When an elite team like Oklahoma plays a bottom feeder like Baylor the Sooners have to go out and dominate the game or the game can not be considered a success. A close game not covering the spread would be considered a disappointing game for the Sooners, especially on a national level.
Thus, on a national level it is safe to say that Oklahoma's 49-9 win over Baylor does the trick. The Sooners covered the spread and the score looks like the Sooners had the game wrapped up by halftime.
However, among the Sooner coaching staff the score was fine, but how the game unfolded did not leave them with a great feeling following the game. Sure, they were once again amazed by senior running back Quentin Griffin, who continues to prove down the stretch he is one of the top 12 players in college football.
But it's the defense that continues to puzzle the Sooner coaches. Baylor came into the game one of the worst offensive teams in college football and yet the Bears were able to roll up 378 total yards on the Sooners (137 yards rushing and 241 yards passing). The fact that Baylor managed to get 141 of those yards against the Sooners second unit in the fourth quarter did little to ease the anxiety of the Sooner defensive coaching staff.
"I just don't feel that we played with great emotion today and that is something that I can never understand," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables following the Sooners win over Baylor. "A great deal of the fabric of playing defense is emotion and how well you channel that emotion into your play. Why wouldn't we have just as much emotion playing today as we did when we played Colorado? I know Colorado is a better football team, but if you know what playing defense is all about then you would understand that the emotion in both games should be the same."
"I think for us, playing defense is concentration and playing on the edge," Venables continued. "For us, the fear of us actually losing is the motivator so that we do play on edge. Again, you have to execute and when it is all said and done, it gets down to using proper fundamentals and technique. If you are a linebacker and you are supposed to fill a hole and the running back comes through that hole, then you must whip the blocker, club him and wrap him up to make the tackle. If you are a Butkus finalist you would expect that to happen and happen every time. If you are a curl player you would expect to cover the curl and not be playing the flat. If you are a half-field safety you are expected to cover the boundary route and not to get sucked into the middle of the field. So, everything plays in this defense together. When it is long yardage you expect guys to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. We need them to create pressure, whether we are blitzing or not. Right now we are not playing in sync, we are not playing together, we are not playing with the execution and with a fire and it's frustrating to us coaches. We have to make sure we are not asking them to do too much and maybe that is the problem. We have to continue to look hard this week at what the problems are and solve them in a hurry. That quarterback coming to Norman next week will play on Sunday's someday."
Thus, holding Baylor to just nine points doesn't mean that the defense is over their ill ways in the loss to Texas A&M.
"We didn't play very effectively today," said Venables. "We didn't play particularly well again. They moved the ball at will against us between the chains. They had the ball for 37 and a half minutes and that added up to another 100 yards. That is not the style of defense we play. Give Baylor credit, but at the same time we are not executing our defense and playing with the precision that we need to and that we had hoped to coming off the game against Texas A&M."
The lack of a pass rush against Texas A&M really hurt the Sooners and despite getting three sacks the coaches were looking for more.
"At times it was good, especially early," said Venables. "Late, it could have been better, but part of that were the substitutions. You are playing some two's and three's and Tommie (Harris) didn't play at all and that makes a difference. However, we need to be more consistent in that area."
After viewing game films on Sunday, OU Head Coach Bob Stoops felt good about the Sooners' offensive performance and better about the Sooners defensive effort.
"Overall, I thought there were a lot of positives in the day as Quentin's running during the game was just exceptional," said Stoops. "Nate threw some really nice balls against the blitz and he executed well, especially the opening drive of the second half with a deep strike for a touchdown. Our protection overall was good."
"Defensively, there were some positives there because for a good part of the day we played pretty good," Stoops continued. "We had some breakdowns in some longer yardage situations that we need to play better in. It is a combination sometimes that we needed to cover a little bit better in some inside areas and at times we needed to get a little better pass rush, because the quarterback is getting just a little too much time to throw and our coverage will break down. I don't believe that was consistent. I do believe there were times that we did pressure well and we did force the ball to come out quick. We were in good positions. You just don't like the few occasions that we weren't that kept drives going. The last drive of the game against our two's, we got them third and twenty and we allowed something right up the seem for 20. Those are occasions where you need to execute a little bit better. We will need to work and get better on those things because we will need to be better this week. This is a very big week for us."
This weekend the Sooners battle old friend Mike Leach and his Texas Tech Red Raiders for the Big 12 South Championship.
