OU Notebook: Sooners get physical

 

By Michael Kinney

Coming out of Oklahoma’s 51-14 win over Kansas State, every coach and player at some point referred to being physical. Whether it was on offense or defense, the Sooners came out with the mentality they were going to beat up the Wildcats.
“That’s something that has been preached to us all week,” linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “Obviously, we as players, we heard the chirping. We heard what was put out there. How they wanted to come in and control the ball. And try and play physical and stuff like that. For me and the rest of the guys, especially the guys up front, as soon as we heard that, we were extremely happy and excited on the inside. That’s the type of ball we love to play.”

Oklahoma Obliterated Kansas State’s Run Game

The Wildcats Alex Barnes came into the game with 788 yards on the ground. He totaled only 30 yards on 13 carries against the Sooners. OU held them to a total of 156 rushing yards with quarterback Skyler Thompson as the leading rusher with 58 yards.
Coach Bill Snyder was dejected after seeing his Wildcats get overwhelmed by Sooners.
“I’ll have to reinvest some time and try and find out if the ship has ever been in this condition before,” Snyder said. “I’m not sure that it has.

Sooners’ Run Game was Rolling

On offense, that physicality played itself out in the run game. Despite quarterback Kyler Murray throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns, coach Lincoln Riley said it was all built off what they were able to do on the ground as they churned out 332 rushing yards.
“We did hit some big ones. We just had a few at the right time,” Riley said. “Guys made some great plays. I think it started with our physicality. With us being able to run the ball, I thought our backs ran really hard. We played another very strong game up front. Once you can do that, you put teams in tough positions.”

It was Personal for the Offensive Line

The Sooners scored on their first nine possessions of the game. That included six touchdowns.
“I think it showed that this O-line meant business from quarter one and that we weren’t playing around,” tackle Cody Ford said. “We’re not going to let anybody come in our house and attempt to be more physical than us.”

Brooks Keeps on Producing

For almost the third time in four games, redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks came close topping the 100-yard mark. Against the Wildcats, he only carried the ball five times but rushed for 95 yards and two scores.
“There are some things, especially in space with him, that he does and understands, and feels, you can’t always teach guys that,” Riley said of Brooks. “You never know exactly how things are going to happen. Especially once you get past that first level. Our O-line is doing a good job of getting him some good clean runs. He understands how blocks are being leveraged, he understands space and he’s got the ability to make a guy miss in the open field. That’s all the guy did for three or four years in high school. He ran for about 250, 300 yards a game.”

And, He’s Averaging More Than 10 Yards per Carry

Despite playing sparingly during the first half of the season, Brooks has rushed 38 times for 454 yards. That is an 11.9 yards per rush average.
“I’m aware of it, but I don’t go out there and try to do it,” Brooks said. “I just go out there and try to help my team win any way I can. No matter if it’s like two-yards per carry or 10. I’m just happy to be out here and do everything for my team.”

Improv

Riley Mentioned that of the things that have impressed him the most about Kyler Murray this season is his ability to improvise. Against the Wildcats he showed that ability a few times when he scrambled around looking to make plays downfield.

“I think that is something I’ve always done,” Murray said. “Growing up, ever since I started playing football, I’ve just tried to make a play. That’s what it comes down to. Some of those have been third downs and I don’t like punting the ball. When we punt the ball it’s really frustrating to me. So, I’m just trying to extend the play and do what I can.”

Spreading the Wealth

Of the 19 passes Murray completed, they went to 12 different receivers.

“I say most of the time, we have a great receiving room,” Murray said. “A lot of people like to talk about (Marquise Brown) and (CeeDee Lamb), but we have a lot of guys that are ready to go. We have great depth. Twelve guys, I didn’t even know I did that. I think that’s a good deal.”

Snyder was Also Impressed With Murray

On the season Murray has accounted for 34 total touchdowns this season (28 passing, six rushing) against just four turnovers.

“He can throw the ball quite well. He’s got that great quickness. Change of direction,” Snyder said. “Manages his team quite well. I think he’s an excellent quarterback. But anybody in this league that can throw the ball around at a 70 percent clip has got to be a pretty proficient player. Especially at his size. To be 5-10 and be able to see out and make all those throws, he’s a pretty special youngster.”

Defensive Improvements

Riley was asked in several different ways to try and explain if the defense is playing better since former defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was fired. While Riley wouldn’t fall into the trap of answering the questions directly, he did say he has seen improvements in areas under Ruffin McNeill.

“We’re playing a little more consistent now. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Riley said. “I think getting some of these young guys back healthy has created competition, it’s got more ability on the field. Some of those young guys are certainly playing better. They just have a good domineer and mentality about them right now. We just have to keep growing. From the bye week to TCU, and from TCU to here, we’re taking positive steps.”

Young Pups Stepping up

Two of the young defensive players Riley was alluding to were freshman defensive linemen Ronnie Perkins and Jalen Redmond. In only his second game this season Redmond was third on the team in tackles with five and tied for second in tackles for loss.

“Jalen does some really impressive things physically,” Riley said. “He played a couple of snaps last week, but he to play this week. He did some really good things. He will learn from it, there will be some mistakes. But you can tell this wasn’t his first one. He started to settle in. Ronnie is playing a big role for us. It looks like he did a pretty good job.”

Team First

Lamb finished the day with four receptions for a career-high 160 yards and two touchdowns.
But those numbers are not what impressed the sophomore receiver the most.

