John Hoover

John E. Hoover: Sooner defense avoids ‘Texas hangover’ and ‘writes their own headline’ by wrecking West Virginia

John E. Hoover: Sooner defense avoids ‘Texas hangover’ and ‘writes their own headline’ by wrecking West Virginia

Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray (9) tackles West Virginia wide receiver Freddie Brown (17) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

NORMAN — The biggest wreck on Owen Field on a perfect fall Saturday wasn’t the Sooner Schooner.

It was the West Virginia offense, spun around and flipped upside down and dragged through the grass and ultimately strewn everywhere.

A week after an historically good performance against rival Texas, No. 5-ranked Oklahoma pretty much did to the Mountaineers — a 52-14 trouncing — what Boomer and Sooner did to their schooner.

“That,” said OU quarterback Jalen Hurts, “wasn’t a pretty thing to see.”

He was talking about the second-quarter wagon train that turned too fast, crashed on its side and threw its Ruf/Nek riders, leaving people and objects scattered in the northeast corner of the stadium.

But just as easily, Hurts could have been talking about the OU defense’s treatment of their guests.

The Oklahoma Sooner Schooner flipped over during a touchdown celebration on the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against West Virginia in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

WVU ran for just 51 yards and averaged only 1.7 yards per carry. The Mountaineers weren’t going to win the line of scrimmage on this day, not with a team that ranked 124th in the nation in both rushing yards per game (91) and yards per carry (3.1).

But the Sooners gave them zero chance.

Of WVU’s 64 offensive snaps, 43 — two out of every three — gained 2 yards or less, and 32 — that’s exactly half of the Mountaineers’ plays — netted zero yards or less.

This was nearly as dominating a performance as the Sooners turned in last week against the Longhorns.

It was that very performance that had Sooner Nation feeling maybe just a bit skeptical about their team’s ability to avoid a “Texas Hangover” and refocus on an opponent that came in as a 33 ½-point underdog.

But that’s exactly what the Sooners did. They held the Mountaineers down, choked them out and never let them get back up.

“I thought we had a good mentality going into the game,” coach Lincoln Riley said.

“We heard all week about, and talked to our guys about (the importance of avoiding a Texas hangover),” he said. “We continue to take strides and continue to get better. We’ve got to keep that rolling. That’s our goal right now – to maintain the improvement, and there’s still a lot of improvement that needs to happen.”

Riley and his staff — primarily defensive coordinator Alex Grinch — made sure that a “Texas Hangover” never happened by taking something of a unique motivational approach. Grinch took all the fawning praise and unending hype over their performance in Dallas seven days prior — something Hurts would call “rat poison” — and turned it around on them.

Falling in love with their press clippings — or, this being 2019, their social media mentions — was a real danger.

“That was something that the outside world was saying,” said safety Bookie Radley-Hiles, “but … that really wasn’t in our plan at all. We wanted to make sure that … this team is never going to be satisfied. We’re going to be satisfied after that January game. After the national title’s over — hopefully we’re playing in that game — we’re not going to be satisfied until that happens.”

“One of the messages to the guys is, ‘What do you want them to write?’ ” Grinch said. “If you want the headlines, we can go down the road as saying, ‘Ignore the noise, ignore the headlines,’ but guess what — they’re on Twitter every other second of the day. They are not going to ignore it. They are going to see it. A little bit of the message there is, ‘You write the headline. If you want a headline to be good, write it.’ And there’s only one to do it, is to perform a certain way.”

“I mean, it’s completely true,” said linebacker Kenneth Murray. “If we go out there and play great ball, then the story is we played great ball. If we go out there and lay an egg and don’t play great ball, then the story is that we don’t play great ball. The choice is ours. It’s up to us. If we play up to our standard, then the story will be what we want it to be.”

Grinch said “the nature of the beast” is to get hyped for big games and have a letdown for lesser opponents. The Sooners avoided that trap Saturday — particularly the defense.

“I give the guys credit,” Grinch said. “To suggest that we didn’t emphasize it this week would be completely inaccurate. That was a major emphasis from coaches and players to try and play our ‘A’ game.”

The offense hummed as usual. On a windy day, Hurts completed 16-of-17 passes (a drop was his only incompletion) and threw arguably the two best passes of his brief OU tenure. One was a perfectly nuanced deep throw to Lee Morris for a 48-yard touchdown, angled over the shoulder and over the defender. Hurts threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more (and 75 yards) and established a new high for passer efficiency rating this year — in all of college football — with a 308.5. That’s also second in school history to Kyler Murray’s 348.0 last year against Baylor.

“He had a couple of jaw-dropping-type throws,” Riley said.

OU gained 560 yards and averaged 9.5 yards per play and compiled 25 first downs on just 59 offensive plays.

But once again, this week’s headline, thanks to Grinch, is about the defense.

There is no longer any doubt that this year’s defense is different than recent years. Not only do they not get embarrassed, but they can actually dominate their opponents — whether it’s a rivalry game against Texas or as a five-touchdown homecoming favorite. Putting last week behind them, Murray said, wasn’t difficult.

“Considering what we’ve been through, it’s not difficult at all,” he said. “We can’t win a national championship beating Texas. So until we win a national championship, we’re not gonna be satisfied. And like I said, considering what we’ve been through in previous years, all the talk that’s been said around here, if we’re not hungry after one game, then we’ve got some problems.”

“I think we’re serious about being a good football team,” Riley said. “We handled this week like a team that has some good goals in mind. Understanding that it’s not about one game here or there. It’s a constant climb for us.

“It’s a fun team to coach right now,” Riley said. “If we’ll keep finding the ways that we can improve, then we’ve got a chance.”

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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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