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James Hale's Locker Room Report pt2

At the end of the first half, OU trailed Texas A&M 14-13, but seemed very much in the game. OU had reached the Red Zone three times in the first half and had scored each time, with the only negative being they had to settle for two Michael Hunnicutt field goals of 23 and 24-yards.

The good news was that OU would get the ball to start the third quarter and since the Aggies had not really stopped the Sooners in the first half OU felt pretty confident they would put together another drive. Things looked good on first down when senior quarterback Landry Jones hit freshman wide receiver Sterling Shepard for eight-yards on first down. Then OU lost two yards on a Damien Williams rush and Jones missed Williams on third down and from there the offense went into the tank. Two more three-and-out possessions and OU trailed 27-12 in a game they would go on to lose 41-13.

“Not good enough in the second half getting it started,” said OU Co-Offensive Coordinator and quarterback Coach Josh Heupel. “The way we used our tempo and we felt like we needed to use that tonight. When we got our first downs, we were able to use it and execute to move the football. Third quarter, first three drives we were in manageable situations for the most part we just never able to pick it up and get in the flow of it

“It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary that they were doing in the second half that we didn’t see in the first half. We just didn’t execute and pick up first downs, and we could never get into a rhythm.”

Nobody on the Sooner sideline saw the third quarter struggles coming.

“The third quarter killed us,” said Co-Offensive Coordinator and wide receiver Coach Jay Norvell. “We were in a manageable game up until that point. We really felt confident coming out of the locker room that we were in a good football game and that it was a game we could win. We didn’t execute well enough in the third quarter to sustain, and they did. They put pressure on us and we couldn’t stay with them”

In the fourth quarter with the Sooners trailing 41-13 things really feel apart when OU had an offensive pass interference penalty against junior wide receiver Kenny Stills. OU then had to take a timeout because they could not get a play in on time, had a one-yard pass to Damien Williams and then a delay of game penalty when they couldn’t get a play in on four straight plays.

“There were a couple of plays that were late and we have to pay attention to the clock,” said Coach Norvell. “We were trying to get into the right things and probably trying to be too perfect at times. You have to give them credit, they did a good job and we have to do a much better job. We’ve made a lot of big plays this year, but we didn’t make a lot of them tonight whether it was running or passing. That’s playing physical front, and that’s handling people that you have to handle. They did a lot of blitzing, they got us on a lot of edges and put pressure in Landry’s face, and we didn’t handle that very well. That’s something we knew we had to handle going into the game. We’ve got to do a better job of handling the line of scrimmage and making plays down the field.”

OU went into the game wanting to run the clock and control the football and for the most part in the first half the Sooners did. However, in doing so the Sooners forfeited their down field passing attack and went more to short sideline routes or short routes over the middle. Coming into the game OU felt they had a major advantage with their vaunted wide receivers against the Aggie secondary, but the Sooners did not test the Aggie secondary deep enough in the ballgame and the Aggies keep the Sooners short-game in front of them.

“They did a good job sinking off and playing the vertical seams,” said Coach Heupel. “In the second half, we wanted to take a shot but we were never able to get the drive started and give ourselves the opportunity to stay out of second-and-long.

“We had a couple of play actions where protection broke down and Landry had to scramble and drop it off early. In the second half, we wanted to get a couple of those up but we never got the first down to get it going so we could stay out of second and long. We weren’t throwing it well against the drop eight coverage, and we weren’t running it well either.

“Early we were sustaining drives, but had to settle for field goals. By not getting those touchdowns early in the game changes how the game is played a little bit. Give credit to them they did a good job.”

Not getting those touchdowns and not getting the ball downfield in the first half put the Sooners behind the eight ball in the second half when they had to punt on first down.

“I thought we did a pretty decent job in the first half of moving of the ball, but we didn’t score touchdowns when we needed to on a couple of our early drives,” said Coach Norvell. “We didn’t make very many big plays tonight and we didn’t get anything over 18-or-19-yards. We didn’t block them well enough and we didn’t pass protect well enough to get the ball down the field. I think that was the big difference. In the end, their ability to rush the ball and our ability not to sustain and rush the ball, I think was a big difference in the game. We definitely have to do a better job of that.”

