Why OU’s win over UCF left Brent Venables feeling mid

Why OU’s win over UCF left Brent Venables feeling mid

Jenni Carlson: Remember this about the first time this season OU stepped on as a legitimate playoff contender: It wasn’t pretty, but the Sooners lost these kinds of games last year.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Oct 21, 2023, 7:39pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Oct 21, 2023, 7:39pm CDT

NORMAN — Brent Venables walked into his postgame press conference and shared his state of mind.

“Feeling kind of mid,” he admitted. 

Sooner fans could relate, even the ones who would have to Google “feeling kind of mid” in order to find out it’s young-person, Tik-Tok speak for mid-tier. Nothing terrible. Nothing to get excited about.

That’s how Saturday’s win over UCF left everyone in Soonerville feeling. Not terrible. Not great.

OU 31, UCF 29.

“We were fortunate to win the game,” Venables said. “We made enough mistakes today to lose — Captain Obvious here — but we were able to overcome it.”

On a day the Sooners stepped onto the field as a legitimate playoff contender for the first time this season and the first time under Venables, there were issues. The run game got so bad at one point in the first half that OU resorted to putting wide receivers in the backfield with Dillon Gabriel. The defense not only bent but also broke more than it did against mighty Texas.

Neither were good signs against a UCF team that came to Norman winless in the Big 12 and coming off of a 51-22 loss to Kansas. 

This looked like a game the Sooners would roll, maybe win by three or four scores, perhaps improve its resume for the College Football Playoff selection committee. Instead, OU needed to score a go-ahead touchdown with 3:13 left, shut down a two-point conversion with 1:16 left, then survive an onside kick.

And you thought the ending of that Texas game was wild.

But here’s the thing: OU lost these kinds of games last year. Five of the seven games those Sooners lost were by one score, and they won no close games. Not a single one. 

These Sooners have won back-to-back games by less than a touchdown.

“It shows that we can really handle adversity,” Sooner linebacker Danny Stutsman said. “We kept our poise. We kept our composure. We were able to pull through.

“Coach was talking about that 2000 national championship, and there were a lot of games that were just like this.”

That national-title team definitely had some tight fits. A 35-31 win at Texas A&M, a game made famous by Torrrance Marshall’s pick-six. A 12-7 win at Oklahoma State. A 27-24 victory against Kansas State in the Big 12 title game.

There was no shame in close calls against the Aggies and the Wildcats. Those were two really good teams.But the Cowboys finished that season with three wins. The Sooners had so much more talent than their Bedlam rivals, but on that day, OU survived after Derrick Strait swatted away a would-be touchdown pass.

Venables, who has been part of several title teams at OU and Clemson, said his message to the team in the locker room after the game revolved around his experience with those high-caliber teams. All of them dealt with close calls and near misses.

“You’ve got to win in different ways,” Venables said. “You start peeling it all the way back, that’s the game of football. Sometimes, it looks really shiny at the end. The story reads really well at the end, but there’s a story behind all that glory.”

Sometimes, it’s a gory story.

Saturday was that way for the Sooners. 

The offense struggled throughout the first three quarters. Gavin Sawchuk started at running back, but after fumbling a direct snap and dropping an easy pass on the first drive, the Sooners started lining up receivers in the backfield. Jalil Farooq. Gavin Freeman. Drake Stoops.

A couple of drives stalled, and Zach Schmit missed two field goals. 

Then in the third quarter, the Sooners went: interception, punt, punt, punt.

They were stumbling down Texas Hangover Boulevard.

The defense wasn’t doing all that much better. It started well, forcing three-and-out punts on each of UCF’s first four possessions. But then, the Golden Knights scored on five consecutive possessions: touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal, field goal.

It took the Sooners snapping out of it in the fourth quarter, scoring on back-to-back possessions, then forcing the Golden Knights to punt on three of their last four possessions to survive.

“This game will punish you for a lack of poise and discipline,” Venables said, adding that he challenged the team earlier this week to strive to be a team that could be identified by its discipline. “And we were exactly the opposite of that today.

“Again, fortunate, fortunate, to win with the mistakes that we made.”

Good news for the Sooners: win out and close calls won’t matter in the playoff selection committee room.

If the Sooners are undefeated, it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where they are left out of the College Football Playoff. It’s still mathematically possible for every Power Five league to have an undefeated champion. So, if there’s five undefeated Power Five champs, one of them gets left out.

But such a scenario is unlikely. Since the start of the BCS era which eventually begat the playoff era, there has never been more than three undefeated Power Five teams heading into the bowl season. There were three in 2004 (Auburn, OU, Southern Cal) and in 2019 (Clemson, LSU, Ohio State).

So, five undefeated Power Five teams?

Highly unlikely.

So, a close win over UCF isn’t likely to hurt OU. But it could help — if the Sooners learn from it.

I wouldn’t say that everybody goes through this, but it’s one of those things that needs to happen to make sure that everybody’s locked in,” Sooner touchdown-maker Nic Anderson said. “Make sure everybody stays disciplined throughout the rest of the season. 

“I feel like this is one of those wins that we can learn from a lot. We had a lot of mistakes, and we can correct them.”

For the Sooners, that would be the best outcome from Saturday. In a few weeks, if they can look back and say they learned some lessons, righted some wrongs and corrected some mistakes, that might make a game that left them feeling mid into something much better. 

It might even be lit.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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