By Jim Ross As my late granddad used to say, the Sooners' 17-16 victory in College Station, Texas last Saturday night was a "stem winder".
The win was highlighted by the uncanny football instincts of OU Head coach Bob Stoops, who chose to go for a first down on a fourth and inches play at OU's own 29-yard line with 1:29 left in the heavy-hitting Big 12 South matchup. OU Coaches can publicly downplay the challenge of playing at Kyle Field, especially at night, but I don't buy in to it and feel the one point win on the road, in the division, against a team with only one loss is a hellacious accomplishment.
A&M coach Dennis Franchione, who may get the best haircut award for Big 12 football coaches, will be second-guessed and perhaps rightfully so about his decision late in the game to throw on third and goal, and then kick a field goal instead of running the football utilizing Jovorskie Lane, the Aggies' running back who looks to be a plate of baby back ribs away from 300 pounds. The ever-improving Sooner defense has to be credited for that questionable calling as it was obvious that A&M felt they could not score a touchdown on a rejuvenated OU defense and was hoping to win the game with their defense and another field goal.
I think that Coach Stoops has done one of his best-ever coaching jobs this year at OU, especially when one steps back and takes a look at the unpredictable and negative things that has challenged the Sooner Football program.
On a positive note, the Sooners had six players taken in the NFL draft. Secondly, starting QB and Holiday Bowl MVP Rhett Bomar and starting offensive guard J.D. Quinn were kicked off the team about a week or so before fall practice began. Then the best running back in college football, Adrian Peterson, suffered a broken collarbone and is out reportedly until the bowl game. (My fingers are crossed AD will be medically cleared to play against Oklahoma State).
Plus, underrated, starting offensive tackle Branndon Braxton broke his leg in the Sooners' seventh game and is lost for the year, which necessitated Oklahoma starting a true freshman Trent Williams, at offensive right tackle.
Then we go on the road to Eugene, Oregon and thanks to incompetent officiating, the Sooners lose what will end up being a very expensive shafting. Enough said on that debacle.
Now with the team earning seven wins against only two losses, the opportunity to finish 10-2 is more of a reality that many cynics thought just a few weeks ago. It won't be easy, but it is definitely doable.
The opportunity to play in the Cotton Bowl against perhaps LSU is a distinct possibility. If the Cotton Bowl, which will get the major renovation it needs to keep the OU-Texas game in Dallas thanks to the voters of Big D this past week, doesn't pan out perhaps the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio will be our bowl destination this year, which would not offend me. Plus, there is a chance of a repeat performance in San Diego's Holiday Bowl again depending on the outcome of our next three games. Bottom line, we are going bowling!
If OU wins 10 games, Bob Stoops should get strong consideration for any coach of the year honors that are available, even though it looks as if Jim Tressel will most likely get the nod if Ohio State runs the table.
But first there is a matter of retribution and more importantly winning another Big 12 South game this Saturday night against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the Sooners' final home game of 2006. The Sooners playing their final game at Owen Field include a bevy of defensive standouts including DE's C.J. Ah You, Larry Birdine, and Calvin Thibodeaux, linebackers Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer, starting left offensive tackle Chris Messner, QB Paul Thompson and DT Carl Pendleton, who is not going to play next year and will start graduate school. These positions certainly give us all a picture of what the OU recruiting priorities will be in 2007. QB leads the way.
Tech, who beat OU last year in Lubbock when a Lubbock area Big 12 official gifted the Red Raiders the winning touchdown, comes into this game with a 6-4 record overall and 3-3 in the league. Mike Leach, who came to OU with Coach Stoops in 1999, has done an excellent job in building this football program and has compiled a 54-32 record in seven seasons in lovely Lubbock.
As usual for a Leach coached team, it is throw first and ask questions later as the Red Raiders rank third in the nation in passing averaging 375.5 yards per game and are scoring an average of 32.4 points per game. Wide receiver Joel Filani has caught 12 touchdown passes from QB Graham Harrell, who is averaging 351 yards passing per game.
The onus in this one is squarely on the broad shoulders of the Sooner defense to shut down Tech's passing attack, which is a tall order for any defense. Just ask the Longhorns.
