Oklahoma-Texas rewind: Jump in front, fall behind, and win

    Baker Mayfield dons the victorious Golden Hat Trophy following Oklahoma's 29-24 win over Texas in Dallas on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special for SoonerSports.com

    Oct. 14, 2017

    For the third straight game, the Oklahoma football team pounced early on its opponent for an early lead, only to eventually end up trailing.

    This Saturday was the same, yet different, because it meant so much more. The opponent was Red River rival Texas and the Sooners needed a victory to keep alive their chance at making this year's College Football Playoff.

    • Against Baylor on Sept. 23, the Sooners led 28-10 and then fell behind 31-28 before managing to pull out a 49-41 victory in Waco.
    • Last week at home against Iowa State, OU led 24-10 before the 30½-point underdog Cyclones closed with a 28-7 run to post a stunning 38-31 victory that sent the Sooners plummeting from No. 3 in the polls to No. 12.

    On this overheated Saturday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl, OU jumped out to a 20-0 advantage against the unranked but surging Longhorns late in the second quarter, and once again surrendered the lead.

    Trailing 24-23 midway through the fourth quarter, the Sooners immediately responded with a 78-yard drive that required just three plays and 68 seconds and eventually resulted in a 29-24 victory before a sellout crowd of 93,552 in the 112th meeting of the series.

    The game-winner came on a 59-yard touchdown pass from OU senior quarterback Baker Mayfield to wide open junior tight end Mark Andrews down the right sideline with 6:53 remaining.

    "We felt like at that moment we needed a little bit of a spark," first-year Sooners coach Lincoln Riley explained afterward. "We took a chance and the guys executed it to perfection."

    Mayfield described the play succinctly: "Great protection. Great play call. It makes my job easy. He (Andrews) was wide open," he said.

    The victory keeps playoff hopes alive for the Sooners (5-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) after last week's stunning defeat, which snapped their nation-leading 14-game winning streak that dated back 385 days and their 17-game Big 12 winning streak that lasted 728 days.

    Mayfield said he was not focused on any potential CFP scenarios during the game-winning sequence, however. "It's a single focus," Mayfield said. "The thought of a college football playoff is not running through your head right there. It's about doing your job, winning that game and beating Texas. There was no other motivation besides doing our job in that moment."

    And for the first time in three games, credit finally was bestowed upon the OU defense afterward.

    With several players exhausted and frequently battling cramps, the Sooners defense sealed the win by stopping the Longhorns' final two drives. Temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees, the highest for an OU-Texas game since 1991 (93 degrees).

    "That was a hard-fought game," said Sooners senior defensive end/outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who finished with five quarterback hurries, one sack, one pass breakup and five tackles. "We swung until the very last second."

    The overriding theme for OU remains figuring out how to protect and extend its early leads.

     

    "There's going to be a lot of things that we can do better to continue to push those leads," Riley said. "We've been in that situation there for a few games in a row, but I loved our guys' fight. We fought all day, even when we didn't play our best ball, even when we had things go against us. I think we really took some steps forward as a team. We're going to play a lot better as this thing goes on. We're going to get a lot better as a team, but anytime you come out of here with a win, it's a special moment."

    Despite frequently being pressured by the Texas defense, Mayfield still completed 17 of 27 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. He has now thrown at least two touchdown passes in 19 consecutive games, extending his own Big 12 record.

    However, Mayfield's streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception ended at 200, breaking the previous school record of 198 set by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White in 2004. Saturday marked Mayfield's first interception since playing at West Virginia in the third-to-last game of the 2016 season.

    Mayfield, who grew up as a Sooners fan living in Austin, beat his hometown team for the second straight year, but nearly was knocked out of the game in the third quarter favoring his right arm after being hit hard on an incompletion.

    "You definitely don't want to come out," Mayfield said of leaving the game due to injury. "You'll fight through a little extra pain for this one. It was a mental decision for all of us. When you play Texas, it always takes it all out of you. You have to expect that in games like this. We talked about it as a team and made the decision last night how we were going to handle adversity and toughness like that."

    When the OU offense stepped onto the field after the team fell behind, its impact was instantaneous.

    "We approach every drive with the mentality to score," said Sooners All-American offensive tackle Orlando Brown. "Being in that situation, we understand the meaning of that drive for the game. We just approached it with the mentality we had to score. We've got a bunch of playmakers."

    Despite running 15 fewer plays, the Sooners outgained the Longhorns 518-428 in total yardage, averaging 7.7 yards per play to UT's 5.2.

    Andrews finished with four receptions for 104 yards. Sophomore receiver Marquise Brown added four catches for 73 yards and freshman receiver CeeDee Lamb had three receptions for 74 yards. Freshman running back Trey Sermon rushed 20 times for 96 yards and sophomore running back  Rodney Anderson carried 10 times for 48 yards, including a 15-yard rush in the second quarter that put OU ahead 17-0.

    Senior linebacker Emmanuel Beal led OU with seven tackles, while Okoronkwo, senior end D.J. Ward and sophomore lineman Amani Bledsoe all registered a sack. Okoronkwo has at least a half-sack in all six games and at least one full sack in five contests (6.0 on the year).

    The Sooners play at Kansas State next Saturday. Kickoff time and TV information will be announced Sunday.

    Continue reading...

    Baker Mayfield was Texas-born, but Sooner-bred

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Oct. 12, 2017

    Deep in the heart of Texas, in the same town where locals worship burnt orange, Baker Mayfield's bedroom was drenched in crimson and cream and the interlocking OU.

    "We certainly had plenty of it," Mayfield's mother, Gina, said of collecting Oklahoma Sooners paraphernalia in the family's hometown of Austin, which is the home of the University of Texas. "Baker's room in particular was decked out in OU pillow cases, chairs, blankets and jerseys." There also was a football sent by former Sooners receiver Tinker Owens.

    Not surprisingly, the same brash quarterback who confidently has led the Sooners the past three seasons walked fearlessly among Texas Longhorns supporters as a youngster while boldly draped in an OU T-shirt, shorts, sweatshirt, jersey or cap.

    Older brother Matt recalled him and his little brother wearing Sooners gear while posing for their elementary class pictures. "I always seemed to have something OU on," Baker recalled. "It was something fun to talk about with my friends."

    Baker would flash the upside-down Hook 'em Horns sign, even when he was too young to understand what the hand gesture meant. "Not the true meaning of it anyway," Baker said with a smile. "I thought it was all fun and games, but it means so much more than that."

    Stunned classmates would ask Baker how he possibly could side with the hometown's Red River rival. "They just wouldn't understand the reasons why," Baker said, shaking his head.

    "The local kids would always make comments," Gina said. "Baker and Matt endured that for quite a while."

    The Mayfield cars were adorned with OU window flags. Many who surrounded the family wearing burnt orange actually were friends. Chris Petrucelli, the husband of one of Gina's closest friends, used to be UT's soccer coach.

    "Our neighbors don't go out to the mailbox without wearing their orange," Gina said. "They bleed orange. They have boys Baker's age. That just fueled all of it."

    Baker got into arguments with schoolmates about the OU-Texas rivalry. "Oh, nothing out of the ordinary," Baker explained. "Just little kids being stupid, bickering back and forth. It was about bragging rights for the whole year until the next rematch."

    "We always, always loved OU," said Matt, who is five years older than Baker. "Even more so now with Baker there."

    Continue reading...

    It's Iowa State week, time for Dimitri Flowers to bloom

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Oct. 5, 2017

    In a routine game, Oklahoma senior fullback Dimitri Flowers continually will block opposing players and create opportunities for teammates. He also might catch an occasional pass or two. Whatever his duty, Flowers' effectiveness and timeliness are habitually impeccable.

    There has been nothing routine about Flowers whenever the Sooners face Iowa State, however.

    During his freshman season three years ago, Flowers gained all 14 of his career rushing yards to that point on an option pitch past the line of scrimmage from quarterback Trevor Knight at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. Despite the gain, Flowers was not credited with an official carry due to the nature of the play.

    On OU's first play from scrimmage against the Cyclones two years ago in Norman, Flowers hauled in a 75-yard touchdown on a reverse pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield. Flowers caught the ball near midfield and sprinted into the end zone untouched.

    In the Sooners' 34-24 victory at Iowa State last season, Flowers rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries (5.2-yard average) and added four receptions for 34 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown catch. His 22 rushes were the first of his career.

    Last year's stunning performance was particularly timely given OU was without starting running back Samaje Perine (injury) and leading rusher Joe Mixon (one-game suspension). Adding to the challenge was it came during a short week of preparation for a nationally televised Thursday night game on ESPN.

    "We didn't have a ton of prep time," recalled first-year OU head coach Lincoln Riley, who served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach the last two seasons. "We knew about Samaje's injury. We didn't find out we were not going to have Joe until maybe the day before the game. We really just pieced it together, honestly. I remember it was challenging just because taking Dimitri out of his normal world changes a lot of other parts, too. ... We had to push it together. Had we not had the experience that we've had together as a staff, it would have been a nightmare."

    Asked if there was any playful banter inside the huddle when he continued to grind out yardage (his longest rush was 13 yards) against the Cyclones, Flowers said, "No, but a lot of people didn't think I could do it. They were like, 'Wow, I didn't know you could do that.' Of course, I just had that smirk on my face."

    One of those non-believers was his own quarterback, who didn't think Flowers could do what he did with such little preparation at a different position.

    "I never would have imagined it going that smoothly," Mayfield admitted. "He's done a lot of things for us being able to react and he's such a smart player. I probably should have realized that could happen. He really took over the game. ... That's a lot of stuff to learn, but I think he already had a good idea just because of how smart he was."

    In three career games against the Cyclones, Flowers has 129 rushing yards, 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns. In his 40 other career games, he has 8 rushing yards, 481 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

    "It's crazy to think about because it's not like it was planned like that," Flowers said of consistently making his mark against Iowa State. "It's just something that kind of happens. It's pretty cool."

    Flowers' final showdown against the Cyclones (2-2, 0-1) comes Saturday at 11 a.m. when the No. 3-ranked Sooners (4-0, 1-0) welcome ISU to Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    Though his contributions rarely draw the spotlight because of the position Flowers plays, his value is undeniable. Flowers frequently is referred to as the team's "Swiss army knife," a moniker he cherishes.

    "I'm not just a fullback," Flowers said. "I feel I'm more of a hybrid, H-back type of guy. It kind of goes hand-in-hand. Technically, am I a fullback? Yes, but I think I can do a lot more than be just a fullback."

    When it comes to his competitiveness and determination, Flowers attributes these traits to his father, Erik, an Arizona State defensive end/linebacker and a first-round draft pick (26th overall) of the Buffalo Bills in 2000 who played five seasons in the NFL.

    Throw in Flowers' sense of humor and unselfishness and it's darn near impossible to not like the kid. These traits come from Flowers himself. "That's just how I am as a person," Flowers explained. "It just translates to everyone."

    Flowers no doubt has confidence in his abilities. The manner in which he playfully expresses this often leaves teammates and coaches laughing.

    In August, Flowers proudly proclaimed himself OU's second-best quarterback, just a skosh behind Mayfield, a three-time Heisman Trophy contender. If Flowers wasn't already busy starting at fullback, he said he'd like to be the Sooners' starting quarterback.

    Informed of this revelation during this week's media luncheon, a stunned Mayfield couldn't suppress his laughter.

