The gut feeling is back.
Bob Stoops is without question one of the best game day coaches in America and his love for the trick play is a big boost for the Sooner program.
After practice one day last week I had a rare moment to talk to Coach Stoops by myself. This doesn't happen a great deal out at practice, because usually there are several media members around, or Bob's family is there after practice and I respect his privacy when his family is around and don't bother him after our initial press conference.
However, on this day I found myself standing right next to him and we were just chatting about college football. I was talking about other coaches around the country and how after some coaches are with a program for a while they begin to coach a little differently. Bob didn't necessarily agree with me and we were having a fun conversation when out of nowhere he stopped me and asked me if I thought he coached the Sooners any differently since he first started?
I said no, expect in one area and that is in track plays. I pointed out since the Sooners have become such a good team, that he was reluctant to call trick plays, which if they didn't work might cost his team field position or points on the scoreboard.
Stoops thought about that for a moment and then gave me the straight scoop.
"It's not that I don't or won't call any trick plays, but I haven't had that feeling in my gut that it was time to call one over the last year or two. In my first year I think we needed a spark a number of times, and maybe I was looking for opportunities, but I also just had a feeling in my gut that this time would be a good time to call one."
"Over the last couple of years I haven't felt the same way or at least I haven't felt it in my gut. Now, I think the fourth down call at our own 29 was a gutsy call. It is not a trick play, but it is unusual to go for it on fourth and one from your own 29, but thanks to Mike's (Stoops) urging I thought it was the right thing to do. I promise you we have a lot of trick plays up our sleeves and are not afraid to use them. In fact, we have worked hard this week on trick plays in our special teams that I think at some point will be used in a game."
That some point wasn't to far away as the Sooners ran a reverse on a punt return that should have either gone for a touchdown or a 60-yard gain if it was blocked correctly. And of course the game winning touchdown on a fake field goal thrown by a safety to the fourth string tight end.
Can you believe the Sooners beat the Missouri Tigers with a safety throwing the ball to the fourth team tight end with his second option the freshman kicker, who was wide open in the flat? You have to love the guts of Coach Stoops.
After the game I beat the team up the ramp and was standing by the locker room as they were coming in off the field. As Coach Stoops walked by me he looked up and patted me on the shoulder and said ‘About that gut baby. Did you like that call?' Of course he had a big smile on his face and then was pushed into the locker room by his onrushing team.
Once Stoops met with the media he talked about the trick play. Stoops loves talking about the fun things of the game and this was no different. And once again his football team had won a football game and had a little fun doing it.
"Wasn't it great that we had a safety throwing it to a redshirt freshman tight end with his kicker, really the primary target, a true freshman," said a smiling Stoops after the game. "I was actually mad at first, because Matt didn't throw the ball to a wide open Trey DiCarlo who was swinging around the corner wide open. Of course Matt locked in on his target, got up on his toes and threw to the guy he wanted too."
"Matt was a former quarterback in high school and he can throw the ball. I told you that Matt could execute all of our fakes and that was a perfect example. If he throws the ball to the kicker there isn't anybody within ten yards of him, but Chris made a great catch and I can't blame Matt for throwing a great pass."
"We have been fortunate, and I yeah I had a good feeling about, but I just felt we needed to make that call in this game," Stoops continued. "I just felt the call was needed because we were playing on a wet field, with both kickers slipping. Nobody was kicking real well. Their guy hit one at the end that was strong, but for the most part both kickers struggled kicking the ball. I didn't want to leave the game to our freshman kicker, who wasn't getting good footing. I just didn't think that was our best chance to win. I was mad that I didn't call the fake the field goal before, but as it turns out we were fortunate I didn't because we didn't have the right personnel in the game. Hey, it worked out for us and most of the time those kinds of calls have. If we play the percentages and believe in what we are calling they will work most of the time."
