Sooners get big day from Westbrook

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN – The start of the season was not a good one for Dede Westbrook. With the expectations of replacing Sterling Shepard as the lead wideout, the Cameron, Texas native was nearly invisible in two Oklahoma losses.

But then the Sooners entered Big 12 Conference play and the senior seemed to find his stride. That continued Saturday in Oklahoma’s 38-17 victory over Kansas State at Memorial Stadium.

Westbrook finished the day with 9 catches, 184 yards and three touchdowns. His eight scores over the past three games eclipsed former Sooner Ryan Broyles record of seven.

Yet, the first thing Westbrook wanted to talk about were plays he didn’t make.

We did pretty good,’ Westbrook said. “Offensively, we had a few drops that we missed out and we want back. Ofcourse I want that deep pass back. I’m pretty down on myself about that because that’s something I can control. But we will get it together this coming up week in practice.”

But it wasn’t just Westbrook who did work against the Wildcats. The team accounted for 510 total yards, including 372 through the air.

The Sooners also held K-State to 335 total yards and 17 points. KSU had been averaging 34 points a contest.

The Sooners came out of the starting blocks on fire. On the first possession of game, they went on a seven play drive that lasted 2:36. it ended with Baker Mayfield dumping off a short pass in the flats to Samaje Perine. From there he took it 25 yards into the endzone to give Oklahoma 7-0 lead.

The points kept on coming on Oklahoma’s next drive when Mayfield went to his elite tailback, Joe Mixon, with a short pass. This time Mixon hurdled a KSU defender on his way into endzone for the score. With less than six minutes left in the opening quarter, OU led 14-0.

They weren’t doing anything that we weren’t expecting,” KSU’s Jordan Willis said. “It was just struggling on the tackling. Guys were hitting them, but they weren’t wrapping up.”

The Wildcats didn’t get flustered or get away from their game. They preceded to go on an eight minute and 30 second scoring drive to cut the Oklahoma lead in half.

OU came back with a half back pass from Mixon to Westbrook, who didn’t start the game to missing a practice last week. It was the first time a runningback from Oklahoma had thrown a TD pass since Joe Washington in the early 70s.

Joe was sensational running the football, making a really good defense miss him on a good number of occasion and get extra yards, ran tough in a lot of instances,” OU coach Bob Stoops said, “caught the ball well, had a big kick off return and then goes and throws a touchdown pass. I saw the play design and as soon as I saw it, I said “Ah, that’s one of those. That’s a score.”

The two teams exchanged field goals as OU held a 24-10 halftime lead.

The Oklahoma defense shut down the Wildcats in the third. With Ogbonnia Okoronkwo getting pressure in the backfield and Jordan Thomas, Will Johnson and Jordan Parker playing solid coverage in the secondary, they had Kansas State on their heals.

But the Wildcats were able to get on the board again in the fourth when Dominick Keith got behind Thomas on a broken play for a 54 yard scoring catch.

After Kansas State forced the Sooners to punt, they had an opportunity to make it a game. But once again, the Oklahoma defense came up with 4th down stop and took over on the 12 yard line.

The Sooners decided to put the game away at that point. With Kansas State in man defense, Mayfield went to Westbrook down the middle of the field for an 88 yard touchdown.

He’s separated himself,” Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “He’s doing a lot for us. Similar to what Shep (Shepard) did for us last year, but in a different way. When Dede get’s one-on-one, he can win the battle down the field. That’s been important for us against teams trying to load up and stop our run game.”

Mayfield was 24 of 31 for 346 yards and four TDs. It is the fourth time in his career he has tossed four or more touchdowns.

Perine left the game with a slightly pulled muscle, but Mixon and Abdul Adams picked up the slack in the OU run game.

The Sooners head to East Texas Oct. 22 to take on Texas Tech. They have a chance to run their conference record to 4-0. It’s also an opportunity to exact some revenge for Mayfield, who played there before transferring to Oklahoma.

They will be ready for me when I get down there, that’s for sure,” Mayfield said. “I’m excited for it. It’s always fun playing in Lubbock and this time I’m obviously on the other side of it. It’ll be an interesting matchup. I’ll get my guys ready and it should be a pretty good time.”

Sooners outlast hungry Longhorns

By Michael Kinney

DALLAS – After most of 92,000 fans had cleared out of the Cotton Bowl Saturday, the Oklahoma Sooners were still on the field celebrating. The coronation of gold cowboy hat and the group photo in front of the scoreboard had to be taken after the Sooners 45-40 victory over Texas.

