With their dominating 49-3 win over No. 9 Iowa State on Saturday, the Sooners solidified their No. 2 ranking in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN college football polls. The win also left the Sooners with the same feeling they had after seven games back in 2000 when they were making their improbable run toward their seventh national title.
"We are beginning to get that feeling again. That we have a legitimate chance to make a run at this thing," said Co-Defensive Coordinator and Linebacker Coach Brent Venables. "Up until this point, we always felt we had the talent necessary to go for it all, but we never knew if we had the ability to make consistent plays on the field at a high enough level to play for a national championship. Now, after beating Texas and dominating a very good Iowa State team, we feel we have the ability to actually be a competitor for a national title."
"We still have a lot of football left, but we have put ourselves into a position to be solid contender for a national title. We also feel confident in our team, that they can play at a high enough level and make enough great plays to play for a national title."
That was the general atmosphere in the Sooner locker room after the Sooners destroyed Iowa State. The Sooners went into the Cyclone game believing that Iowa State was an outstanding team, and after the game the Sooners didn't change their thinking. The OU coaches were still talking about how great ISU quarterback Seneca Wallace is and how fundamentally sound Iowa State was a team. The Sooners so thoroughly dominated Iowa State that even the players couldn't hide their excitement.
"Man, we were really good today," said senior quarterback and team captain Nate Hybl. "I think you can say that we are a real good football team and I think you can say, or we can say that and not be bragging. I didn't play well against Texas, but as an offense we got better as the game went along and we eventually put everything together and won the game. Tonight, there was never any doubt that we were going to win the game and Iowa State is a pretty good football team on the other sideline. We feel very confident about our team right now and we are playing with a lot of confidence."
"During our national championship year, once we beat Nebraska we felt we were never going to lose a game that season," said junior defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson. "After beating Iowa State tonight, I have a similar feeling that we have the type of team that can beat any team in the country. It is up to us to go play the games, but as long as we pay attention to our coaches and do what we are supposed to we can win every game on our schedule and play for another national championship."
The Sooners' defensive performance will go down as another game that ranks among the best in Sooner history. Once again the Sooner defensive coaching staff proved that they are the best in college football at game-planning for an opponent. Iowa State came in with Heisman Trophy candidate Seneca Wallace at quarterback and an offense that had scored over 30 points per game in seven straight games.
Coming into the game Wallace was amazing, averaging 279 yards per game. Iowa State came to Norman with the tenth best offensive team in the country, averaging 39.9 points per game and they led the Big 12 in third down conversions, converting 48.6 percent per game.
By the time the Cyclones left the water logged Owen Field they had experienced their worst fears. The Sooners had totally shut down the Cyclones offense, holding them to just 60 yards total offense. The Wallace campaign for the Heisman Trophy was officially put on hold as he finished with just 15 yards total offense and just 43 yards passing.
"This game is a tough one to talk about," said a dejected Wallace after the game. "No matter who we have played since I have been at Iowa State we have been able to move the ball. We knew that the OU defense was good, but they were unreal today. It didn't seem like we knocked them on the ground and they always seemed to have two guys covering our receivers."
"I was terrible today and I let the weather get to me a little bit. It was just a terrible day for us, but we need to realize we played the best defense in college football and move on. We have a lot of good teams to play left on our schedule. We won't play any as good as Oklahoma, and that is the good thing about our schedule."
The Iowa State defensive effort will rank among the elite in the Stoops era, right up there with the Sooners' dominating performance of Florida State in the National Championship game and the Cotton Bowl victory last year over Arkansas. The Sooners always seem to play great defense, but every once in a while they will turn in a performance like yesterday, showing just how dominant they can be.
"The majority of the credit for our success against Iowa State goes to Jackie Shipp, Bobby Jack Wright, Brent Venables and Mike Stoops for the gameplan they came up with," said Head Coach Bob Stoops on Sunday, just after he told his staff to take Sunday afternoon and Monday off. "Especially Mike, for the plan that he organized and the game that he called on Saturday. We were always two plays ahead of Iowa State on defense and we put the pressure on them the entire game. Our secondary played their best game of the year and our blitz package was exceptional. That was a talented quarterback and a talented offensive team that we totally shut down yesterday."
The defense was coming of a tremendous performance against Texas, but felt more of a sense of urgency against Cyclones.
"Our guys felt challenged coming into the game and maybe it was a blessing that Wallace came into the game with so much hype," said Mike Stoops following the game. They were playing so well coming into the game that I think our team responded well with a great week of preparation. We prepared better than we have done all year. And it showed today by the way we played. We were all over their routes and had a good feel for what they were going to do."
The Sooners' gameplan was perfect. And even after the game the Sooners still felt the same way about Wallace.
