NORMAN — Bob Stoops went down the list, checking off each item, as though reviewing a shopping cart before heading to the checkout line.
“We’ve got to play a lot more physical — everywhere, not just up front,” Stoops said. “We’ve got to tackle better. We’ve got to be able to, (on) offense, make them miss us and make some big plays. Execute. Take care of the football; that’s always a major factor in this game as well.”
Across the board, Stoops knows the Oklahoma Sooners must be better on Saturday morning in the Cotton Bowl than they’ve been the last three years, lest OU faces another Red River Embarrassment.
“There’s no hiding,” Stoops said Monday during his weekly news conference, “a year ago, I thought they were the tougher, more physical football team.”
A year ago. Two years ago. Three years ago.
Three years running, Bevo has belted the Sooners.
Stoops doesn’t count the 2014 game in with 2015 because OU won the game. That’s fine. Certainly looks good in the win-loss column.
But the harsh reality is that for three consecutive years, an inferior Texas team took the fight to a ranked Oklahoma team — an Oklahoma team that was a double-digit favorite, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.
“They did a lot better job coaching their guys to be ready to play that way than we did,” Stoops said, again referring strictly to 2015. “Hopefully we can do a better job of it here going through this week and play a little better this week.”
The numbers since 2013 are not flattering for the Sooners:
- OU rushed the football 100 for 300 yards—an average of 100 yards per game, and 3.0 yards per rush. Texas, on the other hand, averaged 239 yards per game and 4.5 per carry.
- OU quarterbacks completed just 59 percent of their passes while Texas QBs (Case McCoy, Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes) completed 63 percent.
- OU’s offense got no joy from its passing game, either, averaging just 158 yards per game. Texas only averaged 136, but hardly needed to throw.
- In the three games, OU averaged 258 total yards per game, while UT averaged 432.
- The Sooners converted just 16 percent of their third downs (6-of-36), while the Longhorns converted a whopping 54 percent.
- Oklahoma averaged just 25 minutes time of possession, while Texas averaged 35.
In none of the three games was there a statistical outlier that skewed the three-year average. Texas completely dominated all three games on the ground, in total offense, on third downs and in time of possession.
And the final insult: Mack Brown’s last Texas team finished 8-5 and was a 12-point underdog to the Sooners, yet won 36-20; Charlie Strong’s first Texas team finished 6-7 and was a 15-point underdog in the Cotton Bowl and lost 31-26; and Strong’s club last year was just 5-7 and again was a 15-point underdog and won 24-17.
These were three bad Texas teams that simply pushed the Sooners around.
This year, both teams come in with 2-2 records. Texas has lost two straight.
Five current Sooners played in that 2013 game (defensive tackle Jordan Wade was the only one who started), while 17 current players (including starters Ahmad Thomas, Jordan Evans and Samaje Perine) played in the 2014 game. From last year’s game, 39 current Sooners participated (including 14 starters).
So yes, the wounds are fresh. The players who will wear crimson on Saturday have an all-too-familiar memory of last year’s pregame promises that guaranteed things would be different, only to taste the same bitter defeat.
Stoops said he doesn’t pay any attention to who’s a favorite and who’s an underdog. But clearly the Sooners have not been good as the favorite. Would it be better sometimes to come into a rivalry game as an underdog?
“I’d rather be favored by 50 every week,” he said. “That’d be a pretty darn good team.”
As is usually the case, maybe Vegas knows something we don’t. Maybe Vegas sees the guillotine hanging over Charlie Strong and is guessing the end will be swift. Maybe Vegas sees Strong shaking up his staff — again — and forgets that a change at offensive coordinator before last year’s game actually helped the Longhorns (this time Strong has taken over play-calling duties for the defense; last year he promoted former Stoops aide Jay Norvell and Norvell was spectacular against his old team).
Or maybe Vegas is just way off like it was the last three Red River Rivalries.
Strong was asked at Big 12 media days in July why the Longhorns had physically dominated OU but struggled to beat other teams two years running.
“Nothing has to be said,” Strong said. “As one game — that’s one game I don’t have to even give a pep talk. When we walk out there, when you come back in, there is so much energy in the stadium that not much has to be said. ‘Okay, guys, it is time to go play. Let’s see what we got today.’ ”
Stoops on Monday replied, “I’ve always, for 17 years, had something to say. But that doesn’t mean they’re always listening.
“Hey … I’m not out there playing. Players gotta decide how important it is to ‘em. I’m not saying it wasn’t important to ‘em last year. Bottom line: we weren’t good enough or tough enough. So we’ll see if we can be this year.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.