, Muskogee, OK


October 13, 2013

Beaten in the mental game, Sooners wind up on their fair-fried fannies

DALLAS — Blake Bell was terrible. On third down, anyway, so was Oklahoma’s defense.

The referees did OU few favors. And, just maybe, the Sooners had been playing with fire far too long, winning with heart, but with less-than-their-best performances at Notre Dame and, last week at home, against TCU

Of course, none of that was the greatest indictment of what happened Saturday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl, where a not-very-intimidating band of Longhorns embarrassed OU 36-20.

Instead, the greatest indictment was far more basic. The greatest indictment was Texas wanted it more.

Sooner coach Bob Stoops liked what his team had done all week in practice, felt good about his team on his way into the stadium. Yet, for all the answers he might have offered about the possibility his players were blinded by overconfidence, the one he put forth was most damning:

Ask them.

“I can’t speak for them,” he said. “At the end of the day, these are all young people … In all competitive arenas there’s a fine edge between what somebody’s listening to and what their mindset is when you have to go compete. I’m not going to say we were (overconfident) but at the end of the day, they played a lot better than we did.”

The Sooners being there but not there is the only answer that works. It’s the only explanation.

Defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue was asked if anything about the Texas’ run game, which carried the ball 60 times —  60 times — for 266 yards, surprised him.

“We were driven back,” he said. “That’s pretty much it.”

This is a Texas team that allowed 550 rushing yards to BYU, 391 less than the Cougars rolled up against Utah State, yet OU managed just 130 and 26 of that on a single carry from Sterling Shepard, a wide receiver.

This is a Texas team that allowed 463 yards from scrimmage against Iowa State, yet held the Sooners to 200 less, a figure the Sooner Nation hasn’t experienced dropping so low in several seasons.

This is a Texas team that was dead in the water and now, courtesy of OU not showing up, may now be the favorite to go win a conference championship.

“We have a chance to win the Big 12 and go on to the BCS,” said Longhorn skipper Mack Brown, who got to enjoy his biggest win since … well, since Texas slipped on a banana peel in 2010 and, until Saturday afternoon, had failed to pick itself back up. “We’re not in the grave. We’re crawling out.”

It hurt that Bell reminded everybody of Landry Jones at his worst, tossing a pick six, seemingly holding the ball even longer than he held it against TCU and, after having Brennan Clay drop one in the end zone in the first quarter, had a heck of a time completing anything but the most elementary of throws.

But it hurt much more that OU got pushed around on both sides of the line of scrimmage, gave up third down after third down after third down and failed to make any big plays until it was much too late, although Roy Finch and Geneo Grissom deserve congratulations for getting Sooner fans to halt their fourth-quarter exodus.

You can lay about all of it at the feet of effort, focus, discipline and fortitude, all of which the Longhorns had Saturday, little of which the Sooners offered back.

“Their attitude and effort was stronger than our attitude and our effort,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, still the best guy to ask when you want to know what really happened.

Maybe OU was ready for the 3-2 Texas team it had watched struggle against not great competition in Switzer Center film rooms.

Maybe the Sooners believed, with only fifth-year seniors to remind them of the last time the Longhorns claimed the Red River Rivalry, victory to be a birthright, especially when you’re 5-0 and only two weeks ago chased away half-century old Irish demons.

Maybe OU’s just not very good, or, at least, no better than the team it took Texas to be, and in a battle of two mediocre teams, the hardest-playing one won.

Maybe a lot of things.

All that’s clear is a simple lesson that’s as old as time. Don’t show up and you deserve to lose.

A bus rolled through the grounds and a team came down the tunnel, even in new uniforms with a golden touch.

But OU didn’t show.

The Sooners deserved to lose.

Clay Horning writes for the Norman Transcript.

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