Late in the first half of the 2003 BCS National Championship between Oklahoma and LSU in January of 2004, I observed a bizarre scene unfolding on the Sooners sideline from my perch high above the field in the endzone mezzanine section of the Louisiana SuperDome.
As play was halted for a timeout with OU trailing LSU 14-7 in a defensive slugfest, I focused my binoculars on the Sooners sideline to see what Bob Stoops and Brent Venables would come up with to slow the Tigers offense.
And what to my surprise did I observe behind the Sooner bench that would cause a doubletake to clean my binocular lenses?
An animated, agitated and emotional Mike Stoops arguing with the SuperDome usher to allow him to enter the playing field from his lower level stadium seats.
I am not really sure the usher had much of a chance with Stoops.
At any rate, a quick leap over the gate railing and voila'! Mike Stoops was now on the Oklahoma sidelines. What he did next was virtually unheard of in a national championship football game.
For a fleeting moment, Mike Stoops forgot he was now the head football coach of the University of Arizona Wildcats and reverted back a few weeks as his baby brother's defensive coordinator at the University of Oklahoma.
The problem with Stoops flashback was that OU already had a new defensive coordinator: Brent Venables. And he was on the field trying to do his job.
Venables had assembled his linebackers in one huddle on the sidelines going over schemes and instructions while the head football coach Bob Stoops had the defensive secondary a few feet away barking instructions to those players.
Incredibly, Mike Stoops in street clothes consisting of a navy blazer and khaki slacks pushed his way into the Venables huddle, grabbed a headset from one of the assistant coaches, basically pushed Venables aside and started screaming at the players!
Oh, and by the way. After he was finished barking at the players he started barking at the game officials on the field!
I am quite certain that it was some type of NCAA violation to have a person unaffiliated with a team come out of the stands and enter the playing field for a team and begin coaching during a game. I am pretty damn sure that a head coach for another school could not coach another team during a game!
But that was what Mike Stoops was doing right in the middle of a television timeout in the national championship game in New Orleans.
Now, to give Stoops some slack, it was his former team that he was watching unravel right before his eyes. The team that just a few weeks earlier was undefeated and headed to the Big 12 championship game in Kansas City against Kansas State.
Stoops had just accepted the head coaching position at Arizona only to see his former mentor Bill Snyder's #10 Kansas State Wildcats dismantle his vaunted #3 Sooners defense 35-7.
Fortunately, Oklahoma had enough BCS style points to qualify for the National Championship game versus LSU without Stoops, anyway.
However, what Stoops was seeing on the SuperDome field had caused him to snap and revert to this Youngstown, Ohio brotherly instincts and hop the rail to come to the rescue of his Big Brother Bob.
Obviously, in the heat of the moment, he had lost whatever respect he had for Brent Venables and his behavior was not only out of line but probably could have cost Oklahoma a sideline misconduct penalty for outside interference (if such a penalty existed!)
Whatever Stoops imparted to the defense didn't help much.
An LSU lineman picked off a Jason White interception early in the third quarter and returned it for a touchdown and an insurmountable 21-7 lead. The Sooners would rally but fall short 21-14.
Fast Forward to 2013
I find this memory interesting as Mike Stoops enters Bedlam week having replaced Brent Venables as the Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator coming off the worst defensive performance in the 117-year history of the University of Oklahoma football program!
Stoops' 4-man front and 7-defensive back scheme was dismantled by former OSU Offensive Coordinator Dana Holgerson's West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday night.
The Mountaineers totalled 778 total yards on offense, 458 rushing yards, and 344 rushing yards by a converted slot back Tavon Austin!
For whatever reason, lack of imagination, coaching techniques or failure to have a back up plan, Mike Stoops stubbornly stayed in this base defense most of the second half.
The result: he helplessly watched from the sidelines as West Virginia erased a 31-17 Sooners halftime lead and found himself facing a 49-44 deficit with a little over two minutes remaining.
Fortunately, for Mike Stoops, Landry Jones called an audible on fourth and three with 24-seconds remaining and threw a touchdown pass to Kenny Stills to pull the Sooners back in front 50-49 to save his ass.
Only a hail mary pass from Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith that was batted down at the Sooners goal line as time expired allowed the Sooners to escape Morgantown with a victory.
