Alexander. "Just playing an option team, you have to have a lot of discipline and playing a sprint draw team, you have to have a lot of discipline. It negates your speed on defense, because if you have a fast defense everybody wants to flow, and that is what they want you to do. Then they cut you off and just cut it back. And with a fast guy like Goodson, he was making big plays but cutting back against us. He was making 30-yard gains and stuff because they were a smart team."
You can't harp on it enough, but ever since Reggie Smith moved back to strong safety the secondary has come together. Granted, at the same time Marcus Walker has proven that when healthy he is one of the best cornerbacks in the Big 12 Conference. And the emergence of Lendy Holmes has made the Sooner secondary one of the best in the conference.
"We covered really well. I was really please with that," said Stoops. "When you consider all the trick plays, or not trick plays, but the reverse passes, option passes, our secondary guys were fantastic. Even with all the red zone plays that they tried down there, trying to sneak somebody open with throw backs, our guys covered really well.
"We read it well and were always in good position. The whole secondary played well. The safeties made a ton of tackles, the corners made a bunch of plays. That guy (McGee) tried every which way you can try to get people open off of option passes, throw back passes, this, that and the other and we covered them great."
It was a strange offensive day in many ways for the Sooners. OU exploded out of the gate with 165 yards total offense in the first quarter and 139 yards on the ground.
Things slowed down for Oklahoma in the second quarter, as they only added 30 more yards total offense. In the third quarter, OU added another 67 yards, but it was apparent that the offense was stalling. What happened to the Sooner offense after the first quarter?
"There structure had been, in the secondary, a bend but not break style of defense," said Wilson. "They weren't going to involve their safeties down and they would try to stop the run with a big defensive line. They would try to junk it up a little bit with alignments and movements. We had a good handle on them early and in the second quarter we had a 3rd-and-three that we ran the ball into a blitz. I would like to have that call over and get another call up. We didn't execute it right, but I would like to have a better call for our players.
"We just didn't get a lot of opportunities. We got most of the opportunities in the first quarter and it was kind of flipped-flopped in the second quarter. In the third quarter, we start there with a 3rd-and-three and we miss a slant, and then we get the turnover. We took two shots on second and third down as we had a blocking bust on first down that cost us to lose a couple of yards when it was first-and-goal on the seven. After that, we have a heck of a run by Allen that gets called back and that leads into a fumble.
"The next drive goes across midfield and then there are two fumbles, just like at Missouri. All they did was maybe move an alignment with a twist or a slant, but they never adjusted their secondary to stop the run. They got off blocks, where in the first half our tight ends and offensive line was doing a pretty good job in the first quarter. We didn't stay on blocks and play as well in the third quarter as we needed to."
The Sooners were so dominant rushing the football early that they put their passing game to sleep. OU never got their passing going and finished with just 39 yards through the air.
"I told the guys after the game that their effort has been extremely outstanding," said Wilson. "Part of that is my job. Our job is that our plans give us a chance. So I have to take a look at what we are doing and the amount of times that we are practicing things. We thought we would get some shots where we expected those guys (safeties) to come down, as a lot of people got an opportunity to get over the top of those guys.
"Baylor, the week before, had hit a couple of post passes so we had spent a great deal of time in our practices on some deep shots and some very aggressive deals. However, they stayed back there at 16, 18 to 20 yards. It was almost like our time on task to practice in hindsight needed to be more in the quick set, intermediate range. When we went to that, we probably had not practiced that enough and we just weren't as efficient when we went to throw some slant passes and things. Our timing was out of sync.
"I told those guys after the game that it is my job to make us complete," Wilson continued. "That is just the one thing that is lacking. I know those receivers, everybody still wants the ball, wants some touches and wants the ball thrown their way. I thanked them for their effort and how hard they are playing, and that it is my job to get practice a little bit cleaner in our passing game. We have been a little out of sync with our passing game with your rhythm and throwing, and receivers making plays.
"I put that on me. It is my job to get them going. I think that is the one thing down the stretch — that we need to be more complete team. We can't continually run the ball. I do think the defense we play against with Tech is going to be similar. They will be in cover-four and have a softer safety bend, but not break style defense. However, we have got to have the mix that we had early. We have to execute that a lot more sound and a lot more efficient to be a complete offense."
For Paul Thompson, it was his most frustrating night throwing the football as he completed just four of his 13 pass attempts.
"It just never got rolling, I am not sure why," said Thompson. "One reason was because we were being real successful that first half running the ball, so we wanted to stick with that. At the same time, we weren't getting the looks exactly like we thought that we were. The receivers weren't getting open in time and I wasn't scrambling and letting them get open in time. It was just a combination of things. The passing game was real sloppy."
Thompson spent the part of the game early just handing the ball off to Patrick, and he admits that may have stalled the passing game a little bit and put his own game in the tank.
"Those first two drives were close to perfection," said Thompson. "We were rolling and felt real good about where we were at and what we were doing. Then it got sloppy from there on out. It is a big win. I don't think my play was close to par and there was a lot of things that I could have done better. However, we came out of here with a big win. Going onto the road in a big environment like this and coming out with is a win is all you can ask for.
"Victories in our last two road games is a testament to our hard work and what we have been through. We knew that we could do it, especially being on the road, and we had a lot of confidence in ourselves. We came out and showed that today."
However, Thompson still showed great poise. And in the end, coach Stoops and coach Wilson decided to put the ball in his hands to get the quarterback sneak.
"Coach said he wanted to go for it, he didn't want to go for it, he wanted to go for it,and then didn't and then did," said Thompson following the game. "That was part of the reason the timeout was called. We made it the first time and then I found out there had been a timeout called. I was kind of disappointed, but luckily we were able to get some push on that second one and get it."
