Oklahoma football: Brent Venables early tenure at OU historic

Oklahoma Sooners tight end Brayden Willis (9) and defensive back C.J. Coldon (22) walk off the field after the Red River Showdown college football game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Texas won 49-0.Lx19135
Oklahoma Sooners tight end Brayden Willis (9) and defensive back C.J. Coldon (22) walk off the field after the Red River Showdown college football game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Texas won 49-0.Lx19135 /

Oklahoma football is in a position that is virtually unprecedented in program history.

Oklahoma has lost three consecutive games for the first time since 1998. The Sooners lost by the third largest margin in the history of the program, the worst margin of defeat to Texas and also to an unranked opponent.

Objectively, Oklahoma is on its worst two-game stretch in program history. Something has to give here as the Sooners are not talent deprived; this staff was highly touted coming in. So what is going on?

Clearing up misconceptions

There appears to be a misconception that this Oklahoma roster lacks talent, that there isn’t much the coaches can do, and that patience is required. I will clarify that notion is entirely and utterly false. It’s true that Oklahoma lost a lot of talent to the next level, then a few more players to the transfer portal. However, while more than usual, Oklahoma loses talented players annually, it’s Oklahoma.

The cupboard was not left bare; this staff inherited a roster that is fourth in Blue-Chip Ratio at 71%, the sixth highest composite average, and ninth in composite overall. In all the best ways to measure the Sooner’s roster, it’s top ten in the country in each. Evaluating first-year situations in recent years only Lincoln Riley, and Ryan Day truly had a better situation to start with as first-year head coaches.

To put this in the simplest way possible, of Oklahoma’s two-deep (44 players), The Sooners have only seven players that were not rated four-star either out of high school or as a transfer. Drake Stoops, Robert Congel, Davis Beville, Tyler Guyton, Isaiah Coe, Jake McCoy, Each of these seven are also backed up by a four-star or higher prospect.

Oklahoma is not lacking talent; the roster is full of talent that the Sooners won over other top programs. I have also seen folks say, “Well, only 34 players left are guys Riley recruited,” and that’s simply a Jedi mind trick used for copium. The 2022 class is being credited to Venables, Justin Broiles was in the 2017 class under Bob, and this doesn’t count transfers like Chris Murray and Key Lawrence, who are major contributors brought in by the last staff, for example.

The reality is other programs around the country are in far less ideal situations that are thriving with a new coach. TCU, Oregon, and USC, among others. If the Sooners were to have had a 3-3 record at this point the conventional thought would’ve been perhaps it would look like what’s happening at Texas Tech. Coach Joey McGuire is on his third-string QB, they beat Texas and lost three close games to ranked opponents.

The other misconception  I will clear up is my (Timothy Bailey) tweet from the Stormin in Norman social media account, which got a ton more attention than I could’ve even guessed when I tweeted it.

Perhaps my highly sunburned self, surrounded by a sea of Sooners and Longhorns, should’ve waited to tweet this out until I was in a place where I could more clearly articulate what I meant. For example, the word “may” over “will” changes the tone quite a lot and is more what I intended to communicate. I was not calling for Oklahoma to fire Brent Venables. I am in no position to do such a thing, and like the readers of this site, I am an Oklahoma fan; I love Brent Venables. He is not only a good football coach but a great man. He is the ideal person on paper to be the head coach for the Sooners.

I would love nothing more than for Brent to be amazing at Oklahoma. In fact, it would be the ideal situation. I also did not delete the tweet, because quite frankly that’s weak, I don’t believe in hiding, I said it so I will own it. Though, I am still waiting to be ratioed to “another planet” as Parker Thune said.

However, in this business coaches know what they sign up for. Oklahoma was not supposed to be a rebuilding job, the harsh reality is Venables got handed more than most could dream of, and through six weeks he and his staff’s performances have been poor. Oklahoma is not historically a patient school when it comes to failure, and this has been a historic failure to this point for the Sooners. And this stank is historically putrid. This doesn’t mean it can’t be solved or fixed long-term, but the reality is that this team is clearly not well-coached right now; it’s abundantly clear. So a tweet that was taken as a sinful lack of faith, was more about the harsh reality of the situation.

There are already rumblings about how some of the OU brass is extremely displeased by what’s been seen. Perhaps an assistant may have to fall on the sword, and if Oklahoma truly goes 3-9 or 4-8, it would not and should not surprise anyone if a move is made. Dewey Gomer, Bud Wilkinson, and John Blake are the only coaches since the 40’s to survive a losing season. Gomer was coaching during the second world war, Wilkinson is a legend and was in his 14th campaign, Blake got two mulligans before a third got him the hook, and that’s after Howard Schnellenberger “resigned” (c’mon) after a .500 campaign in his lone1995 season.

Now, there are still six games left, and this could end up being a similar situation to 2005, which is what we all hope for.

Personnel misuse

The ever-annoying three-man front was ever-present in the loss to Texas on Saturday. Without a true nose guard on the roster, it seems obvious that Oklahoma should line up with a four-man line. Venables in recent years comes to the three down front only as a change up, but it has suddenly become a classic theme of the last few weeks for OU. The weirdest part is that Oklahoma has performed significantly better with the four-man look.

So when you add that the 4-2-5 has been more or less the base defense for Venables for years, coupled with the fact that the Sooners have better personnel for that look why in the world has Oklahoma been doing so much 3-3-5?

The only things I could come up with, the first being that Oklahoma because of injury wants to aid the back end, but as everyone knows in football nothing helps a secondary more than pressures on the opposing QB.

Allen Kenney on Twitter expressed he felt against Texas that the Sooners may have been trying to manipulate the game’s pace and flow. By presenting a lighter box, and deeper drops in coverage Texas would spend more clock on drives and thus limiting the possessions of the contest, and the staff likely opted for that due to the issues at QB OU had Saturday. This is plausible for Saturday, but the previous games that would be a hard sell.

This went as far as seeing 225-pound Edge R Mason Thomas lining up in a four-point stance; Jalen Redmond has excelled as an interior player but not as the middle in a three-down line. Justin Harrington is a guy I have been told by sources close to the last two staffs has a shot to be a first-round pick as a defensive back. He played just one snap Saturday. Sooner fans have noted how short-starting cornerbacks Woodi Washington and Jaden Davis are. Yet, no real effort has been made for the taller corners on the roster to get much run, even with Washington playing emergency safety against the Longhorns. It has been a confusing use of talent for the Sooner’s defense to this point.

Injury issues

The headlining injuries for this team particularly the last two games have been starting safety Billy Bowman and, of course, QB Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel was concussed in the second quarter against TCU, and the Sooner’s stud safety was hurt on the opening kickoff. Neither was available in the Red River Showdown. Linebackers Shane Whitter and T. D Roof have been lost for the season due to injury, and defensive back Damond Harmond was knocked out of the game against TCU and has not been on the field since. Though, thankfully reports indicate the young man is okay. Theo Wease was banged up and did not see any snaps Saturday. So there is some amount of hands being tied due to injury.

Play calling

The playcalling on both sides of the field has been rather suspect. Offensively it seems as if when something is working coordinator Jeff Lebby decides to try something else. Defensively there have been very poorly timed and weird blitz calls that leave you scratching your head. Against TCU, the Horned Frogs scored on no less than four busted plays, and they each totaled more than 60 yards.

When you give up a bust, or maybe two busts that’s on player execution. When you give up that many, it typically indicates that the coaches are putting more on the players than they currently understand. When you call plays as a coach, you always have to be mindful of what your players are adequate enough at executing.

It is your job as a coach to put the players in the best position to be successful. That’s what Bob Stoops alluded to in 2005 when he said he would simplify things for the players. Oklahoma started 2-3 but ended 8-4 at the end of the year, only losing that controversial game in Lubbock.

The Sooner coaches have a lot of experience. Now more than ever, it’s time to lean on those experiences and put these players in the best position to succeed. Let’s see how things go on Saturday against the Jayhawks.