Thoughts on Sooner Defense, Landry Jones, Car Trips With Dad, Other Soonerness
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To say the mood has changed a little in Norman since Saturday nights unexpected slugfest with WAC member Utah St. would be like saying Lindsay Lohan has a little problem with the law. With pre-season expectations high, a Big 12 championship and national title game appearance predicted, and touting a couple Sooners with Heisman hopes, a 31-24 opening game win at home over the 33 point underdog Aggies might as well have been a loss for some Sooner fans. Murmurs, and fears began spreading through Owen Field as early as the third quarter, and by games end, nervous anxiousness, and questions replaced title hopes ahead of their matchup with 17th ranked Florida State. Are the questions justified? Did the opening game display a blueprint for the rest of Bob Stoops' 12th season? Fear not Sooner fans, over the past four days I think I've came up with the answers. Some good, some bad, but not nearly as woeful as the outlook some Sooner Schooner bandwagon jumpers have given either.
First off, I'm not going to pull the wool over your eyes about what you witnessed. It WAS bad. I'm pretty sure even John Blake or Howard Schnellenberger could have pulled off a victory over Utah St., but these weren't the 2007 Aggies that met the wrath of Sam Bradford's crew in a 54-3 pasting. It wasn't an opening season game and that Utah St team didn't have the services of quarterback Diondre Borel's elusive ability against the rush, or two inexperienced corners on the OU defense he repeatedly picked on. It doesn't completely absolve the Sooners, nor make fears any better, but it does actually give hope against the Seminoles. Hey, where are you going? Wait! Wait! Don't bail on me yet! Hear me out! Anyone that has followed Bob Stoops' 12 seasons at the helm in Norman know that, most of the time, opening season games haven't exactly been the ones you go and hang your hat on when bragging to fans of another team. The 2001 season opener against North Carolina was dominated by OU's defense, but filled the sports talk radio waves with questions over whether Stoops picked the right quarterback in Nate Hybl. The opener in 2004 had fans raving about freshman Adrian Peterson, but anxious moments against a formidable, but not on OU's level Bowling Green team. 2005 saw the last loss at home for Stoops troops against TCU, and the very next season, a late swing pass and dash to the endzone by Peterson ended up being the difference in a 24-17 win over a, what can only be described as bad, UAB team. The point is, no matter how the season openers go for OU, it rarely defines the rest of the season.
I can sense you've picked up on me not explaining away OU's defensive performance which yielded 421 yards. I'm getting to it. In 2008, my dad and I had the opportunity to work for the ABC sports team for two back to back games; Texas Tech in Norman, and Oklahoma State in Stillwater. I got to hold the light for the camera crew when they went to Lisa Salters on the sideline (yeah i was hoping for Erin Andrews too...but i digress). OU was in the middle of trying to secure a Big 12 title spot and steal it away from Texas (planes with banners on them be damned!). Two very good teams with two very good quarterbacks in Graham Harrell from Tech and Zac Robinson from Okie State. Riding back with Dad and a few other friends from the Tech game after the Sooners 65-21 blowout of the Red Raiders all the talk in car was how maybe this OU team could beat 75% of NFL teams. Needless to say we were happy. I carried along in the conversation, but in the back of my mind I knew what was next for OU. The dreaded mobile quarterback. In 2008 Graham Harrell was excellent in Mike Leach's offense. Tossing the ball all around for crazy numbers and touchdowns. But against OU he was a sitting duck. Not being able to get away from the rush hurried him and got sacks and interceptions for the Sooners D. It wasn't anything new. In fact looking back on Stoops tenure, almost always, they control or don't get beat by classic drop back passers (minus the '05 Orange Bowl with Leinert but I think we can safely say that was the players around him, and if we can't I'm sure the Arizona Cardinals might have something to say on the subject) but have some real trouble against the mobile kind. I kept my mouth shut until the ride to Stillwater. This time around, Dad and friends were in talks of just how bad OU would beat OSU. 60 points? 70? I brought up my theory on mobile qbs against OU's D. I might as well have said 'I think I've changed my mind and I'm going to root for Texas'. They looked at me as though I had never seen a college football game in my life. I took their jabs for the rest of the ride, hoping I was wrong. Sure enough, Zac Robinson must have ran for a 1000 yards that night across and back across the field, finding open receivers and putting up points on the vaunted OU defense. It all led to a shootout and a Sooners win ,61-41, but my theory was proven once again. Dad didn't talk to me much on the ride home. So I didn't calm your nerves for the entire Sooner season? I was just looking for this next game. FSU qb Ponder is more elusive than Harrell (I think Joe Montana may still be today especially in his sketchers) but he's no Robinson, or even Diondre Borel. This Sooner team may not shake him up enough for a 65-21 win, but it will actually appear the defense knows what it's doing this time.
