Jenni Carlson's OU Gameday: OU’s win against Texas let Brent Venables know what he’s doing, what he’s implemented as the Sooner head coach is working.
NORMAN — Brent Venables isn’t sure if his team’s win over Texas has impacted his players. He doesn’t sense it has changed how they feel or practice or prepare.
But the OU coach knows it impacted him.
The victory was validation.
“We don’t need to change our routine: ‘You don’t need to do more. You need to continue to do what we’ve asked you to do. This is what it takes. This is what it looks like,’” he said. “It lends credibility to systematically how we do what we do.”
Credibility for Venables, too.
As the Sooners begin the back half of their season Saturday morning against UCF, they do so as a team in the driver’s seat for the conference title game and in the hunt for a College Football Playoff invite. Those were always goals, but now, they are realities.
It’s a world Venables knows well, first from his days as OU’s defensive coordinator, then as Clemson’s. But last year, his first as a head coach, the Sooners were out of the big-game hunt by early October. This is the first time, then, that Venables has stepped into this reality as a head coach.
That win against Texas let him know what he’s doing, what he’s implemented is working.
“You gotta go through stuff,” he said, talking about players but really, he could’ve been talking about inexperienced head coaches. “You gotta find your identity through it all and all the strain of game day, and certainly that game had all those moments, both good and bad.”
But the Sooners prevailed. It was another sign — and a big one — that what Venables and his staff are preaching is hitting. The fundamentals are. The mentality is. All of it is taking root in this program.
Venables has sensed it along the way.
“I feel like there is tremendous buy-in,” he said. “There is belief and trust. … They want to get better. They have humility. They know they’re not where they want to be. They choose to chase excellence every day. They know they might not get there, but it’s the chase, the hunt, the work, the commitment, the climb.”
But sometimes there are lingering questions, even for a head coach, that can’t be answered until the stakes are highest and the opponent is greatest. Texas was a great opponent; any team that goes to Alabama and wins in Tuscaloosa by double digits is great.
And the Sooners took the Longhorns’ best punches and threw a few of their own.
It was the kind of game that lingers, and for Brent Venables, it has affirmed his methods. Doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t have to tweak or adapt along the way, but the foundation is solid.
Here are some other tasty nuggets for you to chew on before OU-UCF gets under way:
Sooner to watch: Even though he’s proven to be a gamer, even on the biggest stage, this game is a little different for Dillon Gabriel. It’s against his old team, a program where he was for three years. Three really good years. He still has friends and heartstrings at UCF. Can he continue his masterful start to the season? Gabriel is only the second FBS player since the start of the 1996 season to complete at least 72% of his passes through six games while also throwing for 16 or more touchdowns and two or less interceptions as well as rushing for at least 200 yards and five touchdowns. The other: UCF’s Daunte Culpepper in 1998.
Sooner newcomer to watch: UCF has one of the best run games in all of college football. The Golden Knights average 246.3 rushing yards per game, third highest in the nation. Interior defensive linemen Jacob Lacey and Da’Jon Terry could help a bunch in slowing that run game down. Both transfers have gotten better and better as the season has gone on.
Golden Knight to watch: UCF tailback Johnny Richardson isn’t the Golden Knights’ leading rusher — RJ Harvey is — but Richardson is a big-play threat. He’s had four runs of over 30 yards this season, and three of those have gone for over 40 yards (43 vs. Kent State, 48 vs. Kansas State, 79 vs. Baylor). By comparison, OU only has a 44-yard run by Gabriel and a 30-yard run by Tawee Walker this season. Richardson could change a game in a heartbeat.
A familiar face in Norman: UCF co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Herb Hand spent three seasons at Tulsa in a similar role from 2007-09. He was there with Gus Malzahn, who then hired Hand at Auburn in 2016. They coached there together for two years, parted ways for a few years, then reunited at UCF in 2021.
Cool stat going into OU-UCF: Since 1999, OU is 23-1 in games immediately following the Red River Rivalry. In those 23 wins, the Sooners’ average margin of victory is 25.5 points.
Something to watch in Norman: The OU defense has only allowed seven touchdowns in the first six games of the season. The 84 points the Sooners have allowed is the fewest over the first six games of an OU season since 2009. UCF has an offense that moves the ball as well as any team in the country, averaging 516.7 yards and ranking fourth nationally. But the Golden Knights average only 34.7 points, which ranks 27th nationally. UCF may move the ball on OU, but it will be interesting to see if the Sooners continue their stingy ways when it comes to touchdowns.
Did you know?: Friday was the 100th anniversary of the first game played at OU’s current stadium site. OU scored a 62-7 win against Washington University (Mo.) that day in 1923. OU’s overall record on the site: 418-90-16.
If you go to Norman …: Remember that we have false fall in Oklahoma before the real thing arrives. The National Weather Service forecasts a high of 88 on Saturday, so be sure to hydrate and maybe even wear some sunscreen.
If you don’t go …: You’ll hear a familiar voice on the TV broadcast. Former Sooner defensive lineman Dusty Dvoracek is the analyst for ABC’s broadcast. He’ll join Dave Pasch in the booth with Tom Luginbill on the sidelines.
If I could be in two places: Columbus, Ohio, would be calling. Ohio State hosts Penn State in a top-10 matchup. Buckeyes are No. 3, Nittany Lions No. 7. Should be an old-fashioned slobber-knocker of a game.
Playing favorites: I know OU fans hate 11 a.m. kickoffs, but I kind of dig getting to the stadium when the day is young. There’s likely to still be a chill in the air and dew on the grass. It just feels different.