John E. Hoover: Sooners' issue? A lack of toughness
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, September 23, 2012
9/23/12 at 5:42 AM
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Original Print Headline: Sooners' issue? A lack of toughness
NORMAN - Kansas State football players bounced with joy, high-fiving, low-fiving, embracing and just laughing as they were serenaded by their fans.
The southeast corner of Memorial Stadium, once an impenetrable stronghold of crimson and cream, had become a little slice of purple heaven.
The Wildcats took the fight to Oklahoma on Saturday night, pushing the Sooners all about Owen Field with an opportunistic defense and a punishing offense. The fallout of K-State's 24-19 victory was just the fourth OU defeat in 13-plus seasons of the Bob Stoops era - and the second in two years, and to a double-digit underdog, at that.
But afterward, after a handful of Wildcats let slip in their exuberance their depiction of the Sooners as overrated and soft and entitled, Stoops said this Oklahoma team is not soft.
"I think we're a tough enough team," Stoops said. "What I don't think is we're a good enough football team."
Evidence, however, mounts that this Oklahoma team does, in fact, appear to lack the most basic of all football fundamentals: toughness.
Mistakes and inconsistencies that plagued OU through two tepid nonconference victories arose once more versus Kansas State. K-State was good enough to turn those errors into an upset.
In an era when Southeastern Conference teams have hijacked college football with iron defenses full of NFL-caliber linemen and powerful, run-oriented offenses, Oklahoma has neither.
Oklahoma is not tough enough to win a national championship. Stoops must hope his team finds the toughness to compete for another Big 12 championship.
This was a landmark recruiting weekend for the Sooners, witnessed in person by a handful of offensive and defensive linemen on their official visits to Norman who are being recruited by some of the SEC's best teams.
Toby Johnson is the nation's best junior college defensive tackle, according to Rivals.com, and lists six SEC schools among his favorites (he has offers from eight SEC schools). Dallas Kimball defensive tackle Justin Manning, younger brother of ex-Sooner DeMarcus Granger, has five SEC offers and ranks LSU, TCU, Texas A&M, USC with OU among his top five.
Na'Ty Rodgers (six SEC offers) and Caleb Benenoch (four) are four-star offensive linemen coveted by everyone.
But those recruits - and more than 85,000 others packed into Memorial Stadium - got to see an Oklahoma offense that didn't take a snap under center all night, running and throwing exclusively out of the shotgun formation.
Stoops said toughness isn't dictated by where the quarterback takes the snap. But co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel acknowledged that his reliance on the shotgun is "a byproduct of who you think your personnel is" - his answer to a question about the absence of two long-time starters on the offensive line due to preseason injuries.
Stoops shrugged off the notion that such an important recruiting weekend is tainted by defeat.
"Nah," he said. "We'll continue to recruit. One game and one situation doesn't change things."
However, changing the line of scrimmage with powerful people up front is something Oklahoma hasn't done nearly enough in recent years. This team shows it all too frequently.
Operating almost 100 percent of the time out of the gun, the Sooners had too many problems consistently running the ball against the likes of UTEP and Florida A&M. Those complications carried over Saturday as well, as the Sooners rushed for just 88 yards on an average of 3.3 per carry against the Wildcats.
(Stoops said the low average could be blamed on quarterback sacks, but Landry Jones was felled only once.)
The recruits also saw an OU defense that had trouble holding its ground against Kansas State's power running of quarterback Collin Klein (79 rushing yards) and running back John Hubert (130).
A pragmatist might ask why in the world would any premier offensive or defensive lineman sign up for that kind of duty. One might even ask why the OU coaching staff would line up visits from a bunch of guys who might be more impressed by the opponent.
Then again, maybe the timing of their official visits was genius maneuvering by the Sooner staff: Bring in a bunch of players to show them just exactly how bad you need them, how much of a difference they can make.
But this loss wasn't some shrewd recruiting gambit for the future. It was, at its core, a lack of toughness.
Justin Brown of Oklahoma is tackled by Nigel Malone as Arthur Brown of Kansas State looks on. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World