Can the Sooners get pressure rushing only four down linemen? Will Brent Venables be able to stay one step ahead of the "Mad Professor" who roams the Tech sidelines and put enough pressure on QB Harrell to keep him rattled and not allow the Red Raider thrower to get in a rhythm? Looking at these aspects of the game, the pressure that OU can apply to the Tech QB is imperative, because if Harrell has time to throw then the Sooners are in trouble. It's that simple. However, without a doubt the Sooner secondary is playing its best football of the year and it could not come at a better time.
Offensively, OU must be able to throw the football down field and generate more passing yards and overall efficiency than we saw at A&M. Allen Patrick has a sore ankle and has not practiced this week as he usually does, but sources say AP is improving daily and is anxious to play Saturday night.
AP being anxious to play, more specifically to hit someone, should not come as a shock to any Sooner fan. Patrick is definitely tougher than a $3 steak.
QB Paul Thompson, who is playing in his final game in Norman, deserves a long and loud standing "O" from the sellout crowd Saturday night for contributions above and beyond the call of duty this season.
I shutter to think what this season would have resembled if Paul Thompson had not been the man that he is and stepped up to assume the starting quarterback job when asked to do so. Paul Thompson may not go down in Sooner Football history as the best OU QB ever, but one would be hard-pressed to find another Sooner signal caller who has earned more respect from the fans and, more importantly, his teammates and coaches than the Leander, Texas native.
The Sooner formula to win Saturday isn't anything new or revolutionary. Reduce turnovers and don't give Tech any extra chances to generate offense.
Play crisp football sans penalties. Rush the passer and treat Harrell like a government mule. Don't allow the big play, which will give Tech hope and can put them right back into virtually any game they play.
Remember, this Tech team should have defeated Texas a couple of weeks ago in Lubbock. Control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. If the O-Line of "General" James S. Patton continues to grow in technique and physicality, then the Sooners can create some long drives and keep the high-powered Tech offense sitting on the east side of Owen Field watching the clock run.
I think a turnover and penalty free Sooner team can score big on Tech. The question is, however, how much the Red Raiders will score if their QB is not harassed and abused? We should have no reason to think the Sooner defense won't play lights out with a Slobber-Knocking mentality, and I see OU winning by 10 or more.
This past Monday I was in Columbus, Ohio doing our WWE Monday Night RAW TV program and several of the Buckeye football players attended the event. The ringleader of the group was sophomore middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, the son of former pro wrestler Road Warrior Animal, whose uncle is a WWE executive.
James has had a super year and is so mature and grounded for a second-year player. James liked OU during the recruiting process at some point, but committed to the Buckeyes and played as a freshman due to injuries to linebackers A.J. Hawk and Rob Carpenter.
I really enjoyed talking to QB Troy Smith, who is a legit class act and a bright and articulate young man. He actually reminded me of our own Paul Thompson as it relates to maturity and intellect. Smith asked several questions about Adrian Peterson and AD's injury status and referred to AD as "The Man". Troy and AD have apparently met on several occasions and Smith had no hesitation saying that Adrian was the best running back in the land, and probably the best player in college football before he was injured.
Certainly, AD's injury vaulted Troy Smith to the top of the Heisman Trophy race with (fill in the blank) as a distant second it would seem. An Ohio State win over Michigan, if both teams win this weekend, virtually guarantees the Heisman will go to Smith and it hard to argue against that choice if in fact the Buckeyes win them all.
Just a reminder, we have the home field advantage this Saturday night in Norman. Let's capitalize on it and make life miserable for our visitors from Lubbock. Hopefully, the OU students will arrive on time for the kickoff and will actually stay until the game ends this week. Preferably, the half time beer run can wait and we can all celebrate together after an imperative, Sooner victory.
If you are at the stadium early Saturday and have the time, please drop by our BBQ trailer just south of the old field house in the fan festival area. Even if you're not hungry for a slow cooked brisket or pulled pork sandwich, you can always just say hello. Sooner fans are always welcome!
(Editor's note…J.R. writes several blogs each week on his website www.jrsbarbq.com about OU football, college & pro football, among other subjects. If you haven't tried any of J.R.'s authentic Oklahoma BBQ sauces, then you don't know what you are missing.)
Ross: Guts and glory for Sooners
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