This week, Jon tangled with Jordan Esco of SB Nation's Sooner community Crimson and Cream Machine and discussed the dank cesspool of Oklahoma sports talk radio, the coaching situation in Norman, and of course all the skinny on Saturday's game in Manhattan. And as you'll see, there was a lot of it. Enjoy!
Jon: This is a bit of a somber question to start out with, but in the grand scheme of things it hasn't been that long at all since the Moore tornado. How are things going for folks in the area now? Any major relief efforts still going on that we might want to be aware of?
Jordan: Well as you can obviously imagine, it's a continued work in progress. They are continuing to recover and rebuild, but it's understandably going to take quite some time. As far as relief efforts, I'd direct anyone interested to the city's official website. Appreciate you asking.
Jon: I already know the answer to this question because I live near Tulsa and spend too much time in my car shaking my head while listening to the Sports Animal. But with a few exceptions our readers don't get to enjoy that experience, so: How angry are you guys at this point?
Jordan: Sigh, the Sports Animal. Yeah, it's hard to describe to those not from the area or those who haven't spent time in the area to take in all that is the Sports Animal.
However, to your point I'd say people are, in my opinion, much more frustrated than they are angry. Like pretty much any media outlet, be it print or sports talk radio, those with the pen or mics like to represent fans as slobbering morons who are just constantly screaming for someone to get fired. What I've particularly enjoyed is how those in the OKC market have continually ridiculed OU fans for being frustrated with offensive coordinator, then they watch the offense struggle significantly this year and all of a sudden they're on board with the criticism.
Part of the frustration with the offense and Josh Heupel this year certainly stems from OU fans being somewhat spoiled after having been privy to some of the more explosive offenses in the country in years past. We knew going in after the loss of Landry Jones there were going to be some speed bumps, but it's like those in charge only had one foot in the water with respect to the changes that had to be made scheme wise rather than simply jumping into the deep end.
It doesn't make fans of any program look good to be complaining about having lost two games, but at least for me it's not that they lost so much as the manner in which they lost those two games.
Jon: As a complete aside, related to the lead-in to that last question... does the average Sooner fan really feel like the season's a failure if OU's not at least making an argument for the national championship, or is that just the Animal stirring up the hornet's nest?
Jordan: I'd like to believe most OU fans are not that irrational, but we, like every fan base, certainly have a fair share of those who live in a place other than the real world. I'd put it more like this. I think the expectation of those of us that are rational OU fans is that this program should at least have the chance to compete for a national championship pretty much every year. The expectation isn't that they should win it, obviously that would be ridiculous, but that they have a team legitimately capable of competing for it.
The problem of late is that hasn't been the case. And to be perfectly frank, even being level-headed fan I'd like to consider myself to be, I don't ever want that expectation to change. Because the minute you lower that bar or accept that lesser standard, I feel like that's the day you start to remove yourself from that group of college football's elite.
I guess what it boils down to for me is maintaining that national championship standard without being a complete moron about it and not actually expecting them to win it all every year (unless you're a fan of a program with Satan himself, a.k.a Nick Saban, as your coach).
Jon: Is Josh Heupel toast? Is Stoops if he won't get rid of him? And is Stoops in trouble regardless if the Sooners drop games this weekend and Bedlam?
Jordan: I doubt it (which makes my physically ill). No chance in hell. Even less of a chance in a lesser hell.
Right or wrong, Stoops isn't going anywhere barring some kind of major NCAA violation/s. Now don't take that to mean I, or a vast majority of OU fans, want him gone or anything. Sure, we get frustrated at times as he's been there for 15 years now and at times the same ol' schtick can wear on you. But the downside of him leaving and OU replacing him with someone who cannot replicate his success is not a risk worth taking, at least not for now.
As for Heupel, your guess is honestly as good as mine. In my opinion, the guy has proved to be a below average offensive coordinator/play-caller and someone that has always struck me as a guy learning on the job. Which I realize to actually say seems ridiculous, but those of us who have watched him these last three years remain convinced he's not the guy for the job. However, Stoops, much like Bill Snyder, has almost always been loyal to a fault with those on his staff. Obviously this past offseason when Stoops fired three members of his staff, two that had been with him for quite some time and the other being the best man at his wedding, would contradict that standing and is the flickering ray of hope many of us are clinging to with respect to him doing the same with Heupel. Well actually, we don't necessarily want Heupel fired. We'd be fine if he went back to being the quaterbacks coach. I'd even be fine with him keeping his 'co-offensive coordinator' title, but he simply cannot be allowed to call plays again next year.