What was ironic about McCoy's heroics is that just a few plays before he was juked out of his jock by Missouri quarterback Brad Smith on the go ahead touchdown run. McCoy was the last line of defense and instead of making then tackle he never put a hand on the elusive Smith and looked silly as he grabbed for air.
An athlete is only as good as his last play, and if you are going to be a competitive one then you have to forget about the bad plays as soon as they happen.
"I know I looked stupid on that tackle, but it probably wasn't the first time tonight," said a chuckling McCoy following the game. "I think our entire defense struggled tackling Smith. He is one of the most elusive running backs or quarterbacks that I have ever tried to tackle."
"Once that play was over I had to move on" McCoy continued. "I knew that a field goal might be a possibility and I am the holder, plus there are other special teams that I am involved with and I knew that we would be on the field again defensively. Each series is a new opportunity and I wanted another opportunity after he got the best of me the time before."
If you don't think Stoops' fake calls doesn't inspire the entire team... think again.
"I think Coach is always drawing plays up in the dirt," said senior quarterback Nate Hybl. "I am never over at the special teams meetings, but I hear things that kind of run through our team and I always hear about the great plays that he is coming up with."
"It's like an echo that runs through our team. I don't know if they are originals or not, but they are new to us. Coach Stoops' has flair for that kind of stuff, and has helped us win games so many times. It is a lot of fun for our guys to execute those kinds of plays."
Once again the Sooners showed their great character, and believed in their ability by staying poised and coming back to beat Missouri 31-24. Tiger redshirt freshman Brad Smith almost single-handedly beat the Sooners by himself, but after falling behind 24-23, the Sooners came back behind the poise of their own quarterback Nate Hybl.
"One thing that I felt confident about was that Nate could drive us down the field again," said Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long. "Nate was throwing the ball very well and when he had time to step up in the pocket he threw the ball better than he has all year."
"When Missouri scored to take the lead, I grew even more confident after talking to Nate on the phone. It was Nate who picked up the phone and was encouraging me to get going. He sounded so poised that I just knew that everything was going turn out just fine. On the two-point conversation pass to Fagan, Nate threw a pass that can't be thrown any better. It was right on the money."
Hybl may finally be winning over the Sooner fans, or at least it appears that way. Hybl was outstanding against the Tigers, hitting on 20 of 32 passes for 303 yards and one touchdown. More importantly, once again Hybl didn't throw an interception and the Sooners didn't turn the ball over.
As Hybl was walking off the field Sooner fans still in the stands gave him a standing ovation. And as he walked up the ramp more Sooner fans were calling his name asking for his autograph. After a shower and meeting with the media those same fans were still standing along the fence by the Sooner team bus. Hybl walked along that fence thanking the fans for coming to the game and signing as many autographs as possible.
I wonder if Sooner fans will feel the same way if Hybl loses this season, but I believe that finally most Sooner fans realize that the Sooners offensive problems last year were not all under center. Hybl is a pretty good quarterback, who is good enough to lead the Sooners to the promise land.
Is he a great quarterback? Maybe not, but Hybl is a good quarterback and he may not need to be a great quarterback for the Sooners beat Texas on Saturday. However, he is working hard every day to become a great quarterback and he is winning over his team.
"Nate was fantastic Saturday and his leadership was one of the reasons why we were able to come back," said senior running back Quentin Griffin. "Nate came into our huddle after Missouri scored and said that we were going to score, that this was the reason why we came to Oklahoma to be heroes and win football games when it looks like we can't win. Nate never lets us think that we can't be successful. We believe in him and believe he will either make plays for us or get us into a position to make plays ourselves."
Hybl is always the ultimate team player. Since ‘Q' went 53-yards leaving the Tiger defense in his wake, Hybl had to brag on his man.
"It was great to see ‘Q' take off and leave those guys behind," said Hybl. "We hear through the walls what people say about his speed and we laugh about it, because we know that he is one of the fastest players on our team. It was great that everybody had a chance to see what kind of real speed ‘Q" has. He has shown everyone before the same thing and it still doesn't seem to satisfy everybody. On that zone play he first showed some great moves and then some great speed. That is the kind of play we see out of ‘Q' all the time."
