Changes on tap for Sooners in '13, starting at QB
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Sunday, January 06, 2013
1/06/13 at 7:39 AM
ARLINGTON, Texas - Minutes after Oklahoma's Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M, the theme for next season's Sooners set in.
The quarterback position is open for the first time since Sam Bradford beat Keith Nichol and Joey Halzle for the job in August 2006. Landry Jones went unchallenged when he stepped in for an injured Bradford in '09, but Blake Bell might not have it so easy.
The heretofore short-yardage specialist is the favorite to replace Jones, but he must fend off multi-skilled youngsters Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson.
"It will be interesting to see how winter and spring goes," center Gabe Ikard said following OU's 41-13 loss to the Aggies on Friday night. "I know Blake is going in as probably the number one guy. But I'm sure Coach (Josh) Heupel will have all those guys motivated, convince them it's a quarterback battle. We'll see how that goes, just see who earns the job in the spring."
Regardless of the quarterback, OU's offense will look different than the drop-back-and-sling-it style preferred by Jones and Bradford the past seven years. You might have caught a glimpse of the future when, on third-and-1 early in Friday's second quarter, Bell executed a perfect zone read, putting the ball in the belly of fullback Trey Millard before pulling it back and plowing forward for 11 yards.
Bell, Millard and tailbacks Damien Williams and Brennan Clay are set to return. So are four of the five starters in OU's offensive line. The option to balance the offense is there.
But first, something has to change. That was evident when the two teams came out for the second half Friday.
"They went to a three-man front on us, and we couldn't run the ball well enough," Ikard said. "The offensive line didn't play well enough."
It doesn't just take speed or power to run the ball. It takes attitude. And scheme. The Sooners fell short on both accounts against A&M, and the result was embarrassing.
"If anything, this will be a huge motivation through the offseason," said Ty Darlington, the freshman who played quite a bit Friday after guard Adam Shead was shaken up. "It will cause us to work harder."
Change is even more necessary on OU's defense. The Sooners got away with some gaping holes in both talent and gameplan as the 2012 season wore on, but only because Jones and the offense bailed them out.
It was a dangerous way to defend, and it crashed down on them against Texas A&M.
"A complete debacle," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called it. "We certainly didn't have enough defense to play a team like this."
"We've got to make improvements in all areas," coach Bob Stoops said afterward. "Run defense, pass defense, pressures, whatever we're doing.
"Some of it, too, is our players have got to make some improvements. We had guys in position a bunch of times today to make plays, and they didn't make them. The schemes and that kind of stuff only go so far."
Maybe. But right now, the Sooners' best chance for short-term defensive gains is to change their structure. They simply don't have the manpower, especially up front, to stop elite-level offenses. That was never more apparent than Friday night, when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel had so much time and freedom to attack it looked like he was running a 7-on-7 drill.
Before leaving Cowboys Stadium, Bob Stoops said: "This game is disappointing in every way for me, for us. But the rest of the season was pretty positive, with another Big 12 championship."
For sure, the Sooners' 10-3 2012 felt a lot better than their underachieving 10-3 of 2011. They'll be expected to win at least 10 more games in 2013, regardless of the loss of Jones and the problems on defense. It comes with a program of their status.
Doing so, however, is going to take some real effort, and a real commitment to change.
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Oklahoma's Landry Jones walks off the field after the Sooners came up short on a fourth-down conversion as Texas A&M's Jonathan Stewart celebrates during Friday's Cotton Bowl. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World