NORMAN — Mike Stoops on Saturday was as down in the dumps as we’ve ever seen him.
Quiet, almost withdrawn. Not sullen but somber, slow, leaden and deliberate and during his postgame press conference. Morose. Shocked.
Coordinating a defense that yielded 38 points, 449 total yards and 7.6 yards per play in Saturday’s 38-31 loss to Iowa State — an Iowa State offense that looked abysmal in a 17-7 loss to Texas last week and had to call up a third-string, walk-on quarterback for this game after starter Jacob Park was suspended, an Iowa State team that was a 31-point underdog — seemed to drain Stoops’ famed fire and passion.
The 3 ½-hour subjugation rendered him docile, even remorseful.
“Just our execution as a whole is not good enough,” Stoops said. “Certainly, that responsibility falls on us as coaches, and we just didn’t, you know, we haven’t played well the last couple weeks.”
He’s right. OU’s last game was a 49-41 victory at Baylor on Sept. 23. The Bears were 0-4 with losses to Liberty and UTSA and Duke, but against the Sooners, they amassed 631 total yards, including a breakout performance by former backup quarterback Zach Smith (462 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions) that included TDs of 72 and 71 yards. Baylor overcame a 14-0 deficit to take a third-quarter lead, but couldn’t hold on.
Against the Cyclones, OU again got a 14-0 lead and again fell behind in the third quarter, again to a backup QB, this time Kyle Kempt, who completed 18-of-24 passes for 343 yards with three touchdowns and, again, no interceptions.
OU had the nation’s longest winning streak (14 games) and a Big 12 winning streak (17 games) that stretched back to 2015. They also had 18 straight victories over Iowa State dating back to a 33-31 loss to the Cyclones in 1990. ISU had never beaten a Top 5 team on the road (OU was ranked No. 3), and had lost 20 consecutive times against a ranked opponent.
“I’m very disappointed; I’m not dejected,” head coach Lincoln Riley said. “I know what this team can be. We in that locker room know what this team can be. The fact we’re not playing like it right now is disappointing.”
To be clear, this loss wasn’t all on the Oklahoma defense.
- OU receivers could not get open against what coach Lincoln Riley had labeled one of the Big 12 Conference’s best secondaries.
- With nobody open, quarterback Baker Mayfield became impatient and scrambled, and when he did, he frequently missed receivers that had gotten wide open.
- In the third quarter, with the Sooners just 5 yards away from a touchdown and another 14-point lead, Mayfield was trying to decide between a handoff to Trey Sermon and a quick throw. When he pulled the ball back to throw it, it slipped away from both players and the fumble was recovered by the Cyclones at their own 6-yard line.
- And on their next possession, after OU’s mighty offensive line couldn’t clear the way for 3 yards on second and third down, the Sooners came up empty again when Austin Seibert missed a 44-yard field goal.
Does OU’s offense need to play perfect to win? No, of course not. But not fumbling on the goal line and making a 44-yard field goal shouldn’t be too much to ask. That’s 10 points Oklahoma took off the board in a 7-point loss.
Still, Mike Stoops’ demeanor revealed a beaten man on Saturday.
When the Sooners needed a stop, his defense could not deliver. Iowa State scored on seven of its nine full possessions, including five in a row — two field goals and three touchdowns on drives of 54, 50, 94, 73 and 75 yards — from late second quarter to late fourth.
- The Sooner defensive backs couldn’t cover the Iowa State receivers, nor could they tackle the Cyclone ball carriers, nor could they pressure the ISU quarterbacks.
That’s a bad combination.
“We’re trying to tee them up so much and trying to get the big hit and the big play and trying to get the momentum swung on our end,” Riley said. “We just have to settle in and get ‘em on the ground. Fundamentally, we have to be better.”
- Iowa State players said afterward they knew when the Sooner defense was blitzing (not nearly often enough) and easily diagnosed OU’s pass coverages (they were weakly disguised).
That’s good coaching — by the Cyclone staff.
“We’re just not executing well enough,” Stoops said. “Whether we’ve got too much in, not enough in, players being able to do their jobs well and do it confidently, you certainly have to look at (that) as well.”
- And ISU benefited from two significant personal foul penalties, one on senior linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in the second quarter (he carelessly leaped into a pile of players) near the goal line to set up a touchdown, and one on freshman linebacker Kenneth Murray and in the fourth quarter (he shoved an Iowa State player in the head three times) to keep alive ISU’s game-winning touchdown drive.
That’s a lack of poise and football smarts and leadership.
“You’re getting ready to be third and long in both situations,” Riley said, “and just giving them a free pass there was just — it was bad football.”
Maybe worst of all, these Sooners were beaten and baffled coming off an open date. They looked anything but rested and ready.
Now, with suddenly resurgent Texas looming in the Cotton Bowl next week, Riley, Stoops and the Sooners must find answers — and find them fast.
“Whether we have to put more pressure, cover some guys up, we’ve got to just look at it all,” Stoops said. “… If people can’t do it, then you’ve got to help them. We’ve got to find ways to help them if we can.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. 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. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.