Coaches feeling the pressure heading into Red River Rivalry

By Michael Kinney

The Red River Rivalry has always been a major showdown. No matter the rankings, whenever Texas and Oklahoma enter the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the game takes on epic proportions.

However, the last couple of years, the annual contest has taken on the burden of job security for the head coaches involved. Last year’s win by the Longhorns is believed to have saved the job of UT head coach Charlie Strong.

As both the No. 20 Sooners (2-2) and the Longhorns (2-2) enter Saturday’s contest, Strong is once again fighting to keep his job. After deflating losses to California and Oklahoma State in which his defense allowed a combined 99 points, many believe this will be his last Red River Rivalry.

However, Strong is not the only one hearing the call to be replaced. Despite leading OU to the Final Four last season, Bob Stoops, for the first time, is seriously hearing calls for his job.

Appearing on FS1’s ‘Speak For Yourself’, Sooner legend Brian Bosworth put a face to the behind the scene whispers Thursday when he said it may be time for OU to move on from the Stoops era.

“That’s kind of a conversation that’s quietly been had over the last five, seven years,” Stoops said. “I’ve heard that from a lot of the alumni. You look at the great traditional programs; the tenure of a coach that has had the great success that Bob has had has been remarkable. Especially as long as he’s been there.But it’s not only what you do during the season that matters. It’s how you finish the season in bowl games. And what we’re doing over the course of these seven to eight years is we’re getting embarrassed in the bowl games.

“It weighs heavily on the alumni, and it weighs heavily on the tradition, and it weighs heavily on us as players, because it’s just unacceptable going out there; I understand getting beat, but I don’t understand getting embarrassed,” he continued. “That just means the players are packing up the bags at the first sign of the avalanche starting to happen.”

While Bosworth can easily be dismissed as a disgruntled alumni, the fear that the game is passing by Stoops is the focus of talk radio, local TV and recruiting websites everyday.

That is what makes this year’s Red River Rivalry so important. The state of Texas is still fertile recruiting ground for the Sooners. It’s 2017 class already contains several commits.

With Oklahoma reaching out to states around the nation, they can’t be seen as falling behind the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson. But if they fall behind rival Texas, that disrupts the foundation of their recruiting, which is every team’s lifeblood.

A win over Texas doesn’t guarantee anything. But it does settle down the outside noise and keep the Sooners on path to win another Big 12 Conference title.

A loss only intensifies the heat surrounding the team and keeps the questions coming about the program coming.

“I appreciate everything that Bob’s done, he’s had a great run,” Bosworth said. “He’s put up more wins than any other coach there. But the game passes much faster sometimes than the coach that’s currently coaching can keep up with, if he’s not making the strategic changes on his staff to bring in the types of players that are going to keep him at that top level of winning the conference championship. But more importantly how are you going to compete once you get into the bowl games and you’re playing the teams that are competing consistently for the national championships? The Alabama’s, the Ohio State’s. Those guys are doing something each and every year to rebuild the programs. They’re losing great players and yet they’re still coming out the following year to build the momentum throughout the season.”

Sooners looking to run through Buckeyes (if given the chance)

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN, Ok. — The University of Oklahoma and the Ohio State Buckeyes. They are two of the most storied college football programs in the nation.

The two football factories have combined for 12 national titles, 80 conference titles and 1,739 victories. It would be hard pressed for any two teams to take the field with a stronger resume than the Sooners and Buckeyes.

Yet, none of that will matter when the ball is kicked-off at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Memorial Stadium. The past will not make a difference to the hundred or so young men on the field. For them, it’s all about carving out their own bit of college football history.

Both teams see this game as a must win, but that is especially true for a Sooners’ squad that has already felt sting of defeat this season.

Oklahoma loss to then No. 15 Houston in the season opener. It’s what prevented this contest from being a top-5 matchup. The loss also spread some doubt on just how high this team can reach this season.

But all of that can be forgotten with a win over No. 5 Ohio State.

“This week is going to be amped up,” Mark Andres said. “I know everyone around here is excited about it. I know we’re excited about it. Everything is just going to be one step bigger. It’s a big game. Everybody knows that.”

Coming off a throttling of ULM last week in the home opener, the Sooners regained a small piece of their swagger back. But they know the Buckeyes are an entirely different beast to contend with.

With coach Urban Meyers at the helm, OSU won a national title two years ago and was in contention to make the College Football Playoffs last season.

But even after seeing boat load of players head to the NFL, many analyst believe this could be the most talented Buckeyes squad since Meyers arrived.

One of those players is quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is now back in charge of the offense full time after a revolving door at the position since his injury two seasons ago. His ability to run with the rock and direct the offense will once again put the OU defense under the microscope as they face a mobile signal caller.

It won’t just be Barrett the Sooners have to deal with. Mike Weber, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson all have the ability to make plays in an offense that is quite similar to the Houston Cougars.

“(Playing Houston will help us,” Obo Okoronkwo said. “We will be more familiar with that type of offense. That always helps. Just because you have seen it before, you can react faster. You know what’s coming.”