I told you I would attempt to put a positive spin on this young season. Mainly trying to explain away a Sooner defense. There is one area that, after my four days of deep thought, I just couldn't find a way to put a positive spin on. I guess not one area, but the entire offense. The word I kept hearing to explain the Sooners lofty pre-season ranking after an 8-5 season was experience. Landry Jones being thrust into a role meant for Bradford the entire season. A line, inexperienced in 2009, could only get better with the experience of it all. Not to mention Demarco Murray was back at full strength (isn't he every year at the beginning?) and would be carrying the majority of the load as the featured back (I'm told this is a good thing). It all played out like a bad Bob Barry radio announcement..."Landry drops back to pass and complete for a 50 yard gain!...check that, he was sacked on the play. The line opens up a gaping hole and Murray flies through untouched for a 40 yard gain!...check that, Murray was met at the line and fought ahead for two yards." There just really isn't an excuse to how OU's offense played. They gained 422 yards, yes. And Ryan Broyles looked terrific. Unfortunately he was about the only receiver that looked better than...average. Demarco got 218 yards and a pair of scores but worked way too hard for the yards on 35 carries, taking hard hits the majority of the time. For a guy that has been hurt every season he has been at OU, this wasn't really the way his season was supposed to begin. And Landry Jones. 17-36 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions against a Utah St. defense that will be habitually picked apart by about every team they face this year. Gonna be honest here, Been a Sooner fan my entire life. My grandfather used to take the horses, Boomer and Sooner, to every game from Sapulpa Oklahoma. There's a picture on the day I was born with a Sooner football in my hand. I caught the tail end of Switzers legend. Watched Gibbs' average teams. And hunkered down and held on for dear life through the Schnellenbeger/Blake days. Let's just say I'm 'in the club'. In my Sooner football watching lifetime there have been 4 Sooner quarterbacks I didnt like/feel comfortable with for either obvious or personal reasons; Tink Collins (something about his hair, and I liked Steve Collins better-no relation), Justin Fuente (I was an Eric Moore fan...yea I was the one), Rhett Bomar (for obvious reasons, and I just felt like he should be playing for Texas so I could hate him. Did since day one, don't really know why), and now Landry Jones. It's not an obvious reason, a lot of people like the 'stache. I gave him a year pass in 2009 for the unenviable position of taking over for Sam Bradford, BUT wasn't that the experience that was supposed to carry him to new heights in 2010? The guy, plain and simple, doesn't look comfortable. I think, sometimes, last year it was like 'hey, Sam's out, I'm what you got. Help me out.' and we did. He locks onto receivers, and when he gets rushed he literally runs where the guy is coming at him from. There were some plays against Utah St. where I, the most critical guy around when it comes to OU quarterbacks, just sat there speechless. It wasn't a correction that needed to be flung his way, it's just that there's something missing. Some guys have it, and the jury is still out on Jones. Oh, I'm sorry I was supposed to be making everyone feel better about all this. Well, I see it like this...
Bob Stoops uncharacteristically said a couple times in his weekly press conference that they 'held back' some things against Utah St. Now this is one of those things that is an unwritten rule in coach talk to never say, but he did, and I hope he's telling the truth and not trying to boost the confidence of his guys making us think he has a whole new bag of tricks for FSU. Another thing is, these are 18,19,20 year old kids. They hear their coach talk about 'one game at a time' and 'not overlooking anyone' but they have internet, they know what school they play for, and that sometimes you can just show up with the OU on the side of the helmet and win the game. Hopefully the Utah St. game was a wake up call that these young Sooners haven't achieved the status their predecessors did and have to prove themselves before that happens. It will be a different team on Saturday. They will be keyed in, ready to go, and like it or not, this game will show exactly what OU has. We shall wait and see...
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