Brent Venables heaps praise on the Longhorns

Brent Venables heaps praise on the Longhorns

The Sooners’ head coach hit on Texas, OU’s roster turnover since the last Red River, the run game and memories from 2011 Tuesday.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Oct 3, 2023, 4:41pm CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Oct 3, 2023, 4:41pm CDT

Editor’s Note: Sellout Crowd’s Coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com)

NORMAN — Oklahoma returns to the Cotton Bowl not even a full year removed from the 49-0 pummeling Texas put on the Sooners in Dallas last October. 

But the OU team that’ll stare down the third-ranked Longhorns this Saturday is changed from 2022, Brent Venables reiterated Tuesday morning, altered not only by depth and most measures of statistical analysis but in personnel, too. 

“We’ve got a much different team,” Venables said. “Many of the players in our locker room weren’t here.”

There’s been plenty of turnover since the last time the 12th-ranked Sooners (5-0) stepped into a Red River game. Roughly 45% of OU’s scholarship roster was playing elsewhere in 2022 when the Sooners suffered their worst defeat in the history of the 118-game series. Thirty of those newcomers are listed on OU’s two-deep depth chart in Week 6; seven were starters in last Saturday’s 50-20 win over Iowa State.

There’s still plenty in the Sooners’ locker room who were “scarred up” by Texas last fall, as linebacker Danny Stutsman termed it. But OU’s roster overhaul also means there’s a big cast of important Sooners who didn’t feel last year’s Red River loss and have never experienced the Cotton Bowl with 92,100 fans in the stands.

That’s at least a consideration for Venables this week. 

“I’m not naive. I know what an environment can do,” he said.

“But we’re trying to nurture that year round and not to allow external factors to be a part of the game. Hey man, it should be a privilege to be in these moments where there’s pressure and there’s high expectations. But don’t allow that emotion to hijack you and keep you from doing what you need to do. You’re one of eleven on one of those three parts of the game.”

Venables has been a part of 14 OU-Texas games, and he knows how tight the margins can be. For instance, he recalled the small errors that led up to Roy Williams’ Superman play in the 2001 edition during his weekly radio show Monday.

“Those types of miscues, if you will, have been a big part of these games,” he said. “Having poise under pressure will be a big part of it this Saturday.”

Venables high on Texas

There was no rivalry week smack talk Tuesday. Not even a few subtle digs. 

In fact, Venables was exceptionally complimentary of Steve Sarkisian’s undefeated Longhorns.

“It’s going to be a wonderful environment against a really talented, hot Texas team,” Venables said. “On paper and on film, they play their best when they are playing really good people. They’ve risen to the occasion.”

Second-year quarterback Quinn Ewers was a freshman last fall when he threw for 289 yards and probably could have had 289 more with a more accurate dissection of the Sooners’ secondary.

“(He) played pretty dang good and is playing at a high level,” Venables said. “Obviously, against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He threw for just south of 350 yards and was national player of the week.”

OU hasn’t seen a quarterback like Ewers yet this fall. It hasn’t skill position talent of the caliber Texas possesses, either.

Sophomore rusher Jonathon Brooks enters Red River after tearing through Kansas for 218 yards on 21 carries with a pair of ground scores. In wide receivers Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, Texas presents a three-pronged force that stands among the best in the country. 

Venables on Brooks: “He’s got a really good offensive line. They’ve got all five returning offensive linemen from a year ago, so very experienced. They’re physical. Well-coached. Know what they’re doing. Then he’s got strength, power and patience. He’s got great pace. Plays really well behind his pads, then runs with a confidence.”

On the receivers: “Well I’m still trying to figure that out. If you guys have any ideas let me know.”

“These guys are home run hitters man, they’re the real deal,” he continued. “Excellent players, they’re going to play the game (for) a long time. Our guys are excited about the challenge. It’s going to be a real challenge”

Texas Week media policy

Most weeks, OU’s media schedule includes anywhere between 10-16 players made available to reporters across a pair of post-practice sessions on Monday and Tuesday evening. Ahead of Texas this week, that number was cut to four with Monday night appearances from Dillon Gabriel, Drake Stoops, McKade Mettauer and Woodi Washington ending the week’s player access.

Venables explained the decision Tuesday: “You want me to be totally honest? I know how like a lot of times on Mondays or Tuesdays, when you talk to the guys, it’s still about last week. It’s never about this opponent. And this week is always—in my 13, 14-plus years of experience—is (the week) that we try to get somebody.

“That’s how I see it. Right, wrong or indifferent. I still like y’all. Respect y’all. But it’s like, ‘Let me see if we can get him to say something.’ So, that’s ‘now we want to talk about this week’s opponent,’ you know? So, we got four good ones to represent us the right way. But that’s it.”

My two cents…

On one hand: Reporters will always prefer more access to less and more access will always be better for readers and fans. This move follows Venables’ recent decision to pull weekly coordinator availability with Jeff Lebby and Ted Roof. Additionally, Venables has an impressive group of young men on his team this fall. He should trust them in a week like this just like any other.

On another: I respected Venables’ answer. I understand where he’s coming from. And I’m not sure he has anything to gain from having more players being in front of cameras/microphones this week.

On the run game

Marcus Major led the Sooners with 19 carries for 66 yards, and OU picked up 157 yards on 41 attempts on the ground (3.8 yards per carry). For reference, Texas gained 336 yards on 51 attempts (6.6 YPC) last weekend against Kansas.

The Sooners’ running game isn’t fixed, but Major’s recent spurt likely seals his place as Saturday’s starter in a unit OU will need production from in Dallas. 

“We want to continue to improve in our run game and in every part of, all of our schemes, both sides of the ball,” Venables said. “We’re not where we need to be yet. It always has been an important part of this game. You peel it all the way back and rushing the football is incredibly important.”

2011 memories

The last time OU and Texas met both undefeated was Oct. 8, 2011. 

It was also Venables’ last Red River game as the Sooners’ defensive coordinator. OU held the Longhorns to 36 yards on the ground that afternoon, and the third-ranked Sooners left with a 55-17 victory. 

“I remember Coach (Bryan) Harsin was the (Texas) offensive coordinator, and we had a good team that year,” Venables said. “We played really well that day … We scored three defensive touchdowns … It was a beautiful day.”

Injury report

Unlike last year, OU heads into Red River in pretty good shape this time around. 

“We’re relatively healthy other than the players we’ve already talked about the last couple of weeks who we lost for the season,” Venables said.

Chief among those injured Sooners is safety Justin Harrington, who underwent season-ending knee surgery last week. 

Elsewhere, Venables revealed last week that running back Jovantae Barnes is not fully healthy and is still dealing with lingering issues related to his offseason football surgery.

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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