    "Did he actually say that? He'd have to stop eating cake and desserts if he wanted to do that," Mayfield said of the 6-foot-2, 247-pound Flowers. "I'm not one who lacks confidence, but Dimitri is definitely not one who lacks that either."

    Mayfield said he heard stories of Flowers' athleticism from former OU teammates Trevor and Connor Knight, who played high school baseball against Flowers in San Antonio. "He's a good athlete, don't get me wrong," Mayfield said of Flowers. "I'm sure if he spent time and effort into playing quarterback, he would actually be pretty good, which is the sad part about that and I might actually have to worry about my job. Luckily, we have a place for him and he's catching the ball and on the receiving end of that."

    Would Flowers rather have 10 carries in a game or 10 catches?

    "Oooh, can I go five and five?" asked Flowers, who eventually chose having 10 catches.

    "He'll take just 10 touches with the ball," Mayfield said. "He loves to have the ball in his hands, which I can't blame him. He's good with it."

    This being Iowa State week, perhaps Flowers can continue to show his versatility with an opportunity to throw the rarely executed fullback option pass.

    Flowers smiled and said, "Hey, can't give away any of our secrets."

    Continue reading...

    Sooners survive Bear attack to keep winning streaks alive

    Oklahoma sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly puts the clamps on Baylor in the Sooners' 49-41 victory over the Bears on Saturday night.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Sept. 24, 2017

    Oklahoma's collection of various winning streaks remained intact Saturday night. “Bearly.”

    The winless Baylor Bears were four-touchdown underdogs at home, but continually clawed at the No. 3-ranked Sooners before eventually succumbing 49-41 at McLane Stadium.

    Throughout the week, OU head coach Lincoln Riley warned that Baylor was “getting better and better” and had key players returning, which might help explain why the Bears' had 523 yards of total offense while running 26 more plays than the Sooners.

    When his team was sluggish in the first half of the previous week's home victory over Tulane, Riley delivered a succinct post-game message: “All wins are hard.”

    Riley repeated the refrain after Saturday night's survival in Waco.

    “We're very, very excited about the win,” Riley said after becoming only the third OU head football coach (out of 22) to start his career 4-0. “That was probably the biggest message to our guys in the locker room. Winning's hard. You can't take it for granted. And we're damn sure not too good to appreciate it. We've got to do a lot of things better. We've got to coach better. We've got to play better on all three sides of the ball. We had some critical mistakes tonight that let that game get close. So we've got to do a lot better, but we will.”

    After going winless in non-conference play, and despite trailing 28-10 early in the second quarter, the determined Bears (0-4, 0-1) fought back to take a 31-28 lead late in the third quarter. The Sooners responded with a 21-0 run of their own to take a 49-31 advantage and eventually sealed the win by forcing a turnover on an Ogbo Okoronkwo sack with 1:24 remaining.

    “We hit a lot of big plays in the first quarter,” Riley explained of the Sooners needing just seven total plays to score their first three touchdowns while building a 21-7 lead. “I didn't do a very good job in the second quarter. I got a little impatient. Didn't put our guys in a great position. They made some adjustments defensively and it took me too long to catch up.”

    Several OU drives stalled with untimely penalties (10 for 105 yards), plus a fumble. “You've got to have perseverance,” Riley said. “You can't expect that every one is going to be a blowout. You're going to have tight games like that. This is a good conference.”

    The victory allowed the Sooners to keep several streaks alive:

    Continue reading...

    Oklahoma struggles, then scores 49 straight against Tulane

    Sophomore cornerback Parnell Motley, left, and linebacker Caleb Kelly celebrate a defensive stop in Saturday's 56-14 win over Tulane.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Sept. 16, 2007

    NORMAN – In the post-game huddle after last Saturday night's 31-16 triumph at No. 2-ranked Ohio State, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley instructed his team to put the historic victory behind them because there was much more work to do this season.

    Riley feared his team might battle a football hangover while preparing for its upcoming contest against Tulane, and he was right.

    Overcoming a sluggish start to the week and an even more sluggish start to the game, the No. 2-ranked Sooners (3-0) eventually regained their focus and posted a 56-14 victory over the Green Wave (1-2) on Saturday night at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The victory stretched the nation's longest active winning streak to 13 games, which is OU's longest since winning 14 straight in 2002-03.

    "Sure, you're concerned about a letdown," Riley said afterward. "You're concerned about how they'll approach the week. I thought, for the most part, our mentality was good. We weren't at our best early in the week and I thought we started to respond a little bit as the week went on as we continued to challenge them as coaches. So I think we're growing, but we've got to understand that you've got to put together complete weeks if you want to play complete games."

    At the outset, Tulane's option offense had its way with the Sooners defense, rolling up 151 yards rushing in its first 24 attempts (6.3 yards per carry). In the pass-crazed landscape of college football, preparing for a run-oriented attack in a one-week span presents some defensive challenges.

    "They do it 365 days a year," Riley said of the Green Wave running their option attack. "Our scout team does it for four days a year. It's hard, just the speed of it initially on the first series. When you don't stop it the first time, sometimes you start trying to do things on your own and that's when you really, really get in trouble and there was some of that certainly on the second drive."

    Continue reading...

    Ohio State win was fun, but Sooners still have work to do

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Sept. 11, 2017

    Oklahoma's 31-16 victory at No. 2-ranked Ohio State last Saturday figures to resonate throughout the rest of this season and beyond.

    Many of the Sooners' achievements were historic. There was a mile of milestones:

    • The largest crowd over to witness an OU football game (109,088) watched the Sooners erupt for 21 straight points in a span of less than eight minutes to hand Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer only his third home loss in his six seasons at the school.
    • It marked just the second time in school history OU beat a non-conference team ranked No. 1 or 2 in the Associated Press poll on the road. The previous time was in 1963 when the No. 3 Sooners beat No. 1 USC 17-12 in Bud Wilkinson's last year as head coach.
    • Quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 27 of 35 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns against one of the nation's premier defenses and is a Heisman Trophy contender for the third straight season. "We got beat by a good team, a very good team, and a quarterback that was dynamic," Meyer said afterward. "I thought our defense hung in there against, like I said, a very good player."
    • The Sooners were named the Football Writers Association of America's National Team of the Week and rolled up 490 total yards of offense (most by an Ohio State opponent in Columbus in five years) while handing the Buckeyes their largest margin of defeat at home since 1999. OU's 386 passing yards were the most by an OSU opponent at Ohio Stadium in 32 years.
    • The last time OU gave up fewer than 13 points to a Top-5 AP opponent was in 2004 in a 12-0 shutout over No. 5 Texas.
    • Lincoln Riley became the first Sooners head coach to defeat a Top-5 opponent in his debut season since Chuck Fairbanks beat No. 2 Tennessee at the Orange Bowl in 1970.
    • It was the Sooners' 12th straight true road win, tied for the third-longest streak in school history. OU also won 12 in a row on the road from Oct. 23, 1948 to Dec. 2, 1950.
    • The Sooners were able to avenge last year's 45-21 home loss to the Buckeyes on Sept. 17. OU hasn't lost since and owns the longest active FBS winning streak at 12 straight. The Sooners improved to 15-2 since 2009 against teams they lost to the previous season.

     

    Impressive as last Saturday night's grudge match victory was, Riley quickly turned the page. In fact, he did so immediately afterward inside his jubilant locker room.

    "I told them in there, 'We'll be disappointed if this is the highlight of our season,'" Riley said during his post-game interview session in the bowels of Ohio Stadium. "We've still got a long ways to go ... We've got to get a lot better. We've taken some positive steps. One of our early season goals was playing better early, period. But now our challenge will be to improve as we have the past two years here. Everybody's going to keep getting better and we've got to do the same."

    Riley reiterated this same attitude two days later at his weekly media luncheon as the now No. 2-ranked Sooners (2-0) prepare for Saturday's 5 p.m. home contest against Tulane (1-1).

    "We've won two games," Riley said with a shrug. "We appreciate it. We're happy about it, but there's so much more to go. We certainly didn't play perfect, by any stretch. We found a lot of things that we have to do better at as a team, but our mentality really was at a high level the whole night. We're happy that we won it, but now we've got to all move on. We've got a lot of ball left here."

    First-year OU assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill, who served as Riley's boss at Texas Tech and East Carolina, has been in college coaching since 1985 and constantly is tapping into the minds of players.

    McNeill frequently calls out "FIDO," which stands for "Forget It and Drive On."

    "Something tough happens, forget it, play (the) next play," McNeill explained last month. "Something good happens, forget it, play (the) next play. Yesterday's history. Tomorrow's a mystery. Make today a masterpiece. Once they grasp that, they'll be ready."

    The Sooners seem to have grasped McNeill's credo quite well. Riley agrees.

    Asked if he will continue to stress the importance of his players not dwelling on Saturday's unforgettable triumph, OU's head coach said, "If we're going to be the team we hope that we can be, it shouldn't be something I should have to address over and over. Our mindset should already be there. You have to be all-in each week. We were all-in as far as winning that game. Our guys really put it on the line all night, but you're only as good as your next performance."

    That next performance will come against the Green Wave, an American Athletic Conference program Riley faced as an assistant at East Carolina.

    The Sooners started last season 1-2 against non-conference opponents with a season-opening loss at Houston, a home victory over ULM and the home loss to Ohio State. This led to Riley stressing the importance of getting off to a good start this season.

    "This is still the start," Riley said of Saturday's game against Tulane. "The start for me is until we get to Big 12 play."

    That comes next Saturday at Baylor. This week, the focus is on Tulane.

    Drive on.

    Continue reading...

    No longer boxed in, Emmanuel Beal returns to Columbus

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Sept. 7, 2017

    A pint-sized Emmanuel Beal thought boxing might be his destiny while growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich.

    Beal was determined, energetic, tough and athletic, but he also was on the small side. Boxing was the best opportunity to hit somebody his own size, plus Beal could reap the tutelage of his uncle and older cousin, who both competed in Golden Gloves.

    Beal recalled he had to cut his workout short in the gym because he had a football scrimmage that same day. A fifth-grader at the time, Beal knew he had to choose between boxing and football. The fact Beal, OU's starting weakside linebacker, returned as the Sooners' leading tackler from last season proves he chose wisely.

    There have been a lifetime of decisions for Beal since his retirement from the sweet science, however.

    In the middle of seventh grade, though none of Beal’s siblings wanted to do so, his family moved from Michigan to Ohio. “That’s a point where you start building relationships with friends and people, then you just up and move,” Beal said. “None of my brothers and sisters wanted to leave, but it literally was for our best interests.”

    Beal’s first year of varsity football was his sophomore season in high school. “Physically, my coaches saw something there,” Beal said. “I guess I was good. Looking back, I guess I could say I was all right at it. I guess it was my way of seeing the ball. I just see the ball and go get it.”

    Beal’s performance in the classroom was not all right, however. Michigan State ended its recruitment of Beal when they looked at his grades. Torn what to do next, Beal decided to leave football and wound up working at a gas station and in a factory. “I spent a year outside of football,” Beal said. “Then I was like, ‘I don’t like working.’”

    Beal looked for a junior college located close to home. With no NJCAA programs in Ohio, Beal said his closest option was Lackawanna College, located 475 miles away in Scranton, Pa. “When I got accepted (as a student), I was there the next day as a walk-on (for football),” Beal said. “I just felt if you really want something, nobody can stop you from getting to where you need to go.”

