Guerin Emig: The Sooners got away with their shoddy performance against UCF. They didn’t at Kansas. They won’t get away with further self-inflicted damage, measured most noticeably by penalties and more subtly by missed tackles and assignments, in Bedlam.
NORMAN — Brent Venables sat in a crowded, dripping interview room that was as miserable as the final score on the Kansas Memorial Stadium board just outside. Not one minute into his opening address, Oklahoma’s head coach said: “Same thing, two weeks in a row. Different ways, but it all counts the same. It’s discipline, or lack thereof.”
The Sooners got away with their shoddy performance against UCF. They didn’t at Kansas.
They won’t get away with further self-inflicted damage, measured most noticeably by penalties and more subtly by missed tackles and assignments, in Bedlam Saturday.
“Tackling is going to be at a premium,” Venables said Tuesday with Ollie Gordon in mind. “We put on a clinic of how not to tackle, particularly in the first half, last week.”
The Sooners are better than they were a year ago, clearly, but still not capable enough to overcome a basic lack of discipline.
If that isn’t alarming, the calendar should be.
Venables sat in the cramped interview room at Tulsa on Sept. 16 and declared: “We’ve got to get a lot better and more disciplined,” and everyone figured, Well sure, it’s game three.
Now that it’s November and OU is hanging in the Big 12 championship race and the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings, with no margin for error in both cases, is it jarring that “discipline, or lack thereof” remains an issue?
“I think first of all, it’s not everybody,” Venables began with his answer. “And, you know, it’s not the whole game.”
Correct on both counts.
But if it’s a receiver one mistake, a lineman the next and a defensive back the one after that, and if that mistake occurs in the second half of a one-score game, isn’t that enough?
OU helped Kansas from the Jayhawks’ 37-yard line to the Sooners’ 24 in the fourth quarter last Saturday because safety Kendel Dolby drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness while tangling with KU receiver Luke Grimm, and one of OU’s assistants drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for mouthing off at the call. KU said “thanks” and drove to take a 32-27 lead.
“I don’t think Kendel Dolby’s 15-yarder was a lack of discipline,” Venables said. “He didn’t maintain his leverage in coverage and gave up the (9-yard completion on the play). I don’t think he realized where he was. He’s trying to wrestle the guy down and he’s got his back… He’s tackling the guy backwards. He didn’t realize the guy had stepped out and he’s trying to get the guy on the ground.”
Coaches classify aggressive, run-of-play penalties differently than pre-snap mistakes like false starts. Understood.
The bench penalty that followed Dolby’s, however, is filed under “inexcusable.” Same as wide receiver Nic Anderson’s false start on fourth-and-7 from the KU 35 with 2:15 left, OU at least considering a play to put away a 33-32 lead.
“Just looking at all the options there,” Venables said postgame. “That’s definitely not what you wanted.”
Unwanted or needed entering the most critical month of the season is this reality: OU is the Big 12’s most penalized team.
Lincoln Riley’s Sooners ranked at or near the bottom of the Big 12 in penalties over four of his five seasons as head coach (the 2018 team was fifth), but he had Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks commanding offenses stocked with future pros. That helped overcome disciplinary breakdowns and extend a November winning streak to 23, until Riley lost his late-season touch at Baylor and OSU in 2021.
Venables’ Caleb Williams-less 6-7 ‘22 Sooners were the second-most penalized Big 12 team. They went 1-3 in November, their lone victory being Bedlam when their two penalties for 23 yards represented their lowest totals of the season.
It is difficult to detect any NFL first-rounders on the ‘23 Sooners. They are good. They can be very good (see: Texas). They have a quarterback who was in the Heisman conversation until Kansas happened.
But that “Championship November” motto popularized by the Sooners? Once an expectation, now it’s an aspiration.
The Sooners won’t get there until they clean up their act.
“I don’t think you’re ever gonna have a week where you don’t desire more discipline,” Venables said. “I don’t want to downplay it. I’m the one that brought it up (post-Kansas). You have to do the things you’re coached to do and make the plays.”
Now would be the best time to do so.