It was the same song, third verse in the Cotton Bowl in Saturday. Once again the Sooners' confidence over the Longhorns reared its ugly head for Mack Brown and Chris Simms as the Oklahoma rallied for a 35-24 win.
It's the third straight victory for the Sooners over the Longhorns, and OU was the underdog in all three. In fact, the supposed talent advantage for the Longhorns has the nation so brainwashed that even experts like Trev Alberts can't bring themselves to admit the Sooners have more talent than the Longhorns.
As much as I like covering recruiting and as much as you like reading about it on OUInsider.com, the bottom line is recruiting talent doesn't mean a thing until they start performing on the playing field. Only then should the talent actually be evaluated, because it doesn't matter until the talent actually starts playing on Saturday.
Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops has told us from day one that the talent at Oklahoma is as good or better as the talent at Texas.
"I have always said that when we put our eleven on the field and they put their eleven out there that we would have just as much talent as they would," said Stoops after the game. "Yes, you have to recruit great talent and it starts there, but we have recruited great talent here since we have been at Oklahoma. Once you recruit the talent you have to coach it, the players have to buy into your system and they have to get better each year."
"I think we do that here at Oklahoma. Recruiting ratings are one thing and you know what I think about them. I don't mind them, but I don't take them to heart either. I wouldn't trade any of our recruiting classes with Texas or anybody else over the last couple of years. I think that has showed up on the field. Now that we have beaten Texas three in a row does it look like we have a talent disadvantage? I think the scoreboard tells the story there."
The Sooners won this game the way they win most of their games, with a defense that executed a great game plan with some great talent. I don't know about you, but I never felt Texas was going to score against the Sooner defense and I never felt they could move the ball.
Of course it helps in this area that Bob Stoops is on the OU sideline and Mack Brown is standing on the Texas sideline. The confidence that Stoops brings to his team on the sideline gives them a lift as the game goes along. If the game is close in the fourth quarter the Sooner players believe in their head coach and believe that the coaching staff's gameplan is sound and that their head coach will make calls to give them a chance to win.
Nothing was more evident about this than when the Sooners were faced with a fourth-and-two from the Texas eight-yard line with 22 seconds left in the first half. Stoops sent his team on the field, calling for the hard count to try and draw Texas offside. Mack Brown called time out to tell his team not jump offside on the hard count.
When the Sooners lined up back after the timeout, Hybl barked out the hard count, and low-and-behold the Longhorn defensive ends jumped off side. To add more irony to the play, it was freshman defensive end Bryan Pickryl who moved first and who the play was actually called on. Pickryl was the top player in Oklahoma a year ago out of Jenks, Oklahoma and barely gave the Sooners a look stating that Texas had better a better combination of academics and football than the Sooners.
There is another little tidbit to the play as well. Growing up in a football family Bob Stoops knows every single football trick in the book. In fact, he has fun with a few of his little tricks. The Sooners had worked during the week with center Vince Carter, to move his shoulders and arms forward when Hybl barked out the count just before he slowly dragged the ball through his legs. Carter presented just enough movement to cause the Longhorns to jump, but because the ball was moving just a split second behind his movement Carter wasn't called for motion.
"We actually work on that play," an amused Carter stated following the game. "I have to be careful how I move on the play, but I do move my shoulders a little bit and as they jump I then snap the ball real quick. It's a fine line and obviously we don't snap the ball if they don't move, but heck we had both sides of the defensive line moving so I snapped it very quick. It wasn't one of my better snaps either, because I almost dragged it along the ground, but I got just up in the air enough for Nate to grab it."
"It wouldn't have made any difference anyway, because the play was dead. Nate did a great job of executing the play. He had a great hard count and he was very aggressive with it."
Stoops said after the game that the call was what all teams do. What he didn't admit was that the Sooners execute it a little differently, and that they put quite a bit of work on it during the week. In fact, OU works on everything during the week. Nothing is left to chance at OU.
Thus, with 22 seconds left on the clock the Sooners had new life and Stoops' mind really went to work. Stoops gave Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long the OK to run a trick play that the Sooners had installed during the week. I don't really have an official name for the play, but all of you saw it.
The Sooners lined up in a short shotgun formation with Hybl bent over at the waist as if he is looking into an oven. The formation looked like a short-yardage formation where the quarterback is going to take a knee, except that Hybl wasn't under center. Hybl then takes the short shotgun snap and slips it between the legs of Renaldo Works, who is lined up right beside him to left.
