John E. Hoover: Oklahoma's season turned upside down with loss of key players
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
8/07/12 at 4:56 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: After losing key players, OU's season looks bleak
Foreheads all across the Big 12 Conference wrinkled upward on Monday, incredulous and morbidly optimistic.
Oklahoma, they asked, lost another offensive lineman? Another returning starter? Another proven blocker?
Where's that old defensive playbook, they wondered, the one about blitzing the quarterback on every play?
This OU football team was already pockmarked with flaws. Now, that shaky No. 4 preseason ranking looks all too familiar - a house of cards, blown over by ridiculous misfortune, ready to come tumbling down on Landry Jones like it did on Sam Bradford back in 2009.
Senior Tyler Evans, a 29-game starter at right guard, is on crutches after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and is out for the season.
Just last week, senior Ben Habern, a captain and 30-game starter at center, called it a career after a painful neck injury wouldn't heal.
Dylan Dismuke, a promising redshirt freshman, had to quit because of chronic knee pain. John Michael McGee, an equally promising true freshman, got homesick and went back to Arkansas.
There goes Jones' shot at a Heisman Trophy. There goes OU's shot at a national championship. There goes the Sooners' best hopes for a Big 12 title.
Sorry, Sooner Nation. You can't win football games at a high level without a quality offensive line, and OU just went from having one of the nation's best and deepest offensive lines to suddenly one with two returning starters and not one backup who has ever started a college game.
Furthermore, a bleak future: Of the four offensive linemen OU signed in February, only two remain. Will Latu never got eligible and McGee just quit.
Sports fans want blame. But there is none.
Certainly not offensive line coach James Patton.
During his time in Norman, Patton has grown into a quality coach who inspires young players and relates to older ones. He molded and shaped various prospects the past two seasons to overachieve what many predicted for them. Two of Patton's prized pupils are tackle Lane Johnson and new center Gabe Ikard. Both converted from tight end, and both are all-conference material, maybe more.
Adam Shead came in as an athletic but mostly raw freshman who in just over two years has developed into the Sooners' most efficient blocker.
Some will try to blame strength coach Jerry Schmidt.
Schmidt's in-your-face methods may have scared away a few players over the years, and his special-forces workout regimen may have caused more than one o-linemen to reconsider his place in the universe.
But in terms of injury prevention, it's almost unthinkable - medically impossible, perhaps - that Schmidt's offseason meat grinder has left players susceptible to injury.
So, no blame. This is just dumb luck. No, stupid luck. A voodoo curse carried out by some Bevo witch doctor. Maybe an incongruent alignment of Jupiter and Mars in the house of Aquarius or some such.
Much the same thing happened in '09, when All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham jumped for a ball before practice and tore knee cartilage, out for the season. That year was completely ruined when an inexperienced offensive line couldn't pick up a routine linebacker blitz in the opener against BYU, and Bradford's shoulder was damaged. Brody Eldridge and Trent Williams - both current NFL players - also went down with weird injuries. So did a handful of others, including Evans and Habern, who were freshmen then.
In any event, this Oklahoma football team will play with heart and pride, and those are too often underestimated in big-time athletics.
Bronson Irwin is a good young talent (and maybe a sudden starter) at guard; Derek Farniok may join his big brother Tom at Iowa State as a Big 12 starter. Nila Kasitati might overcome his heart condition and bloom into the human road grader many think he is.
But OU won't have the horsepower to compete for a championship. Not this season. Not with so many problems at such an important position.