“That we played together and we stayed together as a whole,” Lamb said. “If any individual feels like they are too comfortable or too good for the team, I don’t really want to be a part of that team. But for us it’s different. We are always together, we play as one.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

McNeill gives players owernership over defense

 

By Michael Kinney

In his first game as the Sooners defensive coordinator, Ruffin McNeill instituted a new change that seems to have met with immediate approval from the entire defense. He told his Oklahoma defense that if there was any play call they didn’t understand or were not comfortable with, they would take it out of the game plan.

According to McNeill, it’s something he learned from his father and he has been employing for 39 years.

“When you go into a game where it’s live, you want the kids to have confidence,” McNeill said. “If they didn’t feel comfortable with the call if it wasn’t clear… they are erased as soon as they raised their hands with each one. It is so that they can play fast and be able to understand everything they’re doing. I think that’s very important. I’ve always done that. I’ve had some ‘coach, I’m not sure about that.’ When one guy says that, then it’s off.”

Was he joking

“He is serious when he said that this week and I was kind of shocked,” linebacker Curtis Bolton said. “Because a lot of coaches are more dictators instead of leaders. It kind of threw me off because he kind of gave us a little bit of power.”

Not going to raise his hand

Even though Bolton is a fan of cutting out the plays that players don’t understand, he wasn’t going to be the one to raise his hand.

“At the end of the day, it’s also my job to know every calling the book, especially as a linebacker, especially as a play caller,” Bolton said. “So you know, I didn’t have a problem with it. He put the game plan on the board. It’s my job to know all those plays. There are not any plays I’m volunteering to get thrown out. I’m not going to be the guy to say ‘coach, I don’t know what I’m doing on that.’

New changes worked well at TCU

“We had a pretty good playlist and call lists because we understood what we had in,” McNeill said. “As the game went on, as the caller I saw some things we could handle in a particular manner, so I adjusted to that. So to the naked eye it looked somewhat the same. But to the kids it was simple. But I thought we handled it well. “

Buying in

It has only taken one game for Bolton to see McNeill’s plan of attack taking hold of the OU defense.

“I think it can help us out a lot, I think it showed this weekend. Simplified the game plan then let your playmakers make plays,” Bolton said. “At the end of the day, he’s going to preach to us effort. That’s the main thing when he got the job. It’s the first thing he says every time he opens his mouth when we meet as a defense. It’s effort/. I was a believer in that before he said that. I’m buying into his plan. I think he has a good game plan. And just him being a player’s coach, it helps us play faster. He keeps it simple and lets us go out there and do what we do. And do what got us here.”

Improvement in tackling

“We have been working on tackling the whole bye week and every day since then,” safety Robert Barnes said. “It’s something that should be second nature to us now.”

On what to expect from Alex Barnes and the KSU offense

Tailback Alex Barnes has rushed for 817 yards on 138 carries. Oklahoma’s defense should see a heavy dose of Barnes Saturday when the Sooners host Kansas State.

“This is the Big 12. Skill players go here to go three and out then go to the league. That’s no secret. That’s no surprise. Every team we play is going to have an elite premier back. I don’t think this week is any different. I think he is pretty sound. He is patient, he knows how to cut. They are a disciplined team. Coach Snyder runs a tight ship over there. I’ve seen it throughout the years. They are not going to make many mistakes. They are going to come up and execute their coaches game plan. It’s all about physicality and who’s going to punch who in the mouth.”

Perfect game for players who like to hit

“Kansas State has a great running back,” Barnes said. “But as long as we’re turned into what we’re supposed to do… as safeties, it’s a game you want to play because you get to fit gaps and just come downhill a lot of the game. It should be fun, a good challenge. I love games like that. As a bigger safety, you always love when you can fit in the run game. and just give something for those running backs to look forward to every time they hit that hole. Know that they are going to have a big body safety right there competing with them the whole game.”

Younger player getting more opportunities

“We’re trying to get a lot of guys in there and see who can play,” Bolton said. “I know it’s late I the season… but with coach Ruffin getting the DC job, it’s kind of pushing the restart button. We kind of knew what we had. He has different viewpoints than coach Mike. Getting Ronnie (Perkins) into the game a little bit more was something he had planned for. I think he deserves it. He gotten pressure, gotten after the quarterback. He wins his one-on-one pass rushes. That’s a guy that’s demanding to be on the field.”

Teammates happy for Redmond

Freshman defensive end Jalen Redmon play his first game of the season last week against TCU after suffering a blood clot in the offseason that was supposed to keep him out the entire year. Even though he recorded only one tackle the stats don’t tell the entire story.

“I’m excited for Jalen,” Bolton said. “I was excited for Jalen a lot like Perk (Ronnie Perkins). I think those two can be really dangerous, especially getting after the quarterback. I think both of them have a knack. But it was a good week back for Jalen. He is still learning things. He’s still young. The thing that stands out to me is he doesn’t act like he’s young, he doesn’t prepare like he’s young. He shows up like he’s a vet. He’s just willing to learn. No pipe back, no arguing. If you tell him he had a bad play, he will be the first one to own up to it.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

OU Notebook: Sooners moving forward

By Michael Kinney

Other than Mike Stoops, no one at Oklahoma was more in the eye of the storm the past 10 days than linebacker Curtis Bolton.

With rumors of him getting into a physical confrontation with Stoops at halftime of the game against Texas then walking out on the team, the senior’s character had been called into question by some.

Bolton addressed the situation publicly for the first time Tuesday after practice and denied many of the allegations that had been reported about the halftime incident.

