What's wrong in Norman?
Written by Curt Popejoy on 12/07/2011
Fresh off the heels of a crushing loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Sooner fans have to be wondering what went wrong this season. They entered the season with high hopes. Lots of talent on both sides of the football and the affection of lots of preseason sports outlets.
But now we fast forward to December and we see a team that is not the Big 12 Champion, not going to a BCS Bowl, and more questions about Head Coach Bob Stoops and his decisions. I’ve been able to watch every game the Sooners have played this year(and for several years past) and here’s what I have seen:
Matchups kill-This isn’t just a tenant for Oklahoma but for most college football programs. All the schemes and systems and whatnot aside, great college programs exploit those lopsided individual or unit matchups that are inevitable in college football. Specific to the Sooners, the 3 losses the Sooners have suffered this year have come at the hands of teams that do one thing very well. They spread the field. When a team spreads out their offensive sets whether it’s to run the ball or throw it, you create one on one matchups and wide gaps on the defensive side of the football. From a personnel standpoint, this is a huge detriment for the Sooners. And this is for two reasons. First, this team has been absent key defensive players in all of their losses. But more importantly this team isn’t very fast. When you get spread out, and you are forced to play a little softer in coverage, you have to be able to close quickly and tackle. Team speed all over the field is something sorely lacking on this squad even at full strength. More on this a little later.
Landry Jones-I understand that Jones has put up tremendous statistics during his career but you don’t have to watch him play very much to see how his skill set can hinder a team. His decision making is horrendous. In far too many cases his completions come from erratic throws and tremendous catches by his skill players. In the box score they all show up as completions, but you can’t paint them all with such a broad brush. When I watch Jones play as I scout him for the NFL, the player I keep coming back to is Jake Plummer. Forcing throws, errant throws, and as many key positive plays as negative ones. I don’t know what the future will hold for the quarterback position once Jones is gone to the NFL, but I look very forward to the change.
Injuries-As I intimated to earlier, this team has struggled to field a healthy team. After losing starting running back Dominique Whaley and then All-World wide out Ryan Broyles, along with other losses to key players for different games this season, the team just did not respond. However let me say this. Go down the top 25, and remove their 2 best offensive players and hypothesize how well they play. But regardless, a team on the level of Oklahoma should have players ready to step in and contribute and clearly this team did not.
Now, Bob Stoops takes a lot of criticism, and much of it is warranted, but for me the area of his program that I find to be the greatest bone of contention is he and his staff’s recruiting. When you are among the top 10-15 programs in the country, you are afforded the pick of the litter in terms of college recruits. But year after year I see a team that falls short in either not getting the elite talent in the country, or missing on the young men they do sign. And the area where I see them fall short is speed. Watch the LSU Tigers or Alabama Crimson Tide play. Their backup running backs are fast. Their starting defensive players are elite speed. Going man for man down the starters for LSU and Oklahoma, I see exactly one player, linebacker Travis Lewis who’d start for the Tigers D. That’s a sobering example of the inequity of talent between these teams particularly along the defensive line and in the secondary.
On offense the gap is less significant, but when you look at the position of running back, a position that Oklahoma has historically been strong in, you see this year when first they give the starting job to a walk on. Then when that walk on is lost for the year can find no viable replacement on the roster. Meanwhile LSU goes 3 deep with backs that would have started ahead of Whaley.
Going back on the last 4 years of Oklahoma recruiting, I see a list of names who came into the Sooners programs with some flash and fanfare I saw lists almost devoid of those elite athletes that many teams covet. Stoops seems content to recruit “his” guys, whatever that means. At some point he is going to need to begin recruiting players who improve his matchups with other elite programs and be willing to be flexible when it comes to his system and massage it so to speak to what he needs to win.
As a Sooner fan I go into this Insight Bowl against Iowa with much optimism. The things Iowa does well, Oklahoma matches up with well, and the things Oklahoma does well Iowa does not. So when Oklahoma wins handily all the questions will be about what happened in Stillwater. But going into next season there will be in all likelihood a new quarterback and with it a new offensive philosophy. I am hopeful that there will be rushed development by this team’s young skill players around that new quarterback, and fingers crossed that some athletes appear on the defensive side of the football. But if not, there will continue to be games like the Texas Tech game and the Baylor game, and God forbid the Oklahoma State where the guys in the Crimson unis get out manned by the guys on the other sideline. As a lifelong fan I am allowed to be critical and I am allowed to be frustrated, but what truly frustrates me as a guy who’s so passionate about the NFL draft I see year after year Coach Stoops and his staff missing out on what is the college football equivalent of the draft when so many teams do so much better.
Last Edited: 12/07/2011