    Beal didn’t physically work out during his one-year retirement, but his love of football never waned. “I thought about football every day,” Beal said. “I literally watched every game of college football and I was like, ‘Man, I can do that.’ It just drove me even more to get back into football.”

    Though he weighed shy of 200 pounds, Beal played defensive end his first season at Lackawanna and switched to outside linebacker the following year. Beal said the move “wasn’t that tough a change,” the primary difference being whether he took his stance with a hand in the dirt.

    Beal’s first major-college scholarship offer out of junior college came from Akron in Ohio. His first offer from a Power Five conference came from OU, although Beal admitted he was naïve about the Sooners. “I just knew they were good at football. That’s all I knew,” Beal said. “And when you’re in juco, whatever school you think you could play at – or whatever school that offers you – you just take it.”

    Thing is, OU initially didn’t have Beal in mind when studying players from Lackawanna. Sooners offensive lineman Ashton Julious and running back Marcelias Sutton also played for the Falcons.

    “We were actually looking at some other players on his team when he showed up on film,” OU inside linebacker coach Tim Kish said of Beal. “Very athletic, great speed off the edge. He was really more of an outside linebacker than he was a true inside linebacker. (We) couldn’t pass up that athleticism. On film, he showed us great instincts for playing on the defensive side of the ball. It was a no-brainer to us at that time to get involved with him, and thank goodness we did.”

    Beal played in all 13 games last season and started the final 10 after replacing injured Tay Evans. Beal finished with 81 total tackles, second only to fellow linebacker Jordan Evans, who is now with the NFL Cincinnati Bengals.

    Just like in his youth, Beal remains determined, energetic, tough and athletic. He also remains on the small side for the position he plays. Listed at 6-foot, 218 pounds, he has gained roughly 15 pounds since arriving at OU.

    “I’ve been hearing that my whole life,” Beal said of being undersized. “It’s like, ‘OK, so what’s new?’ I’m accustomed to playing against bigger people. It really wasn’t a problem to me. It was something I was used to. It just goes in one ear and out the other, honestly … I don’t care what people say. At the end of the day it’s football. Size really doesn’t matter in football. If you worry about size, then you’ve already lost.”

    Sooners All-American offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who goes 6-foot-8, 345 pounds, often collides with Beal in practice and there’s much respect on both sides. “The impact he made was immediate,” Brown said of Beal. “I think our coaches trust him a lot. The energy level and emotion that he plays with gets everybody going around him from a defensive standpoint or even an offensive standpoint. He’s really physical. He’s a lot stronger than he looks. He has a really good understanding for the game, too. He’s really quick, he’s really fast, which I think is really important. If you’re going to be an undersized guy, you’re going to have to be overly fast. As far as I know, he’s pretty much in the top tier in speed and athleticism for his position.”

    Beal said playing smart is his equalizer. He might have struggled in the classroom earlier in life, but being a student of football hasn’t been a problem. “I became smarter than what most people think,” Beal said. “When you are undersized, you’ve got to be smarter than a lot of other people. You’ve got to study two times harder than other people. You have to know where you have to be when the ball is snapped. I think that’s what got me here. I studied a lot. When I look back, it’s just amazing to me how everything has happened.”

    Kish has become close to Beal and respects the path he took before coming to Norman. “It’s to his credit to have that character and that drive and that willpower to want to do something really positive with his life and for his family,” Kish said of Beal. “He chose to go back to school, which we’re certainly glad he did.”

    How has Beal endured? “To me, it’s pretty simple,” Kish said. “It’s his drive. It’s his motivation. He’s been a team guy since he’s been here. He’s not real talkative at times, but when he does speak, people listen. When he first got here, the enthusiasm when he went out there had was second to none. He might as well have been a freshman coming in. He just tried to fit in and be a part of the team and help out any way he could. His drive was there. His motivation was there. It is an amazing journey.”

    Although this is Beal’s second and final season with the Sooners, he quickly became close to his new teammates. These benefits have been evident all week as the No. 5-ranked Sooners prepare for their showdown against No. 2-ranked Ohio State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday back in Beal’s hometown of Columbus.

    “Because he’s going home, we’re all going to play that much harder because that’s my brother and I want him to get a win in Columbus,” senior defensive end/linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said.

    In addition to Beal, junior offensive lineman Alex Dalton, freshman long snapper Kasey Kelleher, defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach Mike Stoops and Kish all hail from the Buckeye State. “I tell you, from our leaders to our scout team, everyone is dialed in on this game,” Beal said. “Not only are they doing it for me, they’re doing it for themselves, their families, the good of the program, the coaches and the staff.”

    “We always talk about those type of things,” OU senior strong safety Steven Parker said of teammates returning to their home areas. “We chat about it throughout the week, but there’s going to be a lot more chatter this week because of all those guys going back to Ohio.”

    Interestingly, Beal never cared about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry while growing up in Grand Rapids. All that changed when he relocated to Columbus, but it was never Beal’s dream to play for the Buckeyes. His family’s allegiance instead was for their old home state, not their new one.

    “I wouldn’t say ‘hate,’ but that’s when the dislike really came (toward Ohio State). That’s literally what happened,” Beal said with a chuckle. “An Ohio State fan will argue with you all day long.”

    Continue reading...

    Baker Mayfield spreads the wealth in season-opening rout

    Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 19 of 20 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's 56-7 season-opening win over UTEP.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Sept. 2, 2017

    Last month, Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield tweeted the following: "Y'all are going to have to show some respect for my receivers. People saying I don't have help, say what you want about me. Not my guys."

    Mayfield sent the tweet on Aug. 9. He delivered the message with conviction — and with a lot of help from those same receivers — during a scintillating first-half performance in Saturday's season-opening 56-7 rout of UTEP at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    Mayfield completed 19 of 20 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns before intermission. He completed his first 16 pass attempts, which is the best start to a game in school history. Throw in his final five attempts in last year's Sugar Bowl victory over Auburn and Mayfield completed 21 straight passes, which fell one shy of a school record.

    Mayfield showcased his surrounding talent by spreading the wealth. His first 14 completions went to 10 different receivers. "There's a reason I spoke out and took up for them because I know what they're capable of," Mayfield said of this year's lesser-known teammates. "They're great players."

    The Sooners' offensive debut under new head coach Lincoln Riley was remarkable considering OU's offense lost three standout players who combined for a staggering 2,435 rushing yards, 2,168 receiving yards, 844 kick return yards and 47 touchdowns last season.

    Gone are the school's all-time rushing leader in Samaje Perine (4,122 career yards), the school's single-season all-purpose yardage record holder in Joe Mixon (1,274 rushing yards; 538 receiving yards; 519 return yards; 2,331 total yards; 194.2 per-game average) and Dede Westbrook (80 receptions; 1,524 yards; 19.0 per-catch average; 17 touchdowns), who was selected as the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's outstanding receiver.

    Continue reading...

    The Sooners' Life of Riley is upon us

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Aug. 31, 2017

    Bob Stoops said he felt prepared going into his first game as Oklahoma's head football coach in September 1999, but he still had some anxiety.

    “I was always anxious before games,” Stoops admitted. “Not so much nervous, but it's hard to pace yourself. You just want to get out there and play the game. You want it to begin. It was kind of always that way. You get up in the morning and it's hard to pace yourself so you're not worn out by the time the game gets here.”

    Meanwhile, Barry Switzer was his usual confident self before his debut as the Sooners' head coach 44 years ago, even though media had picked his team to finish fourth in the 1973 Big Eight Conference preseason poll behind Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri. Switzer didn't see it that way and made his point with a simple roll call inside the OU locker room after practice.

    “I told our guys, ‘Whoever is going to be Big Eight champion is going to be the second-best team in this league because we're going to kick their (tails),'” Switzer recalled. “Hey, I want to know something. Lee Roy Selmon, are you in here? Dewey Selmon, you here? Rod Shoate? Jimbo Elrod? Randy Hughes? I started calling out all these names and they all said, ‘Yeah, coach. I'm here.' I said, ‘OK, just checking. I read where we weren't going to be worth a damn. Heck, (previous coach) Chuck Fairbanks is the only one who's left.' They all died laughing.”

    Lincoln Riley's first game as the Sooners' head coach arrives Saturday when OU hosts UTEP at 2:30 at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    The most impactful ingredient for any new head coach is what he inherits. In this regard, Stoops' transition at OU was vastly different than what transpired with Switzer and Riley.

    Already on staff, Switzer and Riley simply had to change offices when they became the head man. Switzer was the Sooners' assistant head coach/offensive coordinator under Fairbanks, who left for the NFL's New England Patriots. Riley was offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach before moving into Stoops' freshly completed office that was part of the $160-million renovation project in the south end zone.

    “You realize the magnitude of the job the second they say. ‘It's you,'” Stoops said of the day he was tabbed by OU athletic director Joe Castiglione. “I realized I had to get to work immediately.”

    Wife Carol Stoops returned to Florida after her husband's introductory news conference while Stoops remained in Norman with no change of clothes. He quickly gathered a new wardrobe at Harold's. When it came to recruiting, Stoops already knew of Tuttle High School standout quarterback Jason White, who became his first visit. Stoops didn't return home to Gainesville until Christmas break when the recruiting period went dead.

    “Those first few weeks were like a blur to me between recruiting, hiring a staff, yada yada, yada,” Stoops explained.

    A far more pressing issue for Stoops was inheriting a downtrodden team coming off the worst four-year span in school history. One of college football's premier programs had gone a combined 17-27-1 (.389) with no bowl appearances the previous four seasons under Howard Schnellenberger (5-5-1) and John Blake (12-22-0). A massive overhaul was required.

    “The biggest adjustment for me was the amount of decisions,” Stoops said. “It was a hundred decisions a day. Sometimes it felt like a decision a minute. ‘How are we going to do this; how are we going to do that; how are we getting to the game; where are we going to stay; what's the schedule for game day; where are we practicing; how do we take the field; how do we stretch; when do we hold meetings?' What I couldn't believe was how many decisions need to be made in a day.”

    At the other end of the spectrum, Switzer took over a program that had gone 22-2 the previous two seasons and had finished No. 2 each year in the Associated Press polls.

    “My situation was totally different than Bob because I was inheriting a great football team,” said Switzer, who doubled his salary from $12,000 to $24,000 when he became head coach. “I had been with these players, had coached these players. I was so ingrained, so attuned with everyone. I knew we were going to kick the hell out of everybody. I knew we were good. I was never concerned. Bob and I were two different scenarios completely. Lincoln steps into a better situation than Bob did. Lincoln and I both stepped into great situations.”

    Not only were Switzer, Stoops and Riley hired as first-time head coaches, each was young at the time.

    Stoops was 37 years, 83 days old when he was introduced on Dec. 1, 1998. His first game was a 49-0 victory at home against Indiana State on Sept. 11, 1999.

    Switzer was 35 years, 116 days old when he replaced Fairbanks on Jan. 29, 1973. His first game was a 42-14 victory at Baylor on Sept. 15, 1973.

    Riley was 33 years, 275 days old when he was appointed as Stoops' successor on June 7, 2017. Saturday's debut comes three days before Riley's 34th birthday.

    Curiosity might have been Stoops' most prominent emotion entering his first game as head coach. “I was very curious,” Stoops said. “I felt good, but you still have to see it.” As for the anxiety, Stoops said he felt that every season opener. “I'm always the most anxious in the first game because it's always a new team, but this (1999) was really a new team,” Stoops said. “I had never been on the field with them. You didn't know if practices and scrimmages were going to carry onto the field. You still have to see it happen. There's always new pieces. Anxious to see what are we really going to be like.”

