COLUMN: 3 issues the Sooners must resolve
On Saturday, an attitude all too common shed across Norman as the Sooners barely slid by the Utah State Aggies 31-24.
A 21-0 lead over the Aggies quickly saw a turn of events, including 10 quick points for the Aggies and many small, yet costly, mistakes for the Sooners. Moods fell, cheers quieted and crickets could be heard all across Memorial Stadium as memories of last season’s disappointment swarmed over the crowd.
Passes were missing their marks, no running back other than DeMarco Murray could find a gap, linemen were missing blocks, the penalty bug from last season was very much alive and defensive backs were falling down — allowing five passes of 31 yards or more on the day.
In short, this did not look like the national-championship team that Phil Steele predicted in his preseason analysis. If there had been improvement during the offseason, it was not noticeable.
Was it a bad day? A bad matchup? Overconfidence? Lack of effort?
Whatever it was, coaches, players and fans can agree that if the Sooners are to beat Florida State and quarterback Christian Ponder in Norman, then a few things will have to be fixed, if not then much improved.
Three issues were clearly noticeable as a result of the game and the 421 offensive yards Utah State compiled on the Sooner defense.
1. Secondary — This is a no-brainer. Everyone and their grandma saw the defensive backs struggling. Had it not been for a few overthrown balls, the score could have been much different. Junior cornerback Jamelle Fleming did not show why he should start over several cornerbacks on the roster, and while senior cornerback Jonathan Nelson played solid at some points, he was seen twice on his back as an Aggie receiver made a big play downfield. Multiple defensive backs saw the field as the coaches tried to fill the holes with anyone and everyone. To be fair, senior Quinton Carter had a great game along with two younger guns, Demontre Hurst and Tony Jefferson. Bottom line, if the Sooners are to be competitive for the rest of the season, consistency has to be developed and seniors like Nelson have to step up into leadership roles on the field.
2. Quarterback — Might as well have titled this section Landry Jones, because I believe the job is his — period. Jones ended 2009 with two good games against Oklahoma State and Stanford before heading into spring ball, however, the quarterback we saw Saturday did not look like the improved potential Heisman candidate that many expected. His completion percentage was below 50 percent on the day, and he threw two picks to go with his two touchdown tosses to junior wide receiver Ryan Broyles. After the game, Jones admitted to holding onto the ball too long, as well as not trusting his blockers, which resulted in failed attempts at scrambling outside of the pocket instead of staying poised and making a throw. I believe Jones to be the most talented quarterback on the roster, but the confidence and swagger is just not there. Confidence is a hard thing to come by, and an even harder thing to gain once it is lost, but Jones will have to do just that if the Sooners are to be what many had hoped.
3. Kicking — Again, this is a problem dating back to last season, where the Sooners tried several options to meet their kicking needs. After a walk-on tryout that found no capable kickers to fill the void, the Sooners are left with sophomore Patrick O’Hara and junior Jimmy Stevens. O’Hara got the nod against the Aggies and served his role. Well, kind of. In the third quarter, he made possibly the ugliest-looking field goal in OU history, and when the Sooners were faced with a fourth and eight in the first half, Stoops passed on the kicking team and kept the offense on the field. The conversion was good, but the lack of confidence in the kicking unit is concerning, especially when Utah State was lining up for 50-yard field goals.