The play really didn't fool Texas as Works only gained a yard to the three-yard line, but the fact the Sooners even tried a trick play in that situation shows you the difference between Stoops and Brown.
I have been ranting about the fact that the Sooners are setting up play-action for the future and that it will be a big part of the offense during the second half of the season.
It was play-action on the touchdown pass to Trent Smith that got Smith so open in the endzone for the touchdown. Plus, it was play-action that set up Peoples' big catch in the fourth quarter. That and the fact that Texas never really adjusted all game to the Sooners new wrinkle of motioning the tight end down to the center and then back out just outside the tackle on one side of the ball. Smith was wide open and Hybl hit him in stride for the touchdown.
The two-point pass is another indication of Stoops being aggressive and giving his team every chance to win. The Sooners were torn whether to go for one or two on the play, but once again Bob's younger brother Mike talked his older brother into going for two.
Bob Stoops admits you are right either way, but what the heck, since it was his nature anyway to be aggressive why not go for two?
And Again, Hybl chips in with a perfect pass to Curtis Fagan for the two-points. By the way, they were the only two good passes Hybl threw in the first half, but I will talk about that later.
Then you have Brown on the Texas sideline with his Horns still up 14 to 11. Trey DiCarlo botches a squib kick that the Longhorns catch at midfield. The Longhorns are up by three with five seconds left on the clock, with a reported first round draft choice at quarterback under center, the supposed the top wide receiver corp in the conference and a reported first round draft choice in Roy Williams at wide receiver. And yet, Brown instructs Simms to take a knee instead of throwing the ball into the end zone and praying something good happens for his football team.
Brown said after the game that it didn't make sense for his team to throw the ball toward the endzone there. He stated that the wind was blowing against them and too many bad things can happen in that situation. He also felt that the Longhorns had the momentum. What? Didn't the Sooners just score to take the momentum?
However, that is just the point when you compare Stoops and Brown. While Stoops will take a chance and go against the norm a little bit, Brown won't even take a chance with a reported top-notch quarterback and wide receiver corp to throw the ball in the endzone to see if they can make something happen with no time left on the clock. He doesn't even give his team a chance to make a big play, instead taking their spirit away by having Simms down the ball.
Stoops gives his team every hope they are going to win the game, while Brown chokes the spirit out of his team.
Another perfect example was the attitude toward each quarterback. Both quarterbacks struggled on Saturday and it looks as if this game was going to come down to which quarterback would make the bad play at the end.
However, while the Longhorns gave up on their quarterback, Bob Stoops and company kept calling Hybl's number and kept running their offense. Sure, the Sooners ran the ball against the Longhorns more than in any previous game, but if they didn't we would have asked for the coaches resignation. The Sooners were running the ball right down the Longhorns' throat and they just kept going back to the well. Even if they were still playing today, Texas couldn't stop the Sooners on the ground.
While the Sooners ground game was churning out over five yards a carry, the Sooner coaches kept going back to their quarterback's throwing game, despite the fact he was playing his worst game of the season and one of the worst of his career.
Early in the game Hybl was way off target, missing wide open receivers and almost single-handily keeping the Longhorns in the game. Two Hybl first half interceptions led to the Longhorns two first half touchdowns. Hybl's first pass was poorly thrown and picked off by Dakarai Pearson, stopping a potential Sooner scoring drive.
The Longhorns then put together their only real drive against the Sooner defense. Chris Simms eventually hit his only big play of the game that really counted when he hooked up with Roy Williams for a 44-yard pass down to the Sooners two-yard line. Two plays later Simms sneaked over for the touchdown.
Later in the first half, Hybl misread the safety and the corner on a wheel route to Renaldo Works and watched as Rod Babers raced right in front of the Sooner sideline 73-yards for the touchdown. Hybl says he just totally misread the play and never saw Babers in the area.
Why Hybl didn't continue his chase of Babers on the return is another question that went unanswered. Nobody asked Hybl that question in the postgame and I didn't get the opportunity. I was told that Hybl said that he knew that he couldn't catch him with his angle on the play and knew that his chase was pointless. To be honest, the play and that explanation doesn't sound like Hybl to me. I don't know if this is a point we need to take up in the future, but it was a little shocking to see Hybl quit his pursuit of Babers because from the press box it looked as if he had a shot to make the stop.
