By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Going into Friday’s Cotton Bowl battle with Texas A&M, Mike Stoops’ Oklahoma defense ranked seventh in the Big 12 in third down conversions.
Remember your grumbling about how it was nearing Brent Venables’ time to go a year ago? His last defense at OU before heading to Clemson was first in that category.
Well, to be fair, third down wasn’t a problem in the four-touchdown blitz that turned a 14-13 game at the half into a 41-13 beatdown. The Aggies simply didn’t need to get that far.
The Sooners stopped Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel on A&M’s only third down situation on any of those drives, limiting him to a modest five-yard pass that led to – welp – a fourth-down pass by Johnny Football covering 33 yards and the next-to-last TD.
Oklahoma’s linebackers and secondary were flat worn down by the defensive line’s inability to dictate the trenches or keep Mr. Football from scrambling through them. Those scoring drives totaled 91, 89, 71 and 74 yards, giving Manziel a big chunk of his 229 rushing and 287 passing yards.
“We’ve been kind of average all year, and that’s not good enough when you play a guy like this,” Bob’s brother was heard saying after the game.
Well, Mike, getting you back was supposed to bring about more than “kind of average.” And losing our own Stacy McGee to yet another in a never-ending run of bad judgment (this time a DUI during the holiday off time) really didn’t have an impact considering McGee was around for a rather porous defensive effort against West Virginia, among his few games of eligibility this season.
So while the search is on for Oklahoma’s own Johnny Football, of equal concern should be a defense that simply didn’t make big-time plays in big-time games against big-time teams.
So Mike, your job seems clear. Recruit like it’s 2002, or 2004. Find a Tommie Harris, a Teddy Lehman or a Roy Williams.
And while you’re at it, and you might make this suggestion to your brother as well, carefully examine their common-sense levels. It’s just best to find players who aren’t lacking in that or personal accountability. Named the Phoenix’s Prep Male Athlete of the Year in 2008, McGee was but one of several who have struggled in that department, not just this year but over the past couple of years.
And Mike, the good thing is, you can start from scratch. All the guys up front, where the problem begins, are out of your hair now, being seniors.
So while your reclamation program begins, and brother Bob goes looking for Manziel’s clone, or a Robert Griffin III-B, move over and make way for Oklahoma State.
Whether it be quarterback shuffles or replacing other parts, including coaches, the Cowboys were pretty darned close to the offense hat barely missed the national championship game but almost a year later, pounded a pathetic Purdue team in the real Cotton Bowl. The Heart of Dallas, or former Ticket City Bowl, a game played in a grand venue of ball that might be ticketed right out of the bowl picture sooner than you think, wasn’t a Fiesta, but one may lie ahead.
With much of that unit back, the Pokes should be the preseason Big 12 favorite and the only team worthy of top 10 consideration.
TCU, with its huge current of underclassmen a year older and with its season-starting quarterback working his 12-step program of alcohol addiction, a running back and one of its top defenders fully recovered from injury, is a strong second.
Then, if Mack Brown can remember how to beat Bob and Mike, count the Longhorns third, with their returning pieces at quarterback, a maturing run game and fairly young defensive unit back.
Incidentally, those men share one thing in common beyond their job description. It’s a sense of urgency knowing that A&M’s Kevin Sumlin is strolling through the fertile fields of Texas high school football, giving kids the option of riding in the Cadillac called the Southeastern Conference, where national championships are fought for and won and where just getting there, or being a little above average, doesn’t warrant automatic pay hikes.