Sunday, September 18, 2011

Columbus Day--September 24, 1977

Columbus Day. The universal holiday that celebrates the arrival of Italian-explorer Christopher Columbus and his historic discovery of the Americas.

However, for Oklahoma fans, Columbus Day has a completely different meaning. It's the day legendary Ohio State Head Football Coach Woody Hayes discovered the Sooners!

The Stage is Set

September 24, 1977. Ohio Memorial Stadium. The Horseshoe. Legendary Coach Woody Hayes. Twenty-seven years as head coach of The Ohio State Buckeyes. Tradition. Linebacker-U. Seven-time Big 10 Champions and 5-time co-champions. Three National Championships in 1954, 57' and 1968. Four of last 5 Rose Bowls. Top 10 finishes 8-straight years. Three yards and a cloud of dust. Blue-bloods of the college football world. The Establishment.

Enter a bunch of renegades from "upstart*" Oklahoma. Led by a young, brash, chain-smoking, outlaw-head coach named Barry Switzer. "Bootleggers' Boy." Unconventional Wishbone offense. Irreverent bandana-wearing quarterback. Mushroom-Afro-hair-wearing running back from Hooks, Texas. Back-to-back National Champions in 1974-75. Undisciplined. Probation-infected. Non-traditional offense. The Anti-Establishment.

*Oklahoma had won back-to-back National Championships in 1974 and 1975 for the school's 4th and 5th titles but Switzer was still a relatively new head coach (5th year compared to Woody Hayes 27th season) and compared to the already legendary Woody Hayes, these 1977 Sooners were relatively a young bunch and thus the "upstart" label.

Those are the adjectives that could have been used to describe both programs prior to this game. The establishment versus the new world order. Vintage college football match-up. ABC television game of the week. Two years before the birth of ESPN. Old-school Keith Jackson called the game with former Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian.

Oklahoma would bring its' high-powered Wishbone offense into Columbus for the first meeting ever between two historic football powers: Ohio State and Oklahoma. The Sooners came of age in the 1950's under legendary head coach Bud Wilkinson. Three National Championships in 1950, 55' & 56'. Ohio State came of age in the 1950's as well under legendary head coach Woody Hayes. Bookend National Championships around the Sooners titles in 1954, 57' and another one in 1968.

Woody the old-school, task-masker versus Barry the new world order swashbuckler. Ohio State was ranked #4 in the country. Oklahoma was ranked #3. Ohio State was playing a rare non-conference Big 10 game against a Big 8 team in September. The largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history: 88,000. As heavyweight of a match-up as could be found in college football in 1977.

Ali vs. Frazier

Oklahoma came out fast and scored early to take a 20-0 lead early into the second quarter. Elvis Peacock and Billy Sims both scored highlight reel touchdowns. ABC switched the regionally-televised game to other regional coverage. However, the Ohio State defense responded and stuffed the Sooners and the Buckeyes offense, aided by a slew of Sooner fumbles, scored 28 points to take a 28-20 lead with minutes remaining. After Oklahoma missed a two-point conversion to tie the game with 1:29 remaining, the Sooners recovered the ensuing onside kick. And, after moving the ball to the Ohio State 24 yard line the Sooners set-up a 41-yard game-winning field goal attempt with :06-seconds remaining. The kicker was a German soccer player from Fort Worth, Texas named Uwe Von Schamman.

The "Kick"

Woody Hayes tried to ice the young, inexperienced kicker and his freshman snapper named Mark Lucky by calling timeout. Von Schamman responded by taking his helmet off and leading the Ohio State crowd in their chant of "block that kick."

In what is simply known now as "The Kick," Von Schamman calmly kicked the ball straight-through the uprights and the Sooners upset the Buckeyes 29-28. Instant ESPN "Classic" today.

A frustrated Woody Hayes is shown on national television punching an Oklahoma assistant after the game. An ominous precursor to his infamous punch of a Clemson player a year later in the Gator Bowl that led to his early forced-retirement.

Historic Aftermath

The Sooners would finish 10-1, have a shot at a 6th National Championship after their sixth-consecutive Big 8 Championship and wound up back in the Orange Bowl. A shocking loss to Arkansas 31-6 resulted in a 10-2 record. Ohio State would finish 9-2and another Big 10 co-championship tying with Michigan. The Buckeyes would lose in the Sugar Bowl to Alabama 35-6 and finish 9-3.

Although, Oklahoma and Ohio State would play again in Norman in 1983, with the Buckeyes winning 24-14, both teams would not find National Championship success again until years later: OU in 1985 and 2000. Ohio State in 2002.

However, for fans across the country, especially Sooner fans, these two will be remembered for their historic first-ever meeting as Columbus Day: The day Woody Hayes discovered the Sooners!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Bob We Trust

A few days prior to the 2000 BCS National Championship game in Miami between Oklahoma and Florida State, I was driving home from work one night listening to local Dallas/Fort Worth sportstalk host Chuck Cooperstein on WBAP-820 AM.