"They were very impressive against Texas. Tech is playing awfully well and they are doing an excellent job," said Stoops. "I think that Mike has proven to all of you naysayers that the spread offense is not done. Remember all of you were saying that the spread would never work again and Mike is running up over 400 yards of offense a game. Any offense you run gets down to execution and how you run your offense and Mike runs his offense as well as any other team in the country."
Texas Tech's upset of Texas has put a little different light on the upcoming game between the Sooners and Red Raiders.
"This game has taken on a little bigger meaning, but we knew this game would be big for us regardless if we were going to win the South. And now, Tech knows they have a chance to win the South," said Stoops. "What is great about it is that it makes for a big game. We recognize it and Tech recognizes it. It gets us excited. I understand now this is for the Big 12 South right here and that makes the game exciting and important."
Mike Leach jump-started his career during his one-year stint as the offensive coordinator at OU during the Sooners 1999 season. Leach found quarterback Josh Heupel and brought in the spread offense and the rest his history.
The Stoops era got off to such a positive start and the offense showed so much improvement that Leach had become a red hot coaching commodity. He wasn't Texas Tech's first choice, but eventually Leach was their man and after one year he jumped from Oklahoma to the Head Coach position with the Red Raiders.
Since that move the Sooners have moved to more of a running game and that paid dividends with Mark Mangino as the offensive coordinator as the Sooners won a national title in 2000, in large part because they learned to control the football and running the ball played a major role in that.
Now, Leach is in his third year at Texas Tech and you hear through the grapevine that Leach and the OU coaching staff no longer get along. You hear they spar in recruiting and they no longer talk. You even hear that while Leach was at OU the rest of the staff didn't get a long with him. Stoops wonders where all that scuttlebutt comes from.
"No, I always liked Mike and we had a good relationship here and we still have a good relationship," said Stoops. "I didn't feel that his personality was quirky or wrong and it fit us well. We all, at least I feel, got along well. I think Mike is a smart coach and does an excellent job of running his system and what he wants. When you get through all the other stuff, he is a good football coach and that is all that matters. There is a lot of personality when you get around football coaches and players. I feel that we had a great working relationship with Mike and we still enjoy dealing with him."
Whether that is coach speak or not is up in the air. Stoops is never going to air dirty laundry in public and that is why he is one of the smartest coaches in America. He doesn't make mistakes in this area. However, if you hang around the OU coaches enough, you get the feeling that Mike Leach is no longer one of their best buddies and when he took the job with Texas Tech a number of coaches were glad that he was gone.
The rise of Quentin Griffin as a national collegiate football star is startling to some, but to others it's about time. The OU football coaches have been telling us for years that Quentin was one of the best running backs in the country, and certainly one of the best all-around football players on the Sooner squad.
This year the coaches made a decision to make ‘Q' the focal point of the offense and that has paid off in an improved rushing attack and a better offensive unit. In fact, Quentin has actually been so good over the years that the Sooner players find it amusing that people still ask questions about his greatness.
"For crying out loud, he has been on two Sports Illustrated covers," said senior quarterback Nate Hybl. "For people that know and understand football, they know that he is a player. He is just a football player and a great one at that. I remember at the start of the year that people were mumbling that we had four great backs and that is true. We do have a number of running backs and we are talented in that area. However, ‘Q' may be a cut above every other running back in the country. His toughness and his intelligence is incredible. He makes some of the best cuts that you will ever see, but his toughness gives him a huge edge. The Heisman Trophy is such a weird deal I am really not sure what they are looking for. If they are looking for a complete football player, who can block as well as run then Quentin would be a perfect choice for them. You see his running and his cuts, but watch him block and appreciate him for all that he does for us. I am all for Quentin getting all the awards that he can get."
Stoops and the Sooner coaches are not campaigning for ‘Q' to win the Heisman, but they aren't turning a cheek the other way either. Griffin became one of the Sooner coaches favorite players back during that 1999 season when he unselfishly came out of redshirt to play in the final five games of the year.
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate Quentin and our how much our coaches and our program appreciates what he does." said Stoops. "What a selfless person he has been here. His freshman year, he would have probably preferred to not to have played. However, we were in a desperate situation and we didn't want to end the year early. We wanted to end the year being a bowl team and having a chance to win some games and we felt he was our best option at running back. Quentin was fine with it. He said if that is what you want me to do I will do it. Even to this day he is a guy who is genuinely humble and just likes to play and be out on the field. He is just an exceptional player when you really watch him and what he does and what he does with a football is just amazing to watch."