OU never really got their rushing game going, finishing with 123-yards on 34-carries for 3.6-yards per carry. Junior Damien Williams was healthy coming into the game but the Aggie front controlled the line of scrimmage holding him to 41-yards rushing.

“They did a good job of disguising their defense,” said Williams. “We didn’t go as fast as we should have, and I felt that guys were out of place and they were moving around a lot. I just feel that A&M did a great job. They did a great job swarming to the ball and made sure they made the tackle. That is one thing they did really well.”

The Belldozer was stopped on two straight plays on the Sooners first drives and the lack of a solid rush game left the Sooners short on their first two passions where they had to settle for field goals.

“You know the frustrating one was when we were close, the first one and we didn’t score,” said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops. “The other one you have to give them credit. They kind of outplayed us up in there, and didn’t allow us to score. How much that would have helped, who knows, because that still only gives you a few more points at the half.”

“It hurt us in the fact that we didn’t score touchdowns,” said Coach Norvell. “You know when you play a talented team like A&M you have to score touchdowns in the red zone and that’s something we didn’t do enough tonight.

“We played in tough, hard-nosed competitive games like this all year-round, and we really felt like this was going to be like one of our last four games like against West Virginia and Oklahoma State. But we didn’t respond, we didn’t respond the way we needed to in the third quarter especially to really stay with them. They responded, they made the plays they needed to make in the third quarter to score and we didn’t match them. You have to be able to control the line of scrimmage up front, and you have to be able to block them, pass protect, and run the football. We didn’t do that at all in the third quarter and that’s kind of how we got behind in the chains. A lot of the game we’re even as far as passing and third downs, those types of things, but we did not handle the line of scrimmage like they did.”

It was not the way that Jones wanted to end his career at OU. Jones has always stated that his career from his standpoint will not be defined by wins and losses, but by his faith in Christ. However, Jones is a competitor and was looking for his fourth straight bowl win and despite a great first half he finished 35 for 48 for 278-yards with one interception and one TD ending one of the best quarterback careers in OU history.

“He’s been the centerpiece and the rock for which this offense has operated on for the last four years,” said Coach Heupel. “Ton of experience, and he’s played at as high a level as anyone in college football for the past four years. To try and express it in one sound bite is pretty tough to do. He’s been a great leader on and off the field and has left a huge footprint at the University of Oklahoma.

“He has been an incredibly positive influence on the football team in every way, on the field and off the field,” said Coach Bob Stoops. “He has been a great worker and he is very close with everybody on the team. We will miss him. He’s been a great, great player. He threw a lot of great balls out there tonight.

“But we have some young guys and we just have to move forward with them. But Landry did really all he could the way he’s worked for this program.”

Jones has had a great impression on his teammates and is one of the most popular players on the team and being the leader on this football team for four years Jones has left a great imprint on the program.

“It is just the kind of guy that Landry is,” said junior offensive guard Gabe Ikard. “He is one of the most unselfish people I know. He has great character and is always looking out for other people. He came back to try to lead us to a national championship, but we dropped some games against some really good teams. I feel just disappointed that he’s going to go out this way, getting beat like that, but I wish him the best of luck. He’s going to be a great NFL quarterback. I hope him coming back doesn’t hurt his financial situation, his draft status and stuff like that. Overall he is a great fiend and a great guy!”

Heisman winner Johnny Manziel proved to be just as good as advertised with a Cotton Bowl record 516-yards total offense. That account for most of the Aggies 633-yards total offense and 9.6-yards per play.

“They’re a very complete team,” said Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops. “I was impressed with them. They are a hard match-up for teams who don’t have extraordinary personnel on defense. Certainly we got exposed in some areas tonight. We’ve been kind of average all year and that’s not good enough when you play a team like this.”

OU finished the season winning shootouts against Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State and a hard fought game on the road at TCU. The TCU game was the only game that the defense was heroic and as Coach Mike looks back on the season he doesn’t find many positives especially the second half of the year.

“It’s hard to say right now,” said Coach Mike. “This is disappointing and it hurts. We didn’t play very well, we didn’t play very smart tonight, and we didn’t have the defense to play a team like this tonight. We just have to regroup and look at ourselves and say, what we need to do to improve and move forward. These teams are pretty constant with what we see, but certainly Manziel is an extraordinary talent.”

