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Oklahoma football: Lack of leadership looms large in loss to Ohio State

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Head football coach Bob Stoops

Head football coach Bob Stoops adjusts his hat as he walks off of the field after the loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes Sept. 17. This is the second loss of the season for the Sooners.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops didn’t mince words after the Sooners’ 45-24 loss to Ohio State on Saturday.

“It’s fair to say the leadership isn’t close to what it was a year ago,” Stoops said. “I’ve got to do a better job, and I’ve got to do a better job developing players to do that.”

Stoops is referring to a group of six leaders who brought the Sooners to the College Football Playoff a season ago.

All six were battle tested. They were there for OU’s upset Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. They were there when the Sooners disappointed the following year with an 8-5 season. They were on the front row as the team protested after the SAE scandal. And they brought the team back from the depths of a loss to arch-rival Texas last season.

“Last year I think we had some special guys and a special team,” senior linebacker Jordan Evans said.

But now, all are gone.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez left early for the NFL. Center Ty Darlington, linebacker Eric Striker, receiver Sterling Shepard and defensive lineman Charles Tapper graduated. Quarterback Trevor Knight transferred for playing time at Texas A&M.

The Sooners, now 1-2 and out of the College Football Playoff, are broken again. Now the question becomes, who will help put them back together?

“When you lose a bunch of guys who have played for years here, you’re going to lose a lot of leadership,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “Right now, we need people to step up, but it’s hard when a lot of people don’t feel comfortable being vocal. But some people do, and they need to step up and be vocal. In my case, I have to be the most vocal on the team and maybe in the program.

“A lot of that’s on me.”

Oklahoma will get a small reprieve this week as it has its first bye week of the year. However, the Sooners will then travel to TCU Oct. 1 and then to Dallas for the Red River Rivalry against Texas the week after that.

Mayfield said he’s hoping to use the bye week to regroup.

“I think (the bye week) is good for us,” he said. “We can get back to the basics like I said earlier. Back to square one. We need to restart and go from the fundamentals on … we’re close in a lot of things but it’s the minor details that are kind of killing us right now.”

With a pair of talented teams on the horizon and a potential 1-4 record looming, the Sooners desperately need to fix its leadership problem — and do so quickly.

“You’ll just find out now who’s all-in,” Evans added. “Guys that are all-in will keep us together. Guys who want to sit there and become individuals, that’s when you’ll see a team fold.”

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