NORMAN — Let’s be blunt: this is not an easy fix.
The system-wide failures Oklahoma exhibited on Saturday night — very akin to those the Sooners suffered two weeks earlier in Houston — aren’t going to be resolved through the magic of an open date on the schedule.
OU has personnel deficiencies at cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver and offensive line and, as Bob Stoops said on Monday during his weekly news conference, “We’re not going to draft anybody else, or we don’t get to go recruit. We’ve got the same guys on that list that we’ve had from last spring.”
It’s almost unthinkable to ponder. Since last winter, when Zack Sanchez and Dominique Alexander announced they would be skipping their senior year to go play in the NFL, the Sooners have had eight months to get somebody, anybody, ready to play.
And then September gets here and nobody is ready. Linebacker is a train wreck and cornerback is a dumpster fire.
Stoops did acknowledge on Monday of possible hints back during spring practice that such trouble might be coming.
“Well, you know, sure,” he said. “When you watch a guy practice the entire spring and summer, there’s good and bad. So there’s always that possibility that we’re not going to perform up to a certain level. Sometimes that’s happened and other times they’ve played well. But you can see that with any inexperienced guy through the spring and summer. He has his tough plays during practices and scrimmages as well.”
As many times as Parrish Cobb and Michiah Quick showed they couldn’t cover a fade route — the Buckeyes ran a version of it four times for touchdowns — is there any hope for players like Dakota Austin, who was cast aside after a rough performance in the season opener against Houston? Or what about P.J. Mbanasor, who was the top backup last year before a meltdown against Tulsa?
“We look at everybody every day,” Stoops said. “We’re not ignoring anyone. So yes, we’ll continue to look for other players, but develop the ones we have as well. We weren’t far off on several of those plays. We’ve just got to finish them, though.”
When OU lines up against TCU in two weeks, could there be someone else manning the position?
“We’ll see,” Stoops said. “We work them all every day. We put out there the guys that we feel in practice — at every position — that we feel are doing the best job that give us the best chance to win. That’s the criteria for every position.”
Same goes for linebacker. Too many missed tackles against the Buckeyes and Cougars should open up all positions for competition.
The painful truth is this: Oklahoma doesn’t have the talent right now to compete with the likes of Clemson and Ohio State, or Alabama or Florida State, when it comes to national championships.
And if Sooner Nation thinks it’s hard to hear that an open date won’t fix the issues on this team, consider the potential long-term fallout from Saturday night: Almost 40 recruits — some on official visits, some on unofficial — were in attendance for the Buckeyes’ 45-24 domination.
The crowd and the atmosphere were impressive, but the team itself was just the opposite.
Stoops, however, puts a positive spin on the potential recruiting fiasco.
“I know from visiting with guys through the weekend they had a great weekend. They loved it,” Stoops said. “I thought our personnel handling it did an awesome job. And all the feedback I got was incredibly positive. They’re aware that’s unusual for us. We haven’t lost at home much.
“But they also are aware that they probably could come in and help and make a difference. They know they got to see a great atmosphere, and the fans. Every game here has been sold out here for 18 years. That’s pretty special. That’s how they look at it, that they get a chance to run out here like that every time they play. It’s pretty good. The feedback I got was really positive.”
Stoops said the prospects on their official visits went to his house on Sunday morning for brunch, and that after such a humbling defeat, being an effective recruiter just 10 hours later was a challenge.
“You pick yourself up and dust yourself off and give yourself a pep talk and go at it,” Stoops said. “And they’re all special recruits, I think I’m allowed to say that. It’s a special group of people. I’ll tell ya, my wife said it when they were all leaving, ‘What a great group of people.’ When you see parents are with them, it’s part of one of the joys of our job, getting to meet people like that and how positive they are. Just good people. And to have them over for an hour and a half or so, they pick you up, too. So it was positive.”
If OU fans buy into that spin, then their Monday must seem a little brighter than their Sunday was.
But that may be the only long-term fix — solidifying #SoonerSquad17 by fixing these existing problems and getting things going this year against a mushy Big 12 Conference schedule, and then convincing the nation’s top future prospects that they can turn around the Sooners’ repeated shortcomings by being part of a roster that can once again be good enough to challenge for national championships.
Stoops’ task moving forward is to not lose this team like he lost the 2014 squad. That team lost a tough one at TCU, then lost at home to Kansas State, then got embarrassed at home by Baylor. Then Stoops punted twice to Tyreek Hill and, in the bowl game, Clemson completed OU’s humiliation with a 40-6 mortification.
“I’m not making an excuse, but the two teams that we lost to (Houston and Ohio State) are two excellent football teams and ranked in the top five or six in the country,” Stoops said. “We’re not playing like we’re capable. That’s what we have to get fixed as coaches and players playing with a positive attitude to accept the coaching and push this week to be better. That’ll get us into next week and I do believe we’ll come back and we’ll be a better team.”
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.