CNHI News Service
ARLINGTON, Texas —
If Oklahoma was going to have any chance to win the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, it was going to need to score touchdowns. It didn’t in the 41-13 loss to Texas A&M.
Having to settle for field goals on its first two possessions after long drives kept the Sooners from seizing the early momentum. Both times, they drove inside the Aggies’ 10-yard line, but settled for two field goals.
“The two drives early, certainly against an explosive team like this, you want to be able to put up seven points instead of three. Threes all night aren’t going to be good enough,” OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said.
OU’s opening drive told the story of the night. It had two shots with Blake Bell’s short-yardage package from the Texas A&M 3-yard line. Bell was stuffed for no gain and threw away a pass when fullback Jaydan Bird was covered on third down.
“They kind of outplayed us up in there, didn’t allow us to score,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “How much that would have helped, who knows. Still, only gives you a few more points at half.”
The only success OU had in the red zone was at the end of the first half. Quarterback Landry Jones hit Justin Brown for a 7-yard touchdown on a third-down scramble.
The Sooners never reached the red zone in the second half.
Sooners must get better up front
The misery Oklahoma experienced Saturday night wasn’t scarring. It takes something unexpected to cause that kind of shock to the system.
Seeing Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel run from end to end of Cowboys Stadium wasn’t stunning, considering the Sooners’ troubles stopping the run this season.
The 41-13 loss to the Aggies in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic was simply a final exam in a subject OU had been flunking throughout the second half of the season.
“We’ve got to make improvements in all areas, run defense, pass defense, pressures, whatever we’re doing,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But again, some of it, too, our players have got to make some improvements. We had guys in position a bunch of times today to make plays, and they didn’t make them. The schemes and that kind of stuff only goes so far. Bottom line, it comes down to when you get opportunities to execute, you got to execute.”
It was crystal clear Friday night that OU’s defensive line was overmatched by Texas A&M. Manziel had an endless amount of time to throw and holes big enough to drive a truck through. Defensive ends R.J. Washington and Chuka Ndulue and tackles David King, Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland didn’t get off blocks and never came close to collapsing the pocket.
It wasn’t an oddity.
OU had 25 sacks this season with defensive linemen registering just 15.5 of the them. More telling was the tackles for loss total. OU had 55 this season with defensive linemen grabbing 25 of them. The Sooners averaged 37.8 sacks per season and 102.2 tackles for loss per season from 2007-11.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops hinted at the problem in the days leading up to the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners lack a down lineman that’s a consistent playmaker.
“We’ve just been kind of a group up front. We haven’t had a Tommie Harris, a Dan Cody-type of player up front,” he said. “It’s probably why we’re not like we were in some of the years we really excelled. Up front is a big part of the game.”
One of the calling cards of OU’s great defenses has been dominant defensive linemen. This season, the Sooners didn’t have a first-team All-Big 12 defensive lineman for the first time since 1999.
What should scare OU fans is that with the exception of Ndulue, the defensive linemen used most of the season were seniors. If OU had better options, they would have been on the field.
OU got away with it in the first half of the season. By November, teams figured out spreading out the Sooners and running the ball was something they couldn’t handle.
“People started picking up on what we were doing. I think one thing was when we first came into the season a lot of people weren’t ready for what we were running,” said safety Javon Harris, who had one of OU’s few Cotton Bowl highlights with a second quarter interception. “We ran a lot man (coverage). A lot of teams just spread us out. When we started facing running quarterbacks, you have to account for them … Once you start spreading out, there’s a lot of gaps open, a lot of lanes open.”
The Sooners have the offseason to try to correct the problem. Perhaps an influx of defensive talent will arrive next month on signing day.
If it doesn’t, OU’s defense will get exposed like it did throughout the final month of the regular season and Friday night.
Stadium issues: Friday night’s game was the third for OU in Cowboys Stadium and it is now 1-2 following a 14-13 loss to BYU (Sept. 5, 2009) and a 23-20 victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game (Dec. 4, 2010).
The win was the Aggies’ first in Cowboys Stadium. They’d lost their previous four games there.
Going out with a boot: Punter Tress Way played his last collegiate game on Friday. The senior did leave a very strong impression with NFL scouts.
Way had five punts (all in the second half). Only one of those punts was returned and it netted a 2-yard loss. Three of the five were downed inside the 20-yard line and the five boots averaged 49.4 yards.
Didn’t happen often: The Sooners were the first team to score in the first quarter against Texas A&M since Ole Miss in the fifth game of the season. In the previous eight games, the Aggies had outscored their opponents 120-3.