NORMAN — Yes, Oklahoma is 4-0, even with a bullet, with a stunningly improved defense, very possibly no great drop-off at quarterback and new faces here, there and everywhere that have slid into new roles and fulfilled them better than those they’ve replaced.
Coaching must be a big part of it. Mike Stoops has benefited from having a year under his belt. New assistants have brought new energy.
As for the players, those asked to lead a year ago must not have been very good at it and those who had it in them had to ascend to find their voice.
It’s a fun little game, trying to pinpoint just where everything’s coming together.
It has to be something.
That much is clear.
Monday, at his weekly press conference, Sooner coach Bob Stoops offered, without even trying, confirmation of that fact.
Indeed, he sounds so much better.
It has been pointed out that the “No excuses” express may have taken a three-year detour entering the 2013 season.
Maybe it was to protect a quarterback’s confidence. Maybe, for a group of players without terrific intangibles, trying to keep them upbeat with happy talk was a better idea than tossing out personal challenges.
Or, maybe, when things aren’t the greatest on the field, Stoops is just an obstinate cuss when people with notebooks, cameras and recording devices ask him questions.
The last few seasons it’s been a bad sign watching Stoops deny, defend, and minimize his team’s issues.
This season, and Monday, specifically, he began to sound like he sounded from 2000 to 2004, pointing out the deficiencies of an overachieving team.
Two popular lines of questioning came together to form a single inquiry when Stoops was asked if, unlike many teams which might be expected to bring less than their best in the contest between two highly anticipated opponents (like, say, Notre Dame and Texas), his team might do the opposite, and simply come back stronger.
“The better teams do get better as you go through the year,” he said, “and playing well in a big setting on the road should give you more hunger because the mistakes our players will see today (in film study) … are so obvious that we can be better and that’s what we have to keep pushing for, to clean up some of those mistakes, to even be better, and that’s what we’re after.”
Can you hear him?
He hardly seemed capable of an answer like that in 2010, 2011 and 2012. And, if that’s too harsh a judgment, there are at least three words he would never have said.
“ … are so obvious.”
Stoops said it and it was like a cool breeze entered the room, like the sun came out that very moment, like all things were possible again for Sooner football.
The head coach had just said, in so many words, about a team that’s already blown well past expectation, Yeah, we can get a lot better because you should see the mistakes we’re still making, they’re so obvious.
He doesn’t say it unless he feels good about the possibility of those mistakes being overcome. He doesn’t say it unless he believes he’s got the kinds of guys who can hear something like that and run with it.
OU must have those guys again.
Back in the 2000s, you’d hear how guys like Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman and Derrick Straight policed everything themselves, how accountability was never a problem.
Maybe now it’s Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Zach Sanchez, or Aaron Colvin, Charles Tapper and Jordan Phillips or Blake Bell, Gabe Ikard and Jalen Saunders.
Or all of them.
It’s even spreading.
This week, Josh Heupel’s been talking about getting touchdowns instead of field goals. Mike Stoops took himself and the defensive staff to task for putting Sooner defenders in “tough situations” when Notre Dame lined up in two tight-end sets.
OU football’s better than it’s been in some time, and a whole lot of the talk is about what’s been wrong and how something needs to be done about it and, when you think about it, there’s something very right about it.
All the more reason to believe this season’s still just beginning.
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