Injuries Aside, The Sooners Have Major Issues

J. Robert ByromCorrespondent IOctober 5, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - OCTOBER 03: Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners looks up to the scoreboard with less than a minute to go in the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Land Shark Stadium on October 3, 2009 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Miami defeated Oklahoma 21-20. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Sooner apologists will tell you the injuries are the problem, their point is not without merit. Bradford, Gresham, and even Broyles probably do get a few extra points to turn a couple of one-point losses into victories and a 4-0 start.

The Sooners, however, are in no way a championship caliber-team. They have tons of problems that go well beyond injuries.

The offensive coordinator calls plays like he coaches a WAC team; the defensive coordinator cannot disguise a blitz; the linebackers cannot cover the pass, whatsoever; the O-line, while improved, still has penalty problems; the conditioning, once the biggest strength of Stoops teams, looks like an issue; and the defensive line, thought to be one of the best in the country, does not even look like one of the best in its own conference.

Let us take nothing away from BYU and Miami, they are good teams thsat there is no embarrassment in losing to, especially on a neutral site or the road. They earned their victories by being the better team and more importantly having much better line play.

Kevin Wilson seems to think that Quentin Griffin never left Norman. End-a rounds, reverses, and draw plays do not constitute a run game, nor does OU have the personnel to pull it off consistently.

Demarco Murray and Moises Madu, though fast, are not small enough to get lost behind the line. Chris Brown, while small enough, is a power back that thrives on hitting the hole quickly. Draw plays, which often start of with a juke, are not the best way to utilize him.

OU is a team that gets top-10 recruiting classes year-in and year-out. They should be able to enforce their will on most teams and run right at them. What happened to running out of the I-Formation that has been so successful the past few years?

Brent Venerables, who has long been the whipping boy for Sooner fans, is too aggressive. Against good quarterbacks, you cannot blitz every down or you will get picked apart look at last year's Texas game or this year's BYU for proof. Plus, you cannot show blitz or they will hit the hot route every time.

Of course, with the way the linebackers cover the pass, blitzing every down may be the better option than dropping them into coverage.

Great pass defense starts with covering the middle of the field. It is more important than deep coverage, because few QBs can consistently make the deep passes. OU has not been able to cover the middle of the field in years.

The linebackers are seldom in man and almost always in zone. When one is in man-coverage, it seems that the middle linebacker is the on the tight end. Middle linebackers are seldom fast enough to cover the pass and Ryan Reynolds is no exception.

Most teams will knock fullbacks and tight ends off their routes before the ball is passed, but OU seems happy to allow them to run right in front of them when they are less than five-yards down field and the ball hasn't been thrown. Most middle-school teams teach linebackers to check the receivers in front of you when they are in a five-yard zone as long as the QB still has the ball in his hands.

The problems with the offensive line were expected, so beating them up would be excessive. They are serviceable, but they do seem to get penalties at the worse times.

What is surprising is the newcomers are getting less penalties than the ones that have more playing experience. Williams, Simmons, and Jones are getting many more penalties than the first-year players. Trent Williams should be better as a potential first-rounder, Brian Simmons has played in way too many games for his struggles, and Jarvis Jones got a few starts for a championship LSU team in 2007 before getting kicked off the team. The line is not going to push anyone good back, but other than the veteran's penalties they have done well for being so green.

When Jerry Schmidt arrived at Norman, he was heralded as a hero. He had a reputation for being the best in the business and having his teams in better condition than any other. His early teams wore teams down their opposition and always finished strong. The were seldom outworked on or off field.

However, lately it seems in close games let downs have been the norm in Norman. In the past year, all three Sooner loses have came by late-game letdowns. Texas and Florida took over close games in the fourth-quarter, and with BYU it was a last minute drive that they could not stop after playing well on defense all game.

Have the Sooners become complacent in their workouts? Are they not keeping up with new trends in conditioning? Or is it mental that they are not finishing games strong as years before?

The defensive line is the big surprise, though. Last year, they were great and the corner stone of a defense that improved greatly over the course of the year. This year, they have been mostly handled by the best teams they have faced. While they are still a good squad, they are in no way the dominate line they were last year, nor one of the best in the country as they were last year.

Miami and BYU both ran easily on OU and they were unable to put consistent pressure on either teams QB. They returned the entire two-deep from last year and are mostly healthy, why they are not better than last year is a complete mystery.

Tempering the disappointment

While there are tons of problems with the Sooners, let's keep things in perspective. OU last two games away from home by one-point each against two really good teams. They have been hit by injuries harder than any team to this point in the season.

It would be dumb for any team to write them off as an easy win, even the Big-12 championship is possible, though not probable. Texas does not need to worry about a three-way tie this year, with OU, Tech, and Oklahoma State all having losses the chances of them being behind any of the teams in the BCS seems unlikely, even if they do lose a game in conference.

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