“It kind of blows my mind… At the end of the day a reporter is not going to report something if they don’t trust their source,” Bolton said. “The fact that that story got out, the reporter obviously felt like it was somebody close to the locker room or in the locker room that would drop a story like that. This is an intense sport. Obviously, things are heightened in Texas week. But for someone to drop that there was this big fist fighting the locker room, just blows my mind. Not even from my end, but just from this team. It makes the team look bad. I could care less if people think I fought my coach. My coaching staff knows what happened, my teammates know what happened.”

What did happen?

“At the end of the day there was no huge argument, there was no huge fist fight,” Bolton said. “I was a little frustrated with how we were playing. I was a little frustrated I didn’t play in the second quarter. We got in the locker room, I got my checks through my coaches, things got heated in there just how they always do. A guy like me, sometimes I just need my space. I was getting a little to riled up in there. The crazy thing about is me and coach Stoops didn’t personally exchange a word in the locker room. So it’s crazy to me someone would drop that (story). Coach Stoops was pissed off with how we were playing. He has every right, he was the D-coordinator at the time and we weren’t playing good, we weren’t playing up to the standard. That’s not the problem I had. My problems were more internally. I just needed to get some air and the next thing you know people see me walking out of the locker room pissed and all this I quit on my team. I just wanted to nip that in the bud where it stood because I care about this team. I love this team.”

Bolton says he didn’t quit on the team

“I’m not going to walk out on them. I needed some air. That’s all it was. I needed some air to lock in. I think I came out in the second half and played pretty good personally. I love this team. I’m not going to quit on it,” Bolton said. “I didn’t spend four years on the bench to work my tail off to get a starting spot in my senior year and walk out in the Texas game. I’m a leader of this team. I could have handled it better. Of course, that’s just reflection. I’ve got handle situations like that better. But it’s not about me anymore. I have to set an example for this team. At the end of the day, this story where me and coach Mike are in a fist fight in the locker room is just completely untrue. The fact that it was out there kind of pissed me off.”

The temperature of the team

The Sooners are looking to put all the drama of the Texas loss behind them as they host TCU Saturday in Ft. Worth.

“They are ready to go,” Defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. “We had a really snappy practice on Monday. We began to try to solve some things for the game coming up. I thought the kids came out after getting a couple of days away from us and us from them, they came out with some pep in their step.”

Are the Sooners buying in?

Less than two weeks on the job as the Sooners defensive coordinator, McNeill was asked if the Sooners are buying what he is trying to install.

“Gameday is a part of the test,” McNeill said. “But for me, it’s a lot of tests before that. And not just because of what’s happened since I’ve been blessed to be at Oklahoma, we’ve been testing one another. They know how I feel about them, I know how they feel about me and us as a staff. The biggest thing like boss (Lincoln Riley) was talking about was just making sure everybody understands it’s we, us and ours. In those three words, there is no I. We’ve been talking about that for a while. The kids are grasping that. You see it coming.”

Defensive changes

With only six games left in the season, McNeill isn’t trying to overhaul the entire defense. He does want to make the players more accountable.

“I haven’t had to do that much,” McNeill said. “The kids are willing to do whatever. We talk this way, ‘It’s not the call, they’re the call.’ The players are the call. They know that. Whatever we call, if it’s just a base call, they’re the call. That’s putting ownership back on them. I think the kids appreciate that.”

Keeping it simple

“Coach Ruff is pretty much trying to keep it the same,” linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “Not trying to change too much in the middle of the season. But he has been able to keep it simplified for us and let just go out there and fly around. The main thing with him has been preaching effort, fundamentals, and discipline.”

Murray likes how the defense has looked in practice

“I think we’ve been looking good,” Murray said. “I think coach Ruff is putting together a great game plan. I feel like all the guys have been flying around at practice, so I think we’ve been looking good, making strides to become better at what we need to become better at. Just looking forward to getting out there Saturday and playing a great game.”

What’s up with Bookie?

Through six games, Brendan Radley-Hiles (aka Bookie) has collected 28 total tackles from his spot in the secondary. Many may have been expecting more, but McNeill says he is on pace for a freshman.

“I think Bookie, for a first-year player, at this level of football in the Big 12, and the level we play, has really handled himself well,” McNeill said. “I think you’ll see constant improvement; A lot of times expectations are put on certain players and people. Bookie has handled it well and I think he will keep handling it the older he gets.”

New direction under McNeill

“At the end of the day, they know we have talent. It’s not the talent that’s hurting us. It’s not the coaching that’s hurting us. It’s not the scheme. The scheme hurts us sometimes. But it’s not the scheme that hurts us overall,” Bolton said. “We just have to find a way to put all three of those together. And play a complete game. I think the change in coach Ruff getting the DC job and them not bringing in someone new, I think it was more of a respect thing from coach Riley. He has a lot of respect from coach Ruff. I think it stems from trust. I trust that man. I trust his direction with this team, with this defense. If we can continue to trust each other as players. I think the confidence will continue building.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Sooners react to coaching change

By Michael Kinney

Just days after being named the new defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Ruffin McNeil met with the media for the first time Tuesday.

It didn’t take long before the 59-year old veteran coach was asked how he plans to fix the Sooner’s issues with tackling.

“I’m very simple,” McNeill said after practice. “I will be the simplest man any of y’all will ever meet. We have to work on it and be rigorous about it. Be firm about it. Lincoln gave us just a little bit more time this week and even perhaps during game week until we fix that. Not just the tackling, but other parts of the game. We’ve been able to do that these last two days and emphasizing it with them. I’m looking forward to seeing the improvement tomorrow. We have a long way before 11 o’clock next Saturday.”

