Thunder dishing out assists during holidays

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

One of the mainstays of the Oklahoma City Thunder community efforts over the past decade has been its annual Thunder Holiday Shopping Spree. It has been held every year since the franchise made its way to Oklahoma.

On Sunday afternoon, they made it 11 years straight when members of the team, the Thunder Girls and office staff all met at Target to take special families on a shopping Spree. The families are part of The Sunbeam Family Services Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program.

“This has become a tradition for the organization,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said. “It’s a great event. Our community relations department does a great job of putting it together. The players have always been the best versions of themselves in these environments. You watch the effect that it has on the families, the children, it’s remarkable.”

The Thunder, Target and Sunbeam Family Services came together to provide 17 families a special Christmas as a part of the Thunder’s Holiday Assist Program. The Players helped children pick out whatever gifts they wanted for Christmas, while Thunder Girls helped grandparents pick out holiday essentials.

But one of the rules is the grandparents were forced to get things for themselves, which most in their situations never have a chance to do.

“I’m so excited, my legs are just shaking from the excitement of this,” said one emotional great-grandmother, who said she had been scammed out of her money in September. “God has answered so many prayers. I am so blessed. How good this is for me and Cody (Great grandson). His Christmas would have been very slim this year. It’s more for him. I would have took all my money and spent it on him if you all would have let me.”

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The families were selected from the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program, which offers resources for men and women over 55 years of age who are raising grandchildren.

According to Sunbeam Family Services, in the United States, more than a million children are being raised by grandparents without the presence of parents in the home. This can put undo strain on the those who are either on fixed incomes or, in some cases, have no money coming in at all.

The Sunbeam Family Services provided $500 for each family to spend during the shopping spree. The Thunder then match it with another $500 for each family.

Many times, the players add on to it because they want the kids to get everything they want.

The shopping spree not only benefits the children but also the grandparents who are shouldering the burden of raising the children alone.

These are issues many of the Thunder are familiar with.

“It’s tough for grandparents having to raise grandkids,” Hamidou Diallo said. “It’s just doing what’s got to be done for the kids and doing the right thing for the kids. That’s what’s most important. Just coming out here and spending time with the kids. Getting to help them pick out gifts and things like that, it’s a blessing for me.”

Many of the kids picked out clothes, bikes, basketball hoops, phones and video games. However, some even at a young age, chose to be more practical.

One little girl who was with Deonte Burton was eyeing a bike while they made their way through Target. But in the end, she chose a few items such as milk because she knew it was something her family needed.

“It’s really tough to hear because people really do go through those things,” Burton said. “It’s sad.”

But Burton made sure she did get items for herself.

Burton

“She really didn’t know what she wanted at first,” Burton said. “She was just going around, looking at things. She was very practical. She got a book bag, a tablet, a tree for her room and decorations for the tree.”

Many of the members of the Thunder understand they are not too far removed from some of the same conditions as the kids they took shopping.

“It means a lot,” Nerleans Noel said. “There are kids like these who are not as fortunate. It means a lot for us to be able to give back.  I come from a certain background as well where you’re not able to get everything you want. It means that much and more to be in a position to give back and make sure these kids are at least getting some of what they want.”

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Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

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Sooners claim 7th Heisman

 

By Michael Kinney

When Baker Mayfield was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, all Oklahoma fans knew they were losing a great player. Most thought it would take years before they found someone who could produce like him.

In actuality, they didn’t have to wait too long or look too far. He was waiting in the same quarterback room behind Mayfield.

Kyler Murray was named the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner Saturday. It was one year after Mayfield took home the same prize as the top player in college football.

“This is crazy,” Murray said during his speech Saturday. “This is an honor. Something that I’ll never forget, something I’ll always treasure for the rest of my life.”

Murray is the seventh Sooner to win the Heisman and the fourth quarterback since 2003. OU is now tied for the lead with Notre Dame and Ohio State for the most Heisman Trophies.

The voting was one of the closest in recent history. Murray tallied 517 first-place votes and 2,167 points. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (1,871 points, 299 first-place votes) and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins (873 and 46) followed.

The Sooners are the first school to have back to back Heisman trophy winners at the same position since Army in 1945-46 with tailbacks Felix “Doc” Blanchard and Glenn Davis.

While many in the SEC and Big 10 were not happy with Murray’s selection, his numbers are undeniable. He completed 241 of 340 passes this year for 4,053 yards and 40 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He has also rushed for 892 yards and another 11 scores.