For Oklahoma, the offense game plan will once again come down to identity is going to come to the party. Is it the one where Baker Mayfield is slinging the ball around the field looking for big plays in the passing game. Or the one where Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon get behind their huge offensive line and dictate terms to the Buckeyes.

In past big games, the Sooner have tried to put the game on Mayfield’s shoulders. But on a night like this, Oklahoma’s best weapon is its running game.

There may be no more important person for Oklahoma that offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. Since joining the Sooners last season, he has change the style of the unit. However, he has, in the past, seemingly forgotten about the run game and the horses he has in the backfield. If that happens tonight, the Buckeyes talented defense can just pin their ears back and go hunting for Mayfield. .

“That’s their strength on defense, they are good everywhere,” Riley said of OSU. “They will be a challenge up front, challenge for our wideouts, for Bake, for everybody. It’s a great challenge and hopefully we’ll play well and be a tough challenge for them to.”

On a weekend that is full of high quality games, Oklahoma and Ohio State stands out. It’s one the players, coaches and fans can all get behind.

The Buckeyes are expected to have a large contingent of OSU fans in the stadium. So there will be intensity on and off the field. That seems to be the way the Sooners want it.

“I don’t think there is any way you can prepare for this type of game,” Andrews said. “It’s going to be crazy.”

Story ran in the Yukon Review

Sooners prepared for early season road test

 

By Michael Kinney

The first weekend of the college football schedule kicks off with a avalanche of top-shelf games. Several contests feature both teams ranked in the top 20, to make this one of the most exciting opening weekends in recent history.

Many credit the College Football Playoffs as the impetus for creating such early season matchups.

However, for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, this is nothing new. He has often stated that the Sooners have schedule top competition since he arrived in Norman.

That is the case once again as the third-ranked Sooners will take on No. 15 Houston Saturday at the NGR Stadium, where the hashtag #Htowntakeover originated.

“It’s all I’ve been thinking about,” Jordan Evans said. “Been looking forward to it since last year. I was talking today and said we play Saturday. There is no more waiting. It’s actually here. I’m very excited just looking forward to it. I’m sure it’s going to be very loud and energetic. Houston fans and Oklahoma fans that travel will make it a good atmosphere. It makes it more fun for me to play in and hopefully another good memory I’ll have.”

But Stoops does admit, playing a Cougars squad that captured the nation’s attention and hearts last year does give his team a little pep in its step.

“You can tell there is probably more of a sense of urgency,” Stoops said. “I think our guys are always excited to start the season. Anxious to get out there for the first time.”

The game will kick off at 11 a.m., a prospect Stoops has had issues with in the past. But it doesn’t seem to bother the Sooners as they fight their way back to the CFP Final Four for the second consecutive year.

“I’m Very excited,” senior Ahmad Thomas said. “I am always excited to go out and play a game at Oklahoma.”

Houston is the first of three top-25 teams Oklahoma will face in its first four games. But they may also be the most dangerous because they have the least to lose and the most to prove.

Houston is still trying to make an impression on the Big 12 to prove they deserve a seat at the conferences table. A win over the prohibited favorite to win the Bog 12 title would go a long away.

The Cougars enter the game with one of the most dynamic players in the country. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. only started playing the position a month into last season. But since then he has elevated his stature among coaches who are now tasked with trying to stop the elusive signal caller.

Ward finished last season with 21 rushing touchdowns, 17 passing TDs and a combined 3,936 yards.

“You don’t have a lot of quarterbacks that you’re going to see that have his type of potential to move around in the pocket like that,” Steven Parker said of Ward. “To move in general. There’s going to be a lot of QB run game. A lot of extra time in the pocket, trying to get him bottled up. That’s something different we haven’t seen in a while.

However, Oklahoma is one of the few teams in the country that can counter the magic of Ward. Baker Mayfield returns for his second year under center for the Sooners and looks to be even more impressive with a full offseason as the starter under his belt.

“Baker Mayfield’s doing great,” Stoops said. “Been a great leader. He’s so much more comfortable. Rightfully so. He’s been in the leadership position.”

Stoops also sees that Mayfield and Ward are comparable to what they do on the field and bring to their respective teams.

“It tells you they are talented guys,” Stoops said of Ward and Mayfield. “They’re smart guys. You can see that. Both give you trouble scrambling around with their legs. Just talented players is the No. 1 thing you can say about them both.”

Whether it was against a dangerous team like the Cougars or a DII cupcake, the Sooners just wanted to get back on the field and play.

“Personally, I’m very excited to be out there,” Parker said. “The wait is over. Finally. We finally get to play some football. Football season is here. I’m excited. The change is going to be great. Finally we are getting out there and getting to butt heads with a different team. It’s going to be great. It’s a big opening weekend. College football is here. It’s a very exciting atmosphere. It’s in Houston, so we already know it’s going to be a hostile crowd. It’s going to be sold out. Blood is going to be pumping. Let’s get it going.”

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