If you subscribe to the philosophy that football is really about taking away what your opponents want to do, Oklahoma enjoyed a lot of success on Saturday against Houston.
Specifically, the Sooners stymied the Cougars’ running game, limiting them to about 2.5 yards per rush attempt for the game. OU was able to put the game on UH quarterback Greg Ward’s right arm.
Of course, the corollary to that philosophy dictates that the team that can do what it doesn’t like to do better than the other usually wins.
Ward came through for UH with a number of timely throws on the way to more than 320 yards and two scores through the air. Meanwhile, OU’s offense stalled out. Joe Mixon and a dinged-up Samaje Perine combined for 12 carries on the day despite averaging roughly 6 yards per carry. The Sooners called more than two times as many passes in the game, which frequently led to Baker Mayfield ad-libbing in an effort to keep plays alive.
OU compounded its problems with the kinds of mistakes on the margins that make it so hard to beat good teams: bad snaps from center, drive-extending penalties, shitty tackling. There was even an inexcusable special teams gaffe by Bob Stoops. (Burning a timeout to keep your team in range for a 53-yard field goal… and then not expecting Houston to attempt a return? Mind-blowing.)
Those miscues all helped seal OU’s fate, but the Cougars were still sharper than the Sooners in all three phases. They were faster than OU and they were more physical.
There was no mystery to what happened. OU lost to a better team.
Other musings from a most unamusing game:
*I’ll wait to draw any conclusions about what was going on with OU’s passing attack until I get a chance to watch the game again. Maybe OU just misses Sterling Shepard that badly.
My initial hypothesis is that Mayfield might have been trying to do too much. He struck me as a little quick to bail on plays, and his eyes generally seemed locked downfield. It looked like the first time I saw the Texas Tech version of Mayfield emerge.
*Frankly, I didn’t expect Ward to throw the ball nearly as well as he did. He and lanky receiver Steven Dunbar converted four third-down attempts and generally made life miserable for OU’s secondary.
Ward absolutely lived up to billing Saturday, and then some.
*Keep an eye out for potential adjustments that OU might make in the defensive backfield. Freshman Parrish Cobb could end up taking time away from Dakota Austin at cornerback sooner than later. UH exposed the limitations of Austin’s size today, and there will be more where that came from once conference play starts.
*I will pay close attention to UH defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s scheming on standard downs when I re-watch the game. I’d like to give Lincoln Riley the benefit of the doubt for how he handled the run side of the O, but even with Perine shelved for part of the game, it felt as though OU’s best offensive weapons went way underutilized.
The question is whether that was by choice or by necessity.
*Speaking of which, Mixon needs a larger role in the offense. (Related: Mayfield should run less.)
*Most promising part of the game for OU? The defensive front six/seven. They appeared to get solid penetration into the UH backfield and filled gaps well when the Cougars ran the ball. Strange takeaway from a losing effort, but I feel better about this group now.
This game didn’t reflect well on OU’s coaching staff. I wouldn’t say the Sooners were poorly prepared. However, I would say the guys on the other sideline did a better job getting their team ready to play. Additionally, OU exhibited a lack of discipline that has become a hallmark of Bob Stoops’ tenure. Stoops and his assistants deserve to go under the microscope for all of that.
Even so, that doesn’t negate the possibility – if not the likelihood – that Houston is a really good team growing even more comfortable with what Tom Herman and his staff are doing.
Watching all the games around the country in the last three days, how many teams got a higher grade from the eye test than the Cougars? There was Alabama, of course, and…
It would come as little consolation to Sooner Nation that their favorite team took an L in the first game of the season to the New England Patriots, let alone losing to a team that doesn’t sport one of college football’s brand names. OU still has all the pieces to win the Big 12, though. Nothing that happened yesterday changed that.