    What did Stoops feel most secure about? “It was pretty much the same thing we emphasized over 18 years,” Stoops said. “There's no substitute for it. You have to play hard, play smart and above all else, you've got to be tough and physical. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, ‘It takes no talent to be those three things.' You'll win a helluva lot more than you'll lose if you're those three things. To be honest with you, I started with that and I don't ever remember not emphasizing it.”

    Stoops' first team went 7-5, capped with a 27-25 loss to Mississippi on a 39-yard field goal on the final play of the Independence Bowl in what would be his worst record as the Sooners' head coach. Stoops said he didn't have a certain won-loss record in mind prior to his first season at OU. “But I had a bowl game in mind, for sure,” he said. “Can't remember when I hadn't been (in a bowl game) at that point. A bowl game was, for sure, a must in my eyes.”

    Stoops retired having advanced to 24 consecutive bowl games as an assistant with Kansas State (1993-95) and Florida (1996-98) and his entire tenure leading the Sooners (1999-2016).

    “The whole year, we were learning,” Stoops said of the 1999 season. “We had some games we were ahead, but didn't know how to finish. In the middle part of the year, we really had to emphasize how to handle a lead. These guys hadn't been in the lead a bunch lately. That was another wake-up call for coaches, another point we really had to hammer home and not take it for granted that they understand it. We were up 16 at Notre Dame. Up 17 against Texas. Guys were smiling and giggling and we still had three more quarters to go. Then we started to close games out.”

    In Stoops' second season, OU began No. 19 in the preseason poll, had risen to No. 1 by the Oct. 29 poll and captured the school's seventh national crown with a 13-0 season and a 13-2 victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Stoops followed with a combined 47-7 record the next four seasons and reached the national title game two more times.

    “It was the coaching that made the difference,” Switzer said of Stoops' immediate impact. “As soon as I saw them play, I knew they had it all in place. I thought, ‘These guys know what they're doing. This is different than what I've seen before.' ”

    As impressive as Stoops' start was with the Sooners, Switzer's was even more astonishing.

    His first team, picked fourth in that 1973 preseason Big Eight poll, wound up finishing 10-0-1 overall and 7-0 in conference play and dominated preseason conference favorites Nebraska (27-0), Colorado (34-7) and Missouri (31-3).

    After his debut victory at Baylor, Switzer then played top-ranked and defending national champion USC to a 7-7 tie at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Switzer went 29-0-1 before suffering his first loss and was 37-1-2 with back-to-back national championships before suffering his second loss.

    Again, none of this came as a surprise to Switzer. “You know what you are,” said Switzer, who would win a third national championship in 1985. “Coaches more than anybody know what their team's abilities are, what their talents are, the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent. It comes down to you playing better than they do. If you do, you have a chance to win. Coaches know that better than anybody. I knew going in if somebody was better than we were. Most of the time we were better than they were. After the game, it was time to get on to the next one. Coaches and players approach games totally different than fans.”

    With his 157-29-4 overall record, Switzer retains the highest winning percentage (.837) of any OU football coach and now laughs that he and Stoops are “about to be in the stands to do ‘Friday Night Lights' together.” Stoops' twin sons, seniors, and Switzer's grandson, a sophomore, are on the same high school team this season.

    When Stoops retired almost three months ago, he left as the program's winningest coach with a 190-48 (.798) overall record, 10 Big 12 Conference championships and 14 10-win seasons. Much like when Switzer took the reins, Riley appears to have inherited a thoroughbred.

    When his first game as a head coach approached, did Stoops telephone Switzer or former Florida boss Steve Spurrier for some calming last-minute advice? “Nah,” Stoops said. “At that point, none of those guys can help you. You're ready. I was ready for it. I had been in a lot of big games before that, just like Lincoln has. It doesn't change. Lincoln knows what to do. He's ready for it.”

    Continue reading...

    Role has changed, but Lincoln Riley remains the same

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Aug. 7, 2017

    It's hard to fathom how a 33-year-old could remain unchanged after being handed the reins to one of the nation's premier college football programs, but such appears to be the case with new Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley.

    "He hasn't changed at all," said senior quarterback and two-time top-four Heisman Trophy vote-getter Baker Mayfield, who has spent more time with Riley than any OU player since Riley arrived in January 2015 as the Sooners' new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "He's the same guy. He's a humble guy. He's knows exactly why he's here and how he got here. He's worked very, very hard. He's paid attention to people around him."

    Mayfield smiled and shared the following example of how Riley has remained unchanged: "I think it took (senior wide receiver) Jeffery Mead razzing him for three weeks for him (Riley) to finally get a new car," Mayfield said.

    Mead confirmed the story, saying he prodded Riley every three or four days about getting a new set of wheels. Mead said he didn't specify which car Riley should get, but did tell his new head coach, "'You're our boss, so I want you to drive something nice.' Coach Riley does not care (about material things)."

    Riley finally caved and swapped his Toyota 4Runner for a new Cadillac Escalade. "That's nice," Mead said approvingly.

    Senior linebacker Emmanuel Beal nodded his approval and said, "Oh, yeah. That's a big-boy truck."

    Affable senior fullback Dimitri Flowers is on a first-name basis with his new head coach. Actually, he's on a half-first-name basis, playfully referring to Riley as "Linc" while simultaneously propping himself up as "probably the second-best quarterback on the team." Riley's reaction to Flowers' quarterback proclamation? "He really didn't acknowledge it," Flowers admitted quietly.

    Though there is an undeniable comfort zone that surrounds Riley, other players aren't quite as bold as Flowers — no matter how physically intimidating they are. "I call him 'Coach Riley,'" 6-foot-8, 345-pound junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "I am not going to call him 'Linc.'"

    Senior defensive end D.J. Ward said, "Maybe down the line I'll call him 'Linc,' or come up with another nickname. But for now, I'm sticking with 'Coach Riley.'"

    Riley became the nation's youngest FBS head coach on June 7 and the 22nd head coach in OU history following the sudden retirement of 18-year coach Bob Stoops. Riley will follow in the massive footsteps of Stoops (190-48 overall record; .798 winning percentage), who captured a national championship in just his second season with the Sooners (2000). The Stoops era also produced 10 Big 12 Conference crowns, 14 seasons of 10-plus victories and a bowl appearance every year.

    The Riley regime is fresh off its first week of practice, which consisted of six sessions from Monday through Saturday. Though it's a small sample size, players said Riley already has set an overriding tone of physicality and intensity.

    "He's a fiery guy and he's always been a fiery guy," junior tight end Mark Andrews said, "but now we're seeing him instill that into everybody. He's a competitor and he wants us to be competitors and he doesn't expect anything less than that. Every day, we have to come out and compete. And if we don't, we know we're not going to play. That's just how it is now."

    Riley was weaned on the opposite side of the ball as Stoops. Since his days as Texas Tech student assistant in 2003, Riley has served as an offensive assistant while Stoops remained on the defensive side from 1983-1998 at Iowa, Kent State, Kansas State and Florida before taking over at OU in December 1998.

    "That's the thing," senior defensive back Steven Parker said of the seemingly unflappable Riley. "He's so cool, he's getting along with both sides of the ball. Everyone respects him as a coach and as a person. Coach Riley, he brings that intensity that we need to get off to a fast start. Just throughout camp, we've had so much competition. I can definitely say this is one of the most intense and most fun fall camps I've been a part of."

    Flowers joked offensive players are somewhat jealous they now must share Riley with the rest of the team. "It's actually kind of cool (to see him yelling at other people), but at the same time, he's cheering on the defense when they make a good play," Flowers said. "We're like, 'No, you can't do that. You were here (with the offense) first. Remember that.' It's great to see him do all those things and it's really cool to see him taking on that different role."

    Junior offensive lineman Dru Samia: "It kind of feels weird when Coach Riley tells the defense, 'Good job getting a pick or getting a fumble.' But it's cool. I'm glad that he's in the position that he's in. I think he's handled it super well."

    Senior offensive lineman Erick Wren: "Yeah, we are jealous. He's our coach, but that just lets you know what type of guy he is. He's a stand-up guy. In my eyes, this is one of the best head coaches I've ever played for."

    Mayfield joked of Riley, "He forgets about us (offensive players). We're the little people now." Mayfield immediately pleaded for reporters not to mention what he had just said. "Nah, just kidding," he said. "Don't actually put that in there."

    Mayfield admitted sharing Riley with the entire team is a bit of an adjustment for offensive players. "It's a little different," Mayfield said. "We just have to be a little more responsible."

    The Sooners' current level of talent, experience and leadership are among the many reasons Stoops felt this was an opportune time for Riley to drive an Escalade.

    Riley said he now works "all three sides of the ball. If there's a special-teams period, I'm going to be there. Defensively, I'll pick my spots. It varies each day."

    "He kind of stays in his lane when it comes to the defense," Parker said of Riley. "He checks in that we're doing our job."

    Riley has retained his role as quarterbacks coach while adding his new responsibilities of overseeing the defense, special teams, coaching staff, managers and office personnel. Riley has gone from managing roughly 50 people to approximately three times that many. "There's certainly more to keep track of," Riley admitted. "There's more things running through your head."

    Has Riley been overwhelmed by it all? Certainly doesn't seem like it.

    "Same guy. Same guy, for sure," senior linebacker/defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. "We know everything he says is for a reason."

    Riley passes credit unto others while explaining his velvet transition to head coach. "The people around me in the program have handled it so well," Riley said. "That's made it smooth on me. I've enjoyed kind of diving into the different parts of it. I love the Xs and Os and coaching in the field, but I enjoy all the other parts of it, too."

    Riley assumed control of a national powerhouse without the benefit of running his own spring practice.

    He has been submerged in work since replacing Stoops. In addition to acquainting himself with an entire roster rather than just leading offensive players, Riley also dove head-first into recruiting, hired new assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill (his former boss at Texas Tech and East Carolina), granted a slew of media requests (which included Big 12 Media Days last month in Frisco, Texas), partook in Meet the Sooners Day with fans on Saturday at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, which was followed by the team's annual media day in the stadium.

    Riley said his winning expectations remain unchanged as head coach. "I feel the same amount that I did as the OC," Riley said. "You feel that at this place. It's not really anything that needs to be said. As a coach, I felt it the first time I walked in the door. I felt it when I came to interview here."

    Perhaps most impressive, players agree the attributes they appreciated about Riley as an assistant have remained unchanged as head coach.

    Mayfield said he has kept the same sales pitch whenever discussing Riley. "That's the thing I've always said to recruits and to anybody else. 'The person you meet is the person you're going to get as a coach,'" Mayfield said. "That's the most special thing you can get because you can build a relationship with him and it will be there throughout all phases of life."

    Flowers said, "He's absolutely the same (person), and that's one of the things that I appreciate about him. He's stayed true. Whether we've had success after the game, whether we lost the game, he's been the same person."

    "I don't think anything's changed about him, but I think his greatest attribute is relating to the players," Samia said. "He's a young guy, but he's also one of the smartest people I've been around. He's able to relate to the players and still get the job done."

    Ward describes Riley as "a great listener. Most people think you probably can't talk to your head coach, but you can say anything to Coach Riley. He'll hear you out."

    Okoronkwo echoed Ward and particularly appreciates Riley's open-door policy. "He's ready to listen to you anytime, any problem you have," Okoronkwo said. "Even if there's not a problem, he's ready just to talk. His door is open."

