Oklahoma football: Sooners flawed, fragile, frustrated and falling fast

Oct 1, 2022; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) lays injured on the field during the first half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2022; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) lays injured on the field during the first half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oklahoma football program has made history innumerable times as one of the winningest college teams of all-time. The Sooners are on the verge, however, of making history of a far different kind.

With the fourth most wins in college football history (the Sooners 929 wins entering the 2022 season was tied for fourth most) and the most wins of any team since 1946 (648), losing is not an option or something Oklahoma or its fans are used to. In fact, Oklahoma has had just 12 losing seasons in 127 years playing college football.

Two losses in five games certainly doesn’t qualify as a losing season, but it is becoming patently clear that this team probably isn’t going to run the table and finish with another 10- or 11-win season.

Oklahoma has lost consecutive games for just the second time since the 1999 season, the year Bob Stoops debuted as the 21st head coach in Sooner football history. The Sooners have not lost three games in a row since the 1998 season, when OU suffered through a highly atypical five-game losing skid that ultimately cost head coach John Blake his job.

Sports analysts like to say, when you win you generally aren’t as good as you look and, conversely, when you lose you aren’t as bad as you look. That said, the way the Sooners’ played against a good but not great TCU team was completely embarrassing to the proud and storied Oklahoma brand and totally unacceptable. There are no two ways around it.

Oklahoma has lived and actually done very well with poor defensive play in the past. That’s partially because the high-powered Sooner offense was able to mask the defensive deficiencies. This year’s OU offense is not quite as talented or productive as Sooner teams in the recent past and isn’t good enough to carry the load by its lonesome by simply outscoring everybody.

I’m not sure having Dillon Gabriel for the full game on Saturday would have made any difference as poor as Oklahoma played on the other side of the ball. The Sooners allowed TCU to roll up 668 yards of offense, including four plays of more than 60 yards. That’s four more than OU had allowed in its previous four games. More than half of those 668 yards (352) came on just six offensive plays.

Sooner defenders were out of position, and even when they weren’t they missed far too many tackles, and TCU receivers were running wide open all over the field. Something was definitely seriously wrong on Saturday, and TCU took full advantage of it.

It wasn’t just the pass defense that was off kilter; the Sooners also weren’t able to slow down the TCU run game. Two Horned Frogs gained more than 100 yards on the ground and a third totaled 65 yards. Those three players alone averaged 12.1 yards on 26 combined carries.

It was as bad an overall performance as we’ve seen from an Oklahoma team in many a year. And the real problem for Brent Venables and his staff is the games are going to get even tougher moving forward.

You could read the disappointment all over Venables’ face in his postgame interview session on Saturday. He summed it all up the only way he could:

"“We’re not very good right now. We’ve got a lot to get better at and a lot to improve.”"

The real issue going forward with a tough schedule still ahead is, can they get better in enough time to steady a ship that appears to be taking on water?

What happened on Saturday was a real confidence deflator. The Sooner players have to be doubting themselves after two very substandard Oklahoma performances, especially on defense.

This is a very wounded football team right now, both mentally as well as physically. And to top it all off, archrival Texas awaits Oklahoma for their annual battle royal in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

Just nine days ago, Oklahoma was the sixth-ranked team in the country. Today they are nowhere to be found in the national rankings, replaced by Kansas, Kansas State and TCU, the latter two courtesy of taking down the Sooners.

The Sooners are banged up on both sides of the ball. In addition to Gabriel, who is in the concussion protocol and may not be available for the Red River rivalry game, defensive back Billy Bowman left the TCU game after returning the opening kickoff and may not be available and running backs Eric Gray and Marcus Major are injured and may not play. Wide receiver Theo Wease left Saturday’s game with an apparent injury and offensive linemen Andrew RaymAnton Harrison and Wanya Morris were all hurt or nicked up in Saturday’s game.

OU defensive back Damond Harmon was carted off the field on Saturday with a head or neck injury and cornerback Woodi Washington was also banged up during the game. And that’s just who we know of.

There’s obviously much more to do to get this team performing at an Oklahoma standard and high-expectation level than any of us realized heading into the new season. Everyone knew there would be changes with a new head coach and two new coordinators entering the picture, but all the issues that have cropped up on the defensive side the last two weeks leads one to conclude that the defensive system and schemes that are typical of a Venables defense don’t fit the current Sooner defensive personnel. They apparently are too new and too complex for this group of Sooners and have them thinking too much while trying to play good defense.

After the dominant win over Nebraska, the Sooners ranked 35th in the country among FBS teams; they dropped to 62nd after the Kansas State loss, and after the debacle at TCU, they plummeted all the way to 109th out of 131 teams.

This will all get worked out over time, but for right now obvious adjustments are going to have to be made and quickly.

"“Psyche is a fragile thing,” Venables said in his postgame comments following the TCU loss. “To me, they’re gonna respond the way we respond, so we’ve got to be the example. Do you like what you do whether you won or whether you lost.“Have some accountability to everyone, take ownership, address the issues that were there, improve our fundamentals, make sure we are putting them in schemes that are advantageous. That’s what coaches are supposed to do. Right now, we’ve done a poor job of that. That’s obvious.”"

Just a few weeks ago Oklahoma was a slight favorite looking ahead to the Texas game at the Cotton Bowl during Texas State Fair time in Dallas. Now it appears that the only thing the Sooners can look forward to is playing the spoiler role.

But there is still a ray of sunshine to hold onto amid all the adversity. In a rival game as big as OU-Texas, all records go out the window and nothing is as obvious as things might appear. A good time to call on some Sooner Magic.