John Hoover

Ask Hoover: Baylor comeback, CFP angst, Rattler Time, Riley playcalling, Sooner defense … and Ancient Aliens?

Ask Hoover: Baylor comeback, CFP angst, Rattler Time, Riley playcalling, Sooner defense … and Ancient Aliens?

Oklahoma offensive lineman Adrian Ealy (59) walks off the field following the team’s 34-31 victory over Baylor in an NCAA college football game in Waco, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ray Carlin)

Man, the Ask Hoover questions were all over the place this week — and that was just from the first half in Waco.

Oklahoma somehow rallied from a 28-3 deficit at Baylor — seriously, the Sooners can thank the New England Patriots for some of their success and beat the Bears 34-31. Jalen Hurts played like garbage, then played like, well, Tom Brady. And then on Tuesday, the Sooners improved all of one spot in the College Football Playoff rankings after their second straight win over a ranked team.

Like I said, all over the place.

OU closes out its home season tomorrow night against TCU before heading off to Stillwater to wrap the regular season.

The Sooners clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game on Dec. 7 if the Cowboys can’t win at West Virginia with Dru Brown replacing Spencer Sanders at quarterback. Sanders will miss the rest of the regular season with a wrist injury suffered last week against Kansas.

OU also can clinch its third straight (fourth, actually, counting 2010) Big 12 title game appearance by beating the Horned Frogs. Oklahoma is an 18-point favorite and has beaten TCU handily the last three meetings, but this Sooner team seems to be lacking something — either the talent to build a big lead and hold it, or the mindset to start fast, or the grit to finish strong … or maybe all three. I don’t know. And I don’t think Lincoln Riley does either.

Don’t forget to catch The Franchise “Inside OU” podcast every week with me, Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, as well as my “Locked On Sooners” podcast every weekday.

Let’s get to the questions:

 

And if they win … does he keep his job?

 

Actually, the o-lineman with the bad wheel, right tackle Adrian Ealy, played very well. It was the other side that struggled, where Erik Swenson was replaced by R.J. Proctor.

And I’ll counter your comment on Jalen Hurts’ investment in this team: I think he is, and I think he has been since they beat Texas. But I saw another level of commitment last week in Waco after the comeback was complete. Hurts is invested.

 

To be fair, I have the benefit of answering these questions with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, but the season most assuredly is not over. And I think Lincoln Riley was smart to recognize that last Saturday night.

Even when it was 28-3, Oklahoma needed just one play, one conversion, one drive, one score, one stop. They got all of it, chipped away, withstood more adversity and then finally kickstarted the rally. That they finished it like they did, against what I think is a really good Baylor team, is the surprising part.

That’s the nature of competition. That’s football.

 

Austin Stogner, who caught two touchdown passes, says yes.

 

Well, in recognizing that Jalen Hurts does have his limitations after just 10+ months in Lincoln Riley’s offense, I think it’s OK to also recognize how elite — like, all-time elite — Baker and Kyler were. They went No. 1 in the NFL Draft for a reason.

I think it’s also fair to acknowledge that both of those guys did come up in a variation of Riley’s system — played pretty much their whole lives in it. And that both Murray and Mayfield had a whole year (two in Kyler’s case) to sit and learn the nuances of Riley’s playbook and studied at Riley’s feet long before they ever took the field.

Given all that, I think it’s OK, too, to say that Hurts is actually doing quite well for himself.

 

It’s a mystery, for sure. The d-line has regressed to very average (just 5 ½ tackles for loss in the past two games, with four of those coming from Ronnie Perkins). The linebackers have been susceptible to overpursuit and lacks gap integrity. And in the past three games, the DBs have played very much like the liabilities they were all of 2018.

Give Alex Grinch another year or two recruiting guys to his scheme and chasing out the “ghosts” of last year, as he puts it, and you’ll see continued improvement.

 

I’m uncertain who will win the national championship, but I have had Ohio State ranked No. 1 in my Football Writers Association of America Super 16 since Week 6. If you want to talk about “game control,” nobody has had it like the Buckeyes have. They don’t quite have LSU’s resume, but they have just plowed every opponent this season.

The three good teams on their schedule this year, Ohio State has destroyed by 31, 41 and 42 points.

We should know a little more about the Buckeyes tomorrow when they take on Penn State.

 

He couldn’t bear to watch. And yes, that was Gabe with the instant info upload.

 

As Jalen Hurts said … “you gotta believe.”

This team, somehow, after their last two games, found a way to believe.

That they did it against a quality Baylor club makes it even more impressive.