    "I like his swagger," Beal said. "That's his swag and no one's going to change it for him. He can take this step on his own. In the back of my mind, I always thought he would make a good head coach."

    Parker said of Riley, "What I appreciate most is just the way he handles things. Basically, it's the same as Coach Stoops, but it's a little bit more hands-on."

    Meanwhile, Wren's admiration for his new head coach is multi-faceted. "The way he goes about things is a great example of how to be a man in life," Wren said.

    Continue reading...

    Looking for an early season lift, OU hoops team heads Down Under

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Aug. 4, 2017

    When the Oklahoma men's basketball team heads Down Under on a 12-day, four-game venture, the trip will offer many benefits. The most beneficial aspect came before the Sooners even boarded the plane.

    Teams are permitted 10 practices in preparation for overseas trips. Under normal circumstances, a team is not allowed to commence formal practices until 42 days prior to its first competition, which meant OU would have waited until Oct. 1 this season. Thanks to this trip to New Zealand and Australia, the Sooners opted to spread practice sessions from July 9 through last Wednesday.

    This is particularly beneficial when your roster features just one senior and four newcomers. It's also incredibly handy when a team can't wait to turn the page after an indescribably frustrating 2016-17 season (11-20 overall; 5-13 in Big 12 Conference) that featured nine losses of two possessions (six points) or less.

    “Last year was an eye-opener,” OU seventh-year coach Lon Kruger said. “It was kind of humbling from the standpoint we have to do things different, we have to do more, we have to invest. When you lose a lot of close games, you realize, ‘Hey, we've got to do more in preparation.' And that's healthy for all of us.”

    Rather than having to wallow two extra months, the Sooners were able to hit the reset button by practicing in July rather than October.

    “It certainly benefits the players,” Kruger said. “The timing for this group is especially good with new guys coming in and guys returning who will have enhanced roles over a year ago. These (pre-trip) practices have been pretty similar to what we do in October. They're much different than what we would be doing during the summer if not going on a trip when you're only allowed two hours a week with players.”

    One player expected to have an increased role will be sophomore guard Kameron McGusty, who started 17 of 31 games as a true freshman last season, averaging 24.9 minutes, 10.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point range. In conference play, McGusty led the Sooners in scoring with 14.4-point average, shot 38.0 percent on 3-pointers and was named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer team.

    “We'd like to forget about last season, but at the same time, that motivates us,” McGusty said. “Nobody on our team wants to go through something like that ever again. It's what keeps us in the gym. It's what keeps us working hard. It keeps us focused in workouts and going hard in the weight room and at practice. It (stinks) that it happened, but at the same time, it's a motivator. We really can't complain. We have to live with it. You can't look at the past.”

    Continue reading...

    Those closest to Bob Stoops share their keen insight

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 12, 2017

    Five days have passed since Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops announced his sudden retirement at age 56. Even those closest to him were stunned when Stoops shared the news last Wednesday.

    Sooners associate head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is 15 months younger than his older brother. They grew up in a close-knit family in Youngstown, Ohio, were teammates throughout their playing days in school, coached alongside each other as assistants at Kansas State and Mike spent 10 seasons at OU as an assistant under big brother.

    A bit of shock lingers even for Mike.

    "It still feels a little strange, but it's all good and time for a new beginning," Mike said Sunday evening. "When you really think about it, why not (retire)? Bob's not about money. He's not about records or anything like that. He's just about doing his job and being happy."

    The day after his announcement, Bob Stoops and longtime friend Matt McMillen headed to a Florida beach. McMillen is OU's assistant athletics director for football operations and arrived alongside Stoops in 1999. They've been friends since 1989 working at K-State. McMillen was having dinner at Stoops' home last Tuesday night when he got blindsided.

    "We were outside and Bob says, 'Matty, I'm not going to coach anymore,'" McMillen explained. "I don't think I said a word for 20-25 minutes. He started laughing at me. It was like somebody hit me on the head with a sledgehammer, or an anvil fell on my head, or something. I didn't know what to say. It was crazy."

    Early in the morning on the day of the announcement, Stoops called assistant head coach Cale Gundy into his office. Gundy, who serves as director of recruiting and coaches inside receivers, has been with the OU football program for 23-plus seasons. He played quarterback for the Sooners (1990-93), served one year as a student assistant and returned to OU when Stoops became head coach 18 years ago.

    "Bob told me what was going on," Gundy said. "It was kind of tough for him to tell me and it was tough for me to hear it. We have been around each other for so long and it's something I'll remember forever."

    A mid-afternoon meeting was scheduled last Wednesday to inform OU players of Stoops' retirement. When word leaked, the meeting was bumped up to early afternoon. Before meeting alongside his teammates, however, senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield was summoned into a meeting with Stoops and new head coach Lincoln Riley.

    “By then, everybody kind of knew what was happening,” Mayfield said. “I was shocked at first, just hearing it come out of Coach Stoops' mouth. I also was taken aback that he respected me enough to call me in there and tell me in person before meeting with the team.”

    Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said Stoops gave him a tour of the new facilities three days before the announcement and Stoops never hinted of his pending retirement. The day after the announcement, Stoops telephoned Switzer.

    "Bob said, 'The timing was right,'" Switzer said. "And I said, 'Well, you're the only one who keeps that watch. No one else keeps that watch except you. It's your clock and you set the time. I'm all for it. I can understand.'"

    Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was a two-time, first-team All-American with the Sooners in 2002-03, won the 2003 Vince Lombardi Award, declared for the 2004 NFL Draft after his junior season and was selected 14th overall in the first round by the Chicago Bears.

    "I was shocked," Harris said of Stoops retiring, "but then at the same time, I was more excited for him. It showed his courage to leave at the top of your game. He can do whatever he wants with his time now."

    Continue reading...

    OU's deep pitching staff clinches another NCAA crown

    Junior lefthander Paige Lowary (14) helped give Patty Gasso her deepest pitching staff in 23 seasons as OU's softball coach.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 7, 2017

    Before her team began its quest to defend its 2016 NCAA crown, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso knew she potentially had the deepest pitching staff in her 23 seasons at OU.

    Final proof came Tuesday night when the Sooners edged Florida, 5-4, to sweep the best-of-three Championship Series at the Women's College World Series, capturing their second straight national title and their third crown in the last five seasons.

    OU's Hall of Fame coach began smiling last summer when left-handed flame-thrower Paige Lowary decided to transfer from Missouri and would have two years of eligibility with the powerhouse Sooners.

    Also arriving at OU for the 2017 season were freshmen pitchers Mariah Lopez, Nicole Mendes and Melanie Olmos. With the arrival of this foursome, Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker, who worked 59.0 percent (252.1) of her team's total innings in 2016, instantaneously had some teammates to lean on, which explains why her workload this season dipped to 43.6 percent (210.1 of 482.2 total innings).

    How apropos the Sooners claimed their fourth NCAA title under Gasso by outdueling a Gators pitching staff that led the nation with a miniscule team ERA of 0.74 this season and featured the national player of the year in Kelly Barnhill.

    Both pitching staffs were thinned out considerably the previous night in Game One, a 7-5 Sooners victory that required 17 innings, five hours and 28 minutes and 495 total pitches.

    Under these trying circumstances, Gasso knew there was a good chance her team might be able to clinch the title pitching by committee, and that's precisely what happened.

    Continue reading...

    Sooners turn the Paige (twice) in epic WCWS Game 1

    OU pitcher Paige Lowary (middle) celebrates her team's 7-5 victory in 17 innings over Florida in Game 1 of the WCWS.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 5, 2017

    In an effort to win the longest Women's College World Series game in history, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso chose to turn the Paige not once, but twice.

    After five hours, 28 minutes, 495 pitches (333 strikes), 122 at-bats, 40 strikeouts, 31 players and 17 innings, the Sooners managed to outlast Florida with a 7-5 victory in Game One on Monday night before an appreciative crowd of 8,337 at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.

    Gasso threw a curve before the first pitch was even thrown by opting to start Paige Lowary rather than two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker. Lowary pitched the first five innings before being relieved by Parker. Fellow left-handed junior, Parker went 6.2 innings before being relieved by a re-entering Lowary, who wound up getting the victory after throwing 10.1 total innings.

    "Epic, epic battle," Gasso said at the outset of her team's midnight postgame interview session. "It was like two heavyweight fighters throwing punch after punch. I will never forget the pitching duo here (Lowary and Parker) and how they tag-teamed. It was an emotional, emotional rollercoaster of a game and one that I will never, ever, ever, ever forget."

    Though the contest was nearly the equivalent of 2½ seven-inning games, the Sooners only lead the best-of-three championship series 1-0 heading into Game Two on Tuesday night at 7.

    With one more victory, OU Athletics will claim its fourth national title in the last eight weeks, joining the school's NCAA championship teams in women's gymnastics, men's gymnastics and men's golf. Oklahoma has never won four national crowns in the same semester.

    Continue reading...

    Oklahoma softball maintains its championship mindset

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    June 1, 2017

    Featuring a roster with eight freshmen and four sophomores, the 2016 Oklahoma softball team won the NCAA championship much earlier than anticipated. With an apparent dynasty looming, the 2017 Sooners became just the fourth team in the 23-year history of the NFCA poll to ever be selected as a unanimous preseason No. 1.

    Oddly enough, this year's OU team is even younger overall than last year's champs. The 2016 Sooners had five seniors, but this year's squad has only one in utility fielder Macey Hatfield, who is joined by six juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen.

    With softball being among the most superstitious of all sports, team members understandably hoped to re-trace their steps to a second straight national championship.

    En route to winning last year's title, the Sooners wore crimson-colored rubber bracelets emblazoned with capital white letters “CHAMPIONSHIP MINDSET.” This year's players looked forward to wearing that same lucky charm while defending the crown.

    OU Hall of Fame coach Patty Gasso initially banned the bracelet, however. The woman respectfully dubbed “Three Natty Patty” for her three national crowns (2000, 2013, 2016) also took away another cherished piece of equipment when she didn't permit her players to wear their white cleats.

    In Gasso's eyes, her team didn't deserve such comforts because of their early season struggles.

    “I said, ‘We're going to keep working until we figure this out,' ” Gasso explained. “And they wanted those bracelets desperately, so it kind of forced them to let go of some of the stuff they were hanging onto. The whole ‘defend the title' thing kind of got in the way a little bit.”

    As is her way, Gasso once again had lined up a formidable early schedule. Even though five of OU's nine losses this season have come against teams in this week's Women's College World Series (Washington and Baylor) and last weekend's Super Regionals (Arizona, Tennessee and Auburn), Gasso didn't like what she was seeing from her potential powerhouse.

    “Honestly, it did surprise me some,” Gasso said of the slow start, “but then I started to see what our returners were trying to do. They were trying to match their numbers from the year before, do those kind of things, and that doesn't work.”

    Last year's championship run is eerily similar to what has transpired so far this season.

    The 2016 Sooners began with a 2-2 record through four games and were 9-4 through 13 games. Those are the exact same marks as this year's team.

    The 2016 Sooners started out 25-7 and fell to No. 14 after losing at home to Kansas in what would be their lone loss in a 17-1 Big 12 season. The 2017 Sooners started out 23-7, slipped to No. 13 in the polls also finished with a 17-1 conference mark.

    And, just like last season, OU finished with a flourish to qualify for its sixth WCWS appearance in the last seven years and its 11th trip overall.

