September 3, 2006

OU season opener shows promise to come

No one who covers OU sports for a living attempts to be as objective I do. Well, if I was really objective, I'd have to consider the fact that there are others who are more objective than I am.

So maybe that's not accurate. But I try desperately to live up to that standard.

I watched the game from the press box, I talked to players and coaches following the Sooners 24-17 victory over UAB.

When openers like this happen, I try and stay away from our message boards. I don't want my opinion to be colored by any panic I might find inside those crimson-colored links on the Crimson Corner.

I want my opinion to be unfettered. Instead of leaving Memorial Stadium with my best friend, talking about the game, breaking it down and feeling a bit uneasy about such a close victory over such a mediocre team, I go into an interview room and talk to players and coaches.

That makes it easier for me to digest what I saw on Owen Field last night.

You find out what happened on certain plays, what went wrong and what could have changed to make things better.

Why didn't AD run the ball more in the first half? Some fans can just say, 'Well, the coaches just didn't know what they were doing!'

But I talked to those coaches, I got an explanation.

My take after talking to Kevin Wilson on Saturday night is that they had a plan to run the ball more, but the UAB defense was overloaded in such a way, their best option was to throw the ball.

And when Wilson made the point that the offense was moving the ball really well behind Paul Thompson in the first half, I couldn't disagree. Because they were!

After Wilson and his staff looked over things at halftime, they realized they could get Peterson on the edges of the defense by running the ball. They did and he ran six consecutive times to start the second half. It resulted in a touchdown.

It seemed the offense was building toward something much bigger in game one. But the defense I've been bragging on the entire offseason, along with fans, Bob Stoops, Brent Venables and Bobby Jack Wright, left us very disappointed.

Who knew D.J. Wolfe was going to provide us with some Eric Bassey-like flashbacks during the second half of the game?

Who knew Rufus Alexander and Larry Birdine would look like tackling dummies instead of football players when the lights came on?

The Sooners gave you plenty of things to curse about if you were sitting in the stands or watching at home on your television.

But this team also gave you hope. It was a victory which should be considered too close for comfort.

It was the kind of game where the biggest name during the offseason, Jermaine Gresham, had one of the biggest gaffs (he fumbled over his only reception to a UAB defender).

Even Peterson jumped into the fray and fumbled.

It was a game where Paul Thompson completed a pass to Joe Jon Finley as he was falling down. The play resulted in a first-down. And afterwards, Thompson said that was the biggest play of the game for his confidence.

It was a game where the Sooners drove the length of the field in about 19 seconds just before the half. Only to watch Thompson throw an interception and kill a go-ahead score.

It was the unthinkable. It was a game where the defense kept letting the offense down. It was the exact opposite of what we expected heading into the season.

It was a game of success and setbacks. It was a season opener.

But it wasn't a loss to TCU. And it wasn't anyone's worst fears realized. It wasn't Paul Thompson struggling to move an OU offense which seemed to have weapons all over the field.

It was an offense that utilized the talent of Peterson to its fullest during the second half. It was an offense that finally made the tight end a bigger part of the gameplan. It was an offense that showed big-play potential.

It was an offense that featured a quarterback who made some poor throws under pressure, but Thompson made very few bad decisions.

In short, it was an offense which showed solid promise.

Poor tackling? If that's the biggest worry of the Sooner defense, fans should feel some comfort. There were two glaring problems on defense. The interior of the front four and the play of Wolfe.

For some reason Wolfe went from the playground bully to the one guy everyone wanted to pick on.

We saw the return of special teams, but we also saw the return of the penalty flag.

Not everything was great in game one, but not everything was bad either.

Did anyone notice how special the Sooners could become at special teams once again?

Give me a choice between the start of the 2005 season and the start of the 2006 season and it's no contest.

And I'm not saying this team is ready to take on Oregon in Autzen Stadium. It's not. Heck, it may never be.

But I did whistle a little tune as I walked back to my car from the post-game interview room in the halls of the Barry Switzer Center.

And I realized that it's just no fun to fret over the negative stuff we saw on Saturday. This wasn't a team with a lot of problems on offense, other than sloppy play, fumbles and a couple of picks.

And this isn't a defense that will continue to miss tackles like that the rest of the season. And if people don't stop picking on Wolfe next week, there are a couple of bullies in the wings in Lendy Holmes and Marcus Walker who are waiting for a fight after school

It makes no sense for the Sooner nation to implode now. What happened at the beginning of last month when Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team, that was implosion material.

In my opinion, Saturday night was a step in the right direction. A step back toward fixing things in the Oklahoma football program.

Thompson can be a playmaking quarterback. The offensive line can block. Peterson is still something special to watch.

And don't compare what you saw on Saturday to what happened in places like Austin, Lincoln and Arkansas. Compare what you saw on Saturday to what happened on Owen Field a year ago. Compare what you saw to the circus surrounding this program a month ago.

It wasn't so bad in that context. It was still a football game with Adrian Peterson, one of the best players at any level of football. And as last season proved to us, things will only get better from here.

Think of it that way and you just might start whistling a tune too.



 

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