With at least one game left in the season, Murray needs 108 rushing yards to become just the second player in FBS history to throw for at least 4,000 and run for at least 1,000 in a season.

All-American Status

Murray was named to the AP All-American first team Monday, but he was not alone. Wide receiver Marquise Brown also earned a nod on the first team.

Before being injured late in the Big 12 Championship, Brown had put together an impressive second season at Oklahoma. He has racked up 75 catches for 1,318 yards 10 touchdowns. His average of 17.6 yards per catch and 101.4 yards per game were both near the top in the FBS.

Joining Murray and Brown as All-American’s are left guard Dru Samai, who made the second team, and tackle Cody Ford, who landed on the third team. The two linemen are part of an OU group that is a finalist for the Joe Moore Award which goes to the best offensive line in the nation.

Of the team playing in the College Football Playoffs, Alabama led the way with six all-Americans. That includes four on the first team.

Oklahoma and Alabama will face off Nov. 29th at the Orange Bowl in the CFP semifinals.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Producer

Sooners get defensive to rout Shockers

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Since their season began, the Oklahoma men’s basketball team has been living on the road. With trips through Texas, the Bahamas and New York, it has been a suitcase life for OU.

The Sooners returned back home Saturday for only its second game in the state this season. However, they weren’t officially at home when they took on Wichita State. The game was held at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

Despite a sluggish start, the Sooners beat up on the Shockers to the tune of 80-48.

The win moved OU to 8-1 on the season and winners of four straight.

“It was a good win against a club that’s going to win a lot of ball games this year,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “I thought the first half we looked careless with the ball. I was really impressed with the way the guys regrouped. And really came out and played awfully well in the second half.”

 Christian James led the Sooners with 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Miles Reynolds also added 14 points on 3 of 6 shooting.

Markis McDuffie scored a game-high 19 points for Wichita State. However, the senior forward was not happy with how his team responded to adversity.

“Oklahoma just took off and started playing as a team,” McDuffie said. “They started knocking down shots, gaining a lot of confidence. We were still stuck in our ways, trying to figure out how we’re going to turn the game up. We just couldn’t do that today.”

The early start (11 a.m.) to the game seemed to have some kind of effect on both team’s offenses.  Five minutes into the contest Oklahoma and Wichita State had combined for just six points.

The only Sooner who was able to find his shot somewhat was James. He had scored 9 of the team’s first 15 points.

McDuffie paced the Shockers early on as he was difficult for the OU frontline to handle in the paint.

Oklahoma was able to push its lead into double digits with just over two minutes left in the half at 32-22. But Wichita State scored the next five points to close the gap to five points.

A 3-pointer from Matt Freeman gave the Sooners a 35-27 halftime advantage.

“We just had to slow down,” James said. “We tried to force a couple of things in transition. We just have to slow down and get a feel for the ball.”

Oklahoma came into the second half playing with renewed energy. They outscored Wichita State 16-7 to sprint to a 51-34 lead.

But it was on the defensive end that the Sooner’s excitement level seemed to jump up a few levels compared to the first half.

“It was a really good stretch. A lot of that was keyed by defensively, getting deflections, getting steals and turning them into transition,” Kruger said. “Guys did a good job of sharing the ball and finishing plays. But a lot of that was initiated on the defensive end.”

The Shockers wouldn’t get any closer as the Sooners poured it on the rest of the game.

Oklahoma tore apart WSU with a balanced attack as four players reached double figures and nine players scored at least four points.

McDuffie was the only member of the Shockers to score more than 8 points. OU outrebounded Wichita State 52-33 and held them to 24 percent shooting from the field and 18 percent from 3-point range.

“I think that just has a lot to do with us enjoying playing defense,” Reynolds said. “We know when we’re locked in defensively. When we’re playing as a unit, not too many teams are going to get very good looks against us. That’s going to allow us to get out in transition. One of the things I really bring to the table, is enthusiasm, passion on both ends of the floor. I think it’s contagious right now.”

The Sooners are off until Saturday when they travel north to Tulsa where they will host the University of Southern California. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. at the BOK Center.

Award season has begun for Sooners

By Michael Kinney

If this is Kyler Murray only season as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma, he sure is making the most of it.