    The 2016 Sooners entered the World Series riding a 27-game winning streak and had won 34 of their last 35. The 2017 Sooners enter this week's WCWS having won 33 of their last 35.

    Continue reading...

    Three state schools advance to NCAA baseball tournament

    NCAA.com

    May 30, 2017

    INDIANAPOLIS – Three schools from the state of Oklahoma -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts -- are among those who will compete in the 64-team field for the 2017 NCAA Division I baseball championship.

    No. 2-seeded Oklahoma (34-22) will compete in the Louisville (Ky.) Regional while No. 3-seeded Oklahoma State (30-25) and No. 4-seeded Oral Roberts (42-14) are in the Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional.

    The national top eight seeds are Oregon State (49-4), North Carolina (47-12), Florida (42-16), LSU (43-17), Texas Tech (43-15), TCU (42-16), Louisville (47-10) and Stanford (40-14).

    TOURNAMENT BRACKET

    The Southeastern Conference (SEC) leads the way with eight teams selected. Both the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Big 12 Conference have seven participants in the field. The Big Ten Conference ties a conference record with five, while the Pac-12 Conference has four in the field. The American Athletic Conference (AAC) has three and the Big East Conference, Big West Conference, Conference USA, Missouri Valley Conference and Southland Conference all have two teams each.

    Florida Gulf Coast and Davidson are each making their first appearances in the championship in 2017.  Holy Cross is in the tournament for the first time since 1978, while Yale earns its first bid since 1993 and West Virginia is in for the first time since 1996.

    Florida State now has the longest consecutive streak with its 40th straight appearance, with the Miami (Florida) streak of appearances ending at 44.  Other long consecutive streaks: Cal State Fullerton (26) and Rice (23).

    While 15 of the regional sites are scheduled to be played Friday through Monday, June 2-5, competition at the Stanford Regional will begin Thursday, June 1 and will conclude either Sunday or Monday, June 4 or 5. BYU, which won the automatic qualifier by capturing the West Coast Conference tournament championship, does not participate in any athletics competition on Sundays. Therefore, if the Cougars advance to the regional final, that game will take place June 5; otherwise that regional championship game is scheduled for Sunday, June 4.

    Selection of the eight super regional hosts will be announced on www.NCAA.com/cws, Tuesday, June 6 at approximately 8 a.m. (ET). The 71st Men’s College World Series begins play Saturday, June 17, at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska.

    Continue reading...

    OU advances to NCAA men's golf championship final

    OU Athletics Communications

    May 30, 2017

    SUGAR GROVE, Ill. -- The Oklahoma men's golf team will face defending champion Oregon on Wednesday afternoon in the NCAA men's golf championship match at Rich Harvest Farms Final.

    OU advanced by winning two matches on Tuesday, rolling past host Illinois 3-1-1 in the semifinal match after posting a 3-2 comeback victory over Baylor in the morning quarterfinals.

    The final matches will begin at 2:10 p.m. CT. The Golf Channel will televise the NCAA championship match live from 3-7 p.m. CT and live scoring also will be available on GolfStat.com.

    NCAA FINAL MATCH PAIRINGS

    1. Blaine Hale (OU) vs. Norman Xiong (ORE) - 2:10 p.m. CT
    2. Max McGreevy (OU) vs. Edwin Yi (ORE) - 2:20 p.m. CT
    3. Rylee Reinertson (OU) vs. Wyndham Clark (ORE) - 2:30 p.m. CT
    4. Grant Hirschman (OU) vs. Ryan Gronlund (ORE) - 2:40 p.m. CT
    5. Brad Dalke (OU) vs. Sulman Raza (ORE) - 2:50 p.m. CT

    This marks the first time in school history the Sooners will play for the national title in the match-play format, which made its debut in 2009. OU is looking to win its second NCAA title in program history, having previously won the 1989 championship at Oak Tree Country Club under the stroke-play format.

    "What a great day for Oklahoma golf," eighth-year head coach Ryan Hybl said after Tuesday's sweep. "I can't put into words what this opportunity means for us, and our guys have earned it all this week. We have one more to knock down tomorrow, and our guys will be ready."

    The Sooners qualified as the No. 2 seed overall for match play after placing second in the 72-hole stroke-play qualifier. Oregon is the No. 5 seed and advanced to the championship match with a 3-2 semifinal victory over No. 1-seeded Vanderbilt, which won the stroke-play qualifier by 12 shots. Oregon began match play by beating No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

    Sophomore Blaine Hale got OU on the board first in the semifinal with a 4 and 3 win over Illinois' Edoardo Lipparelli. Hale struck early with a win on hole No. 1, and although the golfers went back and forth on the front nine, Hale never trailed in the match. Wins on hole Nos. 10 and No. 14 put Hale 4-up and he halved the 15th hole to claim the victory.

    Senior Max McGreevy posted the Sooners' next win, defeating Giovanni Tadiott 2 and 1. McGreevy also won the first hole and maintained the lead over Tadiotto throughout the round. The senior clinched a win on the challenging 17th hole.

    Junior Rylee Reinertson's 3 and 1 victory over Michael Feagles clinched the OU win over the Fighting Illini.

    Junior Grant Hirschman halved his match with Illinois' Nick Hardy. The duo was all-square when the match was suspended after Reinertson's win. Sophomore Brad Dalke was 1-down to Dylan Meyer.

    In the quarterfinal match, OU rallied on the back nine to defeat Baylor.

    Down 2-0 with three matches left on the course, Reinertson and Hirschman came through with a pair of 1-up victories to tie the match. Dalke sealed the comeback win by defeating Baylor's Matthew Perrine 1-up in 19 holes.

    At the one point during the quarterfinals, OU trailed in all five matches. Reinertson worked his way back from 3-down through eight holes; Reinertson grabbed the lead with a birdie on No. 17; Hirschman, who was 3-down at the turn, sunk an eagle putt on No. 18 to win 1-up and tie the team match at 2.

    Dalke battled back and forth with Perrine, who forced a playoff after chipping in from the fringe on No. 18. Dalke won the first playoff hole by burying a 6-foot putt.

     

    Continue reading...

    Never too late: Quentin Griffin finishes his quest for a diploma

    Former running back Quentin Griffin stands alongside OU athletic director Joe Castiglione at the student-athlete graduation banquet.

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    May 16, 2017

    When diminutive Oklahoma running back Quentin Griffin was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, he left as the school's fourth-leading rusher with 3,938 career yards. Griffin only trailed two Heisman Trophy winners in Billy Sims (4,118) at No. 1 and Steve Owens (4,041) at No. 3, plus silver-shoed great Joe Washington (4,071) at No. 2.

    A chance to play in the NFL put Griffin's academic progress on hold. In his second season with the Denver Broncos, the 5-foot-7, 190-pound Griffin set a franchise record for most rushing yards in a season opener with a career-high 156 on 23 carries against the Kansas City Chiefs. A budding NFL career abruptly was cut short when Griffin tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in Week 7. He would never play another regular-season game again for the Broncos.

    In 2005, Griffin had dropped to No. 4 on Denver's depth chart and was released. He was brought back a few weeks later, then released again. In 2006, Griffin was signed by the Chiefs and later cut. In 2007, the Hamburg Sea Devils made Griffin the second overall pick in the NFL Europa Free Agent Draft. In 2008, he signed the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL and was cut after the team's final preseason game. In July 2013, Griffin signed with the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes in Germany (GFL1).

    When Griffin's football odyssey finally came to an end, a daunting task awaited if he was going to finish what he started academically at OU.

    When he left the Sooners, Griffin was 33 credit hours short of earning his undergraduate degree. "My mother, she planted the seed (to graduate) and kept watering it," Griffin said with a smile. "It was in the back of my mind, but once I got it to the front of my mind, that's the push I needed."

    Continue reading...

    College football's early signing period set for December

     

    BY CHRIS HUMMER

    247Sports

    May 9, 2017

    College football's early signing period, which was officially approved Monday, is expected to occur on the third Wednesday of each December to align with the mid-year junior college transfer window, according to Susan Peal, Director of Governance for the National Letter of Intent program.

    "It is anticipated that the football early signing period will align with the football mid-year (junior college) transfer signing period each year," Peal wrote 247Sports in an email. "So that would start the third Wednesday of December."

    The 72-hour early signing period for high school seniors will start Dec. 20, 2017.

    This early signing period is in addition to college football's standard National Signing Day, which occurs the first Wednesday of February each year. In essence, college football now has two National Signing Days with recruits having the option to sign in December or February.

    The early signing period is one of a number of prominent pieces of legislation the Division I Council approved earlier this year. Others included a 10th full-time assistant, a change in the official visit schedule with an additional window from April to June, which goes into effect April 1, 2018, and changes to the way off-season recruiting-related camps are conducted.

    Continue reading...

    Renae Martinez takes road less traveled to find OU

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    May 10, 2017

    In 2014, Renae Martinez was a redshirt freshman catcher for UC Irvine, which ended its season playing at the College World Series in Omaha.

    Three months later, Martinez had relocated to the not-so-friendly confines of El Camino College just west of Compton, Calif.

    Could there possibly be a more precipitous drop in collegiate baseball status than going from TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha to Warriors Field at a community college located on Crenshaw Boulevard?

    Choosing to make the 35-mile transfer from UC Irvine to El Camino was anything but easy. “It was a tough decision to make,” Martinez explained. “I loved Irvine, but I lacked opportunity.”

    Martinez could have remained with the Anteaters, who stunned top-seeded Oregon State to advance from the NCAA Corvallis Regional, then swept No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State in the Stillwater Super Regional to advance to the 2014 CWS, where they defeated No. 6-seeded Texas in the first round before getting eliminated after falling to No. 5-seeded Vanderbilt and in a rematch against Texas.

    At UC Irvine, Martinez was a backup to redshirt junior catcher Jerry McClanahan, a second-team All-Big West Conference selection who hit .304 in 65 games. McClanahan was expected to leave college after getting selected in the 2014 amateur baseball draft, but instead he returned for his senior season and was drafted in the 19th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2015.

    Martinez played in just 23 games (five starts), had 33 at-bats and hit .152 in 2014. When it became known McClanahan would return for his senior season, Martinez approached his UC Irvine coaches, who informed him the 2015 season would pretty much play out in the same manner with limited playing time as a backup.

    Martinez chose El Camino because it was close to his hometown of San Pedro, where he was named the Marine League's Most Outstanding Player and also earned First Team All-CIF and all-city honors in high school.

    Though he knew nothing of El Camino College itself, Martinez was no stranger to the area. He grew up playing baseball at the Urban Youth Academy in neighboring Compton and knew several coaches there. “They've always given me a place to play,” Martinez said of the academy. “They're really special people who go out of their way to help kids get to the next level.”

    Martinez indeed returned to the next level after one season at El Camino and transferred to Oklahoma in hopes of someday reaching the sport's pinnacle again.

    Continue reading...

    OU women's gymnastics seeks third title in four years

    The Oklahoma women's gymnastics team tied for the 2014 NCAA crown with Florida and won the national title outright last season.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 13, 2017

    Oklahoma women’s gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler said she could feel the crowd pulling for her team to win at the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala.

    At that time, only five schools had won national titles since the NCAA first sanctioned the sport in 1982 – Georgia (10), Utah (9), Alabama (6), UCLA (6) and defending champion Florida (1). The up-and-coming Sooners were the team of the moment.