The Sooner defense once again struggled to contain a running quarterback. I don't think the Sooners are alone in this area, but when you play great defense like Oklahoma we get alarmed when we watch a freshman anything just run through the defense like it wasn't there.
Smith came into the game third in the nation in total offense at 317.3 yards per game and he didn't disappoint anybody with his talent. Smith's performance is of the greatest ever against the Sooners and the scary thing is he is only a freshman. Smith's total of 391 yards was incredible and unbelievable at the same time to watch. Bob Stoops says Ell Roberson's 115 yards rushing last season was just as dominating from his standpoint, but that not the case with Mike Stoops.
"No, nobody like him has run through our defense like that," said Mike Stoops. "Now, we don't play teams that put that much emphasis in the quarterback run game like Missouri did. I guess what surprised me was that they went to him as their exclusive run game. He, as their quarterback, was their primary threat at run game and since they weren't running the option that was unusual."
"He is so good, and I guess for them it was smart to let him do his thing. They ran him on quarterback draws and quarterback counters, and they had shown it a little bit in previous games, but not to that extreme."
Was it Smith's great ability that made him look so good, or the Sooners poor tackling? Probably a little bit of both.
"We missed a lot of tackles, but he had the uncanny ability to set plays up and wait for his blockers to just get out guys," said Mike Stoops. "They blocked us a lot of times as well. Smith had 78 yards just pulling the ball down on scrambles and the other 120 or so was on designed plays. He made 80 yards just scrambling around. A lot of those came in the third and fourth quarter when we didn't play as well. I really don't know what happened. He took our aggressiveness away from us a little bit. He is very good at what he does."
As good as Texas is and as good as Chris Simms is he can not do what Smith did to the Sooners. Simms is a pocket passer and not a runner, and that actually helps the Sooners this weekend. The Sooners play pocket passers better than they do running quarterbacks.
"They are two totally different style of quarterbacks, but both are great in what they do," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "Simms isn't going to run the ball, but he is probably the most talented pocket passer that we will play and maybe the best in the country. He is surrounded with some great weapons at receiver and running back, and he knows how to take advantage of that."
"We have just as big of a concern about Simms as we did about Smith. While Texas won't run the trap in the run game for Simms, they will send out five receivers who can run, which he can hit in any given pattern. He is a pure thrower, but has the ability to move around in the pocket and that will be tough to cover."
The Sooners gave up 449 yards total offense against the Tigers, but the Sooners aren't alarmed about their recent defensive play.
"We ran into a hot player against Missouri, but for the most part we played pretty good defense," Venables continued. "We shut down their pocket passing game and their running back run game. We handled the line of scrimmage pretty well and did everything right except stop the quarterback run game. However, just because one player had a pretty good game against us doesn't mean we are going to junk the whole defense and make wholesale changes. We like what we are doing and how we are playing."
"We had a tough day against Smith and Missouri, but we also won the game," continued Venables. "When they were trying to drive the ball late in the game we stopped them. Sure, we have some things we can work on and things we can get better at, but overall we like how we are playing."
Finally, All-American defensive tackle Tommie Harris doesn't seem to be making as many plays as he did a year ago. Harris is battling through minor injuries, double teams and doesn't have the statistics he did during his rookie season. However, the OU coaches contend that he is still playing at a very high level and that Harris is a better player than he was a year ago.
"Tommie is bigger, stronger and faster than he was last season," said Mike Stoops. "It looks like Tommie is not having as big a year, but considering the fact that teams are basing their game plans around stopping him automatically gives our defense a boost. Tommie is still creating havoc in the down line and he is still getting penetration into the backfield. He may not have the stats yet, but he is having just as much success for our defense."
I want to thank all the great folks for coming out to Harpos. I had a great time and I look forward to seeing you Friday night at the Green Elephant on Yale Street in Dallas from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm.
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