John E. Hoover: Sooners' season searching for rhythm
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
10/10/12 at 3:23 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Sooners' season searching for rhythm
NORMAN - Even before Oklahoma lost another home game, and certainly before the Sooners somehow avoided another Zodiac-induced defeat in west Texas, OU's whole season just had a funky vibe to it.
Exactly three since Bob Stoops became coach, only one of which - this year at UTEP - was a true road game.
- How often do the Sooners start a season away from home?
Exactly three under Stoops, including this year versus Florida A&M.
- How often do the Sooners play an under-scholarshipped opponent from the lower division?
Once before under Stoops, although that was in 2001, when post-9/11 games were canceled; OU hasn't had a lazier September since 1985, when TV execs pushed an attractive matchup with SMU to the end of the season and left the eventual national champs with one September contest.
- How often do the Sooners have two open dates in September?
Somehow reality in Norman has been tilted just a fraction, off by a few milliseconds, a slightly different hue. It looks very much the same as any of Oklahoma's other 117 seasons, and yet something is just out of whack.
Maybe Saturday's victory in Lubbock was the event that puts everything back in sync. Maybe the 13th-ranked Sooners are finally all moving in the same direction going into Saturday's Red River Rivalry showdown with No. 15 Texas.
"Now," Stoops said, "hopefully we can get into a rhythm."
Make no mistake about it, two season-ending injuries in the middle of the offensive line and an entirely overhauled receiving corps and six starters from last season off to the NFL and a new defensive coordinator left a lasting imprint on this team.
But so, too, did the Big 12 Conference's inability to spread out the Sooners' open dates across the calendar.
A late night game at UTEP revealed numerous issues. A home date the following week against an FCS opponent showed more problems but, as the score got out of hand too quickly, didn't allow for measured improvement.
Then, an idle Saturday. A weekend off. Four days of work, followed by three days of rest. Who needs such a thing after just two games? The weekly rhythm was broken before it had a chance to get going.
Then, Kansas State came into Norman tuned in, while Oklahoma clearly was not. Whatever improvements needed to be made never were, and the Wildcats prevailed.
"You improve not only in practice, but you really make your improvement when you're on the field and playing in game situations," Stoops said.
Blame it on the coaching staff for not adjusting to the different schedule or for not recognizing and fixing the problems when they could. Or blame it on the players for not being mature enough to recognize it themselves or for not buying into the coachspeak.
It's too easy to blame conference realignment. Moving TCU from a September nonconference game to a December conference game no doubt was a major inconvenience. But these coaches and these players knew the schedule for seven months before kickoff in El Paso. Any fault lies within the walls of the Switzer Center.
In any event, for a team with so many question marks, a team desperate for an identity, having two open dates in September created significant obstacles.
Look at the rest of the Associated Press Top 25. No. 10 Oregon State and No. 21 Cincinnati are the only other teams right now with just four games in their ledger. Everyone else has played either five or six.
Teams can try to go full speed in practice, but it doesn't come close to replicating Saturdays.
"Yeah, the only way to tackle is to be going full speed," Stoops said. "When you start doing that against yourself, you get people hurt. That's just the balance you're (trying) to have."
During a typical open date week, the Sooners spend more time Monday and Thursday in the film room and less at practice. To keep the blood flowing, they'll have longer practices on Tuesday and Wednesday.
But, during the open date ahead of the Texas Tech game, Stoops and his staff ramped up the intensity.
"Actually, Thursday we went the entire team period, 60, 70 plays, against each other," he said. "Good against good, or A team and B team and just rotating back and forth. We did a lot of that work in the off week."
Maybe the surprisingly easy victory over the Red Raiders was a direct correlation to that increased intensity. Maybe not.
This much is certain: college football players are given just 12-14 games a year. Their opportunities to actually play a game are few. The other 40 weeks or so, they're grinding in the weight room, agonizing on the stadium steps, or just busting their humps in the monotony of spring practice or training camp.
These guys want nothing more than to play football. And when they find themselves sitting around the house for half of their September afternoons, the warrior's edge is dulled.
"Well, I don't know. Maybe there is (a psychological toll) to a degree," Stoops said. "It's hard to make that improvement if you're not playing games. Games are where you take more steps and learn the most."