Our friend Bob Przybilo has the Sooners covered on Sooners Illustrated, part of the Scout.com network. He took time out from his busy schedule to give us a look at OU's recovery from an 0-2 start, the challenges of fixing an injury-ravaged defense, and their future in the Big 12.
Q: Losing two early games hasn't seemed to affect OU's approach or competitive effort even though it made the path to the CFP a difficult one. How have the coaches and team leaders kept everyone together in this regard?
Przybilo: You said it -- tTeam leaders. If Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine and Dede Westbrook were not on this team, this could have been a terrible season with OU most likely looking at a 1-4 start. But they are, and they turned it around. And they scored 40, 50, 60 points until the defense found its footing.
The defense, still an inconsistent group, is actually playing its best ball of the season right now although a lot of OU fans are skeptical because Kansas and Iowa State aren’t the same as TCU, Texas and Texas Tech. What happened is Westbrook got healthy. Everybody talks about his 15 total touchdowns right now, but you have to know he had ZERO after the first three games. A hamstring injury limited his effectiveness, and Mayfield didn’t have that dependable deep target.
OU made changes on the offensive line, and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has figured out how to move the pieces in the right spots. The other thing that helped was OU wasn’t out of the Big 12 race. We laughed when they talked Big 12 championship after losing 45-24 against Ohio State, but that allowed them to keep focus and know a major goal was still in play.
Q: Has OU fully overcome the injuries that wracked the defense during the early part of the year? What has the biggest improvement been on that unit?
Przybilo: No, not at all. But you know what? They’re not going to, and they’ve accepted that. The second part is the key. Instead of wondering when so-and-so might come back, everybody is on board with knowing it’s about the guys coming in instead of who’s missing. OU is not going to get Charles Walker back. Tay Evans’ career is done because of concussions. Michiah Quick won’t return anytime soon. Not a thing you can do about that.
Really it took Patrick Mahomes and Texas Tech accumulating 854 yards of total offense for the defense to wake up. The Sooners are slowly playing better. Far from perfect, but far removed from that night in Lubbock. the biggest improvement has been in the secondary, but it had to be. You couldn’t keep getting beat on every deep ball like OU did vs. Houston, Ohio State and Texas Tech. Eventually you have to adjust and make some plays. Cornerback Jordan Thomas has been the rock of that group and freshman Jordan Parker is getting more comfortable on the other side. OU has figured out the 11 it wants out there on defense. Boy, it took a long time, but Mike Stoops is there now.
3) And a bit off topic: What is the real relationship between OU and Texas, and will the two be in lockstep when one or the other makes a decision on their future in the Big 12?
Przybilo: Five years ago? Absolutely. 100 percent. Now? Hmm, not so sure. Seems like each side has their own interests they want to pursue. Heck, even when it came to expansion, it felt like Texas wanted Houston, OU wanted Cincinnati and no agreement could be made. I think OU is ready to venture out on its own and see what happens. President David Boren seems very confident about the university and not afraid about what the next step is going to be no matter where it leads OU.