 

Lots of questions this week, so I will just answer the first one.

Lincoln Riley says the other guy was better. I’m dubious, to say the least.

To be fair, it is hard to get an accurate assessment on kickers in the preseason. There’s really no pressure on them—not real, under-the-lights, game-on-the-line pressure.

And hey, it was Riley’s first preseason kicking competition as a head coach, and he picked the wrong guy.

 

Free Stogner!

 

I’ve seen some crazy, crazy OU wins since I started watching this team in the mid-1970s. I’m of the mind that, if there really is such a thing as Sooner Magic, it probably never left.

That said, I’m also not sure that what we saw last Saturday qualifies as Sooner Magic. I mean, there were some odd moments, some unusual circumstances. But that rally was just an old-fashioned beatdown in the second half. OU got turnovers and forced three-and-outs, and the Sooner offense grinded out long scoring drives.

 

This is the question of the day — maybe of the year. He said Saturday night, “My ball security sucks.” Doesn’t get any more forthright than that.

Hurts said he got home around 2 a.m. Saturday night, went to the gym for his usual postgame workout, and had a football in his hands the whole time.

I would guess from this point forward we’ll see Hurts take better care of the football, but sometimes guys can’t stop fumbling because their minds just are not on ball security. They’re thinking about scoring, or avoiding a tackle, or their eyes are downfield on the coverage. Hurts’ mind seems to be everywhere, but it needs to be on the football.

 

A good friend of mine said six hours before the game, when I told him it sounded like Lamb might not play, that Lamb’s absence might not be such a bad thing for the OU offense for that very reason. He suggested that the idea of Lamb as a security blanket for Hurts was actually holding back Hurts’ development.

You’re both definitely onto something.

But I also can’t get on board with any suggestion that the OU offense is somehow better without Lamb.

Hurts just needs to be more mature in his decision-making and get the ball to CeeDee when it’s there, and check it down and find other guys when it’s not.

 

We’re talking about CeeDee Lamb’s absence here: it’s most likely from the hit in the Iowa State game that was reversed from targeting. Lamb took a nasty knock to the head — de-helmeted, awkward angle, all that — and may have felt lingering effects. Even what’s estimated to be a sub-concussive blow at the time can come back and cause problems.

Anything else you’ve heard about CeeDee Lamb’s unavailability is just rumor and guesswork.

 

Here come the playoff questions.

I think it’s the right system. I do think it’s flawed. And I think these early rankings have zero merit other than to generate discussion.

Bottom line: The CFP rankings are supposed to identify the four best teams after all the games are played. In a sense, we’re complaining about the end of the movie while the movie is still playing.

 

First, OSU needs to win tomorrow to stay in the rankings. And Baylor needs to beat Texas tomorrow to give OU a more impressive victory both last week and in the title game rematch.

I don’t think Georgia is in this equation. If they beat LSU, they’re in, if they lose, they’re out. Alabama doesn’t have the resume to get in without a conference championship, but they do have the pedigree (only team in every playoff, two national championships). No. 6 Oregon going 12-1 with a Pac-12 title probably is the main contender to keep OU out. The Ducks aren’t going to fall below No. 9 Oklahoma with the same merits.

But as I said above, let’s wait until we see the final scene before we judge the end of the film.

 

For these early rankings? No. No criteria. Moving goalposts, fit the narrative and all that.

As of right now, everyone’s resumes are still incomplete so it seems premature to get angsty about the November rankings.

I just remember the Big 12 had No. 3 (TCU) and No. 6 (Baylor) going into the final week in 2014, and No. 3 (TCU) won 55-3 (over Iowa State), and the committee still bumped the Horned Frogs out of the Top 4 and replaced them with No. 5 Ohio State — which had beaten Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game with its third-string QB and then went on to win the national championship.

The committee at the time said that TCU at No. 3 was an incomplete ranking, and likewise with Ohio State.

But I still don’t think you can justify dropping a team three spots — TCU fell to No. 6, behind No. 5 Baylor — after they demolish a conference opponent 55-3.

But that’s what the committee wanted to do, and that’s what they did. And their decision was rewarded when Ohio State won it all.

 

Sure. The committee noticed Oklahoma’s last three games. They see everything, Rob Mullens says.

 

Georgia only lost on a missed field goal in OT from their All-American kicker. OU nearly got blown out of Manhattan before their crazy rally. Just saying, the committee seems to be trying to assign levels of competence in various losses.

It’ll all shake itself out … or the committee will be proven a fraud.

 

If you mean the Sooners’ playoff performances, I suppose that could be playing a small part, although the committee would never acknowledge that.

