John Hoover

John E. Hoover: Beating South Dakota provided big numbers, big plays – and plenty of room for improvement

John E. Hoover: Beating South Dakota provided big numbers, big plays – and plenty of room for improvement

Oklahoma wide receiver Charleston Rambo (14) fights off a tackle from South Dakota defender Cori Fant Jr., right, in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NORMAN — No. 4-ranked Oklahoma didn’t prepare for South Dakota last week.

The Sooners didn’t play a game against the Coyote’s from college football’s Championship Subdivision.

That would have been a massive waste of everyone’s time.

The Sooners spent the week preparing instead for Texas, for Clemson, for Alabama, for Georgia, for Ohio State.

If Oklahoma is ever going to return to the mountaintop, it won’t be by putting up big numbers against overmatched opponents.

OU won 70-14 on Saturday night at Owen Field, but for this team, there weren’t many who were impressed.

“Enough isn’t enough,” said quarterback Jalen Hurts. “There will come a point where we have bigger fish to fry. South Dakota, they played great. They came and competed. But we have to be better if we’re trying to play to our standard that we set for ourselves — preseason, spring, we talk about that all the time. I think we have to play to that standard every time we touch the field. We gotta be better.”

Hurts, like his team, was really good in the Sooners’ second step of the 2019 season.

He completed 14-of-18 passes for 259 yards with three touchdowns, and he also ran eight times for 57 yards.

Oklahoma tight end Austin Stogner (18) and quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) congratulate Trejan Bridges (8) following Bridges’ touchdown in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against South Dakota Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

But, like his team, he could have been better.

“We’ve got to play smarter,” said wideout CeeDee Lamb, who caught six passes for 144 yards in the first half and didn’t play much at all in the second. “We approached this game with a lot more on the mental side of the game. You’ve got to come in, you’ve got to have that mindset you’re going to win but at the end of the day, you’ve got to have that mindset of how you’re going to win. You can’t have dumb penalties as we did. We’ve got to work on that. No negative plays. You can’t really take plays off or take a team for granted. That was really the overview of our mindset.”

It doesn’t sound much like a team that just won 70-14 — or an offense that surpassed 70 points for the first time since Sam Bradford’s debut way back in 2007 against North Texas.

For that matter, the defense seemed pretty grumpy, too, despite new coordinator Alex Grinch’s crew collecting their first three turnovers of the season.

“We were just trying to raise our standard, honestly,” said nickel back Brendan Radley-Hiles, who had a fumble recovery and returned an interception for a touchdown. “This defense has a standard, and we’re consistently raising it, from what coach (Bennie) Wylie does in the weight room, to what coach Grinch speaks to us in the meeting room, just from practice.”

South Dakota running back Kai Henry (2) is tripped up by Oklahoma defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles (44) in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Norman, Okla. Oklahoma defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas (95) is at rear. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

South Dakota managed just 348 yards total offense and scored twice in the third quarter. That was it, but to play the Longhorns, Crimson Tide, Tigers, Bulldogs or Buckeyes, it was too much.

“I’m disappointed any time there’s a scoring play,” Grinch said. “I’m not going to stop being disappointed. I don’t care who is out there. Give them credit for finding a way to get into the end zone a couple of times tonight. There’s an opportunity out there for somebody to make that (stop), obviously, somehow, some way. We didn’t. … We have to do a better job coaching those guys and bringing them along.”

For his part, head coach Lincoln Riley emphasized plenty of positives, but also recognized the negatives.

“The penalties are the most glaring issue,” Riley said. “I think I saw 12 penalties and several were extremely costly. They were costly to the offense in the first half and to the defense in the second half. It’s got to be a better point of emphasis. We’ve got to coach it better. We want aggression but it’s got to be under control.”

In addition to the penalties, plenty of other issues cropped up Saturday night that the coaching staff will harp on as teaching moments:

  •       Frequent pressure on Hurts from South Dakota’s smaller, quicker defensive line — again, a bit of an indictment on a green offensive line.
  •       Hurts struggled on a handful deep throws, putting the football up for grabs — nothing that a few more sit-downs with Riley shouldn’t correct.
  •       South Dakota compiled drives of 62 yards against the starters and 75, 75, 39 and 48 yards against the reserves. All in all, not bad. But, as Hurts said, enough is not enough.

The offensive line, which replaced four starters off last year’s team (all now in the NFL), remains a work in progress. Last week’s starter at left guard, Marquis Hayes, didn’t suit up because of an injury, Riley said. R.J. Proctor replaced him, and Erik Swenson held down the left tackle spot. But against South Dakota, even All-America candidate Creed Humphrey had his hands full.

“We were OK,” Riley said. “We turned them (South Dakota’s pass rushers) loose a few times. A couple communication errors up there. We played a new lineup tonight. It was OK. Not our best. We did some really nice things in the run game. We were better and a little cleaner in the run game than we were the first week. The penalties put us in a hole, but I thought we responded and played better in the second half. I thought when our second group came in they did a nice job as well.

“This game will pay dividends down the line,” Riley said. “You get a chance to play so many guys. You get a chance to see where they’re at. You get a feel for how they can help you. It helps them learn and grow to get that first that one out of the way.”

He’s right, of course. Backup QB Tanner Mordecai entered in the third quarter and looked sharp, hitting 6-of-8 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Five-star freshman Spencer Rattler got his first action of 2019 and went 4-of-4 for 50 yards. Five-star wideouts Trejan Bridges, Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease all caught touchdowns — a first for each. Tight end Austin Stogner caught two passes for 15 yards.

But that’s not enough.

“Gotta be better,” Hurts said. “We gotta be more crisp. We gotta sharpen our things up I think that’s what it is. I think that’s evident.”


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


John Hoover

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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