After the officiating Saturday I was happy to wake up the next morning and see that despite what happened in Eugene other rules, like gravity, were still in effect. Although my world wasn't turned completely upside down, it hasn't been until recently that I have been able to stomach solid foods.
I was so disheartened by the game on Saturday I didn't watch any football for the rest of the weekend. I think the only thing worse than the calls in the game is the calm that came too quickly after the storm. The evening news sports coverage here on the West Coast, where I live, didn't even give a hint of the Pac 10's negligent officials.
Why is it taboo to write on poor officiating? Other than Oklahoma's media, and one brave journalist by the name of John Canzano for the Oregonian, Oregon's prime news paper, this crippling issue is being largely ignored. And just in case you haven't already, don't go to Oregon's Rivals site – It'll put the entire saltshaker in the wound.
I know the feeling of having a game taken away from you because of poor calls. It destroys a player's trust, not in his teammates or even the officials, but the heart of the game itself.
As a Sooner I was always made to believe that the blood, sweat, and tears spilled in the off-season were for a reason. The reason was that during the season, on the field of play, the team who played the best would surely win… right? Well, with that belief in mind we did everything in our power to make sure that when it came time, we were the best team on the field. Our Sooners were the best team on the field Saturday, and they along with Oregon, and the rest of the nation did not deserve the final outcome. I saw the familiar faces along the OU sideline right after they lost the game, they looked worse than hurt - they were betrayed!
It was not fair to allow bias to overshadow two teams that played their hearts out in an otherwise spectacular game. It must be understood that we compromise the integrity of the greatest sport on earth by sticking outside agendas in it.
Of course the kickoff and pass interference call received the most attention, however was I the only one who could see the blood in the water by the first two quarters? From the first kickoff I could tell that the Ref's were going to tear into the Sooners like a Great White - with black stripes - Shark. Aside from the two whoppers in the fourth quarter, Oregon also benefited from the official's inability to call them for holding, and late hits. By the time the fourth quarter came around, the notion of "if" left the building, leaving only when and how blatant the officials would make calls in Oregon's favor.
Where do we go from here?
Up! Duh. With all due respect, if you can step away from the Oregon game and feel anything but inspired and confident heading to conference play, you need to have your football fan's license revoked and replaced with one for men's figure skating. In a sport that constantly changes I have learned it's the constants that will prove to be the true keys to success. When we apply those keys to this season, our Sooners appear further along than many may assume.
The first key is Defense.
It is this reason alone that has many of us worried. I'm not too worried, reason being: Brent Venables. I've heard Venables has taken a lot of heat so far this season as his defense has seemed to be the weak link in the team. Even if the finger were not pointed at him, he would still take responsibility for the matter. When I was playing there were times that we would hold the opposing team to a single score and hardly any yardage, yet the offense would struggle and make the game closer than it needed to be. His question the next day in film would be "What more could we have done as a defense to help improve the outcome of the game?" He would get on us about not forcing enough turnovers or scoring on defense or something else that seemed to be out of left field. But he was right on the money.
He didn't allow us to separate ourselves from the offense. In his eyes defense contributed just as much as the quarterback or center to the success of the offense. He didn't make excuses and never allowed us to use them; he practiced the same tenacious work ethic he preached. He will gladly take more than his share of responsibility, but in the same breath he will give the most sacrificial effort to ensure the future success of his defense.
Despite Venables' greatest effort, a large part of that journey has to be made by the defense itself; and of course I feel the linebackers should lead the expedition. I'm sure our defense has been coached to the tee on everything they need to know, yet it takes more than know-how to become a good defense. It takes ATTITUDE. A defense's attitude is their identity. Having an unrelenting attitude is the difference between jack-hammering the hole you are supposed to fill and getting caught in the wash. The right combination of assignments and attitude will make any defense a force. Although there are individual signs of such a combination in OU's defense there needs to be unison.
I'm reminded of my 2002 season with the Sooners, talk about a defense with an attitude! There were times like the rainy Iowa State game, where the damage we inflicted upon them was based solely on how many times they were brave enough to test us. Our play during games like that was deeply rooted in a mindset that would not allow us to be intimidated.
This year's defense is all but too close to discovering their identity. Although the letter President David Boren wrote to the commissioner of the Pac 10 was appreciated and might soften the blow a bit, I hope Saturday's haymaker still stings in the guts of the defense. I hope it leaves a sour taste in their mouth that is only remedied by the punishment of future offenses. Pain can foster a special type of growth and unity for a team. I see this defense making strides soon.
So I got a little carried away with defense, can you blame me?
The second key is Special Teams.
With Reggie Smith and Co. I'm sure you can understand why we have this key covered. I had the pleasure of playing with Antonio Perkins during his breakout seasons. Great returns are a godsend and returns for touchdowns win games. We're definitely headed in the right direction here.
The third key is a strong Running Game.
In all of the defensive film rooms I have been in over the years, except in preparation for Texas Tech, the number one objective on our list was to dominate the run game. If a team has no run game they become one-dimensional. A one-dimensional team: is predictable, manages the clock poorly, is more likely to make turnovers, and tires out their own defense – all that from something as simple as a running game.
Adrian Peterson is a yard-devouring beast! He runs with the type of conviction I would love to see embody the defense. Once Paul Thompson gets comfortable with scrambling Oklahoma's offense will truly be a force to be reckoned with.
And yes, Carey Murdock, Paul be nimble and Paul be quick as well. It's a confidence thing, mark my words.
The fourth key is a Pass Game.
Paul is maturing as a quarterback in fast forward right before our eyes. Some of the plays he made under pressure were ridiculous, worthy of a lot more attention than what they have been given.
The last key is the Big Play.
We have no problem in that department!
There you have it, defense, special teams, run game, pass game, and big play potential – in that order. We are a half defense away from being one strong contender.
Question : The first three games we've allowed over 500 yards rushing. What adjustments do we need to make with our front seven on defense to make sure our problems don't continue? Do you remember a time while you were at Oklahoma when you had trouble with the run, and what were some of the things the coaches worked on to improve your fundamentals?
Other than the whole identity thing, we need to have a clear idea of who's doing what. Linemen are 300 pounds for a reason and it sure isn't to act like linebackers. Also misdirection and option plays have been an Achille's heel for our defense. Those two plays reflect a defense's discipline. We need to gain patience and establish a firm line of scrimmage, in doing so you force an offense into an east and west running game allowing the sidelines to help the defense.
When I was at OU Coach Venables taught me the valuable technique of baiting the option. The quarterback always options the end man on the line. Because I was the Sam backer I was often the end man on the line. As the quarterback approaches me I try to mirror his angle slightly giving ground to prolong his decision of whether to keep the ball or pitch it. The stalling allows the rest of the defense to catch up and ultimately kill the play.
I'll definitely take more questions in the future so keep sending them in!