How marginal mistakes have caught up with Oklahoma

How marginal mistakes have caught up with Oklahoma

Guerin Emig: OU is good but nowhere near great, which was true when the Sooners were still unbeaten. What changed in back-to-back losses is OU hasn’t gotten away with bad mistakes at particularly bad times.

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

| Nov 8, 2023, 6:00am CST

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

Nov 8, 2023, 6:00am CST

NORMAN — There are two ways to examine a 7-2 Oklahoma team needing help to reach the Big 12 title game, versus a 7-0 Oklahoma team with an above-average shot at the College Football Playoff. The first is to believe something drastic is different. 

The Sooners spent too much time marketing T-shirts after beating Texas. Andrel Anthony got hurt, then so did Danny Stutsman. Jeff Lebby got off track calling plays. Things like that. 

The second is to realize that the team that lost to Kansas and Oklahoma State consecutively is generally the same one that beat Iowa State and Texas consecutively. Very good but nowhere near great. Nowhere near talented enough to overcome doing particular things wrong at particularly bad times. 

The 2003 Sooners, with award winners or finalists up and down their offense, defense and special teams, were that talented.

The 2023 Sooners are not the 2003 Sooners. They are better than the 2022 Sooners, unquestionably, but playing weekly amid the slightest margins between victory and defeat. 

Yeah, I don’t disagree,” Brent Venables said Tuesday. “I think that’s college football to some degree.”

To a large degree. Right before a field goal decided Bedlam last Saturday, Texas made it to overtime and survived Kansas State because the Wildcats botched an extra point. 

Mike Gundy has been saying it all season — NIL and the transfer portal have turned college football into a weekly guessing game. The Cowboys have won five in a row not just because of Ollie Gordon’s and Alan Bowman’s emergence, but because they have won in the margins. 

Their offense has cashed drives inside the 20-yard line into points. Their defense has taken the ball more than their offense has coughed it up. Their special teams have allowed no momentum-changing kick returns. 

OU did not score on drives that reached OSU’s 34-, 34-, 30- and 45-yard lines. The Sooners fumbled a combined four times to Kansas’ and OSU’s combined one. They committed 10 more penalties than the Jayhawks and Cowboys. They dropped a kickoff return at KU. They missed a field goal at OSU. 

These aren’t games determined by who has the better quarterback, defense or coaches, but by a receiver jumping the snap count, a defensive end unable to field a pooch kick or a coach who loses his mind or his place on the sideline and puts his team in a 15-yard hole. 

With Jason White, Mark Clayton, Jammal Brown, Teddy Lehman and Derrick Strait in your starting lineup, plus a head coach who has won a national championship calling your shots, you can overcome some of this stuff. You can out-talent the rest of your conference but Texas, dominate that mind game in Dallas, absorb a Darren Sproles-shaped meteor strike in the Big 12 title game and still take your chances in the national championship Sugar Bowl. 

With a team less than two years into a rebuild, coached by a man less than two years into his job, you can sag in the margins and beat Arkansas State, Tulsa, SMU, Cincinnati and UCF. You can miss some open receivers and foul up special teams against Texas and survive on the resolve of a goal-line stand and a 75-yard touchdown drive.

The same team making the same mistakes and then some against better-believe-they’re-good Kansas and hard-charging OSU? That’s playing two more dangerous games in the margins and tempting fate that it isn’t going to work out so well. 

“You know, that’s where we’re at. I don’t disagree whatsoever,” Venables said. “So don’t do the things that will absolutely punish you.”

“When you turn the ball over, everything else just gets highlighted. All the other mistakes that are there, even through 7-0, nobody’s seeing that. They see a W,” Venables went on. “SMU, Texas, Cincinnati, there was nothing easy about those games. Nothing. We had to fight all the way to the fourth quarter to find a way to win. But we won… and that’s the name of the game. 

“So there’s always all these underlying issues that sometimes aren’t necessarily under the same microscope,” Venables said “But when you lose… all these other warts can be exposed. And that’s just not Oklahoma. That’s football. We don’t have our head in the sand (about) what those might be.”

I’m not suggesting Venables had his head in the sand when OU was rocking along at 7-0. He was aware of his reality then, too. 

It’s why I asked about counting to 11 defenders the week OU beat Iowa State, and about defending Hail Marys the week OU beat UCF. Marginal pieces of football that sabotaged Notre Dame and West Virginia, and that I figured might potentially sabotage the Sooners. 

Venables responded both times. 

He knew his team was unbeaten and his program was on the come, but nothing had advanced to the point he could disregard the margins. He knew if the Sooners played any sloppier in them, they should expect to stop winning. 

The only thing that has changed since is OU’s record.

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Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig. .

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