The Oklahoma Sooners took the field at Land Shark Stadium on Saturday night with their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Sam Bradford, and their all-world tight end, Jermaine Gresham, on the sidelines in shorts. Soon after kickoff, OU's best offensive weapon this season, receiver Ryan Broyles, joined them.
Still, coach Bob Stoops' bunch nearly beat a talented Miami team, eventually falling to the Hurricanes, 21-20.
At almost any other school, the story would be about how Stoops and his staff almost pulled off a win with a hand tied behind their backs. Sooner fans, however, are lighting up message boards and talk-show phone lines. They're ready for heads to roll.
Of course, after a series of high-profile losses in recent seasons, such outrage has become old hat for Stoops. His response is typically the same: win the Big 12 conference title, which is usually good enough to quell the unrest until the next loss in a bowl game or the Red River Shootout. Then, the Sooner cycle of of appeasement and despair begins anew.
This time feels different.
It's not just that OU looks nothing like a conference champion at the moment. With Texas, Oklahoma State and road trips to Kansas, Nebraska and Texas Tech still remaining, the prospects of winning the Big 12 for a record-setting fourth-straight time look pretty remote. Factor in that Gresham is done at OU, Bradford's status is still up in the air and Broyles will be out for about a month, and it's fair to say that a conference crown would be miraculous.
And it's not just that the Sooners have already dropped two games prior to conference play. Power programs have down years. Furthermore, injuries may sound like a tired excuse, but OU's luck in that regard has been downright disastrous so far; enough so that losses to BYU and Miami aren't unfathomable. (OK, maybe not BYU.)
No, it's how OU has come by those defeats that has Sooner Nation more steamed than a pair of Stoops' patented pleated khakis.
Defensively, it's no secret that OU's scheme leaves the middle of the field vulnerable to short, precision passing routes. Likewise, it would appear that defensive coordinator Brent Venables' aggressive blitz packages no longer cause opponents the problems they once did.
On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has demonstrated a befuddling predilection to put the Sooners' potent passing attack under wraps in OU's biggest games. Additionally, the Sooners' playbook seems to shrink considerably on the big stage.
To top it all off, the Sooners have shown a shocking lack of discipline in recent years, which wanes even further when the chips are down. Against Miami, the refs whistled the Sooners for a number of crippling penalties that stalled promising drives or kept them from ever even getting started.
It has become a Groundhog Day scenario too frustrating for many Sooner diehards to stand. All of which raises a legitimate question: Maybe it's time to change things up a little?
Stoops, for his part, doesn't give off the impression that he thinks anything is wrong. He has a very strong case backing him up.
Despite losing some of the team's most important offensive personnel, OU has suffered two defeats by a total of two points this year, both of which came away from home against ranked teams. In the grander scheme of things, the Sooners have won a national championship, six conference titles and more games than any other D-I program this decade.
Oklahoma's head coach has vigorously defended his staff–particularly Wilson–this week, in characteristically stubborn fashion.
"Our gameplan was what it had been all along," Stoops said Monday when asked if Wilson's strategy against Miami was too watered-down. "We went right down the field in the first drive and scored, and we were calling a bunch of those plays throughout the game."
And therein lies the problem.
Stoops and his staff have devised an outstanding system that has won more games in 11 years than some programs have won in their entire existence. Yet, the durability of OU's recent success also has provided opponents with the opportunity to draw up effective counterattacks. The Sooners seem to stumble when they're the ones forced to adjust, because typically they don't adjust at all.
Stoops, Venables, Wilson and the rest of the OU coaches possess a track record that proves they're some of the best in the business. Calling for them to be canned now is foolishly reactionary. Shaking things up doesn't necessitate handing out pink slips, contrary to the sentiments of message board blowhards.
Still, status quo isn't an option. Whatever the changes may be, the time has come for Stoops to mess with OU's success.