John Hoover

Ask Hoover: Changes in Stillwater? Changes at TU? And what of Mike Stoops, his job, his scheme – and his visor?

Ask Hoover: Changes in Stillwater? Changes at TU? And what of Mike Stoops, his job, his scheme – and his visor?

Time to unveil this week’s “Ask Hoover” blog, where I answer your college football questions and a whole lot more.

Sooner fans were agitated at defensive coordinator Mike Stoops after OU hung on to beat Army 28-21 in overtime last week. Cowboy fans were similarly torqued when OSU looked lifeless in the second half of a 44-17 home loss to Texas Tech. Tulsa has an open date, but Golden Hurricane fans were not immune to the angst as their team resumes conference play next week at Houston with a 1-3 record and a renewed quarterback competition.

Tons of stuff to go over ahead of this week’s games versus Baylor and Kansas. So let’s get to the questions:

 

I’ll try my best with this one. One, Duke had an entire offseason to prepare for Army’s unique offense. OU had one week. That’s kind of weak, I know, but it’s a true statement and prep time for that offense matters. Probably more significantly, The Black Knights clearly were not operating at peak efficiency in their season opener. They fumbled the ball five times in their 34-14 loss at Duke and lost two (they haven’t fumbled it once in the three games since). Army had 165 yards rushing and 198 yards passing that game, so I’m guessing the Blue Devils didn’t play two high safeties.

 

That’s four questions at once. But I’ll try. One, see above. Two, the Sooners made no adjustments, other than dropping one of their inside linebackers behind the other on a couple of plays. Three, Mike Stoops is not firmly on the hot seat. Lincoln Riley’s loyalty to Mike’s brother will almost guarantee that (that’s not to say Lincoln won’t encourage him to find another coordinator job somewhere, which is what I’ve been predicting since Lincoln got the job). And four, there’s only two things to be encouraged about: the Sooners didn’t give up one deep pass (Army came in averaging 23 yards per catch), and Kenneth Murray (28 tackles) and Curtis Bolton (23) were spectacularly reliable.

 

I think Switzer might be wrong on this one. If the Sooner defensive line isn’t more productive than it has been, I don’t see the OU secondary holding up against the passing games of WVU, Tech and OSU. I mean, they can certainly win those games, but the DBs will come out shell shocked. I actually think there’s reason to fear Texas next week in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns probably aren’t “back,” but they absolutely took apart both USC and TCU in the second half of their games in Austin.

 

Lincoln Riley said they wanted to avoid getting beat by the deep pass. So, mission accomplished, no? Actually, see above and keep reading. There’s lots more on this particular topic.

 

This is a great point. Mark Andrews’ health situation was handled remarkably well. The best way to accomplish what you want is to keep getting the word out, though I’m sure a lot of other big-time college football programs have the resources to take care of athletes with diabetes. But, like many things, OU may be the program that’s actually out front on this.

 

Coaches and players assured me after the Iowa State game that, yes, they do work on tackling in practice. They’re more “thud” sessions than full-speed, bring-to-the-ground tackling drills, though. With scholarship limitations and depth issues, it’s just too risky to have true full-contact sessions in practice. There’s so much on the line (money, that is), contemporary coaches aren’t willing to cross that fine line.

 

He hints he’s not that concerned, but I’m not sure I buy it. You’re absolutely right, when Army blockers wanted to block someone, that person was blocked. That’s why Pro Football Focus determined that OU missed only seven tackles in the game, because most times, the ball carrier didn’t need to break tackles to gain yards, he only needed to follow his blocks. Army executed at an extremely high level, and the Sooners didn’t get off blocks.

 

See above. The actual number of missed tackles has been set pretty low (seven). The bigger issue against Army was the OU defense’s inability to defeat blocks. My theory on this: players were coached all week to be so reactionary against such a unique offense, they essentially stood there and took it (got blocked) rather than trying to beat their man, shed the blocker and get to the ballcarrier.

 

Not sure. I felt like at some point, Riley and the OU staff got a little tired of being pushed around on defense, so maybe there was a mindset in there that, “by God, we can get one yard on these guys.” I respect that. Taking a field goal on the goal line feels a little like a defeat on that possession. Maybe Riley was trying to send a message to the defense.