All that said, I'm not optimistic Stoops changes anything unless things just completely come off the rails in these last two games and their bowl game.
Jon: The dual quarterback situation in Manhattan has, obviously, been the engine behind most K-State fan discussion all season. But lately, we've sort of noticed it's like a disease, spreading across the entire conference -- or at least the parts that aren't wearing green. How's the situation playing out in Norman with Bell and Knight, and looking forward to 2014 where do you see things headed?
Jordan: Well I definitely wouldn't call OU's a dual quarterback situation. There were a number of people who were surprised when Trevor Knight was initially named the starter, but those of us close to the program had heard the rumbling of that possibility for a while before it become official. With that decision, it looked like the coaches clearly knew they had to significantly change the type of offense they were running no longer having a 'spread-type' quarterback on campus.
However, like I mentioned above, they didn't seem comfortable with the transition, especially after both Knight and the offense struggled in their first two games.
Then Knight hurt his knee midway thru their second game of the season and it seemed like the coaches were provided with a convenient excuse to go back to an offense more familiar to the one they'd been used to running rather than the read-option offense they'd started the season running. The only problem with that decision being Blake Bell's inability to really excel in either style of offense.
So now, again after the offense struggling but for whatever reason their insistence Bell "gave them the best chance to win games", they've been provided with another convenient excuse to make a change due to an injury after Bell suffered an apparent concussion in the second quarter last week against Iowa State.
Both in terms of the remainder of this season and looking ahead to 2014, I think a commitment to this read-option offense is absolutely necessary. It became apparent that a finesse (my words), spread type offense like the one they ran under Sam Bradford and Landry Jones was never going to bring Oklahoma another national championship. To the coaches credit, they seemed to recognize this and made the necessary change in naming Knight the starter. But they were much too quick to go away from that style of offense after Knight got hurt and even more hesitant to go back to it once he was 100%. This latest injury to Bell forced their hand and I think they'd be incredibly foolish to try and go back to what they were doing AND what wasn't working.
Jon: What exactly is it Heupel's trying to accomplish with the offense? Any tendencies to watch for? Similarly, what's little brother Stoops doing on the other side of the ball these days?
Jordan: What is Josh Heupel trying to accomplish with this offense? Man, talk about a loaded question. I could probably have a lot of fun with that, but instead I'll make to try and answer it seriously.
I have a theory I've shared on our site about Heupel and what he's done with the offense this year. That theory being I don't believe he wanted any part of changing the offense in the first place. I don't think he's comfortable calling plays for a quarterback like Trevor Knight (or Kendal Thompson who you might also see on Saturday), a guy who you can't just put in the shotgun and let him throw it 50 times a game. I feel vindicated in said theory with how quickly they tried to go back to what they'd done in the past and their refusal to go back to Knight, the guy they initially named their starting quarterback mind you, and the offense they opened the season running.
To be perfectly honest, I couldn't tell you what he's trying to do with the offense because I legitimately don't believe he knows what he wants to do with it right now. And I'm not sure how anyone could argue that point if they watched this offense in the weeks prior to their most recent game against Iowa State. This offense has been without an identity for almost the entire season and the results of that fact have been on clear display for all to see.
As for Mike Stoops, I firmly believe he's done one of the better coaching jobs in the country. Especially when you consider the injuries this defense has suffered, the guys they've played the better part of this season without, and their current standing nationally from a defensive perspective (No. 10 in passing defense, No. 13 in total defense & No. 19 in scoring defense). Somewhat similar to the offense, this OU defense went thru a significant overhaul prior to the season, though unlike the offense they've stuck with said changes.
Gone went the traditional 4-2-5 formation the Stoops brothers had run for the last decade plus and in came a 3-3-5 formation that can morph into a modified 3-4 depending on the situation. It seemed to manifest from a concern with respect to what they returned in their front seven (or six as it were), specifically up front along the defensive line. But it has worked out much better than I think even the coaches could have anticipated and has been an incredibly positive sign for a defensive that ended last year in utter shambles after repeated embarrassing performances. The most exciting part about it honestly is the youth. They should return 9 of 11 starters from this defense next year and if these guys are this young and already playing this well, there is plenty for OU fans to be excited about heading into 2014.
