Bob Stoops, welcome to the longest offseason of your career
We’re nearing the 14-year anniversary of Bob Stoops’ only national championship at Oklahoma, and his Sooners have never been farther away - both in the literal passage of time and in the actual product on the field. A season that started with aspirations of reaching Oklahoma’s first title game since 2008 ended in humiliation, a 40-6 blowout to No. 17 Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Monday night.
The loss dropped the Sooners to an ugly 8-5 on the year - not Stoops’ first eight-or-fewer win campaign, but the only one without an excuse. He went 7-5 in 1999, but that was his first year. He went 8-4 in 2005, but that team lost Adrian Peterson for much of the year and replaced a number of players that contributed to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. He went 8-5 in 2009, but that team lost Sam Bradford for almost all the season. All of those teams got better as the season progressed. This one regressed - sharply.
The 2014 Sooners - ranked third in preseason by the coaches’ poll and fourth by the AP - went 0-4 against ranked teams. Their best win? It was probably back on Aug. 30, a 48-16 romp over a Louisiana Tech team that later played for the Conference USA title. Outside of that, there’s not much to be proud of in this wasted season.
The mystique is gone. A program that once blew its opponents off the field simply by showing up no longer intimidates anyone. The home-field advantage, once the biggest in college football, has completely evaporated. OU lost three home games for the first time since 1996, and each came wrapped in its own special box. There was the 31-30 loss to Kansas State handed away on a silver platter, the 48-14 blowout at the hands of Baylor, and the 38-35 overtime collapse to a 6-6 Oklahoma State team to close the year. Oklahoma won one home game after September, and it came against Kansas.
As for the actual proceedings on the field Monday night, Oklahoma failed to execute in every facet of the game. Trevor Knight threw two interceptions and failed to muster even three yards an attempt. Oklahoma out-rushed Clemson significantly, but lost any meaningful progress after Samaje Perine and Keith Ford both lost fumbles. Charles Tapper had a nice tipped pass-turned-pick six called back due to an offside call. Even the special teams joined in on the fun, letting Michael Hunnicutt‘s extra point get blocked. The Sooners committed eight penalties, while Clemson was flagged only twice. They lost the turnover battle, 5-0. They converted 2-of-12 first downs. They let Cole Stoudt look like Deshaun Watson, hitting 26-of-36 passes for 319 yards and four total touchdowns, including a 65-yarder to Artavis Scott on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage. Clemson scored the game’s first 40 points, meaning Oklahoma sat on the business end of a 57-0 run (dating back to the Oklahoma State collapse) until Alex Ross carried in an 11-yard touchdown run with 6:57 to play, saving Stoops the indignity of his first shutout in Norman.
How far has Oklahoma fallen? The 2nd- and 3rd-worst losses of the Stoops era came in 2014.— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 30, 2014
And, worst of all, their longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables stood on the opposite sideline, picking up his former colleague Josh Heupel‘s offense and slamming it on its head.
There is reason for optimism next season. Baker Mayfield, Dorial Green-Beckham and possibly Joe Mixon figure to be quality reinforcements for an offense that sorely needs them. But for a program without an outright conference title since 2010 and that has lost at least two regular season games for six years running, for the first time it’s fair to wonder if the coaching in Norman is good enough to harness the talent in front of it.
The good - and bad - news for Stoops? He’s got nine long months to stew on it.