With a chance to go 10-2 for the season and an outside chance to play for the Big 12 Title and earn the right to play in a lucrative, high profile BCS Bowl Game, the Oklahoma Sooners will not travel to Waco, Texas this weekend with the Sooner Schooner empty and with a bear rifle that shoots only blanks. For all the postseason gold that might be available to the Sooners, OU MUST win our last two games. Period. Case closed.
After playing one of their better second halves of the year last Saturday night before a Memorial Stadium record crowd that stayed until the end and were loud all night long, the Sooners came away from their last home game of 2006 against a talented Texas Tech team with a 10 point win (as predicted here but who's keeping score?). The defense has to get a great deal of credit for pitching the second half shutout against the pass-happy Red Raiders and eclectic head coach Mike Leach. The offense also returned to more of a balanced attack after an anemic passing game at Texas A&M proved to be an anomaly.
True freshman running back Chris Brown had a memorable day for a rookie scoring two touchdowns, including a HUGE 40 yard touchdown scamper that could not have come at a better time from where I was sitting. We will most likely see another Thanksgiving sized helping of young Mr. Brown this Saturday for the "Brunch Kick-Off" of 11 a.m. in Waco. Brown provides a nice contrast to the running style of reliable Jacob Gutierrez, who had a great game against the Bears last year.
Baylor loves to throw the football much like Tech last week, but the Bears aren't as good at it as the Red Raiders. Nonetheless, one has to assume the Bears of coach Guy Morris, who have won four games this year but rank 7th in the nation passing averaging just under 300 yards a game, will have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain against OU this Saturday.
What does that mean? It means if Baylor is allowed to hang around and stay in the game going into the 4th quarter at their place, things could get "very interesting" as Colonel Klink used to say on Hogan's Heroes (For you youngsters out there check out TVLand.)
I am hoping for a dominating first half from the Sooners that takes the pressure off the starters, including allowing backup QB Joey Halzle to get some valuable game experience. One never knows when Joey will be called into service and taking a few reps in an actual game isn't a bad thing.
Guy Morriss is a solid football man and I suspect the former NFL player will have his team loose and ready to try anything to put the Bears in position to upset the red-hot Sooners, who may be playing as good a football as any team in the college ranks the second half of the season.
These kinds of games are often a fan's worst nightmare, much akin to bumping into an ex-mother-in-law, but I don't have that feeling this week thanks to the confidence I have in coach Bob Stoops and his great staff. Most likely, Ron Prince, the new K-State coach, will win the Big 12 Coach of the Year Award, but one can certainly make a valid argument that Bob has done perhaps his best overall coaching job since taking over the program in 1999, especially when you list of the "bad breaks" the team has overcome this season.
Baylor is 109th in rushing defense this season, which gives one hope that OU will be able to run the ball when necessary and thus control the seemingly ever-running clock. The Bears rank nationally 110th in total defense and have allowed an average of 32.3 points per game, including a whopping 66 last week against OSU. There is no doubt in my mind that Baylor will play better this Saturday at home than they did last Saturday in Stillwater, but the numbers don't lie.
Turnovers will be a key in this game as always. In the first five games of the season, Baylor generated 16 turnovers but only five in the last six games. Baylor turned the ball over a self-destructing six times last week against the Cowboys and pushes the Bears' total up to 32 turnovers for the season, which ties Baylor with Army and Illinois for the national lead in this undistinguished category.
The Sooners, as we saw last Saturday night in Norman, are not immune to turnovers either. Ball protection is an important function of winning football on any level. With the clock seemingly always running, to lose a possession because of turnovers can be dehabilitating for any football team.
Receiver Manuel Johnson will not dress for the game this week but should be good to go later in the month against Oklahoma State. Coach Kevin Sumlin's receiving corps has continued to improve, as was evidenced by future NFL star Malcolm Kelly's 11 grabs last week.
Point is, the Sooners are not short at the wide receiver position even though Johnson will be missed. Thank goodness Manny is OK after that devastating hit and "near miss" on the Tech sideline. I was impressed, by the way, with the class displayed by the Red Raider players when they gathered together and prayed for Johnson while Manny was being attended to by the medical staff.
Allen Patrick is slated to be back in action this Saturday, but for some reason I just don't see how effective AP can be on that gimpy ankle that probably needs another week to get closer to 100 percent. I hope I am wrong, but it would not hurt my feelings if Patrick is held out this week so our chances are better of his return when OU ventures up I-35 to Stillwater the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
It will be "all hands on deck" for the final regular season game against our in-state rivals who are playing good, hard football these days and have been looking forward to the Bedlam Game all season long. Who knows, if OSU wins maybe ‘ol T. Boone will pull the checkbook back out! Lord knows the check will clear his bank.
There is lots of speculation from the local media, who often times are obsessed with information they know they cannot get, as to when or if AD will play again. As I understand it, it is a medical decision as to whether AD will be released to resume practice next week, which will be approximately six weeks since breaking his clavicle, or as we say in Westville, Oklahoma, the collarbone.
Obviously, Adrian's long-term future and his overall health will all be taken into consideration. I assure you AD will NOT be cleared to play unless it is obvious that No. 28 is 100 percent healthy. I would love to see AD play against OSU, too, but I feel it is a longshot at best. I do think we will see Peterson in our bowl game, I feel really good about that possibility.
Speaking of bowls, even though it is a short drive from here in Norman to Dallas, I am not a huge proponent of playing in the Cotton Bowl with the ridiculous starting time of 10:30 a.m. on New Years Day. Given the choice, I can't imagine the OU Seniors, who will have a big hand in selecting their final bowl game, will want to do it either given other options.
Those other options are likely to include the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., where I hear the weather is "decent" that time of year. This doesn't mean I am totally giving up on A&M upsetting UT in Austin, but I am not going to bet the farm on it either.
By the way, for those keeping score at home the payout for the Cotton Bowl is $3M, $2.5M for the Gator Bowl and a whopping $14-17M for the Fiesta Bowl where the Big 12 Champion will play on January 1. Now how big is the massive shafting OU received Eugene two months ago?
Oh, I would say north of 10 mil worth of a debacle.
I loved the home field advantage the Sooners enjoyed last Saturday night in Norman before over 85,000 fans, including my guest — former WWE wrestling superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin — who attended his first-ever OU game.
Austin, a Texas native who was recruited to North Texas State by Bobby Jack Wright, was decked out in Nike-issued Crimson and Cream and had a fantastic time. Steve got to hang out with coach Switzer Saturday night after the game, which is always a thrill for anyone. Steve also had a great time visiting with a classy coach Stoops on Friday afternoon at practice.
Austin, who has a movie called "The Condemned" being released on April 27, 2007, said he had never had so much fun his three days in Norman and spoke in glowing terms of the University of Oklahoma, including Athletic Director Joe Castiglione who simply has to be the best AD in America. Steve called me this week and wanted to know when the bowl bids would be done, December 3 to be exact, and wanted to make plans on attending whatever bowl game in which the Sooners play.
I think we have another converted Texan who has become a Sooner fan on our hands. Imagine that. Now I just have to convince the "Texas Rattlesnake" to break out that check book of his and join the Sooner Club!
The Sooners are favored by 20 this Saturday, but I would be happy to win by less, which could easily happen because we can't allow ourselves to look too far into the future — including the Okie State game, Adrian Peterson's return date, the future bowl game, or anything else but beating Baylor.
For this week, that's all that matters.
Editor's note: J.R. writes about the Sooners every week on his website, where you can also order Sooner Slobber-Knocker merchandise and any of J.R.'s four sauces at www.jrsbarbq.com.
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