No question this loss has been hard for OU fans. Any loss to Texas hurts because they’re Texas. And it hurts worse because we were so favored to win and Texas has been a shipwreck. But, those things are temporary. We know that losses to Texas are inevitable and will happen occasionally, but the shock of losing a game we absolutely shouldn’t have amplifies that a lot.
But, that shock will wear off.
However, I think there are a couple of additional reasons why we are so hurt, and it is these reasons why this feels like something more permanent.
#1 - We had such high hopes for this year and our National Championship and possibly even Big 12 Championship chances just went down the toilet. It feels like we just lost a playoff game.
#2 - Things were looking so bright for our future. Our defense was finally playing to the level that we have wanted, our running game and OL were on the level that we’ve been wishing for pretty much the entire Stoops era, our DL has been much more like what we think a Sooner DL should be like, and our special teams are finally special again.
In just one game, not only were our championship aspirations crushed way earlier than we expected, but all of a sudden our defense didn’t look as dominant as we thought they were, the OL and running game didn’t look as strong, the answer at QB we thought we found isn’t really the answer, the DL wasn’t able to stop the run, and our special teams gave up a big punt return.
Are things no better than they were last year?
Were we given the poison of hope only to have it yanked from underneath us?
Fortunately, as hard and long-lasting as these two things seem to be, they really aren’t.
There have been so many changes (pretty much all of them positive) that I suggest we fans need to look at this year as a “transition year”. Sure, our early success this season got our hopes up that we could actually contend right away, but that’s unrealistic.
We finally got a new OL coach who knows how to get our OL to the level it needs to be. Before Coach Bedenbaugh came here we were developing light and weak linemen with really poor technique and who had a lot of mental busts. But, Coach Bedenbaugh is changing all that.
He is a perfectionist and insists on his players playing with that level of perfect technique. If they don’t know all the assignments by heart, they don’t see the field. Period! The difference in their technique is night and day, and that has made a huge impact.
He’s made it so that the focus in strength and conditioning is in gaining bulk and strength instead of running sprints. This will help enormously with recruiting and keeping players here. In the past it’s been speculated that our workouts have run off quite a few linemen. No way of knowing if that’s true or not, but if it is this should make a difference.
And he is reportedly a tremendous recruiter! This will help get top quality linemen which will make a difference down the road.
While we are head and shoulders better than we’ve been the last few years, we are not there yet. One summer isn’t enough to get all our linemen to where they need to be strength-wise. Our younger linemen will continue to get bigger and stronger, and those players who aren’t on the field because they can’t pass the written test will hopefully learn it all eventually and get on the field.
And the technique will continue to improve as well. This year we are using linemen who have been using poor technique and weren’t strong enough. There’s only so much you can do in such a short time to turn them into championship level linemen. The problems in our offense have not been from busted assignments or poor technique, the limitation on our OL is their strength. Versus big DL our guys have just not been able to get the push we need at times. Some of that is attitude and some is strength. These are things that will take a little time.
Every indication is that out new OL coach will get us there.
We have a new DL coach. And this is really going to change things. This season we are dealing with a lack of talent, but what Coach Montgomery has been able to do with what we have is impressive! We thought we had no DT’s and were relying on an incoming JUCO to be our only hope. Phillips had promise, but hadn’t delivered up to this season.
Not only has Coach Montgomery helped change Phillips mentally into a star DT, but physically as well. And not just Phillips, but T. Peterson as well. And Wade looked good vs TCU. And look at what he has done with Tapper who is relatively new to the position! Our DL went from being an embarrassment to being a strength.
However, we are not there yet. We still need more talent. Phillips is out for the year and we don’t have a backup that’s at that level yet (although Peterson sure looked good vs Texas when he came in). And Grissom did not play well in the last game. Luckily, he will have more time to develop the younger DLmen into stars. If he was able to transform our current players that much in less than a full off-season, what will he be able to do when he can work with each player for 3 or 4 years?