Chuck was going through his analysis of the upcoming game and asked himself a question with a one word answer he confidently predicted: "One reason why Florida State wins this game? talent!"

Cooperstein went on to tell his listeners how much talent Bobby Bowden had assembled in Tallahassee and how the Seminoles were bigger, faster and stronger than the team that second year coach Bob Stoops had assembled in Norman.

I laughed then and even more now 11 years later because as Oklahoma proved that night, Chuck, Bobby and the Seminoles were in for a rude awakening in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners beat Florida State 13-2.

As that night proved, as so many more games have proved, Oklahoma has a secret weapon in their head coach that Sooner opponents should never overlook: Bob Stoops.

"Big Game Bob"

Everyone is familiar with the Big Game Bob moniker that the 2000 national championship game in Miami earned Bob Stoops that night.

His underdog Sooners would put on the most dominating defensive performance in national championship game history by absolutely stuffing the high-powered, defending BCS National Champions Florida State offense.

Led by Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, who led the nation in passing with 4,167 yards, playing in their third straight BCS National Championship game and featuring 9players who would go on to be drafted in the 2001 NFL draft, the Seminoles were shut out by the no-name Sooners. The only points Florida State scored that night were on an intentional safety by Oklahoma late in the game to preserve poor field position.

The Big Game Bob reputation was further cemented in years to come with dramatic if not impressive wins over Alabama, Nebraska, Texas A & M and five straight against top rival Texas in the Red River Rivalry. Many of the games involved play calling gambles by Stoops that paid off. Such as the fake punt against Alabama and fourth down conversions deep in your own territory late in games against Texas A & M to run out the clock. Then there were the 63-14 and 65-13 routs of Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns in 2000 and 2003 and a 12-0 shutout against Texas' Vince Young in 2004. Back-to-back undefeated regular seasons in 2003 and 2004 cemented the reputation of the young Sooner head coach.

But then reality and law of averages set in. Back-to-back losses in the BCS National Championship games in 2003 against LSU and 2004 against USC caused a stir that Big Game Bob had lost his touch. Then throw in a disastrous 2005 opening loss to TCU at home and three more losses and a 7-4 regular season. A Holiday Bowl win over Oregon did little to satisfy the critics. Then, Oklahoma would lose a one point game in Eugene, Oregon in a rematch with the Ducks. Oklahoma actually recovered the expected onside kick that incredibly the Pac 10 official gave to Oregon. The Ducks would score and beat OU.

The Sooners recovered and ran off 8 straight games with a converted wide receiver at quarterback and went on to the BCS Fiesta Bowl. However, against little-known Boise State and two of the best-executed trick plays ever, the Sooners would lose a heartbreaker in overtime, 43-42. Follow that loss with another 10-2 season, a second consecutive Big 12 Championship and another Fiesta Bowl game against lightly-regarded Big East Champion West Virginia. With aspiring freshman phenom Sam Bradford at quarterback, the Sooners were routed 48-28 by a more committed, inspired and faster Mountaineer team. Then the Sooners go 12-1, a third consecutive Big 12 Championship and a third shot in six years in another BCS National Championship. After leading briefly, the Sooners would lose to Tim Tebow and Florida 24-14. Hardly anything to be ashamed of in the Sooner Nation.

So after 6 of 9 Big 12 Championships, one National Championship in four BCS National Championship games in 9 years, 7 BCS bowl games, an overall record of 109-24 including a 52-2 home record, Big Game Bob had lost his winning ways? Are you kidding me? Most schools would be absolutely giddy over a head football coach with such a resume. However, for some reason, the national media put the label of "can't win the big one" on Big Game Bob and it stuck.

Fast Forward to 2011

This week Oklahoma travels to Tallahassee to face the #5 ranked Florida State Seminoles. The same Florida State the Sooners steamrolled last year in Norman 47-17. A game that wasn't as close as the final score.

One of the most anticipated matchups of the young 2011 season will be the featured ESPN GameDay game of the weekend and a nationally-televised audience.

The Sooners are coming of a 12-2 season that saw a 7th Big 12 Championship, a brief spot atop the BCS rankings and an end to the BCS Bowl Game schneid with a convincing 48-20 victory over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.

Big Game Bob Is Back

So now with a 129-31 record, including a 73-2 home record, 7 of 11 Big 12 Championships, a convincing opening night victory and a #1 ranking, the Sooners head into Doak Campbell Stadium full of confidence, some might say arrogance, and sights squarely set on an 8th National Championship.

Here are 5 reasons why Big Game Bob will have the Sooner Nation smiling on Saturday night:

Reason #1--Bob Stoops

The main reason the Sooners will win Saturday night is Bob Stoops.

No other coach in college football has as an impressive resume preparing his team for success in big games. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer might have two national championships but they don't win more big games consistently than Bob Stoops.

