John Klein: OU's season ends on disappointing note
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, January 06, 2013
1/06/13 at 8:19 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Sooners end their season on disappointing note
ARLINGTON, Texas - Oklahoma, just like it did during a 10-victory season, had some memorable moments in the Cotton Bowl.
And, just like during the season, the Sooners had some forgettable plays in a 41-13 loss to Texas A&M on Friday night at Cowboys Stadium.
Johnny Manziel was fabulous, an encore performance to his Heisman Trophy-winning season, as the Aggies hammered the Sooners.
Oklahoma's defense, shaky for much of the second half of the season, did little to slow Manziel. He ran for 229 yards and threw for 287.
As the Sooners surged late in the season, Landry Jones repeatedly saved OU with terrific games. Jones passed the Sooners to shootout victories over Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
He couldn't do it against Texas A&M.
When OU's offense went cold, there was no help for Oklahoma's overmatched defenders.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops knows the off-season will be interesting.
There is no small matter of finding a new starter at quarterback to replace Jones, a four-year starter who won 39 of his 50 games and set virtually every OU passing record.
But, perhaps just as important, he will be trying to find some answers on defense.
OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was brought back to the Sooners to much fanfare, but his impact has been far less than many expected.
The Sooners did not play good defense down the stretch of the season but Jones, with his high level of play, had covered up the problems.
"I don't think there's any question," said Stoops. "The second half of the year (our defense played) poorly in most ways.
"We have to make improvements in all areas: run defense, pass defense, pressures, whatever we're doing. But again, some of it, our players have got to make some improvements. We had guys in position a bunch of times to make plays and they didn't make them. The schemes and that kind of stuff only goes so far. Bottom line, it comes down to when you get opportunities to execute, you got to execute."
Losing Jones, who so often rescued OU the past two years with his play, will be far more of a loss than some believe.
"Landry is one of the more underappreciated talents we've had around here, just setting all kinds of records," said OU offensive lineman Gabe Ikard. "All he got was criticism about us losing games when normally it wasn't even much of his fault.
"It will be interesting to see how winter and spring goes. We'll see how that goes, just see who earns the job in the spring."
Oklahoma finishes 10-3 for the second straight season. However, OU's five-game win streak salvaged the season and got the Sooners a piece of the Big 12 title.
A year ago, OU lost its last two games of the season and ended up in the Insight Bowl. The Cotton Bowl was a big step up.
"They're not even to be compared," said Stoops. "This game is disappointing in every way for me, for us.
"But the rest of the season was pretty positive."
Oklahoma, because it had a four-year starter at quarterback, probably expected more. OU was the preseason favorite in the Big 12 and a consensus top-five pick in the nation.
However, Oklahoma's defense was shaky most of the season, especially in big games against Kansas State and Notre Dame. The Sooners got hammered by a trio of offenses late in the year.
Improved defense is critical.
"As long as the guys don't go through the motions and continue to attack and use this game as motivation, we can't get any worse," said OU defensive end David King.
Still, despite some obvious holes this season, Oklahoma remains a significant player on the national stage.
"It is difficult," said Stoops. "There are ebbs and flows to all programs. You look over the last 14 or 15 years, we have been fortunate to maintain a strong level of championships and bowl games.
"I credit a great administration. I've had great assistant coaches like Kevin Sumlin. We have had good solid players. We have done in the right way."
After that rough start, and a few bumps in the road, Oklahoma settled into a good routine.
Down the stretch, OU won three very difficult games to reach the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners won at West Virginia on the last play of the game, rallied on the last play to get into overtime against Oklahoma State to win and then won a struggle at TCU.
"Each week is a little bit different," said Stoops. "We fought through some tough games and found a way to win them."
What Stoops has done at Oklahoma is not lost on Sumlin.
Sumlin was an eager student as an assistant at OU for five years under Stoops. He took those lessons with him to his successes at Houston and now that first season at Texas A&M.
"To go through really what was a rebuilding situation, losing a bunch of draft picks, how you handle that, how you handle adversity," said Sumlin. "I think we lost the first game in a long time at home to TCU and then we bounced back that team to get to the Holiday Bowl and winning and getting the program back on track. You learn a lot during that time.
"Probably the biggest thing (learned from Stoops) is the daily expectations of players, how you treat players and the expectation level you have for everybody and creating a family atmosphere."
Sumlin certainly doesn't underestimate what the Sooners were about this season.
"Look at this team," said Sumlin. "I can't tell you how many people have thrown out that this isn't one of his better teams. What are you talking about?
"I'm not sure how many 10-win teams he has had. The level of expectations that has been created in the 14 years he has been there is extremely high. When I get a question like that or an attitude like that, it tells you what kind of program he has created."
The loss of Jones is huge. Regardless of who becomes the starter at quarterback, Jones has set the bar very high.
"Obviously, you're going to miss a guy like Landry," said OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. "He allows us to play the way we play. We can play fast, efficiently and attack the field.
"I think when people look at the type of throws that kid makes, there's not many college football players that can do what he can. There is no question we will miss Landry."
Oklahoma's Landry Jones is sacked by Sean Porter of Texas A&M during the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic Jan. 4, 2013. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World