Saturday night, the Allen, Tx. native will be in Ne York for the presentation of the Heisman Trophy. Murray is one of three finalists up for the annual award. The others in contention are with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

However, the rest of postseason awards were handed out Thursday night at the Home Depot College Football Awards and Murray won the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s top quarterback. He is the fifth Sooner to take home the award, joining Sam Bradford (2008), White (2003, ’04) and running back Billy Sims (1978).

However, it was Tagovailoa who snatched the Walter Camp Award as well as the Maxwell Award.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly beat out OU coach Lincoln RIley for the coach of the year.

Earlier in the day Thursday, Murray was also named the AP Player of the Year.

The Heisman presentation will take place at 7 p.m. on ESPN. If Murray is able to win, he will be the seventh Sooner to garner the award.

Playoff announcement

The playoff announcement came Sunday afternoon with most of the players off doing their own thing.

“I was pretty nervous, you know. Driving back from lunch with some of the O-line guys and watching it on the way home,” Cody Ford said. “I actually pulled over to make sure we saw the results. Once we found out, we were pretty excited and we enjoyed the rest of the ride home.”

Kenneth Murray said he was in church

“I found out while I was at church,” Kenneth Murray said. “It was a great place to find out. My pastor was actually watching it on his phone. He was like, ‘Look, they’re fixing to decide right now.’ We were watching anxiously, then a commercial came up. They finally came back on and we found out we got in. Did a little celebration outside the church.”

Outside noise made them nervous

“I was in the bed, I was watching it,” Kyler Murray said. “The more they talked about it at the beginning, I kind of had a feeling we might get stabbed and Georgia might be in. But when it came down to it, it just kind of made sense.”

Ford not about that Miami life

“Naw. Definitely not,” Ford said after being asked is he a Miami guy. “That lifestyle is way too fast. I just tend to myself. I’d rather sit inside than go out there and do stuff.”

Thoughts on Alabama

“Great challenge getting to go up against a great team. Tremendous players. I think it’s a great opportunity for us. To be able to go out there and prove what we’ve been working for and let everyone know that we have been working for something. That on the big stage we can play.”

Do the Sooners fit the underdog role?

Once the playoff matchups were set, most analysts outside of the state had quickly jumped on the Alabama bandwagon. That includes Las Vegas, which set the Tide as a 14-point favorite.

But according to Ford, that may work into the Sooners hands.

“I think we like when people doubt us,” Ford said. “We like to prove people wrong. I think we’re ready for the opportunity to go out there and prove ourselves.”

Defense playing a role

The past two games, the defense has played a big role in helping the Sooners not only get to the Big 12 Championship but also win the title. That’s an important stepping stone for Kenneth Murray.

“It just means everything,” Murray said. “Adversity hits and we continue to fight. We continue to go at it and we never gave up. We came up with some big plays in that last game and end up getting that championship, which is what we set out to do at the beginning of the year. So it means everything to me.”

Learning from the journey

“When you go through something, you always appreciate the ups and downs it takes to get there,” Kenneth Murray said. “As a defense, I feel like the adversity that we’ve been through, it just molds us to be who we are. When we get in a game when something doesn’t go our way, we’re not just surprised by it. We get back together, we regroup.”

2014 Sugar Bowl

The last time Oklahoma faced Alabama was in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. The Sooners blew out the Tide 45-31. Ford said that was an impactful game for him.

“That was right when I started getting recruited by OU,” Ford said. “I think that was pretty much the turning point for OU. It let everyone know they are not being pushed around anymore. It shows that we’ve been here before and we know how to handle these things.”

Murray named Heisman finalist

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

On the day that the nation officially found out quarterback Kyler Murray was one of three Heisman Trophy finalist, the Allen, Texas native treated it as a normal day at the office. He said he was getting a massage when he got the news Monday.

“I feel pretty normal, honestly,” Murray said. “Obviously a great honor to go to New York and represent as one of the finalists for the Heisman. I wouldn’t be here without my guys, my coaches, my family. Just thankful for all the work that’s been done. But for me, the job is not done obviously. Hopefully, two more games left and that’s really what my focus is on. It’s a great honor, and yes, it’s been a great day. I thought I found out last week. But today, I guess it’s official. It was a good day, for sure.”

Joining Murray as finalists are Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. The ceremony is set for Saturday night in New York City.

