, Muskogee, OK

November 11, 2012

COLUMN: Stoops pair in conflict on answer

By Clay Horning

— NORMAN — Here’s what the story could have been and should have been Saturday night at Owen Field.

It could have been how this was a fine and solid win for Oklahoma. It could have been about how, even as a three-touchdown favorite, there’s nothing wrong with knocking Baylor off 42-34.

Never mind that the Bears could have recovered an onside kick with a minute and change to play, found a way to score eight more points and tied the game. Don’t worry about that because the lesson of the day was that victory, in any conditions and by any margin, can make all the difference in the world.

That was the story in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama coach Nick Saban would happily have taken any win at all over Texas A&M. That should have been the story here, after OU won a game tighter than anybody thought it might, even with another two-play touchdown drive right before the half, when Landry Jones found Justin Brown from 35 yards, right after Baylor had made it a 21-17 game.

That’s the way it goes when you give up 252 yards on the ground and four touchdown drives of at least eight plays and at least 71 yards. Especially when you lose a fumble and get picked off while the other team suffers neither.

It could have been the story and should have been the story.

The season is long. Winning a conference game against a dangerous opponent deep into any campaign is never easy and OU did exactly that, and that means never having to say you’re sorry.

Instead, the story had to change, leaving us to ponder what got Bob Stoops’ goat and why he can’t get his story straight with OU defensive coordinator and younger brother Mike Stoops.

Here was the question from the media peanut gallery that set Stoops off.

“I just want you to clarify,” asked the reporter, one who’s been on the beat for a long time. “Are you saying you’re OK with giving up the rushing yards because you were playing this team to defend the pass?”

Stoops had already said something close to that, but it was a fine question, especially for a coach like Stoops who has always thought the first step to defending anything, even Mike Leach at Texas Tech, was stopping the run.

“Absolutely. I love ’em. I love ’em,” said Stoops, apparently referring to Baylor’s ground yards, more than OU had allowed all season and the fourth time it had allowed at least 200. “A minute-forty to go in the game and we’re up 16 against a team that’s lit up the scoreboard on everybody? That’s exactly what I’m saying. So you guys can rip me tomorrow … I’m good with it.”

It was ugly. It was unfortunate. It marred the whole experience.

Stoops had just passed Bud Wilkinson with his 146th victory since leaving Gainesville for Norman and he’d just finished saying a bunch of nice things about Wilkinson and he’d just added “I’m a long way from sitting in a rocking chair and reflecting on it.”

Yet he made you wonder how long it might be if that tame a question can ruin his day, or even ruin the 10 minutes of his day he had to answer questions about his 146th win.

Then Mike Stoops walked up to the podium and explained why his brother might be mad — not at the question he failed to answer peacefully, but at OU’s defense — like he was.

Mike Stoops wasn’t happy. He said his defense “never could grasp the run game in a lot of areas” and that the Sooners’ tackling was “atrocious.”

“We held them to the lowest yards they’ve had all year, but again, that’s no consolation,” Mike Stoops said. “We want to and we need to play better defense if we’re going to get to the places we want to go.”

The Bears averaged 4.9 yards a pop for 51 pops. They converted 11 of 20 third-downs.

Also, OU won, the head coach passed a legend, and all of it happened on a day everybody should understand how much better winning is than losing.

The question in question couldn’t have been more reasonable. The fact Mike Stoops liked his defense a whole lot less than Bob Stoops made sense, too. He’s the coordinator, after all.

The only thing that didn’t make sense was the bad face the head coach had to put on an otherwise fine day.