U-G-L-Y: Sooners look bad in loss
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Writer
Sunday, November 08, 2009
11/08/09 at 1:17 PM
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LINCOLN, Neb. — Once upon a time, the storied Oklahoma-Nebraska football series produced such monumental events as the 1971 Game of the Century.
Saturday night, the Sooners and the Cornhuskers combined to play the Ugly Game of the New Century. It was also one of the most unsightly contests in the 85-year history of a series that has often featured top-five teams fighting for a shot at the national championship.
There was only one ranked team in last night’s game at Memorial Stadium, and the No. 20 Sooners’ 10-3 loss was one of the most embarrassing performances in coach Bob Stoops’ tenure. It was the Sooners who produced the majority of unsightly plays as the three points were the least amount scored by a Stoops coached team.
“That was one of the most ugly games I’ve ever played in,” Husker quarterback Zac Lee said. But it feels good to win, no matter how ugly that may have been.”
How ugly was it? Nebraska led 7-3 at halftime even though the Huskers managed one first down the entire half. One!
The game’s only touchdown was set up by an interception that left the Huskers with first-and-goal on OU’s 1-yard line.
The Sooners’ sloppy offense didn’t just repeatedly shoot itself in the foot, it blew the danged thing clean off with five interceptions, three missed field goals and several drive-killing penalties.
It was supposed to be Nebraska, who competes in the Big 12 Conference’s woeful North Division, that was supposed to struggle against a team from the mighty South Division. After all, just three weeks ago, the Huskers (6-3, 3-2 Big 12) lost 9-7 at home to Iowa State while committing eight turnovers.
If Stoops learned anything in this disaster, it should be that he needs to send his assistants on an all-out search for junior college offensive linemen who can play immediately. And while the OU coaches are at it, they should also search high and low for a dependable field-goal kicker.
Nebraska’s vaunted defense lived up to its reputation when it exposed OU’s offensive line by dominating the Sooners when it counted. OU piled up the yards while repeatedly drive deep into Nebraska territory before being stopped and forced to attempt three Tress Way field goals, with none of them finding the mark.
Stoops has obviously give up on last season’s kicker, Jimmy Stevens, who was benched two weeks ago in a win at Kansas. Stoops stuck with Tress Way the entire game, and the redshirt freshman field goals from 46, 45 and 42 yards.
That victory over the Jayhawks, by the way, remains OU’s only win away from home this season as the Sooners’ record dropped to 5-4 and 3-2.
The OU coach can’t bench quarterback Landry Jones, whose toughest game as a Sooner was the result of constantly being harassed because the Sooners line couldn’t stop the relentless Husker defense. Jones, who had five passes intercepted, is the only scholarship quarterback with experience that OU has available.
The most pertinent and perplexing question facing OU is where do the Sooners go from here? They have now lost four games in a season for only the third time in Stoops’ 11 years.
About the only good news right in OU’s camp is that two of the final three games are at home against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, with a road trip of to Texas Tech sandwiched between those two contests.
Based on what a raucous crowd and a split-national television audience witnessed last night, the Sooners would be wise to make sure they defeat Texas A&M (5-4, 2-3) Saturday, if they want to guarantee continuing Stoops’ streak of going to a bowl game after every season in his OU tenure.
OU has often struggled on trips to Texas Tech (6-3, 3-2). And even though the Bedlam contest will be on Owen Field, OSU (7-2, 4-1) has good reason to enter the contest supremely confident of victory.
If the Sooners lose to the Red Raiders and Pokes, they will desperately need to defeat the Aggies to gain the sixth win required to become eligible to play in the post season.
Would a 6-6 OU team even want to play in a bowl? It doesn’t matter, because the Big 12 bowl contracts will force the Sooners to continue this strange season even if they’d prefer to call it quits after Bedlam.
So a season that started with legitimate hopes of playing for the BCS national championship at the Rose Bowl, has dissolved into OU trying to win enough games to avoid playing in the Independence Bowl. That was the unattractive site of the first of Stoops’ 10 straight bowl appearances, and he undoubtedly would like to avoid a second visit in the last season the Big 12 has a contract with the lower-tier bowl in Shreveport, La.
The only real positive for OU in last night’s nightmare was the inspired play of a never-quit defense. The Sooners allowed only 180 total yards and seven first downs, and repeatedly gave the offense the ball in Husker territory. But that was expected against a Nebraska (6-3, 3-2) offense that had slumped so badly in its last three games that OU was a five-point favorite.
“It would be hard for our defense to play much better,” said Stoops, who pointed to OU’s “dumb penalties. We still had a lot (nine) of foolish penalties.”
Just a week ago, when the Sooners held off a determined second-half comeback against Kansas State, Stoops said he was excited because he saw “signs of becoming a complete team.”
He was optimistic because the offense had finally held up its end when the heretofore reliable defense surrendered 30 points to the Wildcats. Jones seemed to be coming into his own after throwing four touchdowns passes and being named the Big 12’s offensive player of the week.
Last night was a return to a season-long story of the offense failing to produce. It’s a problem the OU staff hasn’t figured out how to overcome after losing quarterback Sam Bradford and All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Those other offensive struggles, however, didn’t come close to resembling OU’s bleak, eye-sore act against a Nebraska team that OU beat 62-28 last season.
There was one way to describe it — ugly.