“Me and Dwayne (Haskins), we’re friends,” Murray said. “I really don’t know Tua (Tagovailoa). Obviously, hearing about Bama all the time, everybody knows they’ve had a great season. Other than knowing what Dwayne’s doing, I haven’t really got to sit down and watch many games they’ve played. But obviously, they’re doing something right.”

If Murray wins, he will be the seventh Sooner to take home the award and the second straight to win it while leading their team to the College Football Playoffs. Baker Mayfield won the 2017 Heisman.

Murray is the first FBS player in history to enter bowl season averaging at least 300 passing yards (311.8) and at least 60 rushing yards (68.6) per game. He also owns a 96.1 Total QBR, the highest by a player entering bowl play since 2004, according to the Sooners.

“I think he has a great chance to win. In my opinion, the best player in college football. For him to be named a finalist is pretty great for this university, good for him,” tackle Cody Ford said. “I think it just goes to show, we produce athletes at Oklahoma. I’ve never seen anyone like him.  He does things out of the ordinary. He’s real humble about himself. He doesn’t tend to get too confident or too cocky. So he knows what he is doing.”

All three finalist have impressive resumes. Haskins is the single-season Big Ten passing leader with 4,580 yards (also led the nation). His 47 touchdown passes are the most by a Power Five quarterback since 2008.

Tagovailoa threw for 3,353 yards, 37 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season to go along with 190 rushing yards and five scores. He’s completed 67.7 percent of his passes and didn’t throw an interception until Alabama’s eighth game of the season.

Murray leads the nation with a record 205.7 passing efficiency rating, a record 11.9 yards per pass attempt and 16.8 yards per completion. His 4,945 yards of total offense is also a new school record. He accounted for 51 total touchdowns, which leads all three finalists.

“I really haven’t had a lot of time to reflect. It went by quick,” Murray said. “Obviously, it’s not over. For me, going into it, you know, a one and done type deal, possibly, it’s been everything I dreamed of and I put in the work for. The guys put in the work for. I’m thankful. It’s been fun, hasn’t been easy. To win the Big 12 Championship Saturday. Do something that has never been done before, put ourselves in the history books forever. I can’t ask for much more.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

 

Sooners get sweet revenge on Longhorns

By Michael Kinney

ARLINGTON — Oklahoma had one game to show the world who they were. Facing a Texas squad that had handed them their only defeat of the season, they had an opportunity to not only erase that from their resume but also stake their claim to a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

While it wasn’t their prettiest win off offensively, the Sooners walked out of AT&T Stadium with a 39-27 victory over the Longhorns Saturday.

“We’re thrilled by the victory. I mean, it’s been a challenging year, which they all are.

None of the previous three here were easy by any stretch,” Lincoln Riley said. “This one certainly wasn’t either, but to sit here now as the fourth time defending Big 12 champion, man, that sounds good. It took a lot from these guys here and the players and the coaches in that room. When the rest of the world didn’t believe in them they believed in themselves and that’s why we’re sitting here with this trophy.”

While the win wasn’t pretty, the Sooners say it shows the type of grit they can play with against anybody.

“It shows the confidence of our team,” Kennedy Brooks said. “It shows the fight that we have to just go out there and just pull out tough games like this. We just go out there, do our job and just ball out for each other.”

Heisman trophy contender Kyler Murray threw for 379 yards and three touchdowns on 25 of 34 passing. He also added 45 yards rushing on 10 carries.

As a team, the Sooners posted 508 total yards.  However, the players talked about how it was the defense that carried the offense through stretches of the game.

“It’s something we talked about last night at our meeting behind closed doors, but we felt like we played together on all sides of the ball,” Murray said. “That’s a

good team up there in West Virginia, but I feel like we found ourselves. The defense came up big last week and this week. When we weren’t scoring they got stops and that’s how football is supposed to be played. I think it was a great team win this morning.”

The two biggest plays of the game came on back to back possessions from each side of the Oklahoma squad.

In the fourth quarter, it looked like the Sooners were going to put the game away when CeeDee Lamb broke loose for a long catch and run. However, he fumbled deep in Texas territory.

The Longhorns took over and Sam Ehlinger dropped back to pass looking for his receivers deep down the field. But he didn’t see a blitzing Tre Brown streaking in from the corner. Brown blasted Ehlinger to the ground and picked up the safety.

“I have called that particular blitz at least eight times before today,” defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. “It’s a blitz where particular players and parts of the field determine who may rush and who may not rush. I thought it was great execution. It proved to be huge late for us.”

