Oklahoma deals with dashed title hopes
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) This isn’t where Oklahoma expected to be.
A team that opened the season ranked No. 4 after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl now is unranked with three losses and out of any title conversations. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops repeatedly has said his players have struggled with mental preparation, and there has been inconsistency across the board.
”That’s all there,” he said. ”It gets down to our ability to execute and us coaches being able to help our players and put them in the best possible positions, so all of us together have just got to do a better job. I hate where we’re at, too. Very angry, but we’re determined to go to work and improve it.”
The Sooners will try to make the best of the remainder of their season, starting Saturday at Texas Tech.
”You have to win,” defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said. ”That’s the mentality. Because your goals are out the window now, it doesn’t mean you have to go out there and give up on everything. There’s still some pride that goes around the team. We want to accomplish finishing the season off on a high note and that’s what we are going to do.”
Things started poorly off the field for the Sooners.
Oklahoma suspended Frank Shannon after a Title IX investigation into an accusation of sexual misconduct, leaving the team without its top returning tackler.
Joe Mixon, one of the nation’s top running back recruits, punched a young woman in the face at a restaurant before fall practice even started, and he was suspended for a year.
Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, a transfer from Missouri, and quarterback Baker Mayfield, a transfer from Texas Tech, both had their appeals for immediate eligibility denied.
Still, the Sooners got off to a good start on the field, rolling through non-conference play and scoring a solid road win against West Virginia to start the Big 12 season.
Then, the on-the-field problems started.
The Sooners lost 37-33 to TCU, then were shaky in a win over a struggling Texas squad featuring a new quarterback. Oklahoma lost to Kansas State 31-30 after star kicker Michael Hunnicutt missed two short field goals and an extra point. After things appeared to be back on track during a 59-14 win over Iowa State, the Sooners got routed 48-14 at home by Baylor, the worst home loss since Stoops took over in 1999.
”Execution was poor,” Stoops said after the Baylor game. ”There isn’t anybody out there stopping, quitting. That isn’t the case. That is not the case. The guys, again, we didn’t execute very well and got whipped.”
Oklahoma’s defense improved throughout last season and was expected to make a significant jump this year, but the Sooners have struggled against elite competition, allowing 37 points to TCU, 31 to Kansas State and 48 to Baylor.
”We’ve had some games where we have been pretty good,” Stoops said. ”But it hasn’t been consistent enough, for sure.”
Offensively, Oklahoma has risen and fallen with quarterback Trevor Knight. The Sugar Bowl MVP has had moments of brilliance, yet his mistakes – late against TCU, and early against Kansas State and Baylor – have been costly.
”It’s the one, two, three critical mistakes that ultimately are a big part of defining where we’re at up to this point,” Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. ”No one’s more disappointed in that than Trevor or myself. That’s why we’re going to continue to push and try to get better.”
The Sooners still have a chance to win 10 games, and a good bowl bid remains within reach.
”We have to learn from it,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. ”We have to be men about it and accept what we didn’t do well and try to get better. We’ve got three games and we need to improve. We have to learn from this tape and make the adjustments we need to make and put the right plan together to go win this week. That’s all that really matters. We’ll do that.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .