Big 12 Football: Mike Stoops Facing Criticism for Oklahoma Defensive Woes

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Mike Stoops took the podium Saturday night wearing his white OU visor upside down and backward. For Oklahoma fans who swear Stoops is a deep state operative planted by the University of Texas, that was an apt metaphor for the defense Stoops is charged with coordinating.

Ever since he was hired by older brother and former Sooners coach Bob Stoops in 2012, Mike Stoops has been vilified and blamed for everything that’s gone wrong in OU football. Mike was hired after being fired as Arizona’s head coach – a gig he landed because he was considered one of the nation’s top D-coordinators.

But in his encore, Mike Stoops has had to figure out – like every one of his Big 12 counterparts – how to contain the conference’s explosive offensive schemes designed to gash and burn.

Never mind the fact that during his second tour in Norman, the Sooners have won four Big 12 championships and been the only league team to appear in the College Football Playoff (twice). For probably 75 percent of Oklahoma’s 16 losses while Stoops has run the defense, fans have blamed him.

Now they’re angry about the defense following a victory.

Because the game was televised only on a pay per view basis, the Sooners’ 28-21 overtime survival against Army was just a rumor. The Black Knights were expected to be just another nonconference speed bump for an OU team hoping for a CFP return. Army’s last victory over a ranked team came in 1972 and its last victory over a top 10 team was in 1963.

What coach Jeff Monken’s team had that the Sooners didn’t is the offensive scheme used by OU to terrorize college football during the 1970s. While not a pure Wishbone attack, the Black Knights run an option offense designed to Chinese water torture and defeat by a thousand paper cuts. Barry Switzer’s Wishbone had a backfield full of sprinters who could take a pitch and go 50. Army relies on precision execution and grinds out gains from the “three yards and a cloud of dust era.”

What that meant was Army played a game of keep away to near perfection. It dominated time of possession 44:41 to 15:19 (yes, the Sooners had the ball for just over one quarter of the game). The Black Knights ran 87 plays to the Sooners’ 40 and converted 13 of 21 third downs. Counting overtime, Oklahoma had eight possessions; it scored TDs on four with the others ending in with a punt, interception, downs and a missed game-winning field goal..

OU’s defense couldn’t get Army’s offense off the field. It allowed 339 yards rushing on 78 carries. The frustration boiled because the Sooners knew that their opponent planned to do. Knowledge didn’t lead to power. The blocking scheme pitted Army’s smaller linemen cutting OU’s bigger linemen at the point of attack. Simulating that in practice is an invitation to injury.

“The speed, the precision they do it. Our guys are big, 330-pound guys, trying to come off low, rip-through gaps. It’s just not what our team is built to do,” Stoops said.

The Fire Stoops group points out that in the season opener Duke – Duke – held the Black Knights to 168 yards on the ground. Lies, damn lights and statistics. Army fumbled on its first two possessions and the Blue Devils built a 17-0 lead. A three-score lead is the best way to stop an option attack.

That’s one bit of perspective. Here’s another. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is the man Stoops replaced at OU. Venables has burnished his reputation as the Tigers have won a national championship and transformed into an elite program. But when Clemson escaped with a two-point win at Texas A&M when the Aggies rolled up 501 yards in total offense, Venables wasn’t vilified by his fan base. His unimpeachable evidence was on the scoreboard.

While Bob Stoops is enjoying being a former coach, Mike Stoops understands a majority of Oklahoma fans would like him to join his brother in retirement. Regardless of the scoreboard, it sounded like Mike Stoops knew what the “story” would be.

“You can look at it however you want,” he said Saturday night. “I’m not going there. You guys will go there. … Everybody is going to have their own opinions. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell in this game, but again, we won again. We’re moving on, and you could be a lot of other places where they didn’t play nearly that good and lost. Is that not right?”

The doubters are assuming that Oklahoma’s offense, which is averaging 8.4 yards per play, will need to stage a smoke show in Waco Saturday because Baylor’s offense (28th in the FBS at 487 yards per game) will slice and dice Stoops’ defense. Not even a victory – maybe not even a shut out – changes the current narrative.

Breaking: Texas Tech has a defense

A week ago in this space, we offered information on Texas Tech freshman quarterback Alan “The Showman” Bowman. In Saturday’s 41-17 upset of Oklahoma State, Bowman continued to post impressive numbers. He completed 35-of-36 for 397 yards and two touchdowns. Bowman leads the Big 12 in passing yards per game.

While Bowman will share the field with West Virginia Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier Saturday, the intriguing aspect of this unexpected meaty early season game will be the Red Raiders’ suddenly effective defense.

In two games against FBS foes (Ole Miss and Houston), Texas Tech allowed 1,476 yards and 113 points, In the first half Saturday, Oklahoma State trailed 24-17 but had 295 total yards and appeared fully capable of competing in a shootout. But in the second half, the Red Raiders squeezed the Cowboys, who entered the game No. 6 nationally in total offense, to just 91 yards on 20 plays in posting to a 41-17 upset.

Texas Tech broke into the Associated Press rankings at No. 25. The Mountaineers are ranked 12th. Another victory over a ranked opponent would continue to cool the hot seat that sixth-year coach Klliff Kingsbury occupied during the off-season. He has kept the faith in defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who is in his fourth season in Lubbock.

