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An Attempt To Properly Summarize The Debacle In Arlington

Where to begin, where to begin? There were, and still are, so many thoughts running through my head, it will be very difficult to properly summarize the game. First, and foremost, this was a team loss. You absolutely cannot pin this loss on Bradford getting injured. We were playing poorly before the injury, and we played poorly after the injury. Many facets of the game plan failed and the team as a whole underachieved. You have to give credit where credit is due and congratulate BYU for their victory.

Before I delve into everything that went wrong, a couple of points. (1) You have to at least be encouraged that, despite the sloppy and underachieving play, we only lost by a point to a very good football team. Despite losing the heart and soul of the team, we only lost by one...measly...point. There are many things that went wrong with our performance, but we were always in the game. That offers some hope. (2) You have to feel absolutely terrible for Sam Bradford. He's a great guy and a team leader. Apparently he worked in the offseason because he didn't want to have the bitter taste of defeat in the crimson and cream again:

It bothers him [Sam Bradford] quite a bit. The last national championship game, that really hit him hard. I could see it…He prepared himself the most I’ve ever seen.  --Reserve QB John Nimmo

Finally, Sam Bradford's return timetable remains cloudier than ever. The official report remains that he sprained the AC joint in his right (throwing) shoulder. OU coaches shed absolutely no light on the timetable today. For relatively minor versions of the injury, a 2-3 week recovery is the norm. Purdue QB Curtis Painter was sidelined for two weeks last season with a similar injury, and didn't start until the fourth week. If, and this is a big if, Sam Bradford follows a similar timetable, he would be suited up and ready to start by the Miami game.

But enough of the unknown future, let's talk about what went wrong (after the jump).

It was a very ugly game. The first thing that immediately stood out was the amount of penalties; the Sooners committed 12 for 93 yards, and some more were declined. Holding and false start penalties repeatedly killed drives or moved the team out of scoring position. The sloppiness of the play, especially on the offensive line, was remarkable. 

The thing that amazed me more was the defense. The run defense was as good as advertised, holding the Cougars to 28 yards rushing on 33 attempts, for 0.8 yards per rush. By comparison, BYU threw the ball 38 times, so they employed a balanced attack, but the defense managed to shut down the run. Additionally, the defense was as opportunistic as they were last year forcing 4 turnovers (2 fumbles, 2 interceptions). These turnovers helped negate a fairly stellar performance from Max Hall and the BYU passing attack (26-38 329 yards 2 TD), as well as an 8-17 3rd down success rate (47%). I cannot understand how the run defense can be so exceptional, while the pass defense had so many holes.

It seems like the pass defense scheme we use now relies a lot on zone coverage. When mixed with linebacker or safety blitzes, it left gaping holes over the middle of the field on many plays. This probably contributed to Hall's high completion rate and the amount of YAC that BYU receivers got.

Team Stats

Pts Yrds Pass Rush
Offense 13 265.0 147.0 118.0

The Sooners were outgained 357 yards to 265 yards. Compared with BYU converting their third down attempts nearly half of the time, the Sooners had a paltry 2-11 conversion rate (18%). Oh, and did you remember that their only offensive touchdown was set up by a muffed punt at the BYU 35 yard line? We simply could not move the ball. Not to mention, OU lost two fumbles and were outpossessed 37:02 to 22:58 or about 15 minutes. 

Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that the defense was a little gassed at the end of the game. I've seen a few newspaper articles and comments that suggest the defense gave the game away on the last BYU drive. That's absolutely not true. The defense kept us in the game for the entire game despite the offense not doing very much at all, and the defense having to be on the field about 61% longer than the offense. I'm quite proud of the fact that despite all of those hurdles, the defense only gave up 14 points.

Meanwhile, the areas of concern on the team reared their heads in this game. The offensive line - the lightning rod of concern all offseason - validated critics' questioning by performing poorly. Holding penalties and chop blocks are often the method of last resort when you are getting out-muscled and out-played, and that's exactly what happened to the line. Barry Tramel at the Oklahoman poses an interesting question. Will the no huddle work with this new offensive line unit? Perhaps they're just not cut out for it. You can't argue it was effective in this game. The offensive drives stalled, but instead of an offense that huddles, the drives failed faster, placing a greater playing-time burden on the defense.