 

The 4-2-5 is definitely not the best formation to stop the option. The Sooners actually ran a 3-4, though, which, when walking the outside linebackers up to the edge, looked a lot more like a 5-2. That’s the old Okie defense the Sooners made famous decades ago, and it’s actually very effective for stopping the option. The problem was, the OU front seven didn’t act, they only reacted. They didn’t blitz, didn’t stunt, didn’t twist, didn’t take any chances. That allowed Army to stay in its comfort zone and stick with its game plan and do exactly what it wanted to do all night. As for Jimmy Johnson, his players were better than his formation.

 

If you mean held accountable by Lincoln Riley, there may be a lot going on behind closed doors that we don’t know about. If by held accountable you mean fired, don’t hold your breath. Lincoln is too smart to make a big change in the middle of a season. However, he might do something more subtle, like Bob Stoops did: reduce Mike’s duties (he went from coaching secondary to outside linebackers — essentially one player) or move his gameday location again (though the coaches booth seems better suited for him than the sideline), or perhaps give him some help (maybe Kerry Cooks can take over calling defenses if things continue to slide).

 

Whoa! An OSU question? A fire-the-offensive-coordinator question? Where did this come from? Let’s be honest, Mike Yurcich is a lot better offensive coordinator now than he was when he got here from Shippensburg. He’s grown into the position. And let’s keep it real, he was a lot better OC when he had an NFL quarterback and three NFL receivers executing the plays. He no longer has those luxuries. That said, Yurcich would agree that he, too, needs to be better than he’s been so far this season. The OSU offense was held scoreless in the second half and had zero passing yards in the fourth quarter — against Texas Tech, mind you. I’m gonna take a stab at this play-calling thing and suggest Yurcich get the football to the best player on the team more frequently. Justice Hill is averaging 8.4 yards per carry, but he’s only averaging 11.5 carries per game! That’s called overthinking it. Now, if the Cowboys could also just get better play out of the offensive line. …

 

Nope. Kansas. That’s it. I’d say Kansas State looks vulnerable, but Bill Snyder just made a QB change (back to Alex Delton) and it’s a certainty the Wildcats will look different a month from now. The rest of the schedule, even Baylor this week, I would challenge anyone to tell me why that game is an automatic win for the Sooners.

 

I answered this on Twitter earlier in the week but this seems like a good place to address it again. During the 2000 national championship season, only 8 of 12 games were televised. In 2001, it was 10 of 14. In 2002 and 2003, it was 12 of 14. In 2004, the one-game-on-PPV policy began; the rest were televised. It’s been that way for 15 years.

 

Good question. One, they kept the football away from the Sooner offense for 45 minutes. OU getting only 40 offensive plays means essentially only two guys got to touch the football a lot: Kyler Murray and Trey Sermon. Two, the two times Murray targeted Brown were bad throws. One was overthrown and might have been a long touchdown, the other was thrown too far to the inside and was intercepted. Three, Army did a good job of bracketing Brown on a handful of plays, and Murray rightly chose to throw the ball elsewhere.

 

The two high safety thing confounded me all night. It was clear the OU defense wasn’t holding up with both safeties backed off 8-10 yards on every play; why not roll one down into the box and put another hat on the football? I thought that was bad coaching. But Lincoln Riley said the plan was sound: don’t give up the deep ball. I dispute that strategy, seeing as how Army had thrown the ball just 39 times in its first three games and had only completed 18. As mentioned before, those 18 completions averaged 23 yards per, but with such a pronounced advantage in athletic ability across the board, that’s a risk I’d live with. Army was not going to hit a 60-yard pass in that game. They just weren’t.

As for the 4-3, well, the Sooners switched to a 3-4 this year and by golly, they’re sticking with it regardless of what the opponent’s scheme looks like. The 3-4 allows more flexibility, so I get that. But that flexibility was abandoned against Army in favor of a simplified scheme. OU was lucky to win the football game.

 

Lincoln Riley said he had confidence in Austin Seibert to make a 33-yard field goal. I think everyone in the stadium had confidence in Seibert — except Seibert. He’s not had to make pressure kicks before, so as the Sooners were setting up for the field goal, I was telling people around me this was a bad idea. That drive had a really good, quick offensive flow and Army’s defense was on its heels. Murray had run for 19, 10 and 6 yards, and Trey Sermon had run for 2, 2 and 11 yards. I said at the time I’d have kept that flow going (they had all three timeouts to start the drive) and tried to punch it in.