Jon: Other than Jalen Saunders and the obvious guys in the offensive skill positions, who should we keep a close eye on Saturday? Anyone particularly under-appreciated?
Jordan: Well, on offense it's all going to start with Trevor Knight. Now that's obviously assuming he starts which Stoops refused to confirm in his Monday presser and said he won't announce his starter until Saturday, though I tend to think we could hear something by the end of the week. It will be his first ever road start and really only the second time of his young career that he'll have ever played away from home (he got in briefly during OU's game at Notre Dame).
Other than that Captain Obvious selection, on offense I'd say keep an eye out for guys like Roy Finch, Lacoltan Bester, and/or Sterling Shepard. Finch is arguably OU's most explosive play-maker on offense, but his playing time has been off-and-on at times this year. However, he did start against Iowa State and has been used in the offense more as of late. Bester is a talented receiver and a guy OU has used on a number of trick plays this year. Shepard missed last week after suffering a concussion against Baylor, but a guy OU uses in the slot which could play a key role on those short to intermediate routes for a guy like Knight who isn't a polished thrower at this stage of his career. [Ed. Note: after this Q&A session took place, word came out that Bester, along with Damian Williams, will be suspended for Saturday's game.]
On defense, I'd say just about everything they do up front revolves around the play of Charles Tapper and Eric Striker. The latter of whom is an undersized guy they play essentially as a rush end, though they did use him in coverage more this past week, who they move around a lot and will rush the quarterback on most downs. Tapper is just a freak of an athlete, and former basketball player, who, along with Striker, is easily OU's most dynamic pass rusher. He creates a lot of havoc up front and leads the team in sacks. I would also add that Geneo Grissom (another KS kid OU took out of state, sorry) has started to come on in recent weeks. There's a bunch of guys in the secondary, but the obvious headliner is Aaron Colvin who also is coming off an injury after having to sit out last week.
Jon: Finally, how do you see this one playing out?
Jordan: This is a tough one. There are a number of scenarios in which I can envision Oklahoma winning this game, but there are equally just as many in which I can see Kansas State winning.
The two (well, there's more than two but I've already rambled on long enough) things that worry me the most in this game are (1) Knight starting his first ever road game and (2) this OU defense's ability to defend Daniel Sams.
Not sure No. 1 needs much explanation. Knight was incredibly amped up in OU's first two games, at home, which caused his passing to be incredibly erratic. And there is no way I can see OU winning this game if they cannot have some form of success throwing the football. And while Knight looked much, much more comfortable against Iowa State it was at home and, more importantly, it was against Iowa State.
In terms of defending Sams, I'm not exactly sure how to phrase it but you guys have watched him enough I assume you'll know what I'm talking about. He, and Waters as well, runs this play where he looks like he's going to run but doesn't quite take off then a receiver, or I feel like I've seen it go more to the tight end, will take off up the seam and get behind the defense as Sams quickly pulls up and finds them over the top. It's not always on target and of the times I've seen it his inaccuracy has arguably cost you a touchdown or at the very least a bigger gain, but it's borderline impossible to defend because he sells it so well. So basically OU's secondary cheating up, getting caught with their eyes in the backfield, and then getting burned deep and/or over-the-top really worries me in this game. Especially with OU's safeties who have shown a tendency to do exactly what I described and lose sight of their assignment.
If you're wanting a prediction, I'm not big on predicting the final score so I'll simply put it this way. As much as it pains me, if I'm being objective I feel like K-State wins a really close, hard-fought game. I think you take the approach a lot of teams have and should take against this offense, be it with Bell or Knight under center, and that's one of putting extra defenders in the box to stop the run and daring OU to beat you throwing the football. And in his first ever start on the road, I'm just not sure Knight is going to get the job done in this one. Or that with those extra defenders in the box OU will be able to run the ball well enough to overcome that inability to throw the ball.
I sincerely hope I'm wrong and OU is able to find a way to pull this one out on the road, but I'm not make a homer pick just to make a homer pick.
Hope any of your readers (or ours at CCM) who are going to the game have a good time and that both teams play well with whichever the better of the two is on Saturday coming out on top.
Jon: Absolutely. Fantastic, enlightening stuff. Huge thanks and appreciation for Jordan taking the time to trade information this week. As always, you'll want to be sure to see my responses to Jordan's questions over at Crimson & Cream Machine.