Instant Analysis - Sun Bowl
Oklahoma 31 ... Stanford 27
I spent most of the year making excuses for Oklahoma. From the injuries
costing the Sooners games they likely would've won against BYU and
Miami, to arguing that the defense really was strong with so much NFL
talent and so many good veterans, to the fact that when everything was
working, like the Oklahoma State win, this was a team as good as any in
the Big 12. I'm not so sure I'm going to automatically give the benefit
of the doubt next year ... when Oklahoma plays away from home.
Call it numerology, call it a quirk, call it me beating a fun stat to
death, but it bears repeating when looking at next year's schedule with
games at Cincinnati, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Baylor, along with the the
annual showdown in Dallas against Texas. (Again, all apologies if you're
sick of me bringing this up, but I find it so fascinating that a team
can play so well close to home and be so mediocre away.)
Since the 17-10 loss to TCU at the beginning of the 2005 season,
Oklahoma has won 31 in a row inside the state of Oklahoma (including
dates at Tulsa and Oklahoma State), and after this win over Stanford is
just 17-15 outside of the borders. Granted, some of the tougher games
are away from Oklahoma, like the Texas game and the bowls, but that
doesn't quite explain why a team that can destroy a motivated Oklahoma
State 27-0 and struggled with an overmatched team like Stanford, get
blown away 41-13 by Texas Tech, and be so mediocre. To take this even
further, in that 31-game home, or close to home, streak, only three
games were decided by fewer than ten points, two of those were in 2005,
and one was at Oklahoma State in 2006. Away, out of the 32 games, OU
only won by double-digit points 11 times.
Maybe it's attitude, maybe it's confidence, or maybe it's just pure dumb
luck, but with the was the Sooners dominated offensively against the
Cardinal and kept everyone other than Toby Gerhart in check on defense,
to struggle so much has to be explained in some way. Sometimes the
numbers simply don't lie.
I went into this Sun Bowl game very leery about Oklahoma QB Landry Jones. I left impressed, believing that the Sooners are in good hands at the position for the next three years.
Jones, if you recall, was thrust into the spotlight after Sam Bradford injured his shoulder in the opener with BYU. To say that the results were mixed would be generous. Too often, he looked like a redshirt freshman, missing open receivers and getting picked 13 times. On Thursday, however, I saw a different player, someone who benefitted from the extra practices in December. Jones played with far more confidence in the win over Stanford, standing tall in the pocket and showing off his powerful right arm, with plenty of help from star WR Ryan Broyles. In the end, he went 30-of-51 for 419 yards, three touchdowns, and an early pick, but it was the way he managed the game and helped carry the Sooners to a tough win that really stood. Now, if someone can just teach him how to take a knee during victory formation without getting his clocked cleaned, the New Mexico native will really be in business.
Throughout Bob Stoops' successful run over the past decade, he has always had a capable quarterback to pilot the offense. Bradford. Jason White. Josh Heupel. It's certainly early in his tenure and there's work to be done in the offseason, but Jones clearly has the physical tools and that unexpected full year of experience to be next in line in Norman. The Sooners are going to need him to be that guy in order to rebound from this year's five-loss disappointment.
1) Memo to Fresno State, Oregon State, Cal, Nevada, Ohio, Miami, and Missouri: See how much Oklahoma cared about playing in a bowl that's below the Sooners' normal pay grade? That's how you compete in a bowl after a rough regular season. Class dismissed.
2) Knock Arizona for not showing up against Nebraska, but don't be hard on Stanford for engaging OU in a tough, physical slugfest without Andrew Luck. Yes, Tavita Pritchard wasn't up to the task in the West Texas town of El Paso, but he wasn't expected to be. Toby Gerhart didn't flop after his Heisman-worthy season, and a team that looked sorely outclassed after the first five minutes rallied to make this contest quite compelling.
The Sun Bowl is older than the Cotton Bowl, and so it's fitting that an event endowed with such surprising longevity – played in one of the sport's more distinctive and beautiful settings – received a 60-minute showcase worthy of its proud history. Stanford's grit in the face of a Luck-less quarterback situation made the latest Sun Bowl a decidedly satisfying spectacle.