Stoops has consistently prepared the Sooners for big game success. Seven of 10 Big 12Championship games. Seven of 12 victories over Texas. Six bowl victories including 4 BCS bowl games.

You only have to look at last season to see Big Game Bob is truly alive and well. Facing an explosive Oklahoma State offense in Stillwater, the Sooners outscored OSU 47-41. Although not a defensive gem by any means, listen to what West Virginia Head Coach and former OSU offensive coordinator Dana Holgersen said in August in the Charleston Gazette-Mail as reported in the Tulsa World about Bob Stoops:

"Last year when we played Oklahoma, you talk about a shock. I've known Brent Venables and Bob Stoops for 11 years and played against them for nine. They've been a traditional four-down front team for 10 years. And I watched some tape and said, 'Yeah, that's the same stuff they've been doing for a long time. They're four down. They're a zone blitz team. Every now and then they'll bring a safety down or bring everybody down and play man. They came out against us in a three-down front for the first time in their entire career at Oklahoma. That's when you have to adjust. It took us about a quarter to adjust."

OSU had the ball four times in the first quarter against Oklahoma. They scored 3 points. OU took a 7-3 lead and never trailed before winning.

The Sooners would go on to beat Nebraska 23-20 in the Big 12 Championship game after spotting Nebraska a 17-0 lead.

Yes, Big Game Bob lives and he'll have the Sooners prepared for Saturday night's showdown.

Reason #2--Two Week Advantage Bob

Oklahoma has had two weeks to prepare for a regular season game 15 times in Bob Stoops career since 2000. It is no coincidence that the Sooners are 13-2 during that timeframe and 13-0 at home.

Included in that time span are games against top 25 ranked teams six times. Oklahoma is 5-1 in those games including a 31-14 win against #1 ranked Nebraska in 2000 that positioned the Sooners to win the program's 7th national title.

The Sooners have outscored those teams 529 to 267 for an average score of 35 to 17.

Give Bob Stoops a week to prepare and the Sooners are hard to beat. Give him two weeks and the Sooners are virtually unbeatable.

Reason #3--Landry Jones & Ryan Broyles

The Sooners are led by Heisman Trophy hopefuls Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles on offense.

No other pass catching combination in college football has had more success statistically.

Jones and Broyles picked right up where they left off in 2010 against Tulsa in the season opener two weeks ago. Jones was 35 of 47 for 375 yards and one touchdown. Broyles had 14 catches for 158 yards and one touchdown.

Expect more of the same Saturday night.

Reason #4--Defense

The Oklahoma defense lived up to the pre-season hype delivering an impressive 47-14 win over Tulsa opening night on September 3.

Tulsa won 10 games in 2010, had road victories over Notre Dame in South Bend and Hawaii in a bowl game and led the nation in offense 2 of the past 4 seasons including a top #5 ranking last year. Quarterback G.J. Kinne is a big 6'2", 234 pound dual run/pass threat who threw for over 3,600 yards and also led the school in rushing in 2010.

Kinne was rendered one dimensional and completed 18-33 passes for 271 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Sounds familiar? Florida State is very similar to Tulsa offensively and has a dual-threat quarterback E.J. Manuel who is 6'5" and 245 pounds.

Brent Venables hopes to use his talented, fast and aggressive defense to bottle up E.J. Manuel and make him one-dimensional just like they did to Christian Ponder the first round, #12 NFL draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings. Ponder was 11 of 28 for 113 yards with 2 interceptions before being replaced by Manuel. He completed less than half of his passes for the first time since 2008.

Manuel didn't fare much better. He was constantly harrassed, sacked and confused by the Oklahoma defense taking over for Ponder in the third quarter after back-to-back interceptions. He completed 4 of 8 passes for 109 yards.

Although Manuel did throw a 47-yard touchdown on the games last play, the OU regulars were already resting on the sideline.

Oklahoma has the athletes, coaches and aggressive style to pitch a repeat performance Saturday night.

Reason #5--Special Teams

Tress Way is one of the best punters in the nation. He consistently pins opposing teams deep in their own territory with his thunderous punts.

Jimmy Stevens is a very accurate field goal kicker within 40 yards. Patrick O'Hara handles the kick offs and field goal attempts beyond 40 yards.

Oklahoma was burned with kick off returns against Missouri, Texas A & M and OSU in 2010. Bob Stoops has consistently played his defensive starters on special teams. He stubbornly defends last years lapses on being out of position and not structural.

Let's hope he is right Saturday night. If so, the Sooners will keep the Seminoles offense pinned down all night with Way's leg and O'Hara's kick offs.


So there you have it. Big Game Bob never left and is as big as ever. He has had two weeks to prepare to have his Sooners primed and ready to defend their #1 ranking and will pull out all the stops to win Saturday night. Just like in 2000, he has the talent and this time the reputation to prove his mantra to Chuck Cooperstein and the nation.