In recent days it seems to be that the college football national talk has been that Oklahoma is a bit overrated. Television's talking heads have discussed it, radio personalities have ranted about it, and it was even brought up to Coach Stoops at his weekly press conference. One person who isn't buying into that line of thinking though is Louisiana Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz.
"You keep looking at No. 3 in one poll, No. 4 in another poll," Holtz said in his opening statement to the media on Monday. "You have the opportunity to put the Sugar Bowl game on with them defeating Alabama and what they did in that bowl game and how well they played. I think their ranking is very much merited, especially when you watch them in that game. This is a very talented football team. I have great respect for Coach Stoops and the job he has done."
Perhaps he's taking a page from his father's playbook when it comes to talking up an opponent, or maybe he even legitimately even feels that way, but regardless it seemed like the praise that Holtz was heaping on the Oklahoma football program Monday would even make Bob Stoops blush.
"It starts with the quarterback, Trevor Knight," Holtz added. "I know he was up and down last year with a couple of injuries. You look at the way he progressed through the season and the way he played in that bowl game. He was incredibly efficient and I think he does a really nice job. They have an offensive line that is huge. They return four of five starters from a year ago."
And let's not even get started on the defense where seemed to have saved the best of his compliments.
"You go over and look at them on the defensive side of the ball where eight of the 11 return. Eight starters return on that side of the ball. They have 11 guys that have started games. Again, they are very big up front. They have a nose guard that is 6-6, 340 pounds. It is very hard to simulate that length and size and trying to get push in the middle and movement. Their linebackers are very active. I look at (Charles) Tapper and (Eric) Striker. I watched Striker play in high school down in Tampa. He is very active and very athletic. In that bowl game, he had three sacks and seven tackles. He was a very active player for them on their front seven. I think they have one of the best front seven's in the country when you look at their size and athleticism and some of the things they can do. You look at (Zack) Sanchez on the back end. He was a freshman All-American corner. They are a very talented defensive football team." - La. Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz
The tone changed a little bit when questions started rolling in though. When pressed on how much stock he was really putting in to Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, Holtz stated that wasn't the only film they were watching of the Sooners.
"You use a body of work," Holtz responded. "Obviously, that is their last game and that is when you see their quarterback with a little bit of experience playing better. You are going to get more of that picture than you are early in the season. You also have to go back and look at their approach at Monroe and Tulsa and those games they had to play early. You want to watch the body of work from the whole year and that is why you really get impressed with the quarterback and the progress he made from the beginning to the end. We are going to see a guy even more seasoned than that. I do not think you put all your stock in it, but you definitely have to look at how they got to this point."
Then there's the task of going up against that Oklahoma defense he praised so highly and needing his own defense to try and keep the game within reach.
"Well, we are not going to win 3-0," Holtz replied when asked about the need to rely on his defense. "I am not sitting here saying that. I am just saying that our defense is more ready to play right now with the experience we have over there, than with all the new faces. They are going to have to carry us. Is it going to be good enough to win? I do not know. That is why we are going to play the game. I think right now, they are going to have to be our strong suit. Our offense has to play. We are certainly not serving the ball over to the defense and saying, `here, you take it.' We are doing everything we can offensively to make sure we eliminate some of the mistakes and make sure we can put points on the board. When you look at us from a year ago, in the eight losses we did not score more than 16 points. That is one thing that is constant is when we scored some points, we had an opportunity to win. But that is also why Oklahoma is ranked No. 3 in the country because they are as strong on defense as they are on offense. That is why they are ranked so high. It will be a challenge for both sides of the ball."
Many Oklahoma fans will remember Louisiana Tech Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz from his days at Texas and he certainly remembers the Sooners. One thing that he may have forgotten though his how much a physical advantage can actually play out in a game.
"Certainly you have a background in terms of what they like to do and how they like to do it," Diaz answered when asked if his familiarity with Oklahoma would affect his game plan, "but ultimately this is a players' game and the players will be the ones on both sides of the ball that will determine the outcome. We feel like we have a good plan and, like I said, the biggest thing in game one, regardless of your opponent, is it's more about you. It is more about your rules and your assignments and Oklahoma won't feel any differently towards us. You just need to make sure you don't do things that to help your opponent. That to me, above everything, is what you are doing game one. Just don't help them. The way you help them is by being aligned in the wrong place, having your eyes on the wrong thing, those types of issues that we can control. It has nothing to do with how fast or how big the guy lined up across from you is."
Ahhh, Diaz is a dreamer who dreams of no obstacles that can hinder his team's success. He's just going to line his guys up and watch them do what they do, regardless of Oklahoma's formations or personnel on the field.
"I have buddies on their staff so there is a lot less trickery going on than we all think. We have an idea of who we have. They are trying to get their guys ready to play and they are going to focus on just doing what they do well regardless of how we line up and, to be honest, we are going to try focus on what we do well regardless of how they line up. I think once the ball hits the foot, a lot of the stuff going on on the sideline is out of hand and is going to come down to the guys running around on the field." - La. Tech Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz on knowing Oklahoma's schemes
We've seen enough season openers that caused our jaws to drop to the floor to know better than to take anything for granted but comparing the two coaches comments, you get the feeling that Tech is coming ready to fight but they're just not sure as to how they'll attack.
You can read the entire transcript of the La. Tech press conference here.