Thompson says there was no doubt what the team wanted to do on fourth down.
"That is what we wanted," said Thompson on going for it. "I thought when we went for it on third down that we had fourth down in our pocket. We didn't want to give them the ball back and allow them to score. We felt we could pick it up, and that is what we did."
It is easy to say that coach Wilson went into a shell or got conservative with his play-calling, but coach Stoops would have none of that kind of talk after the game.
"They were playing a very soft and conservative coverage," said Stoops. "We felt that was to our advantage for us to run the ball. You had to be careful throwing into the wind. I am sure as we watch it we will see some other opportunities we should have taken advantage of. However, we did (throw) once and we get stripped in the pocket. I thought the way it turned out that Kevin called a great game. I am real pleased with it. You have to be smart with the football and we were and it worked."
Stoops loves it anyway when the Sooners are running the football with authority.
"The whole first half we are able to run the ball really well," said Stoops. "It was a big factor. Again, you can hammer the ball at people like that if it is going to make a difference in the game."
So much has been made of Patrick's great effort, and deserfidly so. But Gute's 52 rushing were big as well.
"Jacob did a great job. He is a great compliment to Allen," said Stoops. "He is a good running back and he is making an impact for sure."
The best call out of the whole game, that I liked, was the onside kick. OU led 14-3 at that point and if the Sooners had recovered they would have knocked the Aggies out of the game. Junior safety Darien Williams had a great shot at recovering the ball, but muffed it and two other Sooners had their hands on the ball. The Sooners failed to recover it, but it showed that coach Stoops was aggressive and coaching as 'Big Game Bob' again.
"I look at it and I feel it is a great call," said Stoops. "We have three guys touch the ball, so it was there and we need to be able to cover it. It is not like we didn't have a chance at it. We had plenty of chances at it, and if we do we have the ball at the 40 going in. After having a couple of long drives, kind of like after we went after that fourth down call at Missouri, then it is like a dagger. But we didn't execute. I felt we had a great opportunity for it and we just didn't handle the ball right.
"We are going to do what it takes to win the game," Stoops continued. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I felt in both of those cases last week that if we execute properly it is going to hurt our opponent. It is not a knockout blow yesterday if we cover the kick, but it is going to hurt them and hurt them bad. They were there and we didn't quite execute properly. I don't regret any of the decisions. Sometimes you have to be able to go for it."
Nevertheless, the defense would have held on the drive following the failed onside kick attempt, except they beat themselves. Sophomore Nic Harris was nailed for a 15-yard personal foul penalty for taunting the Muhammad Ali of college football, Martellus Bennett, after making a tackle. If you have ever been around Bennett for more than five minutes, you know he is always talking and I am sure he was trying to get under Mr. Harris' skin, which he apparently did.
Then Curtis Lofton was nailed for another 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds. Those two penalties kept the Aggie scoring drive alive with Lane eventually going in from one yard out out early in the second quarter.
"I was disappointed in that," said Stoops on the penalties. "Nic Harris's was just foolish. Nic is a smarter guy than that. Everybody tackles somebody and he doesn't need to be making a big deal about it. Curtis pulled off. You are going at somebody and you are trying to make a play and can‘t slow down. I can't fault him on that play. That is going to happen."
In all, the Sooners had a great effort against Texas A&M and one that they can continue to build on the rest of the season.
"It was good," said Stoops. "Offensively, we were physical and tough in the way we handled the first half, and even the second half down the stretch being able to make the first downs the guys were physical. Allen Patrick ran really well, and so did Jacob Gutierrez.
"Defensively, we were really great after those two turnovers in the second half. I thought those were huge plays. They were huge series in the game where they got the ball and really could have influenced field position, and we force a fourth and 31 and a fourth and 38. That is after turnovers, and that is big.
"The way the offense started the game, by taking the ball and going down the field 80-yards in that environment is just really strong. Again, defensively they got the momentum with the turnovers and we back them up. Those are big, big series. We just really play well in those areas and gave us an opportunity to play the way we did and win."
Back-to-back road wins against top 25 opponents can draw some attention nationally.
"There is a lot of character to these guys, but they are still young and improving," said Stoops. "There is a lot of fight in them and the defense has gotten continually better. We have been strong and physical, and we have been able to run the football. I don't care where you play — that is a factor and makes a difference. Paul has been very smart in what he is doing and good. All of it together, we are making good progress in becoming a pretty good football team. I still think there is a lot of upside to us and we are going to continue to get better."
The Texas A&M win is one of those games where coach Stoops feels good about the whole organization.
"I am proud of the players and our coaches for the great effort they put into this game," said Stoops. "I thought Brent (Venables) did a great job, along with all of our defensive coaches in calling the game and having the team prepared. That goes for our offensive coaches a well. I am just proud of all those guys and the way they handled it. This is a fun and exciting atmosphere to compete in, but what I appreciate is for the guys out there it is not a factor. In other words, you are playing and we don't deal with it. Everybody else does because that is what they are paying attention to, but I absolutely don't hear anything and the players don't.
"The O-line is playing great, but so are those tight ends too. The tight ends are doing an incredible job with the offensive line and they have played great. They have been physical in run blocking and in everything that we did. I was very pleased with them. They have been solid all the way through and have been all season."
Now it is on to Texas Tech, and the Sooner defense has to make a quick-change in their thinking.
"I think, from a fundamental, technique (standpoint), some things are much different," said Venables. "You go from a type of three-back triple option set to this — it is all four- and five-wide receivers. It is a different preparation, but again it requires the same discipline, ability to tackle, execute and put pressure on the quarterback."
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