And just as importantly, he is reportedly a great recruiter in his own right. It could be argued that the biggest reason for our struggle in the last few years is because of poor DL recruiting. If he is able to help turn the tide and start getting SEC level DLmen here we will once again be among the elite. But, that will take time. It won’t happen overnight. And, right now he is stuck using what he inherited.
Our recruiting philosophies have changed a lot. The influx of new coaches were brought in not just because of their ability to develop talent, but also because of their modern views on recruiting. Our recruiting in recent years has struggled. The recruiting game was changing and we weren’t keeping up.
The new guys are changing the way the coaches look at recruiting and keep in contact with players. But, again, this won’t pay dividends overnight. It will take time for the coaches to establish relationships and connections with coaches, and recruiting often involves relationships with players that are more than a year long.
Plus, the perception of our program from players won’t change overnight, either. It will take a little while before DLmen, LBers, OLmen, and TE’s start looking at OU as one of the elite places for people of their position to go.
Stoops is even softening up and giving in to some other modern fads like cool alternate uniforms and using twitter. It won’t be too long before high school kids start perceiving OU as a brand differently. This will really help!
Our Defense has changed. Sure Mike already kind of had a transition year last season, although he came in last minute and didn’t really have a chance to adjust so we ended up with a patched together defense that just didn’t work. After the season, Mike was able to go in and start from scratch and build a new defense based on the strengths that we have and the type of offenses we face in the conference.
The 2-gap DL scheme was scrapped, as was the dime defense. Our super simplified defense of last year was changed to a more deceiving one.
Under BV, our defenses were so confusing our players had mental busts all the time. And technique suffered as well. With Mike now our DB’s coach and DC, that changed and we are seeing very few mental busts and getting much much closer to that perfect balance of complexity and simplicity where we can confuse defenses but play without having to think and not make mistakes.
Our defense is much much closer to that OU defense we’ve been expecting the last several years, and this is our first year running it. Mike will make tweaks to it, we’ll be able to recruit players that fit what Mike wants to do, and players will have more time in the system. The more time they have in the system, the more he can add to it without worrying about players making mental mistakes.
Our DL and LBers are having to adjust to a new type of scheme. We have a new 3 man line scheme that is 1-gap instead of 2, and instead of only having one LB on the field we now have 3 or 4. And those LBers are doing some new things, like lining up on the line. This is a big transition.
Also, with the loss of Nelson we are having to play with 3 young undersized LBers. Dominique Alexander is a true freshman and there is a world of difference between an 18 year old kid and a 21/22 year old! One of the biggest reasons we struggled vs Texas on defense was because of our LBers getting overpowered. When they tackled the RB’s they got pushed backward for a couple of yards each time. This is a serious problem, and hopefully with another year or two under their belt they’ll get stronger and not make as many mistakes. LB play is one of the few concerns I have for our future.
I understand needing LB’s who can cover for facing the Big 12 type offenses. However, I have not been impressed with their zone coverage thus far and this is the main reason why Texas was able to convert some of those 3rd downs through the air.
We have a new special teams coach. The turnaround in our special teams has been really incredible. The transition has seemed pretty seamless for the most part, but punting is something that we are very limited on. It will take time to be able to do anything but just punt as far as possible.
And of course there was the punt return for a TD we gave up in the last game. But, there was a lot of new things for the players to learn this year with the changes in special teams. That means more things for the players to think about and put in their head.
This is a huge positive for the future and we should only get better!
We lost Landry Jones to graduation and need to find a new QB. Most of the time when you replace a QB you expect a rebuilding year. There’s no doubt we have a lot of talented players at the position, but we are still in the process of finding the right guy.
Whatever QB plays this year will have to deal with his first experience starting. There aren’t many QB’s that can come in and play championship level their first year starting.