Brown has made a habit of making key plays when the Sooners need it the most.

“Everything went like, I don’t know, I just see lights,” Brown said. “Especially when I saw him do play-action pass, I was like, wow, I can’t believe he just faked the ball, I got a green light and I took my shot and delivered.”

With the Sooners leading 32-27 they were looking to put the game away when they drove the ball down after getting the safety. On third down from the UT  18 yard line, Murray hit tight end Grant Calcaterra in the corner of the endzone. Calcaterra hauled the pass in with one hand for the touchdown.

“It’s something we do every Tuesday, one-on- one’s, inside fade and all I had to do was make the play,” Calcaterra said. “The play call was there. It was up to me to make the competitive play.”

It would have been easy to expect Murray to target CeeDee Lamb in that situation. Despite his earlier turnover, he accounted for more than 160 yards receiving in the game. But Murray has proven he has confidence in all of his pass catchers.

“It’s a route I’ve thrown a million times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown that route since I got to this school,” Murray said. “Something we work on every day, one-on-one’s, routes on air and with this guy, I trust him, I thrust anybody in the receiving room we got. They all outblitzed us, and I was taking my chance when I saw the match-up and Grant made a great catch.”

Defense had something to prove

After allowing the Longhorns to run through them in their first meeting, Oklahoma held Texas to 88 yards on the ground. And came up with the big plays it didn’t make at the Cotton Bowl.

“All we kind of heard w how bad we were, their players talking about how bad we were,” Linebacker Curtis Bolton said. “We just wanted to come out and make a statement and say that we’re one of the better teams in the country and we were going to show them today in the Big 12 Championship. We saw this as a kind of redemption, that’s the purpose of our team goal the rest of the season. We wanted to show everybody that this wasn’t the team Texas played six weeks ago. I think we showed that and got the W and came out Big 12 champs.”

Brown injured

On the final play of the third quarter, Marquise Brown caught a short pass. After the reception, he gingerly walked off the field and headed to the bench.

After being looked at and taped, a distraught Brown was taken off the field on a cart right as the Sooners had to settle for a field and a 30-27 lead in the fourth quarter.

However, after the game, Brown was in a walking boot, but said he was fine. But no official word on his long-term availability has been announced.

“I am feeling good,” Brown said. “I landed on my foot a little bit. But I am feeling good.”

Did they show enough?

With its victory and Big 12 title, will that be enough for Oklahoma to be one of the Final Four teams in the College Football Playoffs?

“We’ve done all we can,” Riley said. “We’re 12-1 and one of the best teams in the country, and it’s going to fall how it does and we will be excited for the next challenge, regardless of where it is.”

Brooks was more emphatic.

“We can beat any team in the nation,” Brooks said.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Sooners dominate all-conference team

(Photo by Jay Beuchamp)

By Michael Kinney

During the 2018 season, Oklahoma produced one of the one explosiveness offenses in recent history. Averaging more than 50 points a game and 584 yards, they were nearly unstoppable.

So it was no surprise when the Big 12 Conference announced its all-conference team and awards, the offensive side was littered with Sooners.

Oklahoma racked up a league-high 11 All-Big 12 First- or Second Team selections, as the conference announced its football awards Wednesday. Selections were made by the league’s coaches, who were not permitted to vote for their own players.

In addition, coach Lincoln Riley, quarterback Kyler Murray, kicker Austin Seibert and offensive lineman Dru Samia each claimed individual honors.

Murray was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, the fourth consecutive such award for the Sooners and eighth overall. Seibert was voted the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year, Samia was one of three Big 12 Offensive Linemen of the Year and Riley was named the Big 12 Co-Coach of the Year.

Oklahoma’s seven first-team selections were all on offense. Along with Seibert, Murray and Samia, they included Marquise Brown, Grant Calcaterra, OU senior left guard Ben Powers and redshirt junior right tackle Cody Ford.

Murray, who was a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team selection, joins Baker Mayfield (2015 and 2017), Dede Westbrook (2016), Sam Bradford (2008), Jason White (2003 and 2004) and Josh Heupel (2000) as OU winners of the league’s top offensive player honor.

On Wednesday, Murray was named a finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. That goes along with already being a finalist for the Maxwell Award and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.