A player’s coach

Everywhere McNeill has been, he has been considered a coach who gets along great with his players. He explained why that is.

“I love the kids. Offensively, defensively, special teams, that’s always been my deal,” McNeill said. “It’s tough love. I’ve always had this, not just here, but I believe in working them as hard as I possibly can, then love them even harder. I am always going to be myself. Guys know I have a very, very tough side, but at the same time they know I love them. We have that understanding among the whole team.”

Keeping focused

“I work on controllable and not uncontrollables. The uncontrollable thing is that we do have an opportunity as a group, as a team,” McNeill said. “The controllable thing we can work on is how hard we work each day as a staff and as a group. So I am really going to focus on that. The fact that we do have games left to be as good as we want to be, I look forward to that challenge too. We’ve got great competition down the way that I look forward to as a team.”

McNeill explains his practice style

“We have expectations. There are the positives that will happen if meet those expectations every day in practice,” McNeill said. “If they’re not met, then we will do them until they are met. I love to work on schemes, but if the effort is not right, I really don’t care about anything else until that’s right. Once that’s right, we move on to the next one, which is fundamentals. When effort and fundamentals are fixed, we move on to the next one.”

Been through it before

McNeill said he knows the difficulties OU head coach Lincoln Riley had to go through in firing Mike Stoops because it’s something he has had to endure during his coaching career.

“It’s a tough move. I’ve been there. I’ve been on both ends of that,” McNeill said. “I understand it was tough. Everybody knows Mike’s a great person. The whole Stoop’s family. Bob, Mark and Mike. I know all three. I know it was tough on Lincoln. Been there in that situation and I know it was tough for him to do that. Not only that, but you have to do it with a friend.”

Other coaching changes

With McNeill now the defensive coordinator, Calvin Thibodeaux will move from just the defensive ends to handling the entire defensive line.

Bob Diaco, who was a defensive analyst, has taken over outside linebackers.

“Bob and I coached together when he was at UConn,” McNeill said. “He is a really good ball coach, really enthusiastic. Smart as a whip. Taking the leashes off of him was like letting a wild tiger loose. My wife absolutely loves him and would divorce for him. But we’ve known each for a long time. He is very excited and will do a great job.”

Mood of the team

“It’s obviously been a little crazy with the stuff going down,” linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “But we’re fine. Happy with the direction we’re heading in now. Just staying together, going to work, Get better every day.”

“Right now the focus is pretty much getting better each week,” defensive lineman Armani Bledsoe said. “Take the bye to focus on TCU as well. It’s definitely a switch up, but the biggest thing is just staying together as a team. And focusing on focusing the little things. It’s defiantly a big shock. We all love coach mike. But at the end of the day, we trust coach Riley’s decision and try to stay close together as a group.”

Take away from Texas game

“I’d say the energy,” Amani Bledsoe said. “I think we kind of came out flat in the first half. The energy was there I the second half. If we would have played like that in the first half, it would be a totally different ball game. That’s just of the things.”

Is the offense feeling the pressure to carry the team?

“I feel like we started off playing good complimentary football,” Trey Sermon said. “We haven’t really been too consistent at it, which is kind of different than what we’ve done in the past years. But everybody has been working hard and trying to improve in that area. We know in order to be a great football team, you have to be good in all three phases.”

Hearing the news about Stoops

“Obviously it was real emotional given that your defensive coordinator was fired,” Murray said. “It was emotional just trying to get the news and hear what the coaches had to say. But once we got the direction from the coaches, everything kind of mellowed out and we were able to move on. We understand that coach Riley made a decision and we understand that we trust his decision and we know that he knows what is best for us. That’s what we’re trusting in right now.

Saying goodbye

Murray said he spoke with Stoops Sunday after getting the news he was fired. The sophomore explained what his former defensive coordinator meant to him.

‘He means a lot to me,” Murray said. “He gave me a shot when nobody else gave me a shot. A lot of people try to say you had a ton of offers. Yes, I had a ton of offers, but you don’t start as a true freshman. Every freshman in the country doesn’t just come in and start. He believed in me a lot from the jump. So, for that, I’m forever grateful.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Sooners join exclusive membership with Jordan brand

(Photo by Jay Beuachamp)

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN – Jamuni McNeace was upset when the news came down that the University of Oklahoma athletic department was joining Nike’s Jordan Brand. The senior forward on the men’s basketball team knew he was missing out.

“Man, I was hurt, man,” McNeace said. “I’m not going to lie. Because I only got one year left. So these young boys come in, got four years of free Jordans. Man, I was hurt. I wish I had four more years of eligibility just so I could collect the gear.”

McNeace wasn’t the only one to have a strong reaction to the news about the multibillion-dollar shoe and apparel line joining the Sooners. Ever since Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione announced in November the Sooners would be the newest member of the growing Jordan Brand collective, the hysteria over the apparel has stayed at a constant high.

“It just fits with what we’re trying to do here at the University of Oklahoma. The marriage of truly two iconic brands, both with a global impact for different reasons,” Castiglione said. “We thought the core values of both Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand fit very well with what we do here at Oklahoma.”

The Jordan Brand is former NBA star Michael Jordan’s line of apparel. What started out with The Air Jordan I shoe in 1985 has transformed into a multibillion-dollar apparel line for Nike.

The Air Jordan III in 1988 was the first item to feature the iconic Jumpman logo. It can now be found on every piece of clothing associated with Oklahoma’s football and basketball teams.

