Dean's Blog: Are The Sooners Mentally Tough Enough To Win Out?
Is 8-1 Oklahoma mentally tough enough to win out? Not sure, but we’ll soon know the answer. What I do know is that the closing stretch run requires it.
Oklahoma’s most recent four straight squads that won league titles proved it time and time again. Talent? Yes. Those teams had leaders and players who were mentally tough throughout the inevitable when it was win-or-go-home time. An inordinate number of close wins.
A fifth straight Big 12 title won’t come easy. More to the point, exceptional mental toughness must come to the fore in the final three weeks before a potential Big 12 Championship game.
BTW, if in the preseason company betting pool, you had OU playing an undefeated Baylor with Gameday on site, you can come out of your padded cell and go directly to the pay window.
Roadies in Waco and Stillwater now look significantly tougher than they did a month ago. History screams that Gary Patterson will trot out his Toads who will grind on Jalen Hurts and a Sooner offense that now deals with major injuries, a line that makes life for Hurts exponentially more difficult than it was in four years of for Mayfield & Murray, and an offense that will have to earn scores the next three weeks in the red zone.
Gotta remember: the fact is Hurts has only been on campus for a few months, whereas the M & M Boys had the advantage of having toiled long hours on scout teams and meeting sessions absorbing concepts of Lincoln Riley’s offensive concepts.
The offenses OU faced before Texas were average, at best. I do believe this 2019 defense is improved, and that Alex Grinch was a very good hire.
But too often, this defense has gone from playing downhill to up. From a mentality of forcing the issue to playing with heads on swivels. Crisp tackling is fading into the killer secondary whiffs that became the norm the past few years. I expect Motley, Davis and Yell to do well in open space the rest of the way. Not so sure about the others.
The secondary is repeatedly guilty as charged too often for PIs – pass interference calls. Must be that they’ve either not been coached to change the bad habits or they aren’t listening. Neither is acceptable. Those flags can be devastating.
Worse, busted assignments reappeared against Iowa State. OU’s got a few great and lots of good players on defense. But too often, it takes being emotionally amped to play with that edge that sees them lock in and make stops. Disappointed to hear a few comments/alibis that their second half struggles against ISU were in part because lots of fans had already left the stadium.
Games take 3 hours and 45 minutes. Of course, being juiced up snap-to-whistle for that long of time is impossible. The answer is consistently bringing a defensive temperament where aggression is the centerpiece of every play. No downs off. Take a blow if you must -- although a dearth of defensive depth is becoming more real by the game.
Grinch installed a simpler defense than what these players were used to. But they looked confused at times last Saturday. That needs improvement because you could see periodic up-tempo offense from every team between here and Arlington.
Injuries have struck. And if you go back to losing Caleb Kelly in the spring and DB Tre Norwood in camp, the number of starters/key rotation player injuries is huge.
Now, quality vet DE Kenneth Mann is done for the year. Several others are on the edge of not being able to go or being limited if they do play. Yet the interior play has been admirable. Big Canada Neville Gallimore and Ronnie Perkins continue to excel. And Marquise Overton is having a strong season as well as JUCO transfer Laron Stokes. Backers have been inconsistent -- too often recently stud Kenneth Murray seems wasted as he sits in pass coverage while the play is in another area. It’s the secondary that’s most important from here in. They’ve regressed from looking promising early on to what you’re seeing now. And whatever depth there was is dwindling quickly.
So, right now this is not the vintage Sooners that dominated and nationally hyped earlier in the season against lesser competition. But despite being beat up and staggered, Oklahoma still has the better players than anyone they’ll play before Christmas. Which brings us back to the initial question: Are these 2019 Sooners going to be mentally tough enough to be champions? We’ll see.