    For the first and only time in NCAA women’s gymnastics, there wound up being national co-champions as OU and Florida finished with identical scores of 198.175 three years ago. The Sooners happily embraced their role as co-champions after the Gators had edged OU for the 2013 NCAA crown by a margin of 0.200 (197.575-197.375).

    Well, times have changed.

    The Sooners were the 2016 national champs all by themselves and will seek back-to-back crowns when the NCAA Championships are held Friday and Saturday at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. OU will compete in Semifinal I at noon Friday against No. 4 Utah, No. 5 UCLA, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 9 Denver and No. 13 Washington. The top three finishers from Semifinal I and Semifinal II advance to the NCAA “Super Six” on Saturday night to compete for the national title.

    Fresh off their fifth undefeated regular season under Kindler, the defending champs are this weekend’s No. 1 seed for a multitude of reasons, the most recent of which came April 1 at the NCAA Seattle Regional, where the Sooners posted a nation-high 198.075 in regional competition. OU entered the meet with a program record with a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 198.010.

    OU’s overall excellence this season frequently has been perfection with four gymnasts combining for nine perfect 10.0s. Though only a freshman, Maggie Nichols already owns the school career record with six and scored at least one 10.0 in every event, becoming just the ninth collegiate gymnast to ever do so. Senior McKenzie Wofford and sophomore Nicole Lehrmann each earned a 10.0 on the uneven bars and senior Chayse Capps scored a 10.0 on the balance beam. Six OU gymnasts earned a nation-best 14 regular-season All-America honors this season, with junior AJ Jackson and sophomore Brenna Dowell joining the aforementioned perfectionists. (Dowell scored a 10.0 in 2015 on uneven bars.)

    Seventeen of OU’s scores this season rank in the top 10 in program history.

    Suffice to say, the Sooners no longer are up-and-coming. They have reached the summit and have no intention of descending anytime soon.

    “They have a target on their back,” Kindler said of her team. “People are gunning for them. Everyone roots for the underdog, and that’s not us. Now there’s that expectation and pressure knowing people are gunning for you. We just need to focus on ourselves and not on that.”

    Continue reading...

    After dismal season, Kruger hopes youth will soon be served

    A slew of young returnees who keep improving, plus a superb recruiting class, give the Sooners hope for the future.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 12, 2017

    In his 31 seasons as a collegiate men’s basketball coach, Lon Kruger never has had one season be so contrary to the next.

    His 2015-16 Oklahoma team went 29-8 overall, advanced to the Final Four in Houston and completed its season April 2 – just two days shy of the latest date possible.

    His 2016-17 Sooners went 11-20 overall, were eliminated in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference tournament and completed their season March 8 – the earliest date possible.

    The 18-win, 25-day discrepancy is by far the most significant one-year differential in Kruger’s career – good or bad.

    “Sure, there were disappointing results,” Kruger said. “It was difficult from the standpoint of not getting results, for sure. And yet the challenge with this group was to keep their enthusiasm level up. When you’re not winning games, you still have a different type challenge, you still have objectives. You can go on, keep getting better individually and play better as a group. The good feeling, even though we didn’t get the results we wanted, is I thought they were playing their best basketball in the last three weeks. Individually, several were playing better and with more confidence.”

    Continue reading...

    OU Spring Game: 80 degrees and clear (of injuries)

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 8, 2017

    NORMAN — Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops said he was "really pleased" with the overall play during Saturday's annual Spring Game, but what pleased him most was his team's overall health.

    "Nobody's seriously hurt whatsoever," Stoops said afterward. "I thought there was good execution and we met all assignments. Guys played hard, played well. I'm just really pleased. We got (in) right what we'd hoped for ... right around 90 (plays) pretty close, and that's what we were shooting for."

    The White team edged the Red team 14-13 on an 80-degree afternoon before an announced crowd of 43,723 at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

    Starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield completed 11-of-20 passes for 99 yards, while redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray completed 9-of-13 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown — a 70-yard connection with senior wide receiver Jeffery Mead in the second quarter — and had another potential touchdown pass was dropped.

    Freshman quarterback Chris Robison completed 3-of-5 passes for 49 yards while sophomore Austin Kendall completed 2-of-4 passes for 47 yards. Running back Abdul Adams had the catch of the day with a 34-yard reception.

    Passing was hampered by steady gusts of 20 mile-per-hour winds throughout the game.

    "By position, I liked what the quarterbacks did, overall," Stoops said. "(They) had smart play, took care of the ball, good throws. It was a windy day. It's tough to get the receivers a little bit of a break because the ball's getting blown all over on a few occasions."

    Continue reading...

    For OU men's gymnastics, there is power in numbers

    The top-ranked Oklahoma men's gymnastics team is going for its third straight NCAA title and 11th overall.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 7, 2017

    You would think a men's gymnastics program would be satisfied having already won 10 NCAA championships. Not so with Oklahoma.

    Seven of those national crowns have come under the guidance of coach Mark Williams, but in his constant quest for more championships, Williams wanted more depth and more opportunities for more gymnasts. As a result, this would bring more titles.

    Williams got his wish.

    Since Williams arrived in 2000, the OU men have never placed lower than fourth at the NCAA Championships and claimed national titles in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2016. In that six-year gap between championships (2009-14), Williams had to settle for two third-place finishes, followed by four straight runner-up finishes. Even though the NCAA increased the number of participating athletes per team from 12 to 15, Williams was seeking an even bigger talent pool.

    Williams approached Athletics Director Joe Castiglione and was granted permission to add a club team, where walk-ons could hone their skills to perhaps someday be good enough to join the school’s NCAA squad. “I had to tell him we were getting beat by sheer numbers,” Williams recalled of his meeting with Castiglione. “My 14 guys couldn’t hold up to other team’s 22 guys."

    Since Williams was granted a feeder program, the Sooners have continued to feast on collecting crowns.

    Not only will OU seek its third straight NCAA championship later this month, the school’s club team is seeking a three-peat at this week’s National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) championship, which is being held Thursday through Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

    Continue reading...

    The many magical moments for 'Coach Merv'

    Merv Johnson served as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator when Joe Montana was quarterback.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com

    April 6, 2017

    Merv Johnson's 60 years in college football included some of the sport's most significant moments:

    • Born in King City, Mo., Johnson was recruited by and played for one of the sport's greatest innovators in Missouri coach Don Faurot, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame who is credited for inventing the Split-T formation in 1941. "That was pretty special," Johnson said of being recruited by the legendary Faurot.

    •  As a Missouri senior in 1957, Johnson was selected as an All-Big Seven Conference offensive tackle for the Tigers under first-year coach Frank Broyles, who had replaced Faurot.

    •  On Nov. 9, 1957, OU beat Missouri 39-14 in Columbia. The following week, the Sooners' streak of 47 straight victories came to an end with a 7-0 loss at home to unranked Notre Dame. Yup, Johnson played for the last team OU defeated in its record-setting run.

    •  Johnson followed Broyles to Arkansas in 1958 and was an assistant there for two seasons before returning to his alma mater as an assistant under coach Dan Devine, who had replaced Broyles at Missouri. While with the Razorbacks, Johnson served as a "dorm coach" and had to keep an eye on a player named Barry Switzer, who served as team captain his senior year in 1959. Broyles convinced Switzer to put his plans to attend law school on hold and instead go into coaching. After Johnson returned to Missouri, Switzer replaced him as dorm coach.

    Continue reading...

    Merv Johnson: The 'Aristotle' of OU football

    Merv Johnson, who joined the Oklahoma football program in 1979, has formally retired as a staff member.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    April 5, 2017

    Bennie, Bud, Barry and Bob all made their indelible mark as Oklahoma football head coaches, but historic contributions also have come from a man endearingly referred to as "Coach Merv."

    Mervin Lewis Johnson spent more years inside the Sooners' football program than Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops.

    After 38 years as an assistant coach (1979-97) and director of football operations (1998-2017), Johnson formally has retired from the university. "At 80 years old, I figured it'd probably be a good time to do that," Johnson said of retirement.

    Johnson will continue his role as the team's radio analyst during games, however. "I said, 'Merv, you may be retiring in employment terms, but we're not going to let you get away that easily. We still want you and need you around here,'" OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione said of Johnson, who will turn 81 on May 16.

    From 1958-2016, Johnson was a football staff member for 59 consecutive college seasons and 703 total games. He served under seven head coaches and those teams combined for an all-time record of 516-175-12 (.743).

    Continue reading...

    Joe Castiglione Jr.: Living up to his name

    Joe Castiglione Jr. on the sidelines with coach Bob Stoops in 2015.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    March 30, 2017

    Joe Castiglione Jr. was 2 years old when his father selected Bob Stoops to become Oklahoma's new football coach on Dec. 1, 1998. Now Stoops has agreed to allow that same kid to join the Sooners as a walk-on player.

    The son of OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione spent the previous two seasons as a student manager with the Sooners. Joe Jr. would hold up huge flashcards on the sideline during games. At practice, he assisted linebackers coach Tim Kish and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Joe Jr. would attend meetings involving coaching activities and analyze film, and would chart opponent tendencies and what plays they would run according to down and distance and field position. He would also perform traditional managerial duties, and also served as a gofer for coaches and players.

    Joe Jr. would perform these duties in addition to being a full-time student, and he still managed to carry a 3.5 grade point average. Each August, he logged an estimated 70-plus hours per week with school and football. During the season, that number would dip to 50-55 hours.

    No stranger to long hours and hard work, Joe Jr. will now get to spend some time on the field. How much time? Probably not much, if any. But that's not the point here.

    Continue reading...

    Kansas and Self advance to another regional final

    Kansas coach Bill Self after Thursday's 98-66 romp over Purdue.
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 23, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas coach Bill Self is one of this year's 14 finalists for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

    Voters don’t tend to nominate or induct coaches who can’t coach. Yet seemingly every March, Self suffers the slings and arrows of sarcastic soothsayers.

    “Don’t pick Kansas in your bracket,” sayeth the naysayers. “KU won’t make it past the first weekend. No one chokes in March quite like Kansas.”

    With Thursday night’s 98-66 dismantling of No. 4-seeded Purdue at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks will face Oregon in the Midwest Regional Final at 7:49 p.m. on Saturday to advance to the Final Four next weekend in Glendale, Ariz.

    This will be Self’s ninth regional final of the millennium.

    He coached mid-major Tulsa to the 2000 South Regional final.

    He coached Illinois to the 2001 Midwest Regional final during his first season with the Fighting Illini.

    Come Saturday, Self will coach his seventh regional final with Kansas.

    Continue reading...

    NBA scouts keeping a close eye on Sweet 16 field

    Purdue sophomore PF/C Caleb Swanigan (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    BY JONATHAN WASSERMAN

    NBA lead writer

    Bleacher Report

    March 21, 2017

    NBA scouts have plenty of reasons to continue watching the final 16 teams in the NCAA tournament.

    Seven prospects left in the field could potentially land in this year's lottery, including two players who'll be competing for No. 1 overall consideration.

    But every year, March Madness also brings out talent that's gone overlooked during the course of the regular season. Through the first weekend, we've already seen several under-the-radar prospects break through into the 2017 draft discussion for the first time all year.

    We ranked the top names still playing based on long-term NBA potential—not their current college impact.


    Is this the NCAA basketball tournament or gymnastics?

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 18, 2017

    Perhaps we all should have used chalk while filling out this year’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket.