Besides the free gear, the partnership is a nice payday for the school. Oklahoma does not release contract details, however, The OU Daily filed an open records request for the information, which showed the Sooner’s deal with the Jordan Brand is worth around $70 million. The school will get an annual payment of $1.78 million through 2024. That is up from the $1.4 million it was getting when it was with Nike.

The Jordan Brand had been involved in college sports for some time, but almost exclusively in college basketball. It wasn’t until 2016 that it dipped its toe in the lucrative waters of college football.

Michigan was the first gridiron squad to join the Jordan Brand. Since then, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Florida were added to the list of only four football programs to represent the line. Marquette and Georgetown are the only two schools where just the basketball teams are outfitted in the Jordan Brand.

“Once I noticed that the Jordan Brand was interested in moving from the (basketball court) onto a different playing surface, I wanted to make sure that Oklahoma was right in the middle of that discussion,” Castiglione said.

The cultural relevance of Michael Jordan and his Jordan Brand is not lost on the coaches and school officials at Oklahoma.

“The biggest separator right now, when I’m talking to kids, is the Jordan Brand,” assistant defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks said. “There are only four college football teams in the country that are able to wear that logo. That’s a big deal for every kid.”

Before the Jordan Brand entered the football game, it was already one of the biggest money makers in apparel. According to Forbes, Nike’s Jordan revenues for the fiscal year ending in May of 2016 were $2.8 billion. It jumped to $3.1 billion in 2017.

One look at OuJordan.com, it is easy to see how it is able to rake in the money. A pair of Jordan Trainer 3 sneakers in Oklahoma colors cost $125. A Jordan Brand Crimson game jersey sells anywhere from $99 to $134.

Because the Jordan Brand shoes and apparel are in such high demand, it does bring unique challenges for college programs to deal with.

Earlier in the summer, 13 members of the North Carolina football team were suspended for as many as four games for selling team-issued Special Edition Air Jordan’s that were given to them. According to the NCAA, that is a violation.

When it happened, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said he has talked to his Sooners about the situation.

“You constantly have to remind them, even more now that it’s Jordan. The stuff is so in demand,” Riley said. “One of the biggest reasons we made the decision to go to it is because of that.”

Riley said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the rules, but they still must be followed.

“These rules are tight. Twenty, 30 years ago nobody cared about that stuff,” Riley said. “It’s hard. I sympathize with the athlete a little bit on it because that’s their stuff.”

While Oklahoma is now considered a Jordan Brand school, not every team at OU gets to represent the brand. Only the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams will wear the Jordan Brand uniforms and apparel.

Programs such as the defending men’s gymnastics national champions and the recent women’s gymnastics and softball national champions will stay with Nike.

Unfortunately, they won’t be able to have the same experience as McNeace when he runs out onto the court at Lloyd Noble Center for the first time with the Jumpman patch on his jersey.

“Wait until you see the jerseys, man, they something else,” McNeace said. “They surprised me a little bit. There’s something different. We’re going to be looking good out there. Man, there’s not a lot of teams with Jordan gear. Man, we’re just lucky to be one of them.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer

Riley fires Stoops saying ‘I feel like we needed a new voice’

By Michael Kinney

One day after a stunning 48-45 loss to rival Texas, Lincoln Riley made the hardest decision he’s had to make since becoming head coach at Oklahoma in 2017.

After his Sooners allowed the Longhorns to rack up 48 points and more than 500 total yards, Riley fired longtime defensive coordinator, Mike Stoops Sunday.

“It was a tough decision. Probably the hardest day I’ve had here, as a head coach for sure,” Riley said after practice Monday. “Tough because I know what Mike has meant to this program, the kind of guy he is, the kind of friend he has been to me. Went through a lot together with him. At the same time, my job Is to make the best decisions for this program and this team right now.”

Riley said the main reason he fired Stoops was the need for a spark in the defensive locker room.

“I feel like we needed a new voice, a little bit of a spark,” Riley said. “I thought making the change was right for that reason and also because I felt good about the guys we have in this room and a plan for the rest of the season. Because this team has a lot in front of them. This team can make a run here. We all feel that. I didn’t think about anything down the line. It was all about this team and what’s best right now…. I don’t know if it’s lost. You just need a spark. In this game, it’s so hard to make it all work. So many things people have to come together and one little thing here and there can throw it off. The margin between being good and great is so thin. The margin between winning and losing is remarkably thin. I don’t think his voice was lost I just felt like we needed a new spark and a new voice.”

While many believe the move was made in response to the crushing loss at the Red River Showdown, Riley said that’s not the case.

“I’d never make a decision off of one game as emotional as the Texas game is,” Riley said. “It’s kind of its own deal. I figured out you can’t put too much stock into that game in that it’s so unique, it’s so different. Teams play differently. You have to be careful about that. I think there was enough that I saw in as far as the direction that we just needed a spark. I don’t think there was any one stat or thing or any single thing that happened. It’s not really that dramatic. For me, it was a gut feel. Coming back after that game and thinking through it, slept on it and having conversations with Mike and other people that I respect, I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Various reports had said Riley was forced to fire Stoops by OU president James L. Gallogly. Riley flatly denied those rumors.

“I don’t know how specific I want to get into that,” Riley said. “It was my decision and my decision only. Oklahoma doesn’t work like that. Other places do and that’s why they go up and down. Oklahoma, the people that make the decisions are the people that should make the decisions. That’s why this place has been so good for so long. Of course, you have bosses, I have people that I answer to. I make them aware of big changes or anything going on in the program that we need to. We have a great open communication system with our president and that office, with Joe (Castiglione) of course and his group. But this place wouldn’t be like it is, you would see all those banners over there if that’s how this place was run.”

