Oklahoma entered Saturday as the favorite to win the game. They were the popular kids in school; most likely to succeed, most athletic, the list goes on and on. However, not only did Houston punch the Sooners in the mouth, they may have punched their ticket into the Big XII.
Question marks circled this team coming into the contest, but many believed that they were minimal and would be fixable. I still believe that the Sooners can right the ship, they just didn’t need a top ten program with a fired-up underdog mentality as their first contest. Houston’s starting QB Greg Ward Jr., the lightweight dynamo that was set to run circles around the Sooners like speedy Gonzalez, swung early and swung hard at the OU defense, leading his team to 337 yards of total offense in the first half. The Sooners’ defense never had a chance to get settled and organize themselves, getting caught switching and out of stance as the Cougars up-tempo offense planned to do. One of the biggest question marks was can Mike Stoop’s defense take another step forward from the all-conference defense that graced the field a year ago? The question was answered in a big way, like a 6’3” 210-pound wide receiver big. Let me explain.
Newly named cornerback Dakota Austin is a small man with a lot of confidence and attitude. He is short and thin. This is interesting because cornerback is such a big position and one of the only positions you simply can’t hide. You have to embrace the competitive mentality and Dakota is a scrappy, sure-handed cat that showed so much promise last year during the Texas Tech game when he took over for an injured Zack Sanchez.
He’s going to fight and he’s always been a great competitor,” Kerry Cooks, defensive backs coach, “I think his attitude makes him a little bit of who he is. Not in a negative way, but at that position you’ve got to have a guy that just doesn’t care, that’s able to be out there on that island.”
Coming out of camp the only knock on Dakota was his deep field coverage because of his size. He is good at utilizing little brother like pestering techniques to make a wide out uncomfortable, but before the real dog in Austin showed up in the second half, damage had been done to the defense in the first…That’s where Steven Dunbar comes in.
Admittedly, before Saturday I hadn’t heard much about the junior wide receiver. Evidently neither did the Sooners. Dunbar is 6’3” 210 pounds of reckless abandon and clearly, has oven mitts for hands. He absorbed pass after pass deep down the field, delivering body blows to every defensive back in the Sooners secondary. Dunbar gathered 7 receptions for 125 yards on any corner in the Sooner’s rotation, including true freshman Parrish Cobb. Welcome to college young man. All is not lost, however.
If it weren’t for head scratching fumbles and a crazy “post-season” like pick-six, the Sooners would have still won this game. The defensive line was able to flex their chest as they held the Cougars to only 89 rushing yards. D-lineman Charles Walker showed why he’s a freak of nature as he caused havoc in the backfield nearly every time he was on the field. Depth was good as well as defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux was able to flow through his six to eight man rotation as planned. The Cougars did a good job of down blocking since their offensive line would have been overmatched otherwise, which allowed Greg Ward Jr. to pass on the run but the D-line and linebackers did a great job of limiting his big plays on the ground. Offensively, the Sooners began the game rushing very well behind their new offensive line, but like the fans in NRG stadium, the offense got a little nervous and a little impatient. Baker left the pocket too early on a few plays which kept him from seeing open men downfield, other times he stayed in the pocket and only looked for the deep ball instead of settling for the open man in front of him.
We didn’t make nearly as many routine plays in the second half.” Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley stated following the loss. “We forced things a little bit. We missed some easy throws and catches…We probably lost our patience a little bit. I know I did. Offensively, we did as a whole. It was frustrating at the half [to be down] because we thought we were playing well.”
This was the first game of the season, and although it’s a tough pill to swallow, it’s not the end of the season. There were more positives to take from than negatives and the team got the best possible lesson they could have hoped for. Losing to a top 10 team on the road won’t hurt the Sooners in the long run if they can begin to win because this Houston squad will continue to succeed this season. This can go down as a “good loss” and we could see ourselves in the playoffs again. Any question that we had about the Sooners coming in was answered, tested and can now be fixed in time to improve in front of their home crowd at a newly renovated Memorial Stadium. If that doesn’t help move past this weekend then nothing will.“We’ve got to keep pushing this team,” said Stoops, “because we’ve got a heavy schedule coming.” A heavy schedule, including fifth-ranked Ohio State, means a great opportunity to be right back in the playoff race in just a few weeks.
As a team and a fan base, we may have come into Saturday with our heads a little over inflated. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, though, right? We’re down, but not nearly out of this thing and now that we’re all back to reality, it’s time to have some fun again. See you Saturday.