NORMAN, Okla. — If you wanted to call this Bob Stoops’ best coaching job, you could justify it pretty easily.
Bob Stoops became just the second coach in OU history to win against Notre Dame.
Another captain, cornerback Aaron Colvin missed the Iowa State game and played hobbled against Kansas State. Linebacker Jordan Evans suffered a leg injury. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips had season-ending back surgery earlier this year. Running back Keith Ford endured a sprained ankle, while a hit against Baylor gave wide receiver Sterling Shepard a concussion that forced him to miss a game. Offensive tackle Tyrus Thompson suffered a lower right ankle/foot injury, and left guard Adam Shead is battling back problems. You get the point.
Lots and lots and lots of injuries, yet he still found a way to finish off the program’s nation-leading 35th 10-win season.
He pulled the Sooners (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) out of the dumps after getting hammered by their archrival Texas and Fiesta Bowl bound Baylor.
He capped off the season with a pair of very impressive road victories: K-State and potential Big 12 Champion Oklahoma State.
He took OU into Notre Dame and won for just the second time in program history, the first since 1956.
He used a quarterback carousel, battling through a trio of signal caller injuries—Trevor Knight bruised his knee against Tulsa, then Blake Bell suffered a concussion while the starter and Knight again got hurt with a separated shoulder the other day in Stillwater—and inconsistent quarterback play to get just enough from his offense.
Now, his team’s headed to the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La., to face the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Stoops credits his team's relentlessness from the coaches all the way down for ending up 10-2 and headed to the Sugar Bowl.
“Everybody just kept grinding, kept fighting, kept believing,” Stoops said. “We’ve had a great attitude and a tough, hard-working group of players all along. [I] am proud of our assistant coaches, the way they’ve continued to put pieces together while we have lost guys, which we’ve lost many.
“No one ever flinched. Everybody just kept fighting, kept prepared and our players [did the] same thing, kept a great attitude and kept working hard and we’ve been able to fight our way through it.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban, from afar and the limited times he’s been able to see the Sooners, said he’s impressed as well with the coaching job Stoops and his staff has done considering everything they’ve been through.
“Well, I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Saban said. “You know, I think when you get to go to a BCS bowl game, there’s only, what, 10 teams that do that? I mean, it’s a great tribute to the coaching staff and the players and the perseverance that they’ve shown to overcome a lot of adversity this year.
“And like I said before, I think the character of their team is pretty much demonstrated in how they won the last game in some very difficult circumstances.”
Yes, that’s a microcosm of this whole season.
Backs against the wall, they made a play, and in this case, a series of plays, to pull through.
Having just allowed a seven-play, 89-yard drive that put Oklahoma State up 24-20 with 1:46 to play, Bell calmly drove OU down 66 yards on eight plays and hit wide receiver Jalen Saunders for the 7-yard game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left that sealed OU’s BCS fate and sent the Cowboys home devastated and just short of winning the league for the second time in three seasons.
Yet another moment of triumph for a team that has had to endure so much.
If none of those guys go down, who knows?
If OU gets any kind of more consistent quarterback play—and perhaps injuries had something to do with at least the first part of that—who knows?
This season could have been really special.
As it is, Stoops has a chance to coach in his ninth BCS bowl game and a chance to win the only BCS game he has not over his 15 years at OU.
Quite a satisfying finish for a season that could have ended in so much less.
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