Senior David King moved inside to defensive tackle and finished the game with two tackles. In the first half the Sooner adjustments seem to work, but in the second half the Sooners made no additional adjustments and A&M had a field day.

“Yeah, things just started spiraling out of control and we gave up like three touchdowns in a row,” said King. “You kind of lose confidence in what you can do, but you still have to go out there and play hard and play through the fatigue and tiredness. They had the momentum, they had the crowd behind them, and it was like we played them at College Station. That’s all I saw was maroon in the stands. Once the crowd got into it and behind them, they were in total control of the game.

“It was extremely difficult to defense them. We knew we weren’t going to get to him with four guys so we tried to bring a blitz. A couple of times, guys got into position but just couldn’t make a play. A couple of times the outside guys lost containment and there were a couple of times he popped it up the middle. We weren’t good on the first, second, or third level and it showed. They’re a difficult team to defend, and they’re going to be trouble for the SEC next year.”

All year long Coach Bob Stoops has said that OU plays as a team and that the offense helps the defense and the defense helps the offense and special teams helps both units and when OU losses it is a team loss with on specific unit to blame.

“The consolation about tonight was that it was a complete debacle in the second half for us all,” said Coach Mike. “It’s just disappointing, we showed some different things early in the game and we needed to do some stuff in the second half to counter what they were doing. We needed a little more defense and some change-ups, but we didn’t get it. It still comes down to being able to contain the quarterback. I thought we sacked him but I guess we didn’t get a sack. It seemed like we were back there three-or-four times but again, they’re a very good football team and you see why they’ve played so well this season.”

OU finishes 10-3 the same as a year ago, but to OU this season was a much better year for the Sooners.

“Obviously it is,” said Coach Bob Stoops. “They’re not even compared. This game is disappointing in every way for me and for us. But the rest of the season was pretty positive and we have another Big 12 Championship.”

Despite the disappointing ending to the season the players feel OU grew up and accomplished a lot this year.

“Our season was a great success,” said Williams. “We had a lot of close games and we have shown the world that we are a family in winning those close games. We never put our head down and say lets give up. Tonight we still didn’t give up. We are all in there trying to fight and even when things weren’t going our way we just kept going and fighting.”

Offensively, OU will be looking for a new quarterback next season between Blake Bell, who will start the spring number one due to his back-up status this year, and sophomore Kendal Thompson and scout team sensation Trevor Knight. Drew Allen will also be in that mix if the senior to be doesn’t decide to transfer to a program where he would be guaranteed to start. The offensive line will get their walking wounded back which will make that unit much stronger and the main running backs return and will get a boost from redshirt freshmen Alex Ross and David Smith and incoming freshman Keith Ford.

The wide receivers will suffer a big loss in senior Justin Brown and the odds are, will lose another talented receiver in Kenny Stills who is thinking hard about leaving early for the NFL. But, plenty of talent returns in Sterling Sheppard, Durron Neal and Trey Metoyer who all played as freshman. Look for Jaz Reynolds to return to the unit as a senior and redshirt freshman Derrick Woods was a star on the scout team.

On defense the Sooners have a lot more work to do to return to its elite status and cornerback Aaron Colvin will be the only starter guaranteed to start next year. If Tony Jefferson returns, and he is leaning towards leaving, then he will be guaranteed to start and Jordan Phillips at defensive tackle and Chuka Ndulue will both play a prominent role at defensive tackle and defensive end, but one thing is for sure the coaches will expect the defense to put in extra work to get better.

“I don’t think there is any question that our defense played poorly in the second half of the year,” said Coach B. Stoops. “We’ve got to make improvements in all areas, run defense, pass defense, and pressure whatever we are doing. But again, some of it too, our players have to make improvements. We had guys in position a bunch of times today to make plays, and they didn’t make them. The scheme and that kind of stuff only goes so far. Bottom line, it comes down to when you get opportunities to execute, you have got to execute.”

The coaching convention is this week and it is a dead period starting Monday in recruiting for three days and then the OU coaches plan on hitting the recruiting trail hard. OU will host, what they hope is a big weekend, starting on the 11th and OU will have a Junior Day that weekend as well.

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