Murray is the only player to ever average at least 300.0 passing yards (306.2) and at least 60 rushing yards (71.1) through college football’s regular season. The junior from Allen, Tx. leads the nation in yards per pass attempt (12.0) and yards per completion (17.0) and is while second in total touchdowns (48), passing TDs (37) and passing efficiency rating (206.8).

“When you play quarterback, your job is to deliver the ball from the pocket,” Murray said. “When stuff breaks down I have the ability to make something happen.”

Redshirt senior fullback Carson Meier, sophomore kick returner Tre Brown and sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray earned All-Big 12 Second Team honors.

Kenneth Murray has started all 12 games at middle linebacker and leads the Sooners with 133 total tackles, OU’s highest single-season total in 10 years. He has also registered 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks, along with three QB hurries and a pair of pass breakups. He has tallied double-digit tackles in eight games this season, all in the last 10 outings, and averages 12.1 stops per contest in the last 11 contests.

According to OU, Oklahoma has placed at least four players on the All-Big 12 First Team every season since 2000.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

More than a rivalry on the line for OU

By Michael Kinney

Ever since Oklahoma lost to Texas back in October, they have been in playoff mode. Knowing a second loss on their resume would all but eliminate them from contention for a spot in the College Football Playoffs, the Sooners have been in must-win mode.

After defeating West Virginia Friday, Oklahoma now has a chance to strengthen its case for a third trip to the playoffs by earning a trip to the Big 12 Championship. But also as important to fans, they get another shot at the Longhorns, who they will meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

However, don’t expect the players to express the same revenge sentiment. When they met with the media Monday, they said their focus was on other things.

“The fact that this is a championship game and all that is riding on it overshadows that in my opinion,” coach Lincoln Riley said. “I don’t take it lightly. I get the historical significance behind it. I know OU and Texas haven’t played each other twice in a season in a very long time.”

Oklahoma is going for a record fourth straight Big 2 Championship. According to linebacker Kenneth Murray, that is all the team is focused on.

“It’s just another opportunity for us as a team to achieve the goals we wanted to achieve, which was win the Big 12 Championship this year,” Murray said. “Obviously, trying to win it for the fourth time in a row is really important to us. Trying to do something that has never been done before. So that’s the main focus for us.”

But in order to do that, Oklahoma has to get past a Texas squad that would love nothing more than to play spoiler twice in the same season. If UT sweeps OU this season, that would be a feather in their hats that the Sooners would never be able to live down.

The last time the two teams met at the Red River Shootout, the Longhorns victory was the final game for former OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Ruffin McNeil stepped in as the interim coordinator since then.

In those six games, the Sooners have given up 230 total points. That includes an average of 47 points over the past four games.

“We are 6-0 since the change,” Riley said. “That’s what matters most to me. We’ve had some games where we played really well. We’ve had some games where we haven’t played well at times. But we’ve made enough big plays to get it done. I think we’re progressing in a lot of ways, but we have to put it all together.”

One area that doesn’t seem to be much of a concern is Oklahoma’s offense, which is ranked No. 1 in the nation in several categories. That includes scoring offense (50.3 points), total offense (583 yards), yards per play (8.9) and yards per rush (7.0).

The Sooners are the only team in the nation with at least 30 rushing touchdowns and 30 passing TDs.

That may be one of the reasons Texas tried to bring in in former Kansas coach David Beatty to be a consultant to help the Longhorns prepare for OU.

“Coach Beatty can do what he wants to do,” Riley said smiling. “I don’t like the precedent of it, of being able to bring on somebody from the league in the same year. I don’t think that’s good for the conference, but it’s not against the rules and if they want to do it that’s fine.”

If the Sooners win Saturday and take the Big 12 title, the question will remain, will it be enough to put them into the playoffs. Only the CFP committee knows that.

But Riley doesn’t want his squad dwelling on it. They have other fish to fry first.

“Right now I’d ask them (CFP committee) if they understand how difficult it is to beat Texas because that’s all I’m worried about,” Riley said. “I get it. I get it’s going to be a conversation. It was the same thing last year. We knew that we had to win this game and most years, most teams are going to have to win their conference to get into the playoff. I know that’s not a surprise to anybody. I want my team’s focus right there.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

It’s all on the line against WVU

By Michael Kinney

Oklahoma is not trying to downplay the importance of Friday night game at West Virginia. They know exactly what is on the line, which is a trip to the Big 12 Championship and a possible spot in the College Football Playoffs.

