In the last three years, Oklahoma has replaced five members of its coaching staff, modified its offensive philosophy and completely overhauled its defense. If those moves were made in the name of progress, it was tough to see it on the field in the Sooners’ final regular season game of 2014.
The Sooners collapsed in a 38-35 overtime loss to Oklahoma State that went from me joking about OU ignoring the 21-point spread to the Pokes tying up the game in the span of five minutes. A C-plus effort on the part of the Sooners for most of the game managed to get even worse down the stretch. It ended with enough bungling to give one of the worst OSU teams in the last 10 years a win on Owen Field.
You can excuse some of OU’s struggles as the product of injuries at key spots, especially on the offensive side of the ball – quarterback, wide receiver, running back, offensive line. If you’re less charitable, you might note the defensive backs didn’t make the plays that they haven’t been making for a while.
But the most disheartening aspect of this loss – or the season as a whole, for that matter – was the performance of the coaches.
Call it hindsight if you’d like, but everything about OSU’s game-tying punt return with under two minutes to play reflected poorly on OU’s coaching staff from the decision to punt again to booting the ball to Tyreek Hill to the lackadaisical coverage that sprung Hill for the score. Soon after, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s insistence on throwing the ball in OT put OU’s hopes on the foot of kicker Michael Hunnicutt, who has been plagued by the yips all year. And, guess what, the Sooner offense botched a third-and-short conversion late in the game by running into a stacked defensive front.
OU just played sloppy, careless football when it counted, which provided a fitting cap to the season. Frankly, the team has looked disorganized on both sides of the ball as the coaches have struggled to find ways to effectively counterbalance the team’s deficiencies. Meanwhile, the players’ self-destructive decisions in key spots suggest they lack a sense of awareness and discipline that comes from the guys on the sidelines calling the shots.
After 16 years of watching his teams play, most longtime OU fans have come to accept that some shortcomings around the margins come with the territory for Bob Stoops: questionable clock management, iffy special teams play, ill-prepared backups. Historically, the tradeoff has been that he and his staff are better than about 95 percent of their peers when it comes to the meat-and-potatoes parts of their jobs. But it has become virtually impossible to take it on faith that Stoops and his current crop of assistants have the capacity to salvage a ship that has been slowly taking on water for years.
Stoops hasn’t given any indication that he’s going to walk away from OU at this point. He certainly shouldn’t be compelled to do so by the school’s administration or bloodthirsty fans.
However, OU's head coach does face some monumental decisions regarding the fate of his underlings, most notably a favorite son offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator who just so happens to be his brother. Stoops has demonstrated in the past that he can stomach major changes when necessary. He’ll have to do so again or risk hitting a point in the near future where the calls for his head won't seem so unreasonable.