SAN ANTONIO — Brent Venables lingered near the northwest corner of the Alamodome for most of Wednesday evening, sporting a crimson OU shirt and a gray ball cap while carrying on with new strength and conditioning coordinator Jerry Schmidt and anyone else who approached.
Early in the fourth quarter, the stadium video board camera and ESPN broadcast crews zeroed in on Oklahoma’s new head coach, and the crowd of 59,121 erupted as he smiled and waved back. When interim head coach Bob Stoops and OU took the stage to receive their Valero Alamo Bowl trophy, Venables made himself scarce despite a brouhaha at midfield.
Stoops wouldn’t let him get away so easily, though, and ESPN’s Paul Carcaterra aided that by asking, “What do you want people to know about the future of Oklahoma football?” At his former boss’s beckoning, Venables waded through the crowd to the platform, and once there, Stoops removed his successor’s cap and replaced it with his own white visor.
“I’m gonna tell you right now, Sooner Land is not going anywhere,” Stoops, OU’s former coach from 1999-2016 and a newly minted College Football Hall of Famer, exclaimed as Venables approached. “We’re actually gonna keep climbing, I promise you.”
Bob Stoops on the Future of Oklahoma Football."I'll tell you right now, Sooner Land isn't going anywhere. We're actually gonna keep climbing.""They're getting a guy with passion, a guy that loves the game, a guy that loves his players, and a winner."#OUDNA | #BoomerSooner pic.twitter.com/ul3eSkDxO7— 𝕆𝕂𝕃𝔸ℍ𝕆𝕄𝔸-𝕍𝕊-𝕋ℍ𝔼 𝕎𝕆ℝ𝕃𝔻 (@soonergridiron) December 30, 2021
In a statement victory, the Stoops-led No. 16 Sooners clobbered No. 14 Oregon 47-32 on Wednesday night, capping a month of turmoil with 60 minutes of grit and determination completed by satisfaction and celebration.
OU’s (11-2, 7-2 Big 12) season was upended on Nov. 28 by head coach Lincoln Riley’s departure for the same position at USC, which forced Stoops into interim action and resulted in Venables’ hiring on Dec. 5. Yet, the Sooners rallied around Stoops to end 2021 with a scintillating rout of the Ducks (10-4, 7-3 Pac-12) that appropriately passed the hat to a promising future under Venables.
“Really proud of the way these guys competed and played here today, and really the work they put in for the last month getting ready for this,” Stoops said. “They really were invested and came together as a team through some adversity and realized they're representing the Sooners and played like Sooners. That's what we do.”
Oklahoma’s offense, led by interim coordinator and long-tenured assistant Cale Gundy, was electric from the jump, scoring on eight-straight possessions spanning the first quarter to fourth.
Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-27 passing before making his first media appearance of the season postgame.
Williams was aided by redshirt junior running back Kennedy Brooks, the offensive player of the game, who scampered for 142 yards and three scores. Junior running back Eric Gray contributed 82 yards with a receiving touchdown and wide receivers Drake Stoops, the interim coach’s son, and Marvin Mims both scored through the air, too.
“The offensive line dominated,” Brooks said. “It’s that simple, we couldn't have done it without them. They put in the work this week, and we knew for a fact we had to come in and win this game. We had to be the most physical team, and that's what we did.”
Defensively, OU struggled in the second half under interim coordinator Brian Odom when Oregon scored four straight touchdowns, but the Sooners were lights out in the first half.
Redshirt senior nickelback Justin Broiles notched an interception on the Ducks’ first drive and senior safety Pat Fields, the defensive player of the game, ended his football career on a high note with a team-high nine tackles.
“It just so happened that God chose to bless me with these accolades and this recognition. It's been an amazing journey,” Fields said. “I can't say thank you enough to everybody here at OU, like genuinely, from the bottom of my heart. I think I try to make that shown every single day in our interactions and conversations.”
While Fields is moving on, others have an opportunity to return next season and experience the dawn of a new era under Venables.
Like only he can, the former Sooners defensive coordinator from 1999-2011, who spent the past 10 seasons as one of the best assistants in the country at Clemson and won two national championships, emanated energy during his postgame stage appearance.
“All right Sooner nation, can’t wait to see y’all next season, man,” Venables said in a video tweeted by OU after the game. “You better be ready, the best is yet to come.”
But, Venables’ ability to guarantee an auspicious 2022 season largely rests on the decisions of key players. Brooks, who’s eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft, and Williams, who many fear might transfer, were both asked about their future after the game, but provided nothing definitive.
Stoops, who has accepted the moniker of “program guy” since Riley left and added to his program record win total with No. 191 on Wednesday, invigorated Oklahoma fans anew with his assertions that players, not coaches, are the embodiment of OU football.
However, Stoops added that no one person is bigger than the program, which means that while a 2022 return, particularly by Williams, would benefit the Sooners, they won’t be ruled by it. Venables has given every indication, though, that he anticipates Williams will stay in Norman.
Hopefully with the star signal caller in tow, Venables will look to helm a suffocating defense and a prolific offense under new coordinators Ted Roof and Jeff Lebby next season. Schmidt, or “Schmitty,” as he’s known by the players he strengthened in his previous stop at OU, will be back to mold Venables’ squad into shape.
Ultimately, the inspiring victory Venables observed against Oregon bodes well for next year. OU fell short of a seventh straight Big 12 championship and its College Football Playoff aspirations this fall, but may not be out of the hunt for long.
“This game, I really believe, segues right into next year, that we aren’t going to miss a beat,” Stoops said. “This program is going to continue to move forward in a positive way and will not be going anywhere. We're going to be year in and year out a top five, top 10 team, and will be competing for national championships for years to come with Coach Venables. Really proud to have him up there with me at the end of the celebration tonight.”