The Sooners offensive line is banged up, but their improved depth and attitude continues to come to the rescue. Emotional leader Brad Davis broke his fibula against Texas A&M and whether he makes it back for the bowl remains in doubt. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Chaisson drew his start at left guard. Senior Mike Skinner played both guard positions and Davin Joseph continues his rise to stardom at right guard. Chaisson, Skinner and Joseph shared the two guard potions and apparently things went pretty well.
"I really felt all three played pretty well and was pretty happy with how things went," said Run Game Coordinator and Offensive Line coach Kevin Wilson. "We miss Brad, but since we have to make a good situation out of a bad one I think this is the best way to go about it. The three guys seem pretty fired up about it and they all played pretty well."
The Sooners also lost center Vince Carter early in the first quarter when he rolled an ankle, but redshirt freshman center Chris Bush stepped in a played well.
"We don't worry about age or where we are on the depth chart, we just worry about getting the job done in the offensive line," said Bush after the game. "My job as the second center is to stay ready all the time and when I am called upon to get into the game and perform well. I also check with Vince when he is coming off the field to make sure the defense isn't doing anything surprising because I know that I have to make the calls once I am in the game. We had no problems making calls once I got in the game and that is because Vince shared everything he had experienced while he was in the game. So, while he was out of the game, he wasn't really out of the game because he was talking to me after each series and talking things over with me."
The fact that the Sooners seem to have more quality depth in the offensive line is paying off for the Sooners.
"I know when I came here at the end of the last year all the coaches were telling me that we needed to improve our depth in the offensive line," said Wilson. "Chris did a very good job against Baylor and he was ready to play. Chris has pulled ahead of Abner (Estrada) a little bit and his hard work his paying off. Now, we have Chris who can play center and guard, and Estrada can do that as well. We have back-up guards who can play and Fields (Jarod) is a nice back-up at offensive tackle. Recruiting is going well for us and we are getting to the point where we can have a good group of starters, two's and maybe even three's for the future. If we can really maintain that then we can always stay ahead of the game."
The Sooners showed a new wrinkle or two against Baylor in an effort to improve their pass rush by putting in redshirt freshman linebacker Clint Ingram in the Sooners' dime package either at middle linebacker or for extra defensive back Brandon Shelby. Ingram is cat quick and was able to get into the backfield and put pressure on the quarterback. Ingram is a prospect the Sooner defensive coaches like, but he is a little bit of a wildcat and is not always assignment-sound.
"Did you happen to see the couple of times he was on a blitz and ran right past the running back with the football," said coach Brent Venables half-joking. "Clint has incredible talent and he was trying to do what we told him, but he forgets that you still have to tackle the guy with the football. I liked what I saw out of him today. One thing that Clint normally does is tackle the guy with the football, it's the other things that worry us most of the time about Clint. We are just trying to come up with new ways to put pressure on the quarterback and this gets another quick player on the field for us. The one thing about Clint is that he is a very good tackler. If he gets his hands on you most of the time he will make the tackle."
Redshirt freshman linebacker Wayne Chambers also saw his most extensive playing time of the year subbing for an ill Lance Mitchell during the game. Mitchell had the flu and Chambers played for close to three quarters.
"Wayne played very well for us," said Venables. "He is a big, physical player who can run. Wayne works very well, is intelligent and he has a big upside for us."
It was great to see junior quarterback Derrick Strait bounce back from his disappointing game against Texas A&M.
"Derrick has always been a very good player for us and just because he had one bad game doesn't mean that he will continue to have bad games," said Co-Defensive Coordinator and secondary coach Mike Stoops. "I haven't coached a player who didn't have a bad game at some point. Derrick didn't have a good one against Texas A&M, but we weren't going to panic. Derrick is one of the best corners in the country and he wins his battles most of the time."
One interesting note about the upcoming game with Texas Tech. In the Sooners 30-13 and 27-13 wins over the Red Raiders the last two years, Sooner All-American Roy Williams played the key role. In those two games Williams finished with a total of 31 tackles and when the Sooners needed a big play they got the big play from Williams.
Of course, Williams now plays for the Dallas Cowboys and one of the reason's why the Sooner secondary struggles at times is because a redshirt freshman is still learning how to play the strong safety position.
How well Bassey plays on Saturday against the Red Raiders will go a long way in determining how the Sooner defense matches up with All-American quarterback candidate Kliff Kingsbury.
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