I was traveling all weekend for a wedding (congrats, Michael), but a couple regular readers asked for my thoughts on what transpired in Norman on Saturday night.
Having followed Oklahoma football since I was in short pants, I understand how this works. Sooner fans are like Tiger Moms – winning alone is rarely cause for celebration. I really haven't read much of the reaction to OU's close shave against West Virginia from columnists/message board Lombardis in the last couple days, but I suspect that it hasn't been entirely optimistic about the rest of the season for the Sooners.
The importance of every single game in a college football season makes it the ultimate instant gratification sport. You also look at individual games, though, from two separate perspectives: the match-up in and of itself and in relation to the season as a whole.
Truthfully, if a couple plays go the other way in this game, we might be talking about Bob Stoops' tenure in Norman drawing to a close. WVU isn't all that good. Sure, that's concerning.
Factor in that the quarterback play has been thoroughly lackluster through the Crimson and Cream's first two games, and that kind of hand-wringing makes sense. OU hasn't thrown the ball for shit so far, which represents a major departure from your typical Stoops-led squad. The Trevor Knight who we've seen in seven quarters of action doesn't even remotely square with the touted phenom he's supposed to be on the practice field. (One bit of analysis that I did happen to come across while I was
driving Sunday was a dude who called into a national radio show to sing a
song about OU's struggles at QB.)
In the context of the entire season, though, I think the Sooners find themselves in pretty good shape moving forward.
The running game is rolling.
While OU's passing has led to some offensive pyrotechnics in recent years, the running game has tended to fail the Sooners in spots where they needed it most. Through the first two games of the season, however, the shift to a Nevada-like Pistol scheme is paying dividends on the ground. With OU's aerial attack essentially grounded last weekend, the Mountaineers knew what was coming. OU still ran roughshod over them.
No one will mistake the defenses of either WVU or Louisiana-Monroe for the Steel Curtain, but an average of nearly 6 yards per carry under those conditions is a good sign. It's a testament to not only the skill that OU has in the backfield, but the work that offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and the rest of staff have put in. Blockers are attacking opponents both up front and at the second and third lines of defense, and they're opening massive running lanes for OU's ball carriers.
The defense looks salty.
OU's defense appears to have undergone an equally remarkable transformation, allowing a measly seven points so far. The move to the 3-3-5 has enabled OU to stiffen up against the run and create more problems for opponents behind the line of scrimmage.
Admittedly, there's probably an element of fool's gold at play with the D. A few timely turnovers saved some points versus WVU. Additionally, the Sooners are likely benefiting from the fact that opponents have limited film to work from when putting together offensive game plans. The 3-3-5 is also susceptible to downhill, power running schemes, and there are enough quality offensive tacticians on OU's schedule that at least a few will come up with ways to exploit that.
Still, this D is playing with a clear sense of purpose and emotion that was missing a year ago. Maybe it was a matter of needing some new blood in the lineup or renewed energy from the scheme change. Whatever the case may be, the defense is attacking opposing offenses with precision that it seemed to lack in 2012.
What about the quarterback?
Of course, the Sooners can't get by with incompetence behind center. That's the only way to describe Knight's body of work in his first two outings, even though he has had some impressive moments. Even if Knight wasn't on the shelf with a knee injury, Stoops almost certainly would have still given Blake Bell a shot as QB1 against Tulsa.
I have no idea if Bell will grab hold of the job this weekend and keep it all season. If not, Kendal Thompson could come back soon enough and win the gig. It's possible that Knight settles down once he gets healthy and wins the job back.
The good news is that the first two weeks of the season have shown that this team can win games relying primarily on its ground game and the defense. You couldn't say that about OU in recent years past.
The bottom isn't going to fall out on this squad if it takes a little time to identify a long-term answer at QB. I like the chances that at least one signal caller on the roster will prove that he can, at the very least, take advantage of OU's talent at the skill positions and the opportunities presented by a more balanced offensive approach.
As of now, the short-term uncertainty at QB shouldn't lead anyone to believe that this team can't still contend for the Big 12 crown.