“We kind of blew it up, started over, recruited toward his scheme,” Kingsbury said of a defensive unit that has never been able to match the team’s offensive prowess. “(Gibbs has) been able to make it what he wanted it to be and what he envisioned it looked like. He stuck by his guns. This has been a process in the making that we hoped could get better and better and better and be competitive in the Big 12.”

Texas Tech leads the nation in total offense while West Virginia is eighth. Grier, who is second nationally in passing efficiency and third in completion percentage, threw for five TDs last week. He has 14 total touchdown passes and just 10 fewer incompletions. The WVU quarterback also has his top two receivers from last season – David Sills and Gary Jennings – but junior Marcus Simms leads the team with 295 receiving yards.

Texas Tech leads the nation in total offense while West Virginia is eighth. Grier, who is second nationally in passing efficiency and third in completion percentage, threw for five TDs last week. He has 14 total touchdown passes and just 10 fewer incompletions. The WVU quarterback also has his top two receivers from last season – David Sills and Gary Jennings – but junior Marcus Simms leads the team with 295 receiving yards.

He’s a man, he’s 51, he’s …

Flat out wrong. We’re talking about Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who apparently enjoys fawning media coverage only if it’s … well, fawning.

Your Veteran Scribe scribed earlier in the week about the unintended consequences of a new rule that allows players to participate in four games but still preserve a season of eligibility. Cowboys senior wide receiver used the rule Monday to announce he would red shirt this season and then transfer. He’ll be able to play his final season at another school.

Oklahoma State players are available each Tuesday after practice. But the day after McCleskey’s decision surprised Stillwater, Gundy ordered ball gags. Media relations director Gavin Lang told reporters that if they asked players about McCleskey, Gundy would not allow player interviews for the remainder of the season.

The unexpected departure of McCleskey, who is sixth in career receptions, followed Oklahoma State’s face flop loss at home to Texas Tech. Instead of building on an impressive upset of No. 15 Boise State, the Cowboys lost their Big 12 opener and looked incompetent in the process.

Obviously, this week has turned stressful. Gundy, though, missed a teachable moment. Instead of threatening the media – for all our “fake news” flaws, the professionals aren’t intimidated – Gundy could have, should have trusted his players. He could have instructed them to “no comment” questions about McCleskey. Any players who ignored the “code red” could then face disciplinary measures for the tried and true “violation of team rules.”

The reporters asking questions Tuesday decided as a group to not rock the boat. For their cooperation, they were notified there could be “repercussions” if they wrote about Gundy’s gag order.

And isn’t it ironic how far “unintended consequences” can reach.

Big trouble in the Little Apple?

In the third quarter of Saturday’s 35-6 loss at West Virginia, Kansas State changed quarterbacks. Only two people knew of the switch – coach Bill Snyder and Alex Delton, who replaced starter Skylar Thompson.

According to the Kansas City Star, who confirmed the information with two sources, first-year offensive coordinator Andre Coleman wasn’t told. Never was quarterbacks coach Collin Klein. After the game, Thompson said he was blindsided by the benching.

And that benching apparently will continue through Saturday. After a 2-2 start and with an offense ranking ninth in the Big 12, Snyder has apparently decided to make Delton the starter. He and Thompson have been engaged in a too-close-to-decide position battle since last spring. Delton is the better runner, Thompson the better passer.

Kansas State’s two losses have come to ranked teams (Mississippi State and the Mountaineers) by a combined score of 66-16. Against WVU, the Wildcats averaged 2.5 yards per play. While there is no specific evidence to explain Thompson’s benching, he audibled out of a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches. The pitch play he chose was blown up. After the game, a frustrated Snyder said, “I can’t coach a team that can’t get six inches on a play.”

A hall of fame coach certainly has the prerogative to change his quarterbacks. What is puzzling and could become troubling is that Coleman and Klein weren’t informed. Both assistants had supported Thompson as the starter. For whatever reason, Snyder have his (lukewarm) approval.

Texas is … headed to Kansas State

Texas has defeated ranked foes (USC and TCU) in consecutive games for the first time since beating No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 11 Missouri and No. 7 Oklahoma State in consecutive games in 2008. The Longhorns have won three in a row for the first time since 2014.

So, naturally, it’s time for those three words that have been both a joke and a punch line: Texas is back.

No. Nope. Negatory. Nyet (that’s Texan for “not yet”).

The victory over the Horned Frogs was the first part of a challenging three-game stretch. Saturday Texas plays at Kansas State; it hasn’t won in Manhattan since 2002. That’s followed by the Red River Rivalry game with Oklahoma. But starting with the stumbling (for now) Wildcats, coach Tom Herman is re-preaching his 1-0 mantra.

“We were ranked in the preseason poll and we showed up in Maryland and laid an egg,” Herman said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “I don’t think that fact is lost on these guys. They understand through some very hard lessons, the polls don’t matter. I told ‘em yesterday, just because you beat TCU, they’re going to spot you seven points in Manhattan, Kansas? The answer is no. The TCU game is inconsequential to what happens against Kansas State.”

Quippy quotes

Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor on how deals with fans who are angry about the disappointing 2-2 start:

“Bud Light.”

TCU coach Gary Patterson on sometimes not expressing his opinion publicly and that sometimes saying less is better:

“It works for me at home.”