How OU’s Brent Venables lost his poise in an emotional Bedlam

How OU’s Brent Venables lost his poise in an emotional Bedlam

Berry Tramel: With Bedlam on the line Saturday and all that went with this particular showdown — the history, the stakes, the bragging rights for who knows how long — Venables let his emotions get the best of him.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Nov 4, 2023, 10:30pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Nov 4, 2023, 10:30pm CDT

STILLWATER – OSU fans, mostly students but some, shall we say, on the back side of education, flooded the field where the Cowboys have been playing football since 1901.

You expected no less from a game that ranked as emotional as any ever played on this plot of land. No less from a crowd that so affected a game. That so affected a game such as this.

But those Cowboy crazies, who jumped from the nine-foot wall and tore down the goal posts and mobbed their black-shirted heroes, were not the first Bedlam interlopers of the day.

That honor goes to Brent Venables.

With Bedlam on the line Saturday and all that went with this particular showdown — the history, the stakes, the bragging rights for who knows how long – Venables let his emotions get the best of him.

He charged onto the field to argue a pass-interference penalty against cornerback Makari Vickers, and soon enough here came another flag. Unsportsmanlike conduct.

Fifteen penalty yards became 30 penalty yards. A struggling OSU offense found wings beneath the wind coming from the loyalists in the stands trying to will their team to victory.

Bedlam changed then and there. The Cowboys continued on a 97-yard drive that produced the go-ahead touchdown, the Sooners continued their day-long target practice at their own Jordans and soon enough OSU had a 27-24 victory that will be remembered as long as the university exists.

The state championship. The Big 12 lead at the two-thirds pole. Possession of the Bedlam Trophy until the decision-makers come to their senses and let this rivalry live again.

All were on the line Saturday, and the Cowboys didn’t so much beat the Sooners as the Sooners beat the Sooners.

“More teams in college football now are beating themselves, than other teams beating them,” Mike Gundy said. “If I’m coaching them (OU), and I’m looking at the game and being fair across the board, they’re going to feel like they beat themselves. And I couldn’t argue that.”

The Sooners beat themselves with three turnovers, two of them from snap snafus, but also from a head-coach penalty. For the second straight week, OU compounded a 15-yard defensive penalty with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty from a coach. And for the second straight, the 30-yard bonanza led to a touchdown in a tight game.

That can’t happen in the first place. Much less keep happening.

Venables admitted as much. But little good that does.

“I told the official I thought the receiver (Rashod Owens) pushed off, and we got another penalty there,” Venables said.

Venables said he used no foul language. I can believe it. But it’s not what he said. It’s where he said it.

Well onto the field. Past the numbers. Officiating crews let coaches get away with a ton on a football sideline, but so far they’ve held the fort on letting coaches venture far onto the field. Venables was probably 25 feet from the sideline.

Photo gallery: Oklahoma State’s 27-24 win over Oklahoma in pictures

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You’re begging for a flag.

The irony, of course, is that OU had a much better case for a pass interference penalty on Dylan Smith, defending Drake Stoops in the end zone later in the game, than for a no-call when Vickers was shadowing Owens.

Venables is an emotional leader and an emotional man. His natural inclination is to defend his team. His emotion is one thing that has made him such a successful coach.

And this was the ultimate emotional game. Huge stakes always in Bedlam, huger stakes with both tied for the Big 12 lead, but hugest stakes considering Bedlam is going on hiatus as OU moves on to the Southeastern Conference next season.

The emotion, that’s a real thing,” Venables said. “There’s a lot at stake. When it comes to our league and certainly state championship and big picture, there’s a  lot of things on the line today.”

Absolutely. But you can’t lose your composure. Not if you’re a linebacker and not if you’re a ballboy and not if you’re the head coach.

The environment already was a pressure-cooker. A holy war within a holy war.

Great expectations from Cowboy Nation that it might be able to break a century-long curse in this confounding series. Serious venom over the hated Sooners leaving OSU in a financial lurch when it pledged to the SEC, a fear that has been alleviated, no thanks to the Big Red.

The Boone Pickens Stadium atmosphere seemed to be at an all-time high as this game played out.

Not every Sooner agreed.

It didn’t feel different,” sixth-year receiver Drake Stoops said. “It felt like Bedlam. Like Bedlam always feels. This is a good atmosphere to play. They’ve got great fans.. They’ve got a great team. Well-coached. And they played a heck of a game. Played like good ol’ Bedlam.”

Venables, in his first game back in Stillwater since the last time OSU fans rushed the field, in 2011 Bedlam, said much the same.

“When Oklahoma shows up to Stillwater, that’s what it’s usually like,” Venables said. “That’s what I remember.”

Maybe so. But this Last Bedlam felt different. And Venables acted like it was a Last Bedlam, losing his head and his emotions, greatly costing the Sooners.

OSU went from its 8-yard line to its 38-yard line in one snap. The Cowboys continued on the series and never faced another third down on the drive, with Alan Bowman’s three straight completions setting up Ollie Gordon’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7:59 left in the game. The Sooners had lost their last lead.

The atmosphere got to much more than Venables.

OU committed three turnovers, leading to 10 OSU points, and two of the turnovers were abysmal — ill-timed or wild snaps. The first from center Andrew Raym went so awry, it went to tailback Javontae Barnes instead of quarterback Dillon Gabriel, and became a hot potato recovered by Cowboy linebacker Xavier Benson at the OSU 43-yard line. The second rocketed into Gabriel’s ankles and bounced back to OSU’s Kody Walterscheid at the OU 19-yard line.

“The turnovers were the difference in the game,” Venables said. “They made plenty of mistakes on their side of the ball, too, they would tell you. But the turnovers matter.”

Everything matters in a game this close. Including poise.

Venables lost his, in an emotional game the Sooners lost as much as the Cowboys won.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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