“It’s always different playing a physical game then wake up and practice the next day,” safety Robert Barnes said. “We all know what’s at stake here. We all know what we have to do to come out on top in this game. Everybody woke up yesterday with the right attitude, came focused and ready to go.”

Tight end Grant Calcaterra agrees with Barnes.

“There is a lot of pressure around the game,” Calcaterra said. “Obviously, it’s high stakes, two of the better team in the Big 12. We know that we need to win this game if we want to accomplish the rest of our goals. I think today we were all a little more jacked up during practice.”

Since joining the Big 12 in 2012 Oklahoma has amassed a 6-0 record against WVU. The Sooners have reached the 44-point mark in at least five of those contests.

So when linebacker Curtis Bolton was asked about the intensity of the rivalry, he had a hard time giving it that distinction.

“I wouldn’t call it a rivalry. But they get rowdy over there. There’s not much to do in West V. I just know last time I was there their fans talked mess more than anybody else. Their players are rowdy. It’s a smash mouth football game. I like those. I like when teams come out rough. I’m just excited for those game. They talk a lot. They’ve got a good squad.”

While the record between the two teams doesn’t indicate a rivalry, the attitudes of the players do.

“I think they have a chip on their shoulder, just like we do,” Calcaterra said. “We both play hard. They’re a good team, we’re a good team. For the most part, we always battle it out. It’s kind of an unspoken rivalry, maybe.”

“I know last year, there is always somebody in pregame that we’re always butting heads with,” Barnes said. “Just doing their little taunting or whatever before the games. This year I feel like both teams have a lot on the line. I know it’s going to be a physical matchup.”

The Oklahoma defense took a lot of heat after their 55-40 win over Kansas Saturday. Most of that was due to the poor tackling display they put on.

“I thought we were moving in the right direction in that aspect of the game,” Bolton said. “We came out then and didn’t tackle well. That goes back to what we have to do during the week. Now we’re focusing on our tackling, not that we didn’t last week or the weeks before that, but that wasn’t the biggest issue that we needed to work on. Obviously, after last week, it’s still an issue we need to work on.”

Despite a pair of poor defensive outings, Barnes believes his unit can improve.

“For me, I know the guys I’m playing with,” Barnes said. “I grinded with these guys all summer, all fall camp and all that. So I’m very confident that when we step out there it’s going to be more physical, but we’re going to make those plays. Everybody on that field will do their job.”

High scoring affair

Oklahoma leads the nation in total offense with 576 yards per game and 71 total touchdowns. West Virginia is No. 10 with 502 ypg and 51 TDs. But wideout CeeDee Lamb knows how important the other side of the ball will be in determining who wins.

“We have to depend on our defense at some point,” Lamb said. “We know what we have in here and we’re a brotherhood. As far as us going out there and putting up numbers, we’re going to do what we have to do as far as scoring. And we’re just going to have to depend on our defense.”

 

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Struggles continue for OU despite double-digt victory

 

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN– On Saturday Oklahoma won it’s 10th game of the season with a 55-40 victory over Kansas. It was the 17th time since 2000 that the program has reached double-digit victories in a season, which leads the nation in that time span.

However, the mood of the fans, players and coaches coming out of Memorial Stadium was far from celebratory.  Once again it was the Sooner’s defense that garnered most of the attention as they allowed the Jayhawks to run up and down the field.

“Defensively, we didn’t tackle at all the whole night and that’s really the story. I thought our pass defense was much improved,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “It was something we spent a lot of time on, certainly after the way we played in that fashion the week before. We had some good things there as far as coverage, but clearly, we weren’t good on the run game and it was disappointing because  we’ve really done a good job against the run all season.”

The futility of the Kansas offense during the past decade is the biggest sign of how bad the Oklahoma defense looked Saturday.

Since 2015 Kansas has only scored more than 40 points twice. Both came in wins against non-conference teams. Their output against the Sooners is the most they have scored against a Big 12 team since beating Colorado 52-45 in 2010.

“I take it very personally. I don’t think a team should get over 50 yards on us if it was up to me,” safety Robert Barnes said. “I just think as a unit we just have to start playing more physical and be more fundamental. It starts in practice. It starts on Monday through Friday. Just continuing to work on tackling. It’s a long season and there’s a lot of inquiries that happen throughout a season. So it’s not like in practice we can do full-tackling drills. But tackling is a mentality If you train that mentality all week, when you come out on Saturday, it won’t be an issue.”

