Dave Sittler: Bedlam is the latest oncoming storm for Brent Venables and his OU defense
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Friday, December 02, 2011
12/02/11 at 6:57 AM
Get the latest news on Bedlam and look back at stories from this week’s OU-OSU coverage.
Reversal of fortune.
John Klein: Beating OU is Gundy’s next goal.
Three key games: OSU.
Three key games: OU.
A look at the history of Bedlam football.
Bedlam tips for fans.
OSU notebook: Big-play Sooners.
OU notebook: Sooners concerned with Cowboys’ theft.
View OSU's starting lineups.
View OU's starting lineups.
Go to Dave Sittler's BlogOriginal Print Headline: Venables, OU defense enter eye of the storm
NORMAN - Brent Venables struggled with his emotions as he looked toward a wall inside Oklahoma football facilities and proudly pointed to the seven large banners that adorn it.
"If you go through all those championship teams," Venables said, "there is a story behind every single one of them."
The signs represent the Big 12 Conference championships OU has won under coach Bob Stoops. Over a remarkable 11-year span, OU played in eight title games and won seven of them.
Venables has been on Stoops' staff all 13 seasons. And while he was either sharing coordinator duties or running the defense on his own, he has been a huge part of all seven titles.
Stoops, Venables and the Sooners will try to add to OU's record with an eighth league title Saturday night against an Oklahoma State team chasing its first Big 12 championship.
Venables' expertise influenced last season's Bedlam victory, which the Sooners needed to play Nebraska in what was the last Big 12 championship game.
OU stunned OSU's high-octane offense early in the 2010 game when Venables surprised the Cowboys with a new defensive scheme. While the Pokes' offense eventually got rolling in the 47-41 OU win, 14 of the Cowboys' points came via defense and special teams.
With Saturday's 7 p.m. Bedlam battle returning to OSU's Boone Pickens Stadium for a second consecutive season, the pressure is once again on Venables to solve the problems the Sooners have had with pass defense.
OSU's dynamic duo of quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon were slowed by injuries a year ago. Both are back and healthy as the Cowboys attempt to win the Big 12 title outright instead of sharing it with OU (and possibly Kansas State).
Venables doesn't agree with Stoops and OSU coach Mike Gundy, who believe the Bedlam winner should be declared the "one true champion." He'll happily take another title, even if it's shared.
"This is a very difficult profession and very difficult for the players," Venables said. "And it's very difficult to be in this (championship) position at the end of the year.
"We've been incredibly fortunate to have been in it a number of times."
While OU will have to share the 2011 conference title, a win would give the Sooners the league's automatic bid to a BCS bowl and spoil OSU's BCS dreams.
Both Bedlam teams feature explosive offenses and questionable defenses. So the game's likely going to be decided on the defense that eventually crumbles.
OU's numbers on that side of the ball are definitely better than OSU's. But this team will forever be haunted by the points they surrendered in losses to Texas Tech and Baylor.
Weeden and Blackmon probably couldn't stop giggling as they watched Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III torch OU's secondary for 485 yards passing and four touchdowns in the Bears' 45-38 win.
Given those gaudy numbers, it seemed a bit ludicrous after OU's 26-6 win over Iowa State last week to hear Sooner linebacker/safety Tony Jefferson say this about OSU: "They have a lot of (offensive) weapons, but I feel like we have the weapons to shut down any offense in the country."
Jefferson's confidence is apparently the result of listening to his coaches. Stoops and Venables gave the Sooners pep talks after the Baylor loss cost them any shot at playing in the BCS title game.
Stoops, according to Venables, pointed to those seven Big 12 championship banners when he addressed his shocked players that next Monday.
"Coach Stoops told them he knew they came to OU to play for championships," Venables recalled. "And as much as we'd like to be playing for the national championship, he told them not to let people talk you into believing that's all you play for.
"It's uncomfortable around here when you've had so much success and winning (Big 12 titles) isn't good enough. That's a difficult element to manage and to deal with."
During a season when he lost key starters because of death and major injuries, Venables has attempted to instill a never-quit attitude in his defense.
That was undoubtedly the theme this week as Venables put together his Bedlam game plan. But injuries have wiped out his depth at enough spots that he might not be able to spring another surprise on OSU.
Defensive end Ronnell Lewis' knee injury against Baylor forced Venables to move linebacker Corey Nelson into Lewis' spot. Frank Alexander, the Sooners' other starting defensive end, is having a breakout season, but he's slowed by a shoulder injury.
"Life is a constant series of storms," Venables said. "And when you're in the middle of one, you've got to find a way to come out of it.
"We're going into one (at OSU). But character is revealed when you're in the middle of a storm."
If OU finds a way to survive this Bedlam, the story behind this championship will almost certainly be the depth of the Sooners' character.
OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables celebrates Tony Jefferson's second-quarter interception against Texas earlier this season. Venables has been a part of Bob Stoops' coaching staff for all of Stoops' 13 seasons in Norman. MIKE SIMONS/ Tulsa World