When a word is used often, it tends to either lose its meaning or its impact. “Physical” is uttered so many times by football players and coaches, you wonder just what it means to them.
It’s an important term, because Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops used it six times during his press conference on Monday. His players said it a couple dozen more times as they started preparations for Saturday’s renewal of the Red River Rivalry against Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Stoops used it to describe how Texas (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) managed to upset the Sooners last season.
“There’s no hiding a year ago. I thought, no question, they were the tougher, more physical football team,” Stoops said. “They did a lot better job coaching their guys to be ready to play that way than we did. Hopefully, we can do a better job here this week and play a little better as we get on the field here this week.”
The message for 51 weeks and five days ago wasn’t buried. The OU coach said he made his team watch last season’s Texas game as a reminder of what it felt like to get bullied in a big game.
The Sooners only lost one regular-season game in 2015. The Longhorns went 5-7. That day in the legendary venue, Texas was the most dominant team.
They rushed for 313 yards and never trailed. Brute force was enough to make OU wilt.
Players know what it means when it comes to the word of the week.
“It means dominating the person across from us,” fullback Dimitri Flowers said. “To win a game, you have to be physical. You have to dominate in the run, and that’s where it all starts.
“Last year, you look at our losses and even this year, we kind of got out-physicaled at points in those games and that was a large part in why we lost them. To me, being physical establishes us as an offense and a defense and the key to winning the game.”
The 20th-ranked Sooners (2-2, 1-0 Big 12) haven’t shown that blue-collar mentality this season. Stoops could just have easily rerun the Ohio State game to get the message. Even the loss to Houston included its fair share of crucial plays where the Cougars expressed a deeper desire to succeed.
But the Buckeyes seem to do it on a weekly basis. Even Houston has won 19 of its last 20 games.
Texas (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) dropped three of six games that followed last season’s victory over OU. This season is off to a rocky start that has coach Charlie Strong trying to sit on a lava-like seat.
So how is it that the Longhorns have been able to succeed where other Big 12 teams have failed?
Stoops quit trying to put his finger on why it’s happened in the past. He just wants it to end.
Becoming a bullying-type doesn’t happen overnight. The Sooners cannot alter their practices for five days leading up to Saturday hoping to get a different result.
Stoops admitted the mentality he wants to see doesn’t come out in game-week preparation.
“We’re not going to go out and scrimmage. I’ve got enough guys hurt,” Stoops said. “We’re going to practice hard and hopefully we’ll have that kind of attitude in how we take it to the field.”
Perhaps what OU lacked on its last trip down the Cotton Bowl ramp was the toughness to actually believe it was about to take part in a 3 1/2 hour struggle where nothing is given.
Maybe it would have known that after last season’s stunning loss. At .500, there’s no legitimate reason to fear the Sooners based on the résumé they’ve put forth this season.
“Controlling the line of scrimmage, playing hard, being the most dominant,” linebacker Jordan Evans said when asked what physical meant to him. “We know Texas and we know how they play, especially in this rivalry, this game. You play more physical, and usually you’ll come out on top.”
The Sooners have the definition down. They’ll have to show Saturday if they have the will to display it.
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