According to Riley, the players were told before the public announcement.

“We met with them this morning,” Riley said. “We had a talk with them. They were emotional. A lot of those guys love Mike. Were recruited by Mike. Everybody in that room, me included, felt ownership in this. It damm sure ain’t all Mike’s fault. It’s my fault, it’s every coaches’ in that room’s fault. It’s every player in that room’s fault. We all own it. So I think we all hate that part of it. They understood why we did it. I’m always very honest and open with my players. I don’t hide things from them. They have a right to know, so we went through why we did it, the plan going forward and what we expect. They are resilient. They’ll bounce back. They’ll play hard for Ruffin, they’ll play hard for Mike. The way they play will be their chance to make it right by everybody and send the message that they love coach Mike.”

Ruffin McNeil, 59, was named the interim defensive coordinator to replace Stoops. According to Riley, he will have playcalling duties as well.

“At the end of the day I thought we needed somebody to unite the group and it’s really tough to look past Ruffin’s experience,” Riley said. “He’s done so much in his career. Very little in college football that he hasn’t done. He’s been in this situation. I got to see it first hand. Both as a coordinator and as a head coach at the Alamo Bowl. I was confident in his ability to handle it. He’s one of those guys with what he’s been through, he doesn’t have to sit back and think. When this happened he didn’t have to sit back and think ‘oh, what do I do.’ He knows exactly what to do.”

Even though Riley has the right people in place to make the transition as smooth as possible, he said this was still a difficult time for him. Mostly because of what the Stoops family has meant to him.

“It’s Tough. Tough. It’s real. And as much as you want to take the human element out of it, we’re all humans,” Riley said. “It was the fact that it’s Bob’s brother, did that make it harder? In some ways, but more than that just simply taking Bob out of it. Just my relationship with Mike and Mike’s relationship with me. The run we’ve had here together it’s, defensive and offensive coordinators can either be at each other’s throats. Cause you’re against each other the whole year, and then trying to work together during the season. It can either be really bad or really good and with he and I, he was so good to me when I came in here. Especially we stuck on offense the first half of that first year. And I’ll never forget that. We’ve had a great relationship. He’s a great friend and it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do.”

Locker room blow up

Riley also addressed rumors of linebacker Curtis Bolton leaving the stadium during the game because of frustration at what was taking place on the field.

“It was blown out of proportion a little bit,” Riley said. “I think after half, he was just emotional. Sometimes guys get emotional and just have to remove themselves from the situation. That’s a heated game, that’s a heated locker room. Curtis has been a warrior for us all year. He’s one of our emotional leaders, no question. Wears his heart on his sleeve like some of our guys do. I think it was something that was blown out of proportion.”

Story ran in the Yukon Review

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Sooners comeback bid foiled as defense falters

 

By Michael Kinney

As bad as the Oklahoma defense performed throughout the day Saturday, in order to have a chance to beat rival Texas and keep their season undefeated, they needed just one last stop in the fourth quarter to give their potent offense a chance to win the game.

Unfortunately for the Sooners, that stop never came as the Longhorns kicked a game-winning field goal with nine seconds left to beat the Sooners 48-45 at the Cotton Bowl.

“We have to get better in a lot of areas,” Lincoln Riley said. “But we’ve got some fight in that room. We have some guys who are incredibly disappointed right now. They will be ready when we get back on the field here at TCU Congratulations to Texas. They played a very good football game. It was one of the epic ones there. It will be one people will be talking about for years and years and years. It was really a special atmosphere like it always is. It lived up to the billing like it always does.”

The Sooners entered the fourth quarter trailing the Longhorns 45-24. The game looked like it was done.

But then OU seemed to flip a switch in the final 10 minutes of the game.

First quarterback Kyler Murray hit Lee Morris for a 19-yard touchdown with 8:28 left on the clock. The defense came up with a stop to give the ball back to the offense with 5:11 left.

On the first play of the drive, Murray sprinted 67 yards down the left sideline and into the endzone to close the gap to 45-38.

For a third consecutive series, the defense came up with a huge stop and forced Longhorns to punt. The Sooners took over on their own 43yard line. It took only three plays for Trey Sermon to score and tie the game at 45-45.

“It was a tale of two games for us,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “First part we were inconsistent offensively. Didn’t get any stops defensively. We were kind of just average on special teams. Then at the end of the game I was very proud of our team’s fight there at the end. To get it back there to tie the game, have a great chance to win the football game.”

Texas ended the day with 501 total yards. Sam Ehlinger threw for 324 yards.

UT came into the game averaging only 396 yards per outing. Their 48 points were 20 more than their season average as well.

The Longhorns had their best offensive performance of the season against an Oklahoma defense that was supposed to be a strength this season.

“Our players got a little bit disjointed. We all did,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “[Texas was] reading what we were doing. We were trying to audible back out of it and I think our players got in between two calls at times. I thought [Texas] played more physical than we did today, and some of it is just who we have there in certain positions. That’s an area we obviously need to get better in – just our physicality across the board.”

Murray suffered his first loss as a starting quarterback in college with his defeat at Texas Despite throwing for 304 yards and two TDs on `19-of-26 passing and leading the Sooners in rushing with 116, he put the loss on his shoulders with his two turnovers.

“Obviously, I’m not used to losing,” Murray said. “It hurts. Disappointed. It’s just tough because I feel I turned the ball over today and you give them the advantage when you turn the ball over. I feel like if I didn’t turn the ball over we had a better shot at winning the game. Obviously, we didn’t play as well as we wanted to. We knew coming into this game it was going to be a four-quarter game. We’re better than that. I know we’re better than that. It’s just tough.”

