By Clay Horning
Transcript Sports Editor
GLENDALE, Ariz. — History may claim Oklahoma lost Wednesday night’s Fiesta Bowl the moment Pat White took off around the left side for a 42-yard third quarter gain. Because the touchdown it set up on the very next play, a 14-yard reverse from Darius Reynaud, gave West Virginia a 21 point lead with only a quarter and change remaining.
But history would be wrong.
It’s impossible to know the exact time and place the Sooners lost their fourth straight entry into the Bowl Championship Series. All that’s certain is it happened sometime prior to the 7:23 p.m. kick. All that’s certain is, upon its arrival at University of Phoenix Stadium, this team wasn’t ready to play.
Irony, perhaps, or just a certain justice to it all, the Sooners, in moments they played their best, looked like the team that was supposed to win. But for the second straight season, even in the same stadium, it doesn’t matter.
Because of a horribly slow start, all the second-half heroics of a year ago couldn’t put the required distance between the Sooners and the Broncos’ bag of tricks. And because of the same this time around, and 83 other mistakes along the way, the biggest one of all, perhaps, from the head coach himself, OU could never dig itself out of the hole its game-time slumber created.
Worse, it’s not even a case of the Sooners finding themselves, only too late. OU started scoring. Sam Bradford gave the nation a preview of what Big 12 secondaries must face for years to come. But the Sooners never quit killing themselves with penalty after penalty after penalty and, there in the second half, defensive bust after defensive bust after defensive bust.
Indeed, there may have been one solitary moment, one window of opportunity in which OU afforded itself the chance to think about reversing its recently listless January football plight. Bu that was the moment, in a game filled with miscues, gaffes, snafus and comedic error that Bob Stoops chose to perpetrate the most costly one of all.
Chris Brown had just gone in for a 1-yard touchdown with 6:23 left in the third quarter. It was the capper of an 80-yard drive that seemed to finally announce the Sooners’ arrival in the game. For the first time, penalties did not get in the way and for the first time, Sam Bradford appeared his old self. The two-point conversion failed but down 20-15, the Sooners were within a single possession with an eternity to play.
But with all the momentum in the world, rather than turning the game back to the defense, forcing a stop, getting the ball back and creating another drive to arrest control, Stoops chose the only course that could not only give all that momentum away, but reverse it completely. He called for an onside kick and the Sooners failed miserably. They did not recover it, nor did the ball even travel the required 10 yards.
Asked about it, Stoops began by saying, “Obviously, you’re in a tight situation,” which alone would appear to dictate not trying such shenanigans. He later added he would only have tried it in a moment the Sooners had momentum. What he forgot was the wisdom of time and place. That is, when the consequences of not pulling it off include potential catastrophe, it is neither the time nor the place to try it. Being a riverboat gambler is fine, but bluffing away all your chips is not.
It wasn’t long before White took off for his 42 yards and Reynaud for his 14 and then, pretty much, it was over. OU closed to 41-28 with 10:20 remaining but the dam had already given way.
Perhaps in a way he hasn’t felt the sting of defeat before, Stoops appeared to personalize the loss.
“Embarrassing, just embarrassing. No discipline whatsoever,” he said of OU’s committing 13 penalties worth 130 yards in the boxscore, but maybe 150 more for all the returns and positive offensive plays they brought back. “And that has to be a reflection on me.”
And not just Wednesday night.
The last quarterback to lead OU to a bowl victory was Rhett Bomar. The last one before him (and the last in a BCS game) Nate Hybl. Whatever the Sooners are doing, they haven’t been very good in January.
Something needs to change.
Not the day of the game.
The day of the game, it’s too late.
By Clay Horning
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