Author's Note: I originally wrote this article January 3rd, 2008, right after the debacle at the Fiesta Bowl. But as we approach a new season (25 days to kickoff!) I thought it important to look back.
I watched the 2004 Sugar Bowl. I watched the 2005 Orange Bowl. I watched the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. I watched the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. What do these bowl games have in common? They are the last four BCS bowl games that Oklahoma has been in and the Sooners have lost them all.
Why is it that every bowl season we have to ask which OU team will show up? Will it be the team that rolls through the Big 12 like a juggernaut (OU was the Big 12 conference champion in three of those seasons) or the team that looks like it can’t beat Colorado? Will it be the offensive line that only allowed 11 sacks on Bradford all season, or the one that allows three in one game? Will it be “Big Game Bob” or timid Kevin Wilson that rules the sidelines?
Every season we have to ask these questions. I for one am tired of it. What happened to the “Finish” campaign that OU had back in 2003? Oh wait, it didn’t work well then. The Sooners not only lost the conference championship to Kansas State, but lost miserably to LSU in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners haven’t really “finished” since beating Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl for the national championship.
Not that I truthfully expect a national championship every year. Part of me will always be happy with a winning season and a victory over Texas. But we’ve seen over and over what is possible. We’ve watched running backs tear down the field behind inspired play calling. We’ve watched Defensive Backs go Superman on opposing quarterbacks after the defensive coordinators made the perfect call. Opposing teams have come off the field against OU looking completely confused. In the second half the opposition has rolled over and died against superior conditioning and drive. Even this season we watched the Sooners roll over their first four opponents by a combined 246-47 behind a REDSHIRT FRESHMAN quarterback! The Big 12 Championship game was against the number one team in the land (Missouri) and OU still rolled over them on a neutral field.
But with the good comes the bad. Oklahoma’s special teams play with year was subpar. The offensive play calling was at times repetitive, fanatic and completely out of character. The defensive was good, but issues in the secondary allowed too many big plays late in the season.
When things don’t go right, we all want to point fingers. I’m feeling no different at the moment. Whose fault is this drop in productivity and what can they (or someone else) do to rectify the situation? Remember, I’m just an armchair quarterback. But I’m also a disappointed fan.
1) Ultimately, the fault lies directly with Bob Stoops. The man who used to be called “Big Game Bob” for his ability to win the big games has now lost four of his last BCS games. What changed between 2001 and 2008 Coach Stoops?
2) Kevin Wilson needs help. The OU Offensive Coordinator needs a heavy dose of logic. Or better yet, take a class. If a particular play is not working, has not worked, and has indeed lost yardage consistently, QUIT RUNNING IT!! I’m speaking specifically about running the ball up the middle. With Adrian Peterson the last few years, you could get away with it. It was his ability that made it work for big yardage at least 40% of the time. None of the current running backs have his natural ability (DeMarco Murray might be the lone exception). Figure out something else. If the fans know what’s coming up, don’t you think the defense knows as well? And by the end of the season, the opposing defense will have figured out a counter play. Your bread and butter play just hit the floor butter side down Coach Wilson.
3) What has happened to special teams? Garrett Hartley not withstanding, special teams play has been some of the worst in the Bob Stoops era. Does anyone else remember the National Championship season where OU made its mark with excellent special teams play that was credited directly to Bob Stoops? Do I need to ask the obvious?
4) Over the past few years we’ve seen many coordinators leave Oklahoma to coach their own schools. Mike Stoops, Mark Mangino and Mike Leach come to mind. Bob Stoops has done a superb job of mentoring his coordinators. No offense, but the student athletes are the ones who should be mentored. Return to that balance from the first few years of the Bob Stoops era. Also, if Arizona decides to play stupid and fires Mike Stoops, rehire him. The Stoops brothers make a great team.
5) Lastly, I have to blame the players. As Barry Switzer said, players don’t play for a coach or a school. When they are on the field, they play for each other. Only at limited moments did anyone see the same type of drive out of Oklahoma that we saw during the Big 12 Championship or the Texas game. After almost a month off it can be difficult to come back and perform at the same level. But West Virginia did it last night. Boise State did it last year. USC did it at the 2005 Orange Bowl.
In the end, here is what I would like to see as a fan – consistency. If the team is going to come out like freight train keep it up. Just don’t get my hopes up and then dash them. Again. After four BCS bowl losses my heart will have a hard time taking it.