Marquise Brown snagged nine catches for 132 Yards and two touchdowns on the day. Lamb added six receptions for 75 yards.

Curtis Bolton led the Sooners with 13 tackles. Kenneth Murray, who leads the Big 12 in tackles, ended with 10. Kahil Haughton added nine tackles.

For Texas, Lil Jordan Humprey tallied nine catches for 133 yards while Collin Johnson tacked on 6 receptions for 81 yards.

Keaontay Ingram led the Longhorns ground game with 13 carries for 87 yards.

Oklahoma took the first lead of the game when Kyler Murray and Brown hooked up for a 4-yard TD pass on the game’s opening drive.

However, UT outscored the Sooners 24-10 the rest of the first half.

The Longhorns kept finding ways to putting the Oklahoma defense in positions it didn’t want to be in. On their second touchdown of the first half, quarterback Sam Ehlinger hit tailback Tre Watson on a wheel route out of the backfield on a 28- yard touchdown catch. He was being defended by defensive end/linebacker Mark Jackson, who was trailing him the entire way.

On the ensuing drive, the Longhorns went on an eight play, 75-yard scoring drive as they rammed the ball down the Sooner’s throat with the run game. They were physically moving the defensive line off the line of scrimmage and back into the linebacker’s laps.

“At the end of the day if we may not get the call, it’s still our jobs as players to get down and run the defense at the end of the day,” Neville Gallimore said. “Whether we get the call or not, get lined up, that’s the biggest thing for us. We just need to do a better job at that. It’s the little things.”

The Longhorns came out of halftime like they started the game. They pulled out an 11-play drive that covered 75 yards. Ehlinger’s 5-yard touchdown run put Texas up 31-17.

But the Sooner’s struck back with a 77-yard scoring strike from Murry to Brown. It’s the longest reception by a Sooner in the series.

After Oklahoma forced a three and out on the next series, they got the back with a chance to tie the game. However, Murray fumbled while trying to evade pressure up the middle and the Longhorns recovered.

“Coach Riley, he is preaching to me all the time about ball security in the pocket. And then it ended up in a big game,” Kyler Murray said. “I don’t know how many times he’s told me that. That one defiantly hurts.”

The Longhorns took advantage of the turnover and scored twice more I the third to take a

45-24 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

“We all as a group are supposed to be on the same page,” cornerback Tre Brown said. “We got on different pages and you could see the frustration out of us. But we’re a team, we’re brothers and we picked that up very late. Should have been doing that the whole time. Second half it came together, but we should have been doing that the whole game. We knew what was coming, but we didn’t execute like we should and everything was just coming to us late. We knew it was right there, but we didn’t make the play. It’s on all of us.”

Story ran in the Yukon Review

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Rivalry special for Texas born Sooners

(Photo by Jay Beauchamp)

By Michael Kinney

The 113th meeting of Oklahoma and Texas is on tap for Saturday in Dallas. Despite the success of Oklahoma since the start of the Bob Stoops era, the Longhorns still lead the series 61-46-5.

However, since 2000, the Sooners have won 12 of the 18 matchups.

The rivalry is one Lee Morris knows very well.  As a native of Allen, Texas, a suburb just outside Dallas, the 6-2, 212-pound wide receiver is well acquainted with the rivalry that goes into the intense matchup each year.

“I always loved this game,” Morris said. “Especially growing up in Texas, being one of the few OU fans, getting a lot of crap from the Texas fans, you look forward to winning those games. The atmosphere, there is nothing like it. You have half the stadium burnt orange and half the stadium in crimson and cream. And they are both shouting at each other all day. There’s nothing like it.”

There are 38 players from the LoneStar state on the Sooners’ roster.  But Morris has special insight into the game with his father, Lee Morris Jr., playing for Oklahoma in the mid-1980s.

“He’s talked about it before,” Morris said. “It was a little different back then. He talked about all the experiences he had, playing back then with all his teammates. My mom coming to watch him, my grandparents all there to support him and just making big-time plays.”

 As a freshman wide receiver, CeeDee Lamb was told the OU-Texas game was going to be different than anything he had ever experienced. He didn’t quite believe what he was being told.

“The atmosphere is very much different,” Lamb said. “My freshman year, my coaches emphasized it would be a different atmosphere. Me being a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect. I’m just like I’m going to treat it like another game. Going in for pre-game warmups, it was not no regular game. I felt it as soon as I walked out onto the field. It starts with the bus ride in. You feel the energy in the air.”

 During the 2017 game, Lamb caught three passes for 74 yards to help the Sooners win 29-24. The Longhorns should see a different player this year just because he is healthy this time around.

“It was crazy. We were talking about it today at practice, last year I couldn’t even play to my full potential because I had the shoulder injury, just coming off of it,” Lamb said. “Now I can go in all 100 percent with no worries.”

 Saturday will be the first Red River Rivalry game for assistant coach Shane Beamer. He has coached at several different spots, but has always kept an eye on the uniqueness of the Red River Shootout.

“I watched it on TV for years,” Beamer said. “I’ve always wanted to go. I was at Virginia Tech a few years ago and we had an off week the weekend of this game. I told my wife that I’ve always wanted to go, so let’s go to Dallas for the weekend and just be a part of it. She said ‘No, I only want to go if you’re coaching in it.’ Funny how things work out. I’m excited to be a part of it. I haven’t been a part of this, so it’s pretty hard to say, but it’s obvious there is something different about this one. Playing in a major city in a historic stadium that’s right in the middle of both campuses. There’s a lot of unique things about it.”