I made the point on radio this week that the playoff would do well with different conferences getting in all the time, and that the Pac-12 hasn’t been in since 2016, and that the Big 12 has been in three of the last four years and hasn’t won a game — kind of a “they had their chance” mentality.

Again, one year doesn’t have anything to do with another and all that — but when it comes to millions of dollars and TV ratings and the whole thing, I think a 12-1 Pac-12 champion may indeed get the benefit of the doubt over Oklahoma this season.

 

Right now I think the teams that make the best argument for that No. 4 spot are Georgia, Alabama, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, with Penn State and Minnesota on the next tier.

Let’s wait to see how the next three weekends play out, and I’ll give you my final answer.

 

Iowa State was unranked at the time, but their entrance into the CFP rankings this week gives the Sooners two victories over Top 25 teams now.

(It was three last week, but both Texas and Kansas State fell out of the rankings as ISU climbed in.)

 

Absolutely. Maybe that’s true.

 

Yeah, seems like every team has warts at this point. The committee realizes the rankings don’t matter right now, so they’re generating some spirited discussion.

 

I don’t actually disagree with this whatsoever.

Whatever is in the playoff’s best interests will be how the teams are ranked on Dec. 8.

Anything before that doesn’t really matter other than to make us all mad.

 

As I expected it would, “Ancient Aliens” pretty much has jumped the shark.

My two favorite shows in these genres were “In Search Of” with Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) and “History’s Mysteries” with Arthur Kent (the Scud Stud).

 

Nah, trust me when I say this, it’s playoff or bust — 100 percent of the time.

OU’s last two trips to the Sugar Bowl were great fun for Sooner Nation, sure, but they meant little.

The only way you’re ever going to win a national championship is to get a spot in the playoff.

I still think this Oklahoma team has the right makeup to win a playoff game this season, although they’ll have to figure a LOT of things out from their last three performances.

 

I guess I’m not entirely sure what you mean, but I’ll try to address it.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Riley tries to score every play. That’s the MO of a lot of Big 12 offensive coordinators, and it’s what sets the Big 12 apart. I think what you’ve seen from him as an OC/playcaller and as a head coach are much the same, unless I’m missing something.

I agree that Riley does get a little tunnel vision sometimes, but he’s certainly smart enough to figure a way out of it most times.

Where I think OU does suffer from having a head coach as its OC is in the split-second, game-management decisions, like calling timeout or spiking the ball to stop the clock or just running a play, or staying on top of when a play needs to be reviewed. Those are the hard ones, because an OC’s mind — especially one who specializes in identifying subtle mismatches and tends to favor tempo — has been trained to think only about the next play, and how it relates to the down-and-distance, what hashmark you’re on, personnel groupings, previous tendencies and the defense’s setup.

Now couple all that with trying to be a head coach and managing the intricacies of the entire game.

I think Riley is starting to figure out that doing both is really, really difficult, and doing both extremely well is almost impossible.

 

That was No. 88, Jackson Webb, a walk-on receiver from Plano, Texas. And that was risky a play in that situation as I’ve ever seen from a player. He’s very lucky the officials didn’t rule that him grazing punter Isaac Power’s kicking leg while it was still in the air wasn’t a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

 

There’s really no way to know for sure, but I’ll take a stab at it.

In 2012, BusinessInsider.com cited a story from the Lincoln Journal Star that reported Nebraska spent about $1,000 to equip each player for one game. That includes helmets, shoulder pads, uniforms and the whole getup. Inflation calculators tell us that cost has gone up to $1,121 in the last seven years.

In 2015, the Peoria Journal Star reported that uniforms — jerseys, pants, socks — cost anywhere from $150 to $309.

As for the one-time throwbacks or special edition uniforms, like the rest of the uniforms, the schools generally don’t have to pay for those. They’re provided gratis by the apparel company in return for exclusive outfitting rights.

Small schools, of course, like FCS or D2, don’t usually have such deals and have to buy their gear.

Bottom line: Nike gives Oregon stuff it doesn’t give other Nike schools. Jordan Brand gives Oklahoma stuff that other Nike schools don’t get. Same with Under Armor, adidas, etc. They’re all different.

______

Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover
@JohnEHoover

John Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he was co-host of "Further Review" and "The Franchise Drive." Now he's The Franchise college football insider: Oklahoma's state Heisman rep, a voter in the FWAA Super 16 poll, an FWAA media access liaison, and a Big 12 writer at Sporting News and Lindy's preseason magazine. In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist and won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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