Then couple the site of Hybl tackling Pearson at the Texas 48 late in the third quarter, body blocking Pearson out of bounds, and his effort in the first quarter doesn't add up.
When you consider the scope of the Sooner victory, that weird play in the first quarter is a moot point. What isn't a moot point is how the Sooner coaches or team didn't give up on Hybl.
"I really struggled today and I really can't explain what happened to me out there," said Hybl after the Sooners' post game press conference. "I guess I was in some kind of funk or something. I didn't have it mentally or physically, but more mentally today. I couldn't read the defense the way that I normally do and I just was confused I guess. I don't really have an explanation for that, because there were a few times in the game that I made a good throw or read the play right, and we were able to come up with a big play."
"To be honest, the thing that was amazing was that my teammates and my coaches never gave up on me and kept encouraging me during the game," Hybl continued. "Coach Stoops kept telling me each time we didn't move the ball, or that I threw an interception, to not worry about it, that we still had a lot of football to play and to keep after it. My teammates did the same thing. Normally, I am picking up my offensive line, but today they were picking me up. Each time we came over to the sideline they were telling me to not worry about anything, that things were OK. On each next possession they were totally into me in the huddle and they never lost faith in me. I can't tell you how much that means to me."
Bob Stoops isn't surprised of the teams support in Hybl. In fact, the team held a special meeting earlier in the week and named Hybl as a team captain.
"This team is totally behind Nate and they showed that by holding a special vote and naming him captain," said Stoops. "That was their idea and that was fine by me. This really goes for both quarterbacks in the game, in that when you play against good defenses they are going to make some good plays on you. We have been doing that against some pretty good quarterbacks and some pretty good offenses for the past couple of years. As a quarterback you have to understand that since they have good players too, they will make some plays. I just kept reminding Nate of that and I kept telling him that is why we play four quarters."
"I know that Nate didn't have one of his best games today, but he had a winning day and that is what counts," Stoops continued. "Despite his struggles early in the game we kept calling his number because we have great confidence in him. In the fourth quarter Nate made some big throws to help us break the game open just like we thought that he would. People have to realize that the game is four quarters long and that the first half alone doesn't determine a winner or a loser. As long as we have some plays left on offense we will run our offense and that includes Nate throwing the ball. That won't change even if he has thrown some interceptions, because we need to throw the ball to win."
Sooner Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long echoed those same thoughts.
"I wish Nate wouldn't talk about playing in a funk or taking so much blame upon himself," said Long. "Guys that play the position who want to be perfect as players usually are hard on themselves. Nate is one of those guys. With Nate, I just tried to keep calmness about him, telling him to shake off a bad play or I would talk to him in a very positive way. I would tell him to shake that play off, because we had a lot of football game left. I was telling him to relax and let the play come to him, to not try to make all the plays by himself. I told him to stick the ball in there because he has a strong arm and at times you have tell a quarterback to take what they give you and we will roll down the field."
"After he threw each interception each time it was, ‘Hey, just shake it off and let's go get them next series,'"Long continued. "I would tell him what he did and what he didn't do and move on quickly. If he dwells on one throw it will effect his next throw and I had to find a way to get him going quick. What I saw in Nate was that he has improved on from last year is his ability to come back in the fourth quarter and he is doing that now. He shook it off enough to make some big plays at the end of the game and we needed those big games."
"There was never a point in the game where we lost faith in Nate," said senior tight end and Hybl's roommate Trent Smith. "Nate is the leader of this football team and the leader of our household for that matter, telling me when to pay the bills and stuff. We have all had some bad spots in games, but he never gives up on us and we will never give up on him either. We knew that eventually he would make some big plays to help us win the game."
I realize that Hybl's performance will bring out some of the Hybl bashers again, but the bottom line is that he got the job done in the fourth quarter after playing bad most of the game. The team is still very much behind him and so is the coaching staff, and I feel he has his bad game behind him. The Iowa State game will tell us more, but I feel Hybl will take off from this point on.
Quentin Griffin has been named the Sporting News Collegiate Offensive Player of the Week for his 248 yard, two touchdown performance against the Longhorns. ‘Q' was incredible in the game, finding the holes, making defenders miss and showing great speed against a bamboozled Longhorn defense.
The Sooners finally got the zone play working and ‘Q' picked his spots behind a determined offensive line.
"That was probably our best performance this season in the offensive line," said Sooner offensive line coach Kevin Wilson. "I saw most of their guys on their sidelined and they were spent. I felt we just physically whipped them up front and for the first time I really think we played hard the whole game this season. We still missed some things, but we played hard and added a little wrinkle or two that helped.