Why Does All This Matter?
The reason all this matters is because it was only a year ago that Brent Venables was basically run out of Norman on a rail a victim of a fickle fan base who had tired of his unreliable defensive schemes the past 13 years.
Sooners lose to Texas Tech at home ending their 39-game home winning streak? Blame Brent Venables.
Sooners lose three weeks later 45-38 to Baylor in Waco on a last second 50-yard bullet from eventual Heisman Trophy winner RGIII? Blame Brent Venables.
And, the coup de grace, lose 44-10 in Stillwater where the defensive scheme did not allow the talented tandem of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon to find the end zone? Blame Brent Venables.
So you can see why Mike Stoops' hiring was so important to the Sooner nation.
Little brother was being brought home after a failed head coaching stint in the desert to save Big Brother Bob's legacy by instilling the pre-2003 Sooner smashmouth defense.
You know. The one that shut out Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles offense 13-2 in the 2000 National Championship game in Miami.
The one that sent Teddy Lehman, Rocky Calmus, Roy Williams, Torrance Marshall, Tommie Harris, Brandon Everage and Derrick Straight straight from Norman to the NFL.
The problem with bringing back Mike Stoops is that he was Co-Defensive Coordinator with Brent Venables for 5 years and Venables was basically using the same schemes he and Stoops ran without Stoops' players the past 8 years!
Granted, by all accounts, Oklahoma's defense has improved in 2012.
However, as improved as the Sooners defense has been this year, Mike Stoops has proven that no remedy exists for today's up-tempo, spread offenses run by coaches that populate the 2012 Big 12 Conference.
The three-game offensive gauntlet of Baylor (ranked #5 nationally), West Virginia (ranked #9 nationally,) and OSU (ranked #2 nationally,) is one game away from being completed.
Oklahoma 42 Baylor 34.
Oklahoma 50 West Virginia 49.
Oklahoma vs. OSU?
It doesn't take a defensive genius to know that Mike Stoops defense has been torched by Baylor and West Virginia the past two weeks.
Granted, the Sooners won both games but how comfortable do you think the Sooner Nation is with this defense entering Saturday's Bedlam game against Mike Gundy's high-flying, 3rd ranked offensive scoring, Cowboys "plug and play" quarterback system?
If you've seen the big smile coming from Stillwater this week, you know that there is reason to feel queasy in Norman.
What To Do Saturday Afternoon?
So what exactly does Mike Stoops do against OSU Saturday afternoon?
Does he remain with the 4-man front, 7-defensive back scheme that has been torched up the middle by a Baylor running attack and a West Virginia converted wide receiver?
Or does he do something he stubbornly refused to do Saturday and adjust his scheme?
Head Coach Bob Stoops admitted this week the Sooners defense basically stunk Saturday night. But he didn't exactly endorse wholesale changes as well when he said this about making adjustments mid-stream:
"Tough to ditch everything you've practiced all week."
Making in-game adjustments is what the Head Football coach and Defensive Coordinator get paid over $5 million a year to do during a game!
Anyone watch the first half of the Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks game earlier this year?
Seattle came out blazing and made Aarron Rodgers look like a junior high quarterback with blitzes, stunts and a defensive scheme that rendered the high-powered Packers offense futile.
What did Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy do at halftime?
He made an adjustment and began running the ball down the blitzing Seahawks' throat and stopped the Seattle onslaught.
Same thing applies here to the Stoops brothers.
We know Bob Stoops loves his mano-y-mano, man-to-man coverage at cornerback. He loves to play with four down lineman and line up and see if the other team can beat him.
Last week West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson called Stoops scheme a "Cat" defense. You know, "I got that cat, you got that cat!" Just like on the playground. Put your best player on their best player and see who's better.
You can only run this kind of scheme if you have superior players at cornerback with catlike reflexes, tenacious man coverage skills and speed.
Fortunately, Oklahoma has a pair of these "cats" in Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin. They're two of the best cover corners in college football. They will both play on Sundays.
But the problem with the Sooners defense isn't with Hurst and Colvin.
The problem lies in the middle and therein lies the rub.
Saturday Afternoon's Game Plan
Admittedly, I'm no defensive genius.
