Senior quarterback Nate Hybl will play his final game in front of the Sooners' home crowd Saturday night against Texas Tech. Hybl hasn't always been a fan or media favorite in Norman, but he has won over his teammates because of his tremendous leadership, team play and courage.
Hybl lost his starting job to junior Jason White at the beginning of the season, only to regain that job when White went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Alabama game. The fact that Hybl stayed ready to play, despite the disappointment of losing his starting job, won over his teammates and he was named captain after the fourth game of the season.
Hybl has lost only two games as starter, but many Sooner fans will never forgive him for being the starting quarterback in last season's loss to Oklahoma State. Hybl played most of his junior year in tremendous pain, especially after the beating he took in the win over Kansas State. Hybl was never healthy following that game, and in the Oklahoma State game, he suffered a minor concussion and a broken collar bone but still never came out of the game.
This season Hybl is healthy and playing well. He has thrown for 1,846 yards and 17 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. Even with solid play Hybl hasn't silenced all of his critics as several radio talk show hosts continue their malicious tirade against him. And there are still some fans who believe the Sooners would be better off with one of the young quarterbacks on campus, despite the fact they have little if no experience.
Earlier this week I had a chance to sit down and talk to Hybl about his career at OU and about the Sooners chances this Saturday against Texas Tech.
JH: What do you think of Texas Tech's defense?
NH: "They are basically a zone team. They don't like to play much man. They use a lot of zone blitzes to put pressure on the quarterback. I have seen a lot of Tech film over the year and they are an extremely aggressive defensive football team. I remember just going back over the game last year and they brought a lot of people. They are going to try to make you make mistakes, while at the same time not get into zero coverage that we have seen in the past.
"They will try everything not to give up the big play, but we did have the one big play last year. Their middle linebacker is phenomenal, so it is a huge challenge for us."
JH: Your final home game is Saturday. Has this week been strange for you?
NH: "Yeah, it really is, but it has been very exciting for us seniors. With so much at stake in the game, this week is exciting for the whole team, but especially for us seniors. I can't believe this will be our last home game. It has been a long five years for me, full of all kinds of things and it will be kind of emotional before the game when we get called out and realize it will be our last time standing there in the stadium in front of all our fans. I am looking forward to it because I have a lot of family coming to the game and it will mean a lot.
"Also James, if you don't mind, I would like to let everybody know that we will be holding our annual food drive before the game and all the food will go to good causes across the state. I am just asking people to bring whatever they can for all these kids and families and that would be great."
JH: You have been able to get the ball downfield very well this year, something that you didn't try a lot last year. Why is that?
NH: "Throwing the ball deep downfield is probably my favorite throw. However, it is not bad handing the ball off to Quentin, and it certainly hasn't been over the last several games. Last year my favorite ball was probably the middle ball, and I threw the curl-route probably better than any other throw. We also did pretty well throwing some of the square-ends and some of the curls. I really love throwing the deep post and some of the fade routes. The wind was kind of tough down at Baylor and I had trouble keeping the ball outside, but I love throwing the ball down the field. Our offense has enabled our game plan to head that direction. So, we take some shots down field."
JH: Is it important this week to put a lot of points on the board?
NH: Yeah, I think it is. We need to keep (Kliff) Kingsbury and his offense on the bench. It is a total team effort. Our defense gets a pretty good look at the Tech offense because they see a similar offense all year in our offense. Sure, we are a different offense than we were when Coach Stoops first got here, but we still have a very good passing game that our defense can work against. We need to be very aggressive on Saturday and move the ball downfield. We need to take advantage of every time we get the ball in the red zone we need to get a touchdown and not settle for three."
JH: You have a chance to achieve your first goal and that is to win the Big 12 South. Isn't that your first priority this season?
NH: "We have been pushing for that goal all season and the chance to win the Big 12 South means everything to this football team, especially in front of our home folks and our home crowd. We didn't think that opportunity would be on us this quick. Texas Tech is playing with a lot of momentum right now and they are playing well. It is going to be an exciting atmosphere, and like I said, it is going to be Senior Night and I am looking forward to playing in that stadium. I hope we can play up to our best capabilities."
JH: You have several young offensive linemen playing in front of you. Do you have to become more of a vocal leader with them?
NH: "There has been a lot of yelling going on the huddle over the last couple of weeks. It is not always bad yelling, but when you have younger guys in there and they are not accustomed to the noise level out there then you have to get their attention. Even at a place like Baylor, you wouldn't think so, but it is a lot different than practice. As older guys we try to get the young linemen to calm down and think of it like practice. We just want them to execute what they have been coached all their lives. It really isn't that big of deal and we actually joke around a lot in the huddle. I think Jammal Brown has done a nice job of stepping up and filling that void of the loss of Brad Davis. Jammal is a character and we need that in the huddle, we need that looseness."
JH: Tell us what it is like to look at Quentin Griffin from behind him once you hand the ball off to him?
NH: "Honestly, my first thing I look for is whether or not I need to throw a block. You never know where he is going to go and I have yet to get a cut or a block this year. I am waiting for that moment where I can spring him for a big one. He can cut at any moment and I am always looking for that. He is amazing and his moves are something that I will never forget. Quentin is so unique of an athlete and I think what makes him so special is his vision and secondly his leg strength. I don't think people realize how strong he really is. How many arm tackles he breaks is ridiculous. I think the greatest factor that makes him different than any other running back that I have ever seen, besides Barry Sanders, is his cutting ability. He does some freakish moves and they are pretty cool to watch from behind and watch them materialize."
JH: I am sure you have heard the criticisms or your friends have told you about it, what do you think of it?
NH: "Honestly, I haven't heard anything on the radio or read anything in the newspapers. I learned from Josh (Heupel) to stay away from that stuff. Nothing against you guys, but that is just the way it is. I hear James that you are very fair to me and all of our players and I greatly appreciate that, but I really haven't heard anything personally on your show or any other.
"I hear there is one station that gets on me pretty good. What is funny about that is that I have never seen any of those guys around here, so how would they know anything about what is going on here. I don't even know those people. You would think if they know so much about me and our team that they would be around here at least some of the time. As for the fans, I really don't hear the boos or maybe I just block them out. I do hear the cheers, so maybe it is selective hearing.
"No matter what is said or written about me I know that my teammates and coaches are happy with how I am playing and that is all I care about. They feel they can win with me and that is the greatest compliment I can have. I know that we have won a lot more games with me at quarterback than we have lost and we have great chance to win a conference championship, and quite possible a national championship.
"I will say that I have played as hard as I can for the University of Oklahoma and for the fans. I haven't been perfect and for that I apologize, but I will never be perfect as a quarterback no matter how hard I try. However, I am going to keep trying because I want to be the very best quarterback that I can be. I guess every athlete always has a certain section of the media that gets on them. I wish they would do some research, but I can't tell them how to do there jobs. Well, maybe I can since they apparently tell me all the time. When the season is over come back and talk to me and maybe I will get into this a little more, because right now all I care about is winning four more games."
Hybl prepared for final home game
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