    There’s so much chalk flying around right now, you’d think we were actually watching the NCAA gymnastics championships – which would be great news for the perpetually top-ranked Oklahoma men’s and women’s teams.

    Chalk picks are boring. No upsets. Nothing but favorites across the board.

    According to Kevin Kaduk of The Dagger, an unfathomable 36 entries in Yahoo's NCAA basketball tournament bracket went a perfect 32-for-32 in the opening round. One other entry also went 32-for-32, but inexplicably picked only three Final Four teams and failed to pick a winner in the national championship game, taking his classroom grade from an A-plus to an Incomplete.

    If these perfect pickers were Berkshire Hathaway employees for billionaire Warren Buffet, each would have received $1 million for their spotless brackets after one round. (One Buffet employee went 31 for 32 and pocketed a $100,000 top prize.)

    Continue reading...

    Humdrum second-round games could lead to a "Sweet" 16

    Defending champ and No. 1 seed Villanova faces No. 8 seed Wisconsin today.
    BY JEFF EISENBERG

    The Dagger

    March 18, 2017

    What’s the only upside to a humdrum, uneventful first round of the NCAA tournament in which teams seeded No. 4 or better went 16-0?

    It should give way to a second round loaded with quality matchups.

    Saturday’s second-round slate is headlined by a pair of tests for No. 1 seeds and two intriguing clashes of style between No. 4 and 5 seeds. Here’s a look at Saturday’s eight games ranked from most to least compelling:

    1. 1-Villanova vs. 8-Wisconsin (1:45 p.m. CST, CBS): The reigning national champs will get a huge opening-weekend test from a Wisconsin team gunning for its fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. The Badgers lost five of six late in the regular season to fall out of Big Ten title contention, but they’ve righted themselves in the postseason. Bronson Koenig sank eight threes two nights ago, Nigel Hayes is averaging 16 points in his last three games and Ethan Happ could be a difficult matchup for an undersized Villanova team lacking a true center. Guard play will be an advantage for Villanova, but the Wildcats really need title game hero Kris Jenkins to rediscover his shooting stroke.

    Continue reading...

    Is Friday the day a No. 16 seed finally slays a No. 1?

    UC Davis coach Jim Les (photo by Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 16, 2017

    TULSA -- In the last 11 seasons, Kansas has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament seven times, which is more than any other program and that same span.

    The Jayhawks’ impressive run of top seeds began in 2007 and they faced the winner of a play-in game between Niagara and Florida A&M. Niagara won to advance into the 64-team bracket, and three days later summarily got thrashed 107-67 by KU.

    In those days, there was only one play-in game with the last two No. 16 seeds battling to become a sacrificial lamb as the No. 64 seed in the bracket.

    In these days, there are four “First Four” play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. The last four No. 16 seeds battle for two spots, as do the last four at-large berths.

    When the “First Four” made its debut in 2011, No. 11-seeded play-in winner VCU went 5-0 rather than the normally required 4-0 to advance to the Final Four, where it lost to Butler in a national semifinal at Houston.

    In 2012, South Florida won its play-in game as a No. 12 seed, then posted an opening-round upset over No. 5-seeded Temple.

    In 2013, La Salle won a play-in game as a No. 13 seed and upset No. 4-seeded Kansas State in the opening round, then got to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Mississippi.

    In 2014, No. 11 play-in winner Tennessee destroyed No. 6 UMass 86-67, while fellow No. 11 play-in winner North Carolina State nearly won, losing to No. 6 Saint Louis in overtime.

    In 2015, No. 11 Dayton survived a play-in game on its home court against Boise State 56-55 and then eliminated No. 6 Providence in the opening round before losing to Oklahoma.

    In 2016, No. 11 seed Wichita State won its play-in game and promptly eliminated No. 6 Arizona.

    A team that gets to face a play-in winner initially was portrayed as a huge break for whoever awaited the victor, but VCU obliterated that theory the first time the “First Four” was ever staged. Since then, a No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 seed has been victimized every year.

    Continue reading...

    NCAA Tournament to begin with No. 12 vs. No. 5 upset

    John Rohde's NCAA Tournament bracket
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 15, 2017

    From the jump, the 2017 NCAA Tournament will begin with an upset.

    The No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup has become the tournament's most magnetic opening-round game, and we won't have to wait long for an upset.

    The first two games in this year's tournament are No. 5 vs. No. 12 showdowns Thursday with No. 5 Notre Dame facing No. 12 Princeton at 11:15 a.m. CT and No. 5 Virginia against No. 12 UNC-Wilmington at 11:40.

    Here are the all-time records since the tournament's 16-seed format began in 1985:

    History shows No. 5 vs. 12 has the exact same overall record as No. 6 vs. No. 11 (8246), which mathematically defies the odds.

    It's also worth noting that No. 8 vs. No. 9, viewed as the opening round coin-toss game, is dead-even at 64-64, so I suppose the selection committees deserve a pat on the back for that.

    The No. 12 seed posted its first upset the same year the seed made its tournament debut when Penn defeated No. 5-seeded Washington State 62-55 in 1980. (Officially, the NCAA defines a tournament upset as "when the winner of the game was seeded five or more places lower than the team it defeated.")

    As captivating as the 5-12 matchup has been, however, no No. 12 seed has ever advanced to the Final Four. Missouri came the closest, losing to No. 2-seeded Oklahoma 81-75 in the 2002 West Regional final at San Jose, Calif.

    This year could bring the tournament's first opening-round sweep for No. 12 seeds. The No. 12s previously won three of four against the No. 5s in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2014.

    Continue reading...

    Best NCAA Tournament information is found here

     

     

    So many websites. So many games. So many decisions to make while filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket.

    Feeling a little water-logged from hours of swimming on the web since this year's 68-team field was announced Sunday?

    Looking for a site with all the NCAA Tournament information you need? The absolute necessities and the simple basics -- a printable bracket with the sites, dates, starting times, TV networks, plus quality insight on every opening-round game?

    Tired of being lured in to all those "click bait" sites that require hitting "NEXT" page after page after page, which definitely is no fun when 68 teams are involved?

    CBS Sports, USA Today, Yahoo! and ESPN are all terrific sites for the tournament. But when it comes to March Madness, I've found it best to go directly to the source.

    That source is the NCAA.

    So, look no further. The best website for NCAA Tournament nuts and bolts is ...

     

     

    Click Here

     

     

    Continue reading...

    Top 10 mistakes made by the NCAA Tournament committee

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 12, 2017

    As a point of reference, here is the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s official seeding list No. 1 through No. 68 for this year's field:

     

     

    Top 10 mistakes made by this year's tournament selection committee:

    10. Syracuse deserved a bid … Nah, just kidding. The top team to not get an at-large bid was Illinois State (27-6), which was No. 69 in the committee’s overall seeding for the 68-team tournament. However, the Redbirds’ RPI ranking of No. 33 was higher than 15 teams that received at-large bids.

    9. Vanderbilt became the first team ever with 15 losses to get an at-large bid. Not only that, the Commodores are a No. 9 seed and face No. 8 seed Northwestern, which is making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups are supposed to be intriguing. Maybe this one should be decided by SAT scores.

    8. Michigan State had 14 losses, was seeded No. 40 overall, which equates to the final No. 10 seed, yet the Spartans somehow were given a No. 9 seed in the Midwest Regional. Not good news for No. 1-seeded Kansas.

    7. Middle Tennessee State, where former Oklahoma State guard and Oklahoma City University coach Win Case serves as an assistant to head coach Kermit Davis, deserved an at-large bid rather than an automatic berth at No. 12. No harm done, however. At least we now know which team to pick in the obligatory No. 5 vs. No. 12 upset special when the Blue Raiders face Minnesota in the South Regional. In fact, every 5 vs. 12 matchup potentially could be upsetting. Ranking the other three in terms of likelihood: UNC-Wilmington over Virginia in the East; Princeton over Notre Dame in the West; Nevada over Iowa State in the Midwest.

    6. Speaking of OSU, the Cowboys deserved better than a No. 10 seed. Yes, they’ve lost three straight, but they were against Iowa State (twice) and Kansas. OSU was ranked No. 35 overall by the committee, which equates to the third No. 9 seed. So what happened?

    Continue reading...

    Alex Brown: 30 years of athletic care for the Sooners

    OU athletic trainer Alex Brown has been to three Final Fours with the Sooners.
    BY JOHN ROHDE
    SoonerSports.com Contributor

    Alex Brown is in his 30th year as an athletic trainer at Oklahoma, and don’t dare ask him to rank his most memorable moments with the men’s basketball program. Such determinations are difficult when you have worked with three Final Four teams, three national players of the year, eight All-Americans and advanced to 21 NCAA Tournaments.

    “All my favorite moments usually are road wins, but NCAA Tournament wins are always special,” Brown admitted. “Just going to the NCAA Tournament is special. My favorite day of the year is Selection Sunday.”

    Brown also doesn’t share locker room banter, which falls under privileged information. “Hey, I can’t tell everything,” Brown said with a laugh before adding, “You’ll have to wait for my book.”

    Nor should you ask Brown to reveal his most challenging moments as an athletic trainer. “There’s too many to mention,” Brown said.

    The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects an individual’s health records and information, but many medical moments happen in plain sight and the Sooners have endured some doozies:

    Continue reading...

    All-Big 12 selections -- let's see how well the coaches did

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 5, 2017

    This season’s All-Big 12 men’s basketball awards will be revealed today, starting at noon. Voting was done by conference coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players.

    Listed below are the correct answers. Let’s see how close the coaches are to getting it right.

    You will notice a whole lot of Kansas listed here, but such things tend to happen when you’re ranked No. 1 nationally, own a 28-3 overall record, finish 16-2 in league play and win your 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title by four games in what the Sagarin Ratings calculate to be the nation’s top-ranked conference.

    FIRST TEAM

    G – Frank Mason III (Kansas)

    G – Monte Morris (Iowa State)

    G – Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State)

    F – Josh Jackson (Kansas)

    F – Johnathan Motley (Baylor)

    SECOND TEAM

    G – Jevon Carter (West Virginia)

    G – Naz Mitrou-Long (Iowa State)

    G – Devonte' Graham (Kansas)

    F – Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State)

    F – Jarrett Allen (Texas)

    Player of the Year: Frank Mason III (Kansas)

    Newcomer of the Year: Manu Lecomte (Baylor)

    Freshman of the Year: Josh Jackson (Kansas)

    Coach of the Year: Bill Self (Kansas)

    Continue reading...

    With Big 12 seeds set, why does OSU-KU game even matter?

    OSU first-year coach Brad Underwood
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    March 3, 2017

    Kansas and Oklahoma State are the only two teams to already have clinched their seeds for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament next week at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

    It just so happens these same two teams close out the regular season by meeting at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

    KU coach Bill Self

    By virtue of winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular-season crown, the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (27-3 overall; 15-2 in Big 12) have locked the No. 1 conference tournament seed while the surging Cowboys (20-10; 9-8) have secured the No. 5 seed. Heading into Friday night's Iowa State at West Virginia game, no other Big 12 seeds had been determined.

    OSU will play the No. 4 seed at 11:30 a.m. next Thursday. KU will follow that contest by facing the No. 8 vs. No. 9 first-round winner around 2 p.m. If the Cowboys and Jayhawks both win, they’ll meet in a tournament semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday.

    So, with next week’s schedule already locked in place for the Cowboys and Jayhawks, why does Saturday’s game in Stillwater even matter? Plenty of reasons:

    Continue reading...