And, I don't have a crystal ball either.
However, I have played my share of ball on both sides of the line and have watched an awful lot of football in my 50 years.
And, one thing I know is that football is a war. As Bud Wilkinson famously said, "Football, in its purest form, remains a physical fight. As in any fight, if you don't want to fight, it's impossible to win."
And war consists of strategy.
So what can the brothers Stoops do to Mike Gundy Saturday to stop the bleeding we witnessed in Morgantown Saturday night?
One only has to look to the former OSU Offensive Coordinator Dana Holgerson and his comments following the 2010 Bedlam matchup:
"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.
A 3-man front for Mike Stoops? Can he force himself to borrow a page from Brent Venables?
But what does he do with the other 8 players?
If you consider the base secondary players, Hurst, Colvin, Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris, all will remain intact, what does that leave you with?
Anyone remember what happened last year when Brent Venables faced Weeden and Blackmon?
Does 44-10 sound familiar? Do you still see Tom Wort and Travis Lewis trailing the OSU wide receivers flailing to catch them?
Do you remember OSU running backs gashing the Sooners for 250 yards on the ground?
Think OSU still has the horses upfront to inflict similar damage on the ground with Joseph Randle?
So what does Mike Stoops do?
I think he basically has two choices:
1) Stubbornly stick with the same base defense that Baylor and West Virginia torched and pray Landry Jones and the offense can outscore OSU. After all, as the head coach said this week, it's the defensive scheme they have been practicing all year.
2) Implement a 5-man front with 2 linebackers and see what happens.
A good way to stop a running game is to fill the line gaps with bodies. Big bodies.
Sooners have some of those in Seniors Jamarkus McFarland, Stacey McGee, Casey Walker and David King.
The problem is that this is the same cast of characters who have been torched the past two weeks.
And there is not much depth behind them to rotate in fresh bodies.
Tom Wort and Corey Nelson are very talented linebackers at stopping the run. However, they are not so great in coverage against a high-powered spread offense like the one OSU runs.
Which is why Stoops has decided to take them off the field in passing situations and replace them with a 7-defensive back formation.
Oh, you could move Tony Jefferson from Free Safety and put him 3-yards off the ball as basically a hybrid linebacker but then just remember who is left mining the deep third? Javon Harris.
And, anyone who thinks Javon Harris can do the job back there just flashback to Baylor and Texas Tech last year.
As Barry Switzer used to famously say, "Coaches don't make plays, players make plays!" or something to this effect. Oklahoma has to rely on players Saturday to make plays.
Bob Stoops said the Sooners missed 20 tackles Saturday night. That's an awful lot of missed tackles.
Credit Tavon Austin for some of those misses. But also ask the Sooners to step up and make a play Saturday night regardless of the scheme.
I said earlier this year that this might be the most talented team Bob Stoops has fielded in his 14 years in Norman.
An awfully young bunch, with transfers mixed in at key positions, but very talented.
There are 20 seniors, including a half a dozen or more on defense, who will play their final home game as Sooners Saturday.
Maybe it's time to light a fire in their ass and get them motivated to play the game of their careers?
Anyone out there think we've seen the best of Jamarkus McFarland, R.J. Washington, Stacey McGee, Casey Walker or David King?
Fire em' up and get em' motivated.
How about a couple of new players who haven't been seen or heard from this year?
Geneo Grissom? Torea Peterson?
Can they be inserted in key positions and turned loose on OSU's "plug and play" quarterback system?
What about Frank Shannon, Rashod Favors, Jordan Phillips?
Put them in and turn them loose.
What say you this week Mike Stoops:
"So we will see if we can make the adjustments and improvements but really just concentrate on those issues we have."
Oklahoma has held OSU to 125 yards passing the last 6 visits to Norman and has outscored the Cowboys by an average of 42.5 to 10 in the last four home wins, as well.
Guess who was the Defensive Coordinator for three of those visits? Brent Venables.
Defensive schemes come and go with varied success.
At the end of the day, players have to make plays.
Oklahoma has a ton of talented players. Some have not played to their potential this year.
Some haven't been given a chance.
Saturday afternoon it's time to let these horses loose and see what damage they can do to the Cowboys offense.
Or, else, let's just bring Brent Venables back.