"We played so well that we shut down his instinct plays," said Brent Venables following the game. "Many of Seneca's major plays come off of instincts or after a play breaks down. He is so good at scrambling and then throwing the ball in the perfect spot into double coverage and completing the pass. I know we were all over his routes today, but we were still scared to death, because we had watched about 15 different game tapes where he would throw the ball into double or triple coverage and still complete the pass. We were able to take that away from him, take his scrambling ability away from him and get into his head a little bit."
"I appreciate all the credit that we get as coaches, but our players deserve all the praise for their great effort," Venables continued. "It is one thing to put together a gameplan, but they have to execute it and today they were spectacular in how they executed the gameplan. It has been amazing how much our guys have grown up on defense. They work hard, they like to be coached and they are just growing as a unit. I am not sure our linebackers made a tackle today, but you won't hear Lance (Mitchell), Teddy (Lehman) or Pasha (Jackson) say anything about it. They are totally into our team and today was a day where our secondary and defensive line made most of our stops. They could care less who makes the tackles, as long as somebody makes the tackles."
Mike Stoops has stated for two years that the emotional leader of the defense is safety Brandon Everage. Everage has played well in a number of big games for the Sooners, but against Iowa State he played the game of his life, coming up with two interceptions, two sacks, two pressures, four tackles and one pass knock down to lead Oklahoma's big-play defense.
"Brandon had a very special game. When he plays well we always seem to play really, really well," said Mike Stoops. "He has played outstanding the last two weeks and has played as well as anybody has in our secondary. He made some great plays for us again and he is playing really, really well for us."
The Sooners made some adjustments in their secondary that gave Everage the opportunity to become the main blitzer out. Up until the Iowa State game strong safety Eric Bassey did most of the blitzing from the secondary and struggled to get to the quarterback. In the Sooners nickel package Bassey plays Roy Williams' position and that is where the Sooners got most of their pressure for the past couple of years.
With Bassey struggling to get to the quarterback, the Sooner coaches made an adjustment so that Everage could rush the quarterback and Bassey drop back more in coverage. Iowa State never figured out how to block it.
"Brandon hasn't blitzed must during his career, but he is a fantastic athlete that should be very good at it," said Bob Stoops. "Yesterday, he was great at it, because he got into the quarterback unblocked. Just about anybody could rush the quarterback pretty good if they are not touched. I am just joking a little bit, because it is not that easy, but our defensive staff came up with some great schemes and great adjustments that worked all day long. Sure, Brandon took the right angle and disguised his movement so that they had no idea he was coming. We had a pretty good blitz package ready for them as well."
"We felt really good about our gameplan and felt our players were really zeroed in on what we were doing," said Mike Stoops. "We came up with some coverages and some blitzes that they had never seen before. We executed them very well and totally confused them."
Everage has never been very talkative to the media, or to the general public, however he may be the most vocal player on the Sooner team. When the game was over Everage had to talk to the media, but this time the words came easy for him.
"We had to get some pressure on the quarterback and coach blitzed me today and I was able to come up with some big plays on the quarterback," said Everage following the game. "The secondary played the best game that we have played all year and we just knew they we had to chase the quarterback. We weren't going to let Wallace get the Heisman on us and we did our job and held him to almost nothing."
Everage admitted that he switched roles with Bassey on the blitz because the Sooners had to make something happen.
"We had to make something happen and get pressure on the quarterback," Everage continued. "We have been working on our blitz packages all week and they came through for us today. I think I have played some pretty good games for the past couple of years, but I think it is true that when I play a pretty good game that our defense plays a pretty good game. I was really excited today about playing Seneca Wallace and I think, as a defense, we showed him today that we are the best defense in the country."
The Sooners continued their transition toward a balanced offense with their most dominating running performance to date. The Sooners finished with 199 yards rushing and the Sooners scored five touchdowns rushing the football.
The greatest example of the Sooners renewed ground strength came on their final drive of the first half when the Sooners went 72-yards in 13 plays, 12 coming on the ground. On the last five plays the Sooners went with their jumbo set, with freshman J.D. Runnels at fullback and redshirt freshman KeJuan Jones at tailback, and the offensive line was a force up front.
"We found something that worked and we just stuck with it," said Offensive Line Coach and Run Game Coordinator Kevin Wilson on Sunday. "On that drive we were fighting the weather and we didn't feel they could stop us. We had established that we were better up front then they were and we were getting good yardage on each carry, so we just kept running the football. That was a great drive for us and will give us momentum for the rest of the season.
