This has to be considered one of the most extraordinary seasons in Oklahoma Football history. The Sooners overcame virtually every bad break imaginable to win the Big 12 South and earn the opportunity to play for the Big 12 Championship Saturday night in Kansas City against an old Big Eight rival — the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
First things first, last Saturday's Bedlam victory in Stillwater was one of the most exciting football games I have ever seen in person. There is no doubt that Oklahoma State has raised their talent level and with the Orange-clad crowd at a frenzy for most of the game, the Cowboys gave the Sooners all they wanted on a beautiful day in Poke-land. The Sooners relied on their defense, especially in the fourth quarter, to win the game 27-20 and to earn Stoops Troops their fifth trip to the Big 12 title game in seven years.
Oklahoma's offense was not effective in moving the ball in the fourth quarter, but the Sooners were committed to utilizing a friendly clock and not making any turnovers, all the while having the confidence that the Sooner "D" would seal the deal. The conservative style of offense demonstrated in the fourth quarter of the OSU game may have made many fans uneasy, but coach Stoops' decision to run the ball and manipulate the clock, all the while forcing OSU to use their timeouts, worked to perfection.
The bottom line, as my friend and one of the newest Sooner Football fans Stone Cold Steve Austin would say, is that Oklahoma won the game and that's what many of us drove north on I-35 to see.
If T. Boone Pickens and his emissary Athletic Director, Mike Holder, are patient enough, there is no doubt that head coach Mike Gundy will make the Cowboys a competitive force in the Big 12 over the next few seasons. As mentioned earlier, the talent base in Stillwater has drastically improved and the Cowboy fans were raucous and helped create a distinct home-field advantage of which many Sooner season ticket holders might want to take note.
How many longtime Sooner fans remember back in the day when every Thanksgiving weekend it seemed like it was OU-Nebraska playing on national television for the Big Eight title and for a trip to the Orange Bowl? As a young man growing up in Westville, in Adair County Oklahoma, no matter the tasks at hand on our farm or the fact that it was deer hunting season, everything stopped to watch this classic college football game.
One has to believe that when the powers that be decided to form the Big 12 Conference with a north and south division, that they envisioned frequent OU-Nebraska showdowns for the championship. Ironically, in the 11-year history of the league this is the first time the Sooners and the Huskers have played each other in the title game.
Nebraska is expected to send approximately 60,000 fans to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City Saturday night, which will create a noisy sea of red for the Sooner faithful to deal with on what is expected to be a cold but dry night. Kickoff is slated for 7:07 p.m. central time with the temperature predicted to be 28 degrees with the wind from the SW at four miles per hour, but no rain or snow.
Much is being made of the weather conditions for this game, but we have to be realistic in that it is December and we are playing outdoors in Kansas City. None of us should have expected a repeat of last Saturday's balmy weather in Stillwater, even though that would have been nice. Saturday night will not be "visor weather". Here's the scoop, if you are going to the game, and I hope you are, dress warmly. Case closed on the weather.
Stopping Nebraska's multiple set offenses, not allowing the big play and stopping the Cornhusker running game are all bigger issues in my estimation than the weather.
Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor, a Norman native and son of former Sooner standout Sherwood Taylor, is the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and is definitely the straw that stirs the drink for the Huskers. Taylor is a great leader, is football savvy, and can throw the pigskin.
Taylor has almost 2,800 yards passing this season including 24 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Plus, Zac grew up watching the Battle of the Big Reds and will be well-prepared to handle the pressure. Nonetheless, one of the keys to a Sooner victory is to punish Taylor and to make sure that the QB isn't comfortable during this football game.
If Zac Taylor has a great game, Oklahoma will have a difficult time winning in Kansas City.
Recognizing Nebraska's many formations and offensive schemes is another key to a Sooner Big 12 Championship. This is not the traditional Bill Walsh west coast offense, in as much as the Huskers run the football frequently with a blend of solid runners. Running backs Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky have rushed for over 1,500 yards between them and each averages over five yards per carry.
The Husker defense is big up front and physical. This group is also coached by former Sooner head coach John Blake. One doesn't have to guess if Blake will have his men ready for a war Saturday night. Blake has refused all interview requests this week, which tells me he is truly focused on this huge game and could well have a "unique agenda" because the Sand Springs native has always been the talkative type since he was a high school player for the Sandites.
How well OU's offensive line handles Blake's big men and the Husker linebackers is one of the bigger keys for Sooner success Saturday night.
Hopefully, the Sooners will be able to balance their offense Saturday night so it doesn't resemble the Texas A&M game or the OSU fourth quarter. It would seem that QB Paul Thompson would need to have a successful night throwing the ball in order for the potent OU ground game to be as effective as it can be.
Malcolm Kelly needs the football in his hands. Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson need to have productive nights catching the ball, as do the three, big Sooner tight ends. I don't feel that productive necessarily means Thompson has to have 20-25 completions, but less than 10 might not get the job done.
Allen Patrick and Chris Brown have to have great ball protection and simply continue to run as if they just found out their girlfriend was cheating on them.
Patrick is a Freddy Krueger-like slasher of a running back with an amazing competitive spirit. No. 23 is the guy you want on your side in a street fight. Brown, the RB that LSU let get away, has quietly and without advance fan fair become a major contributor in the OU offense, and no doubt has a great future as a Sooner, especially after a winter in Nebraska native Jerry Schmidt's strength program.
This game most likely will boil down to who makes the fewer mistakes and who plays the better defense. The kicking game and field position should be factored into the equation as well. I know that is old school logic, but this is going to be an old school, cold weather, OU-Nebraska classic Slobber-Knocker of a championship football game.
The experts can overanalyze this one all they want, but it will come down to who does the better job of blocking and tackling, and who is willing to put their bodies on the line play after play to secure a victory for one of these proud, traditional college football programs.
Coaching has so much to do with winning this game and I think we have the edge there with the Big 12 Coach of the Year Bob Stoops, whose natural, in-game instincts are unparalleled in college football. Plus, coordinators Brent Venables and Kevin Wilson have not gotten their share of national recognition for the jobs they have done this season.
Venables' defense has become deadly and seems to get better each week. This week can be no exception. Wilson has managed an offense that lost its starting QB a week before the season started, lost a probable Heisman Trophy-winning running back at mid-season, plays with one senior in the offensive line, and has molded converted wide receiver Paul Thompson into a steady, productive player who this team loves to play for.
Plus, I am still P.O.'ed that Billy Callahan called us Sooners, "Hillbillies" a few years back. My mama said not to hold grudges, but I'm guilty. Luckily, the Husker fans possess more class than their coach. It doesn't take a Mensa member to determine that Callahan isn't Dr. Tom Osborne.
After watching Coach Barry Switzer walk the sidelines for years at so many memorable OU-Husker games, I have the privilege of attending this ball game with "The King". I am sure it will be an experience I will remember for a lifetime and that can only be made better with an Oklahoma victory, which will send perhaps the most unlikely team in America after week five to a BCS bowl.
The loser plays in the "Brunch Bowl" aka The Cotton Bowl at 10:30 a.m. in Dallas on January 1. Arizona on New Year's Day sounds better to me.
Kickoff can't come soon enough for me. The Sooners win a heart-pounder.
Note: Check out J.R.'s website at www.jrsbarbq.com/ for great holiday gift ideas including his sauces and "Sooner Slobber-Knocker" merchandise.
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