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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sooners Need to Change

Oklahoma’s 24-14 national title game loss represents the fifth consecutive BCS bowl loss for the Sooners. Oklahoma has won two bowl games (Cotton & Holiday) since their triumphant Orange Bowl victory in 2001 over Florida State for Bob Stoops' first and only National Title. In these last five BCS losses, the Sooner defense has given up an amazing 191 points! The Sooner defense did hold Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators to 24 points but allowed the Tim Tebow led offense to rack up 480 yards with the Gator’s running attack averaging a gaudy 5.7 yards per carry. The fact is, Bob Stoop’s program has been met with an absence of physical defense since his 2000 national title run. A team that was stocked with 5th year seniors (Josh Heupel, Rocky Calmus, Torrance Marshall) and the amazing Roy Williams, which astonshingly were products of the previous coaching administration.
My synopsis as to why the Sooners have struggled in BCS bowl matchups since their 13-2 Orange Bowl triumph in 2001 is a mixture of the hiring of spread offense guru Kevin Wilson from Northwestern in 2002 and the absence of defensive mastermind Mike Stoops since 2003 (his last year at Oklahoma, held LSU to 21 points in Sugar Bowl loss). Prior to these major changes on Bob Stoops’ staff, the Sooners practiced a more balanced offense coupled with a smash-mouth physical mantra on defense. Kevin Wilson’s origins from the tutelage of the late spread offense proponent Randy Walker have over the last five years altered the style of placing points on the scoreboard for Oklahoma. Though, Walker’s offensive spread philosophy has inspired amazing point production for the Sooners with the team averaging over 30 points per game five of the last six years. There was help with Chuck Long being a co-coordinator half those years (’02-’05) but since Walker has been given the keys to car, the Sooners have averaged over 40 points per game the last two seasons. Still, a glowing weakness of these spread offensive tactics is the inability to be consistent in short yardage situations, especially in goal-line or red zone down sets which were vitally exposed in the ’09 BCS Title Game against Florida. The inability to get down to brass tacks can handicap any attempt to mentally intimidate a formidable opponent. Sure, sexy passing offenses can overwhelm a Chico State or Baylor, but a powerful SEC team with the ability to punch back, I think not.
The blitzkrieg on offense the last three years and the exodus of Mike Stoops has caused severe setbacks within Bob Stoops’ Sooner defense, once his bread and butter. Since Arizona named Mike Stoops their head coach in 2004, Brent Venables (what is with the cheesy wristbands?) has been the leader on the defensive coaching staff. Bobby Jack Wright has also been given the title of co-defensive coordinator but Venables have been the head strategist. Venables deficiency in strategy has been grossly exposed in huge games with the defense allowing over 20 points per game two of the last three seasons. Mike Stoops’ defenses on the other hand stayed at 15 ppg. or below during his tenure. Venables just doesn’t maintain the makeup for a Rolls-Royce program like Oklahoma. I feel he is also facing the issue of a defensive mindset among his players that feels it doesn’t have to shut down teams due their explosive offense. Therefore, when the Sooners come up against quality competition, the defense is unable to answer the bell when their offense is unable to surmount the 35 point mark.
In combating the dilemma, Bob Stoops needs to move away from the spread dominant philosophy that is so prevalent throughout college football and return to a more balanced offense that still values a pounding running attack. It’s impossible to ignore that past BCS champions like Miami, Ohio State, LSU, Southern Cal, Florida, and Stoops old ’01 team all maintained a smash-mouth factor with the ability to also throw the deep ball. I also feel new blood is needed on the defensive side of the ball where maybe the hiring of another Stoops brother (Mark Stoops) could help restore a more physical/ball-hawking presence amongst the defense. Either way, the talent is present for the Sooner’s defense to dominate but the system or thought is not producing any unyielding temperament. If something is not changed, the mantra as a “big game” coach for Bob Stoops could disappear forever.
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