 

Try harder. Get off blocks. Beat your man. Take some risks. It’s OK to throw to the tight end. Don’t assume a 4th-and-1 or a chip-shot field goal. Stuff like that.

 

I’ll take this as a serious question and say, at the minimum, 4-5 months. Otherwise, it ain’t happening.

 

This is the question I asked Lincoln Riley on Monday. He didn’t want to take risks against Army. Doing so, he surmised, would be the Black Knight’s best chance at pulling the upset. Blitzing or creating movement on the line with stunts or twists or loops would create weak spots in the OU defense. I get that. To an extent. But in choosing and adhering to that safe, conservative approach, he also may have underestimated two things: Army’s ability to execute almost flawlessly, and his players’ ability (i.e., their willingness) to win their one-on-one battles. Those two elements together put Army in position to win the game late.

 

I see what you did there. Clever. And cold.

 

Absolutely. Philip Montgomery said Thursday the quarterback competition is back open. It was a necessary decision after Luke Skipper suffered five turnovers last week at Temple. Skipper may be the best playmaker in a group that includes Chad President and Seth Boomer, but the quarterback being careless with the football is not something any team can survive. Avoiding catastrophic turnovers is more important than making plays. The guess here is that Boomer emerges from the pack. For now.

 

Submitted without comment. Also, without debate.

 

 

No one is immune to the hot seat. TU fired Bill Blankenship when he was making $625,000. That was results-based, and Blankenship’s results the last two seasons were very much like Montgomery’s 2017 and, so far, 2018. Taking that pay cut (he’s still over a million a year) probably buys Monty some cachet with the administration, but what would buy him a lot more is beating Houston next Thursday and getting this thing turned around. If things continue like this, his seat will get warmer.

 

I addressed this above, and I can’t disagree with your take. Stoops’ plan was conservative, and I get that. You think your front seven can handle Army’s best without giving up a deep pass. But when it became clear that strategy wasn’t working, the game plan was not altered or adjusted. The coaches just kept hoping the players would play better. That’s the part that Sooner fans should have the hardest time with.

 

You nailed it, concept-wise, although the front was a 3-4 that more closely resembled a 5-2. Army just blocked it up, and the Sooners didn’t make any noticeable adjustments or take any chances. It was perplexing.

 

The guess here is yes, though there’s certainly an argument to be made for the alternative — whatever that alternative is. Taylor Cornelius wasn’t particularly good against Texas Tech (and at times pretty awful), so a change may be coming. Mike Gundy, however, probably will err on the side of loyalty, giving his five-year guy and former walk-on every chance to succeed. And that’s a good quality.

But when it’s obvious that a change needs to be made, loyalty must take a back seat. Either give Dru Brown a chance to do what he came here to do or bust out Spencer Sanders and let him go. Sanders is the future in Stillwater, so keeping Cornelius on the field no matter what and holding back Brown so he can redshirt and compete for the job next year just strikes me as lazy coaching. OSU fans deserve better.

 

 

My memory fails me frequently, but I’m not coming up with anything. Most times I’ve held back from a press conference or group interview setting, it’s because my topic was sensitive and common sense dictated it would be better discussed in a one-on-one setting.

I’ve had plenty of PR people say, “he/she won’t be taking any questions on XYZ topic,” and that’s fine. Of course, if it’s a pressing issue, you ask the question anyway and you get a no comment. But other than the Orange Bowl flunky who said if anybody asked Joe Mixon anything other than a football question, they’d be removed from the room, I don’t think I’ve ever had a coach or his proxy threaten me if I asked a certain question. (Mixon proceeded to get about 60 non-football questions over the next 45 minutes.)

 

This one got me. Especially when, during the broadcast, he was depicted in the coaches booth several times shielding the stadium lights so he could see better (he was visorless during the game and probably could have used one). Maybe he was hosting recruits and one of them made him flip it and he just forgot to take it off? We’ve seen Nick Saban do some pretty silly stuff at the request of recruits. Or maybe he felt the Army offense had made him look like a fool, so he grabbed a visor to reinforce the image? Or maybe Mike was just auditioning for the next J.G. Wentworth “Boy Band” commercial spot? I really don’t know.

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. 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 also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

 

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . 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. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover 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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