"Vince Carter had a great game inside and Jammal Brown did a pretty good job on their All-American defensive end (Cory Redding). Those two guys are becoming pretty good players. We had some success with the zone play and they fatigued a little, and for once we had more offensive plays than they did and that really helped us.
The Sooners' wrinkles were the tight end in motion towards the line, a quick count with the unbalanced look on the right side and different angles on the quarterback handoff, which allowed ‘Q' to cutback.
"Those things help, especially if you can get a defender to take a step in the wrong direction or get them to line up wrong," said Wilson. "We are evolving and have a lot of good players. They all have strengths and we are trying to play to all of their strengths. We are still not trying to be predictable by saying, ‘Okay, this guy is in the game so this is the running play they do with this guy.' We do have good players and I think because we now that we just have Nate at quarterback we have figured out what he can do for us. I know people will probably be down on him because he missed a couple of bad balls, but he has been making a lot of good plays for us. It was nice that we could pick up the slack for him and make some plays to take some the pressure off of him."
"I told you the first day I talked to you that Quentin was an outstanding running back," Wilson continued. "That didn't change this season. He is a very good running back for us and we have five good running backs here. However, the reason why Quentin starts is because he is a complete back and when we run zone plays he can make the first defender miss. He made the first defender and many more miss against Texas. And don't tell me he doesn't have enough speed, because he has plenty of speed to move the ball down field."
The Sooner coaches went right back to work today working on Iowa State. Bob Stoops said as they looked back on the Texas film, nothing has really changed form his thoughts from last night.
"I am really proud of our players and assistant coaches, and feel they had a great plan going into the game," Stoops said.. "I am proud of the players and their toughness to play through four quarters. They showed great character and toughness as a team. It was a hot day and they kept battling. It was really pleasing to play the fourth quarter like we did when it really matters. In a tight game and in an important game to win the fourth quarter 21-7, and really be dominate it was really exciting to see. Really, the whole second half we were just amazing defensively. I think they didn't have but one firstdown up until the last minute or two in the game in the second half. That was just really exceptional.
"For the offense to run the ball as we did is exciting," Stoops continued. "It was exciting to watch the conditioning of the guys up front and their toughness. Again, they were playing very hard in the fourth quarter and making great plays. We played a clean game and it was a very good special team effort."
"It was pleasing to see Trey DiCarlo be so good, but I knew that he would be. Again, the field was a factor at Missouri and nothing else. Blake Ferguson was very good and he pinned Texas inside the five a few times and once on the ten. The big return by Antwone Savage was a huge play in the game. Every unit had their part in winning and overall it was a great team effort to win it."
It's amazing that the national perception is that Texas still has better athletes than the Sooners. Is that really the case? Sure, Texas has great athletes, but do they have more of them than OU? No.
Just watching Will Peoples run down Selvin Young on a kick return, or Peoples and Antonio Perkins downing the ball at the Texas one with Peoples tossing the ball behind his back at the goal-line so Perkins could down the ball was amazing. Does Texas really have two better athletes than Perkins and Peoples? Sure, they may have somebody comparable, but not better.
Peoples has now established himself as the Sooners' go-to wide receiver. Peoples caught four passes for 62 yards and without question is the favorite target of Hybl.
"You have to remember that for several practices I had more work with Will and the rest of the number two receivers then I did the number one's," Hybl recently told me at practice. "I have a pretty good relationship with those guys. Plus, Will and Brandon (Jones) are NFL type receivers. They are big, strong and fast, and for a quarterback to have an opportunity to throw to those guys makes it easier to play quarterback for this team."
The Sooners didn't show Mark Clayton out of the backfield against the Longhorns, but instead they flipped Clayton to the other side and he took some time away from Curtis Fagan. Clayton has now played all three wide receiver positions during his career at OU and that may continue. If Savage was ever injured in the slot I think Clayton would go into the game and play his spot instead of freshman Travis Wilson.
It's apparent that Peoples and Clayton are the two best receivers on the Sooner team at the moment, which means that they Sooners have a solid corp of four wide receivers that they really like. Jones and Wilson still have to prove they can do it in the game, and especially Jones, who the coaches are waiting for to make things happen on game day.
Once again in a big game against a pro style offense, the Sooner defense was awesome. The Longhorns were overmatched offensively in every way. When the Texas coaching staff showed they had no real confidence in Simms and forced him to only throw short, that played perfectly into the Sooners hands.