KT got injured at the worst possible time and no one outside the program really knows what’s going on there, but he has a world of potential. TK may or may not be our future, but as a RS Freshman just is too young and inexperienced to start. He doesn’t have the ice in his veins like Sam did as a RS Fr. He’s reportedly our best passer in practice, but in games he is so nervous and uncomfortable that he throws almost all his passes needlessly on the run and off his back foot. And he doesn’t feel comfortable being patient, staying in the pocket, and going past his first read.
Bell is much more experienced and is a very talented inside runner. However, he struggles with certain passes and isn’t good at all running the zone read. For our offense to be good enough to win a championship we have to have the right QB, and right now all our QB’s not named Bell are too young. And the one who isn’t too young isn’t a fit for either the Landry Jones offense or the zone read offense.
TK still has time to get comfortable enough with the offense to show in games the talent he has already shown in practice. Is his discomfort due to inexperience (he’s only recently learned the entire offense) or something else? We’ll find out in the future. KT, our freshman who’s being redshirted, and Justice Hansen all have tremendous talent and potential and any one of them could end up being our next great QB. But, that’s going to take at least another year to find out.
Our offense is changing. Our new QB’s can all run, and it’s obvious that the staff wants to transition toward a mobile QB offense. This has been the most difficult transition as there isn’t a clear cut QB who can run it well enough. So, we’re in a crisis this year. To be successful with Bell, we need to change the offense temporarily to one more like Kansas State’s offense last year.
His inability to run the zone read is crippling. He can run the short passing plays very well, and he’s really good at the designed QB runs. But, the zone read is out, as is the deeper passing game.
But, as much as Bell’s struggles say about his limitations, they expose Josh’s limitations as an offensive coordinator the most. The passing game we run requires an incredible QB to be able to run it. It is very difficult to run and does not make execution very easy.
This is the one area we should be concerned about. Instead of creating an offense that attacks defenses in the most effective ways possible, we have an offense that can work on paper but does not make it easy. It’s like trying to fix a car or do lawn work with the wrong tools. Imagine having to dig a hole using a shovel with a one foot handle. Sure, it can be done, but it would require a really strong person to do it and would not be as effective. They make shovels with long handles for a reason, and there’s a reason why so many people use them.
Why make things harder than they need to be? Why not try to find the best, most effective, most efficient ways to beat certain defenses?
That doesn’t mean we are doomed or that we won’t be able to have a successful offense in the future, but it means we’ll have to have an amazing QB to do it, and receivers that are really good at getting open running routes that are more difficult to gain separation with. It means we’ll be running uphill, and in some games using our weakness against the opponent’s strength.
But, Josh isn’t the only coordinator who does this. There are many many others who do the same thing. So it’s not like we have the worst coordinator in Div 1. There aren’t many OC’s out there who are brilliant at it. And the ones that are are most likely head coaches, and thus have teams with poor defense.
Plus, Stoops has shown that he is willing to make changes when he needs to. He’s already made some huge changes in the last two years and they have all been exactly what was needed. So, if it continues to be a problem, there’s a good chance he’ll do something about it!
It’s easy to get your hopes up and want to win a championship every year. But, in reality, if we knew ahead of time that this would be a rebuilding year then we wouldn’t mind struggling. And if we actually had success we should consider it a bonus.
This year is a transition year, and the fact that we’ve had much more success than we anticipated and showed so much positive change so quickly shouldn’t make us more upset just because we won’t win a championship. The future is bright, and while the Texas loss showed that we aren’t quite there yet, it doesn’t mean that we were wrong about the future.
There hasn’t been this much change in one year since 1999. Think of this as a new OU team! A new OU team that’s a big improvement and will be a major force to be dealt with! But it’ll take a year or two to solidify. Until then we’ll go through some growing pains.
With those two big things settled, all that’s left is the temporary shock of losing to a Texas team we shouldn’t. While that’s still hard, we’ll get over it.
Better for it to happen to us during a “transition year” than a normal one!