Run defense disappeared

The Jayhawks posted 348 rushing yards on the night. That included Pooka Williams rushing for 252 yards on only 15 carries. That is a 16.8 Yards per carry average.

We have guys in position. We tell them to not worry about mistakes. All mistakes are mine, so don’t hesitate. Go make it,” defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. “We tackle every day, so we’ll just continue to do that and continue to work hard. We’ll watch the film and see what angles would help, but look from all different angles on that too. Ready to get back to work and watch the film and fix what we’ve got to fix to get ready for next week.”

Tackling still at the heart of the problem

The OU coaches and players all said tackling is still the issue that has been causing them the most issues.

“We’ve had games where we tackled really well,” Riley said., “I think we have guys that can tackle well. Tackling is just so many things. It’s being in position, knowing where you help is. It all comes down to playing great team defense and when you do you put yourself in position to make those plays and you have got to go make them. The group I watched tonight was too hesitant. I thought we were in position a lot and we have to go. We have to trigger and go play confident and go play explosive. Go play to make the play as opposed to just trying to keep them from making a play. I felt we were more on our heels than we need to be. Certainly, we have to be more aggressive and as coaches, we have to find a way to get there out of them.”

According to defensive end Kenneth Mann, bad tackling can cause a snowball effect.

“I think it can,” Mann said. “ Things like that can but we just have to gather the troops and get back together. We need to make the right moves.  Everybody needs to settle down when things get going like that and continue to tackle and get guys down.”

 

Last one standing

On the first offensive series of the game, Oklahoma leading rusher Trey Sermon left the game with an injury. That left redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks as the only healthy tailback for the Sooners.

Brooks carried the rock 25 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns as he played the majority of the game.

“He did a great job, doing it by himself,” quarterback Kyler Murray said. “He’s been doing it since he got his chance earlier in the season. We’re going to need him going forward and I’m sure he’ll continue to run well.”

Brooks said he just had to be ready for his moment when his number was called.

“All the guys in the room helped me get to this point,” Brooks said. “I couldn’t do it without them. Everybody just being there and telling me I can do it. Just keeping my confidence up. Going through practice, seeing what I can do, then you’re in the game and you’re actually doing. I give all my glory to God, my teammates second and believing in myself that I could do it. Being in this position is nothing new. We just go out there and do the best we can to help the team win.”

Brooks pointed out his offensive line especially.

“They did amazing,” Brooks said. “We have the best offensive line in the country. I am so happy I can run behind them. They made my job so much easier.”

The best?

Tackle Cody Ford was asked if OU had the best offensive line in college football. Ford kept his answer pretty simple.

“Yes.”

Scoring machine

The Sooners 55 points is their third highest output of the season. They also tallied 566 total yards (294 rush, 272 pass)

Despite that, quarterback Kyler Murray wasn’t too impressed. Even with his five touchdowns (3 rushing, 2 passing), it was not close to what he expects from the offense in general.

“It wasn’t bad,” Murray said. “I thought we moved the ball well. I would say personally, a little disappointed. It wasn’t the best game, but it got the job done. We put up 55 points, so I guess you could say it was a good day.”

Except for the two turnovers.

“That’s something we don’t want to do, put the ball in other people’s hands,” Murray said. “We have actually done a good job with that all season, taking care of the ball. Tonight it got away from us a little bit.”

Heisman Worthy

Wideout Marquise Brown, who had 6 catches for 64 yards, said Murray is the clear Heisman frontrunner.

“I just don’t feel like nobody is playing better football than him, to be honest,” Brown said. “He’s throwing it, running it. He’s really the most valuable player for this team. I feel like he should be the Heisman.”

Big game on the horizon

With West Virginia losing to Oklahoma State earlier in the day, it took a little luster off of next week’s matchup with the Mountaineers. Yet, the game is still a big contest for the Sooners as they look to lock up a spot In the Big 12 Championship.

Barnes knows his team has to show an element the defense has shown much of the year if they are going to win.

“I would say from the first play be the most physical team out there,” Barnes said. “From offense and defense, but especially from the defensive standpoint. When you’re going into a hostile atmosphere, an away game, especially at this caliber, from the first play we need physicality across the board.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Story first ran in The Yukon Review