"We did a really, really good job for the most part," said Mike Stoops on Sunday. "We did a good job of mixing up our coverages. To account for the run game and still take care of those wideouts is usually a tough task. I thought, early in the game, we got a little bit jumpy and let the receivers off the line a bit fast. Overall, we did what we wanted to do with the run game and were still able to cover their receivers. There is always a tough balance between those two. I thought we got good rhythm midway through the second quarter and for the rest of the game I thought we were pretty sharp."
"Plus, we made some really great plays," Stoops continued. "Brandon (Everage) makes a great jump on the ball. Simms makes a really good throw and Brandon breaks on the ball and knocks it out. ‘Woolf' (Andre Woolfolk) just makes an unbelievable play on that interception and Derrick (Strait) is another guy who played great in the secondary. We just made a bunch of really good plays. We work hard to disguise our looks and not let them know how many players we have in the box. We spin down on the snap and try to make sure that we have better numbers for the run game. At times we showed eight in the box, but we would end up playing only seven and that is where the misconception comes. It's nothing that other coaches don't notice, but the key is can they notice when they only have so many seconds to figure out what we are in."
The leader for the Sooner defense on Saturday was junior middle linebacker Lance Mitchell. Unofficially, Mitchell finished with 15 tackles and one sack of Simms for a 13-yard loss. Mitchell was all over the field and disrupted more plays than he was given credit for.
"Lance was all over the field and he made a bunch of big, instinctive plays," said Co-Defensive Coordinator and linebacker coach Brent Venables. "He tackled very well in the game and seemed to have great positioning on the football. It's kind of ironic that our GA (graduate assistant) predicted about three weeks ago that the Texas game was going to be his breakout game. We knew that he was going to continue to get better by leaps and bounds as he continues to get more comfortable. I think you have seen flashes of his ability and he really had a great performance out there Saturday."
"Lance is a very natural football player," Venables continued. "You coach him up on a little technique and some of the fundamentals of it. Tell him what to look for and what to read and then you turn him loose. We have done that with him from day one. The biggest adjustment for him has been the discipline that it takes play within our defense and to get the language down so that he knows where to line up every play. It is all to make him feel more comfortable and to have an understanding of our pressure package and how he fits in. All of our plays are making sense to him now."
Didn't you feel the Sooners were still very much in control of this game, even when they trailed? For some reason as the game went on I didn't feel the Sooners could lose the game.
Next up is ninth-ranked Iowa State and the top Heisman Trophy candidate in the country in quarterback Seneca Wallace.
"He is really good and he will be the best all-around quarterback we will play this year," said Venables. "He can do everything you ask of a quarterback. I know that he is known for his running ability, but he has a great arm and he is more of a passing quarterback."
"Their coaches have put in a nice package around him and Seneca knows the system very well. We have struggled stopping a running quarterback at times this season, but I think we will be better prepared to stop that this time around. He is so good that he will still have a good day against us. Our job is to make sure that he will not have a great day against us."
The Sooners hope the weekend turns out to be a big recruiting weekend. Oklahoma has already picked up two verbal commitments form athletes that were leaning their way for several months in free safety Tony Cade and linebacker Demario Pleasant from Lewisville.
Defensive end Jarvis Moss of Denton Ryan, Texas, attended and his little sister wore an Oklahoma T-shirt into the Cotton Bowl.
Other big-time recruits at the game on Saturday included Ofa Mohetau of Euless Trinity, Texas, who brought his entire family to the game. It was the first time Mohetau's parents had a chance to meet the Sooner coaches and things went very well.
Xavier Lawson-Kennedy of Duncanville, Texas also brought his parents and his father told everybody who would listen that Kennedy really likes OU. However, Xavier is still tight-lipped about his recruiting thoughts and he has yet to set any of his visits.
Offensive lineman Brian Zimple of Broken Arrow was in attendance along with defensive back Darrien Williams of North Mesquite, Texas, tight end Joe John Finley of Arlington and linebacker Darius Ingram of Tenaha, Texas. OU appears to be in pretty good shape with Ingram.
Also in attendance was Brad Ekwerekwu, who is an athlete from Arlington, Texas. OU is still very interested in Ekwerekwu and OU appears to be very much in the hunt.
Defensive end/linebacker Victor DeGrate of DeSoto, Texas was also in attendance.
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