When you’ve had the sort of disappointing first month that Oklahoma has experienced – from a No. 3 preseason ranking to unranked – perhaps everything seems worse. Even the record.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops was asked if he liked the way his defense, other than cornerback, was playing.
“I don’t know that I really like anything on our team right now at 1-3 [sic],” he said.
Oklahoma is 1-2 heading into Saturday’s Big 12 Conference opener at TCU (4 p.m., FOX). The losses came to two teams – Ohio State and Houston – that are ranked in the top seven of the current Associated Press poll. The Sooners are defending league champions and still have a chance at winning the school’s 10th Big 12 title.
“That’s a big deal to us, and we’ve done it a fair amount,” OU coach Bob Stoops said about winning the Big 12. “We had a good week last week of just improving ourselves as much as anything. That’s been the frustration for me. I don’t feel we’ve played up to what we’re capable of. We might not still have won, I get that. But you want to be able to play [how] you’re capable. We’re only three games into it. We have to be able to do that here this week and start doing that during the Big 12 [schedule].”
Oklahoma has had two weeks to ponder the program’s worst start since 2005 (also 1-2). Stoops said the time off has helped heal some injuries and some soul searching could help punch the reset button.
“We’re 0-0 in the Big 12, and we can only do what we can do as an offense, as a defense and as a team and win each and every game,” OU fullback Dimitri Flowers said. “We can finish the season 10-2. Those two losses at the beginning of the season, yeah, they hurt. But 10-2 and undefeated in the Big 12, that’s still a Big 12 Championship, and that’s our goal right now.”
In the season opener, OU fell behind midway through the third quarter to the Cougars and never regained control. The Buckeyes, now ranked No. 2, dominated the entire game in week 3 and won by 21. Hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff are over, but nine league games remain.
“End of day, there’s still football to be played,” senior captain Jordan Evans said. “Nobody wanted this, nobody expected this. But at the same time it’s what happened. We have to live with it and buckle our chinstraps up and keep going.”
Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was asked whether the Sooners should take the 1-2 record personally. His response: “Yeah. If they don’t, they are in the wrong place.”
In the losses to Houston and Ohio State, Oklahoma’s first offensive possession illustrated what the offense can do. The Sooners ran a play about every 21 seconds and those plays averaged 7.2 yards. OU scored a TD on its opening drive against the Cougars and missed a short field goal against the Buckeyes.
While quarterback Baker Mayfield is second in the Big 12 in passing efficiency, the offense is in the middle of the pack.
“I just need to kind of cut it loose,” Mayfield said. “Go out there and play like I used to — to where you get to a point where you’re so comfortable, you don’t have to think about it. Just do it. That’s my mindset right now … getting the ball out of my hands, going out there and playing fast and getting our tempo up. If we just execute the small things, we should be fine.”
Riley agrees with Mayfield’s assessment that the Sooners aren’t that far away from asserting their dominance.
“Guys have to grab each other and say let’s get over this, we’re close: You are never as far off as you think you are,” he said. “After the game, you are sitting there and you are sick about it. You didn’t play your best. We didn’t coach our best.
“And then you come back and watch it and then you are even more sick because you see how close you are to doing some great things.”
The defense needs more work. Oklahoma is near the bottom of the Big 12 defending the pass. The secondary doesn’t have an interception and the pass rush has netted just five sacks.
Junior Jordan Thomas is Oklahoma’s best cornerback, but the secondary hasn’t found a consistent performer on the opposite side. Freshman Parrish Cobb, junior Michiah Quick and senior Dakota Austin have all played that spot but they’ve struggled. Ohio State in particular picked on whoever was manning the corner spot opposite Thomas.
“I feel like we have to get our spark from ourselves. We know what we have to do as a team,” safety Ahmad Thomas said. “Going into the Big 12, we have to get ourselves together and get that spark from ourselves. We don’t need a game for that. It has to come from us.”