 Through five games the Longhorns are allowing opponents to score just under 20 points a game on them. They give up 115 yards rushing and 218 yards passing.

However, the Sooners will be the best offense they have faced this season.

“Texas is a very good football team as a whole. Their defense is one of the top defenses in the Big 12, one of the tops in the nation. In the top 20 or 30 nationally in total defense,” Boulware said. “They are really nasty against the run up front. They do a great job. Their front seven and their secondary is really athletic and is physical, explosive guys who can hit. They have a good mixture of younger and older guys who do a great job for them. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for our team.”

Lamb knows the Sooners will have their hands full again this year.

  “They are very physical,” Lamb said. “They are a very physical group. They do what they’re told. They play within the game. They just do their job. We have to play as a team, we have to stay focused and we have to play together. Texas is a great team and they’re going to come with everything they have and we have to do everything in our will to overcome that and just come out with a win.”

 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week

Quarterback Kyler Murray earned his third Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week award in only five weeks of action after accounting for seven touchdowns and 477 total yards in the Sooners 66-33 victory over Baylor.

“I knew he would be good, but not this good,” Lamb said. “The man is incredible. I don’t think there is no stopping him. Many people would doubt Kyler because he is short and he’s obviously not Baker. But now that they see him doing great, and he has Baker tendencies sometimes, he’s on everybody’s high end. I knew it from the start that he would come in and be a great leader for us.”

Story ran in the Yukon Review

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Murray breaks records as Sooners roll

By Michael Kinney

Kyler Murray was regulated to backup quarterback status Saturday.  After a minor off-the field infraction, the Heisman Trophy contender had to watch from the sidelines when Oklahoma took the field against Baylor. Well, at least for one drive he did.

Despite that, In the greatest backup quarterback performance in the history of the program, Murray led Oklahoma to a 66-33 victory over Baylor Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Murray completed 17 of 21 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns to go along with his 62 yards rushing and another score. The seven total touchdowns tied a school record with Baker Mayfield from 2016.

Murray ended the night with a passer rating of 348.0, which broke the records for Oklahoma and the big 12 and is the highest passer rating by any FBS player since 1996.

Murray did all this despite having to miss the first series of the game because he was late to Friday’s 7:30 a.m. practice.

“He played good,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “He handled the situation before the game well. Didn’t freak out like the rest of America did. It was what it was. That’s what we talked about after it happened. He handled it well, played very well. He continues to throw the ball, especially down the field so well. And then a couple of times, when they did get some pressure, you saw a little bit of the juice that he has.”

Murray’s benching revolved around what he claims was just setting his clock wrong, which caused him to be late the Friday practice.

“He set his alarm wrong on Thursday night, Riley said of Murray. “His mom was in town and they spent some time together and he just set his alarm wrong. We have practice Friday mornings and we have a policy if you’re late to that practice if you’re a starter you don’t start. If you are a guy that we’re dressing, then you don’t travel. It’s a policy, something we stick by. It wasn’t anything egregious. It wasn’t a huge issue behind our walls. If it happens any other time of the week you probably just run the guy a little extra and move on.”

With Murray sitting out the first series, it was Austin Kendall who got the start. He hadn’t been seen any action since injuring himself against UCLA.

The first drive produced one first down by penalty and the Sooners were forced to punt. The Bears muffed the punt return inside their own 5-yard line and linebacker Curtis Bolton recovered it.

Murray entered the game and two plays later threw a 9-yard strike to Lee Morris for a touchdown.

On the next possession, he connected with Grant Calcaterra for the second touchdown of the quarter to give Oklahoma a 14-0 advantage.

“I think it helped a lot,” Murray said of getting onto the field after the turnover. “Obviously being in the red zone with sort of good field position. What was it, the second play we scored? I just tried to go in there, wasn’t thinking about it too much. Didn’t let it affect me. We had a good game.”

Both Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb went over the 100-yard mark. Brown hauled in five catches for 132 yards and two scores while Lamb added three receptions for 110 yards and a score.

But eight different players caught at least one pass while four players caught at least one touchdown. That includes two by Morris.

“TD Lee. All he does it catch touchdowns,” Brown said. “He is a big-time player. He made a lot of plays and is becoming a really good target.”

Coming off its rough night against Army last week, the OU defense was looking for a better outing. Despite allowing 33 points, the Sooners believe they had a solid outing by holding Baylor to 77 yards rushing. However, they did allow 416 yards through the air.

“We were a little out of position some,” Bolton said. “A few busted coverages. I think we played alright. I think we have a lot to go, but I think it was a good stepping stone from Iowa State. I know certainly, it was a bigger stepping stone from me from Iowa State. I wanted to come out and have a better tackling day.”

Kenneth Murray led all Sooners with 17 tackles. That is 45 in the past two weeks. Bolton tallied 16 tackles. Safety Kahlil Haughton also hit the double-digit mark with 11 tackles.

Playing without an injured Kenneth Mann, In the best game of his young career, freshman Ronnie Perkins was a constant annoyance to the Bears offense. The 6-3, 254-pound defensive end accounted for four tackles and two sacks and two tackles for loss.

“I think it’s good that we get to play a  lot of guys. It keeps them in games,” coach Mike Stoops said. “That’s always the positive thing. The more guys you can play in games the better it is. We were down some guys today. The guys that were there I thought fought hard again today.”

Despite the impressive victory and staying unbeaten, the Sooners dropped to No. 7 in the Assocaited Press polls.

Story ran in The Yukon Review

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

 

 

 

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