The other unit of concern was the wide receivers, and understandably, since it seemed like they were invisible for a lot of the game. We had zero big plays in the passing game. I had to have counted at least five drops, some at critical moments in the game. And, I thought we were going to have a deep rotation of guys who had battled it out in the camps. What happened to that? I kept hearing about Cameron Kenney and how he could stretch the field and make a big impact. Where was Mossis Madu? It seemed like we used the same personnel all game and made no attempt to change things up.

Critical Failures In The Game

Situation: Oklahoma ball, 3rd down and 5 yards to go at OKLA 30 yard line.
Time: About 14 minutes to go in the 1st quarter.
Result: Two consecutive false start penalties.

On the first Oklahoma drive, they ran plays on 1st and 2nd down that netted 10 yards in total. This would have been good enough for a first down, except they had a total of three false start penalties, and two of them occurred right after the Sooners had secured a manageable 3rd down and 5. A terrible way to start the game.

Situation: Following a Reynolds interception and two 7-yard rushes by DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma ball, 1st down and 10 yards to go at BYU 16 yard line
Time: About 3 minutes to go in the 1st quarter.
Result: DeMarco Murray rushes 9 yards to the BYU 5 yard line but fumbles.

Our offense had finally found a rhythm and we were running the ball down their throats. At this point in the game, they were back on their heels and we had a chance to extend our lead to two touchdowns (we were up 7-0). At the very least we took 3 points off the board, but probably 7. Remember that, as I'm going to tally up how many points we took off the board via mistakes.

Situation: Following a 17-yard pass and 13-yard pass by Bradford, and a 15-yard late hit personal foul on BYU, it was 1st down and 10 yards to go at the BYU 35.
Time: About 4 minutes to go in the 2nd quarter.
Result: Screen pass to Ryan Broyles for -1 yards that was fumbled and recovered by BYU.

Again, our offense was driving and we were finally taking advantage of mistakes that BYU was making. The score was still 7-0 OU at this point but we could have extended our lead going into halftime. We weren't close enough to the goal line to project a touchdown, but I think it's fair to say we might have expected a field goal out of this drive. We took 3 points off the board here. Not to mention, it set up a BYU scoring drive right before the half - for a 10 point swing (BYU tied it at 7-7).

Situation: Opening up the third quarter, the first plays on two consecutive drives.
Time: 3rd quarter
Result: Penalties

Trying to get Landry Jones into a groove probably wouldn't have been as difficult had his first two drives gone a little differently. He opened up the second half at quarterback. On the first drive, the offensive line committed an illegal chop block, a 15-yard penalty on the first play that essentially killed the drive. On the second drive, a holding penalty right off the bat made it 1st and 20. On the next two plays, Jones completed two passes for a total of 11 yards, a total that would have netted a first down under normal circumstances.

Situation: Oklahoma ball, 2nd and 4 from the BYU 8 yard line.
Time: Start of the 4th quarter
Result: 8 consecutive attemps from within the 10 yard line all fail to net a touchdown. Settle for FG to make it 13-7 OU.

This sequence really doomed us. We ran eight plays within the 10 yard line and only came away with a field goal. This is reminiscent of the National Championship game from last year, and it took 4 points off the board. It's obviously the point in the game that most people will remember, but we took points off the board in much bigger quantities earlier in the game. One of the plays we ran was a field goal attempt, and that was only after a delay of game penalty pushed us back from the 1/2 yard line to the 5 yard line. Had OU taken a timeout instead of letting the play clock expire, they likely would have had a very good chance to score from basically right on the goal line. Five of the other plays were runs. Of the five runs, only four yards were gained, for an average of 0.8 yards per rush in this sequence. In comparison, Landry Jones attempted two passes. One was dropped by Matt Clapp on the goal line. The other was on target to Ryan Broyles but pass interference was called. There was a distinct lack of variety in the playcalling, and a lack of confidence in the passing game, that caused this drive to stall out about a football's length from paydirt.

