“I wanted to see fight, I wanted to see guts, I wanted to see courage, I wanted to see physicality… I wanted to see belief,” he said. “And we saw that tonight with our guys.”
We all did.
The Sooners were a 10-point dog, yet lost by three. Their starting offensive line included no starting offensive linemen.
Their running back contingent did not include Eric Gray, who’d gained 52.6 percent (1,366) of their ground yards (2,599) and 66 percent of their ground yards gained by running backs (2,071) … yet OU gained 253 total and 212 between true freshmen running backs Jovantae Barnes and Gavin Sawchuk.
Defensively, the final number was not pretty, 587 yards allowed, but the Sooners gave up just 11 first-half points, turned the Seminoles over on downs three times and with an interception once, held them to a field goal late, making overtime a more reachable goal, all of it against an offense that had been humming and suffered not a single opt out, just like the Seminole defense.
Venables added, “Winning is incredibly important and that’s the standard and expectations that are here at Oklahoma,” but counterpointed that thought with, “You have no regret when you put everything you’ve got into it and that’s what this football team did.”
The problem, however, is it would appear the players are suddenly running in front of the coaches and whatever their ceiling might be next season, the year after and so on, that’s no place to be.
Given three weeks to prepare for one game, what was left of OU’s roster not only entered Thursday ready to play, but actually developed over the preparation period, getting better, developing real chemistry and it’s a tribute to program and the work ethic and culture Venables is attempting to instill.
Still, game management was a real issue for Venables and staff this season and everybody knows it.
Too often we heard offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby tell us on Monday something he regretted having done on Saturday and too often it sounded like something an experienced on-top-of-it head coach or — Cale Gundy reference alert — a seasoned offensive assistant with some real authority might have been able to stop.
Given both coordinators, Lebby and Ted Roof, stow themselves in the press box, has the Sooner sideline been left short of effective management?
If Lebby’s the right guy with the offensive reins — questionable given OU’s scoring and third- and fourth-down conversion rates rank significantly lower than its total offense — isn’t a real quarterbacks coach offering counsel live and in person, face-to-face, required? Doesn’t OU need one anyway if it wants to continue luring worldbeaters to play the position?
If Venables badly needs to follow the Switzer-Stoops model and divorce himself from coordinating — and it seems like he might given season-long management issues — is Ted Roof really the guy he wants having a free defensive hand or was he always supposed to be assistant defensive coordinator in the first place?
Venables may understand these things better than we know and might have copped to it Thursday.
After lauding the players for a performance they’ll never regret, he offered something else without breaking stride.
“Proud of the coaches, too,” he said. “Were there plenty of mistakes? Absolutely. We will have to look at those once we get out of season as well. What I saw tonight was what I saw the last three weeks, and proud of these guys for that.”
“We will have to look at those once we get out of season as well.”
It’s like Venables wanted to give his staff all the credit he could, but not without losing credibility, thus acknowledging real issues do exists and they’ll be addressed.
It comes with the losing.
When things aren’t right, they need to get right, which ought to mean Sooner football’s bound to keep making news, not settling down until the transfer portal endures one more rush hour after spring drills.
What will that news be?
But it’s coming.
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