"I think that the Texas and Iowa State games are our two best games running the football," Wilson continued. "They were our two most consistent and hardest playing games up to date. It is just a tribute to those kids for working hard everyday and their confidence is mounting. The toughness is building and we were not flawless or great, but we are getting better each time we take the field. We are going to miss blocks from time-to-time, but when you consistently have five guys who are fighting and clawing and you have some good skilled kids who can make plays, then positive things can happen. I think that you are just seeing a team that is getting better at playing harder, which gives our play-makers a chance to make plays. Let me tell you we have guys who can make plays."
If you have ever been to Iowa State you know the weather can be terrible, but as it turns out the Sooners were the better mud team on Saturday.
"The weather changed our gameplan a little bit and we decided to make the run game more of an emphasis for us before the contest even started," said Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long. "Once the game started we were being very successful running the ball and running right at them. I am kind of old school and feel that when something is working that you go right back to it until they stop it."
Despite the wet conditions the Sooners once again played an almost flawless game. Nate Hybl completed 14 of 24 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown, but more importantly no threw interceptions.
The Sooners did fumble the ball five times, but they only lost one and that was on Antonio Perkins punt return. That proved to be another opportunity for the Sooner defense to show just how dominate they were, as the Cyclones failed to score from the one yard line.
The Sooners once again played a disciplined, winning football game, with only one penalty against them and good execution against a solid defense.
"We felt that we had put together a complete game," said Long. "We were better on third down, excellent on fourth down and we ate the clock. We had the ball for over 42 minutes and we ran twice as many plays as Iowa State."
"We talk about not making mistakes and we practice it. We spend five to ten minutes a day on ball security drills and it is paying off. The game was a great game for Nate and our offense. He took care of the ball and made some critical throws. I didn't realize just how tough the conditions were until I came down to the sidelines very late in the game. I then realized how tough things were down there. Nate played a great game and our running game was outstanding. We can certainly build on this."
Jammal Brown continues to play outstanding football at right tackle, and he has become the Sooners best offensive lineman. However, center Vince Carter is on a great run and is running a close second.
Davin Joseph was on the field for most of the Sooners' successful stretch in the first half. Senior Mike Skinner wiffed a block on a sweep and didn't see action again in the first half. Joseph and Skinner will split time the rest of the way, and whoever plays the most will depend on who is in when the Sooners offense has success.
Freshman Travis Wilson plays on all but one special team and received some substantial playing time at slot receiver. I wish I could say the same thing about JeJuan Rankins. Rankins got into the football game late in the second half, but thus far he has not played enough to justify burning his redshirt. I also wish that freshman quarterback Paul Thompson would have seen more action. However, as I have pointed out many times Stoops runs this team like a pro team and he will play his starting quarterback most of the way on most game days.
The Sooners hope to medically redshirt Rufus Alexander and Zac Latimer. Alexander has a bad back and Lattimer has a shoulder problem that is keeping him out of practice. Lets hope the Sooners can medically redshirt both, but it is a shame they can't do the same with Rankins.
Derrick Strait continues to play great football. Strait took the perfect angle to block the Iowa State punt in the first quarter. I still can't believe the left footed whiff by the Cyclones' Anthony Forrest, but as it turned out it was a great time for Terrance Simms to get some attention.
Simms has gone through two torn ACL's that has robbed him of his skills to be a top flight strong safety. However, he continues to compete and battle every day, and earned a place on the Sooners' special teams. Simms is a perfect example of the great attitude of a number of players on the team. And finally, we get a chance to salute Simms for hanging in there at OU despite some unfortunate circumstances.
Did you notice that the Sooners used the empty backfield set for the first time this season? It's not bad when you can put Quentin Griffin out as a receiver. He has some of the best hands on the team.
‘Q' was awesome again, finishing the game 111 yards rushing. His best runs were on two 14-yard carries where he showed tremendous balance and strength. Griffin's touchdown first touchdown is one that should be saved for future teaching instruction to young running backs who come into the Sooner system.
Wes Sims is still learning how to play left tackle. On one play it was obvious that Iowa State was loading up the blitz on his side and senior left guard Brad Davis pointed to Sims who to block. I guess Sims didn't get the message, because he failed to pick up the safety on the outside and instead doubled on the man that Davis was already blocking. The safety then almost ripped Hybl in two. It's tough to be a young left tackle.
Kicker Pete Cuva was used on the pooch kicks into the wind, because he was kicking better on that kick in the weather conditions.
It was great to see Renaldo Works get into the end zone. Don't you wish that he could get a few more carries?
Bob Stoops told the coaches to go home at 3:00 pm Sunday afternoon and to not come back into the office until Tuesday morning. The Sooners will start working on Colorado and Texas A&M on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The players will then get a three day weekend, while the Sooner coaches hit the road recruiting Thursday night and all day Friday and Saturday.
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