Things To Note

  • Totalling up everything from above, and including the delay of game penalty that pushed us out of range for the last field goal attempt, OU was responsible for taking about 17 points off the board. If you include the fact that we set up a BYU touchdown, our mistakes basically cost us a 24-point swing in the game. These aren't things that you can pass off as bad luck or officiating. 
  • When we pushed the tempo and passed the ball out of more of a spread formation, rather than an "Ace" or "I-formation", we moved the ball effectively. Points weren't scored because of mistakes, but eliminate those mistakes and we have a formula for success. This is especially true because our pass blocking was better than our run blocking, the Bradford injury notwithstanding.
  • Penalties created too many third-and-long situations, especially when Landry Jones was in the game. With a redshirt freshman quarterback being thrust into the fire, the last thing you want to do is make his job as difficult as possible.
  • The playcalling was unimaginative and conservative, something that caused our offense to score only - surprise, 14 points - in the National Championship game as well. There were stretches in the game in which similar plays were called repeatedly - 5 between-tackle runs in a row, 7 passes in a row, etc. The wildcat formation was wildly ineffective and doesn't really make sense for the players that we have. I don't think a single pass was attempted that went more than 10-15 yards down field in the air. We need to open up the playbook. I could almost blame the lack of offensive production as much on the offensive playcalling as I could on the penalties and fumbles.
  • To anyone (especially non-Sooner fans) knocking the "Big Game Bob" nickname, take a look at the conference championships he's won - 6 in total. Over his first seven years coaching at OU, he won three Big 12 Championships. Over the last three years? He's won three more Big 12 Championships. Sure, OU has choked in a few "big" games, mostly to teams ranked about 15-25 at venues away from Norman. However, more often than not, Bob figures out a way to nab the conference championship in a very competitive conference. And let's not forget, this years' Sooners have not even started the conference slate yet. Let's not forget the team that struggled out of the gates in 2006, but rebounded for a championship over Nebraska.
Perspective and Realistic Expectations

No, the world is not coming to an end. If OU was going to lose a game, it was best for them to have it happen at the very beginning of the season, and especially in a season where they were ranked #3 in preseason polls. If you assume most of the reports about Gresham and Bradford are true (out for a few weeks), then they should both be able to utilize the bye week in their recovery, perhaps only also missing Idaho State and Tulsa. Both of those games are at home.

Here's something else - Landry Jones did not play bad. He had a couple of drives cut short by penalties. He looked competent against a hungry defense on a talented team. He was only 6-12 but I would bet at least half of those incompletions were due to dropped balls. And the guy was a four star recruit! He can play football. I'm sure the coaches will be able to get him ready for the next game. Based on the reports that have been printed in the paper, he already has the respect of everyone in the locker room.

If we can't fix the penalties and the inconsistent play of the wide receivers and the offensive line, then this is not a national championship caliber team. Period. They have the talent to win a title, but right now it's not meshing. They have time to work things out, and voters would likely be more forgiving for an opening game loss involving injuries to two major offensive stars than a loss at any other time in the season, or under any other circumstances.

The national title hopes took a major blow, that's for sure. The Sooners will need a lot of help the rest of the way. However, all is not lost. Crazier things have happened (like a 2-loss national champion in 2007). But, perhaps instead of feeling distraught about a major chink in the national championship armor you should think about things like this:  We may have Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham back for the conference schedule. At that point, anything is possible and we could beat any team on the schedule. Until then, we have two winnable games, at home, before the bye week. Landry Jones is a talented football player and I'm sure he'll do fine.

One thing is for sure, I doubt we could have more go wrong in a game than what happened on Saturday night. If Bob Stoops manages to turn the ship around without any more losses by the time Bradford and Gresham return, it might just be one of his finest coaching achievements.