However, the one celebration that stood out from the rest involved quarterback Baker Mayfield. The junior signal caller grabbed a giant OU flag right as the band started to play the Sooners fight song. He raced around the field, did a few spins as his teammates chased him then as the song ended, he slammed the end the flag pole into the ground.

“It’s special to me. I grew up in Austin so I know what this rivalry is all about,” Mayfield said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get a win against these guys. It felt good to go out and celebrate with the team.”

It was a fitting end to an afternoon that saw Mayfield and his Sooners (3-2, 2-0) scratch and claw their way to hard fought win over a team that needed the victory just as much as they did.

“I didn’t know what it was going to be like, but I knew of the rivalry and what it was like,” Junior Emmanuel Beal said. “I knew I would have to play my best game. We knew we were going to have to play our best game of the season to come out with a victory.”

But the win didn’t come easy.

Texas (2-3, 0-2) scored midway through the fourth quarter to cut Oklahoma’s lead down to eight points. The Sooners responded with a clutch Austin Siebert field goal with 2:36 left in the game to put the Sooners up 45-34.

The Longhorns took over on their own 20 yard line with 2:30 left on the clock. They were down to the Sooners 20 with 1:51 left. The very next play D’Onta Foreman scored and OU’s lead was down to 45-40 after a missed the 2-point conversion.

Texas went for the onside kick, but the Sooners recovered it.

Texas forced OU to punt and took over with 17seconds left. After two failed attempts to get the ball down field, the Longhorns were only left with the hope of a miraculous play to come from several laterals that the Sooners stopped defended.

“We just had to stay calm, we knew that it was going to be a dog fight coming into it because it always is, no matter their record or our record is,” Sophomore Orlando Brown said. “We just have to come out, be motivated and be consistent. We had some unnecessary turnovers throughout the game, but we showed our resilience and we just did what we do best.”

The Sooners started the game off like they had in past contests. The offense drove down the field, but stalled just outside the redzone and Siebert missed a field goal attempt.

Mayfield threw back to back interceptions on the Sooners next two possessions. It would have amounted to an horrendous start, but the OU defense held the Longhorns to a field goal.

Oklahoma finally got on the board after recovering a Texas fumble deep in the Longhorn’s territory. Samaje Perine scored on a 2-yard plunge to put the Sooners up 7-3 with 1:42 left in the first quarter.

However, the Longhorns quickly retook a 10-7 advantage to start the second quarter.

Much of the first half was filled with mistakes, turnovers and penalties by both teams. There was no rhythm or momentum to the game.

Oklahoma overcame that late in the first half when Mayfield slung a pass down down the field to a wide open Dede Westbrook. With his defender falling down he was able to stroll into the endzone for a 71 yard TD to give OU a 14-10 advantage.

Despite the reputation Oklahoma’s Jordan Thomas carries as a shut down corner, UT quarterback Shane Buechele kept testing him on deep passes down the sideline. But Thomas rose the occasion almost every time to prevent the completion.

However, at the start of the third quarter, Buechele went at him on back to back possessions and connected for touchdowns.

Not to be outdone, after Mayfield hooked up with Westmoore alum Dahu Green down the left sideline, the QB scored on a short run to put Oklahoma back in front in the sea-saw affair.

On their next possession, it was Mayfield to Westbrook again. Their third TD of the afternoon gave the Sooners a 35-27 advantage.

An interception by Midwest City native Will Sunderland gave the Sooners the ball back late in the third quarter. It led to a time consuming drive in which the OU offensive line pounded open holes and all the way down the field. Perine scored from 2-yards out and Oklahoma went up by 15.

“That turnover was big, too. Will has done some good things,” Defensive coordinator said. “ We have to make the game where Will can be a factor because he’s a very talented player. That’s part Will, that’s part us getting him in position where he can really use his ability to play. It was a little reminiscent of Zack Sanchez’s interception against Tennessee. That’s the first thing I thought of. It really put us in a good position.”

Perine led all rushers with 214 yards while Mayfield threw for 390 yards and three TD’s. Westbrook had a record setting performance with 232 yards and three scores.

“Dede was huge. He had some big ones. We thought we had some good matchups there,” Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “It’s been good the last two weeks to get him healthy. He’s a big part of what we’re doing. Bake had some really nice throws to him, protected by our o-line. When you do what we did running and throwing the ball, there’s a lot of people playing well and Dede did a great job of finishing those off.”

OU will look to move to 3-0 in Big 12 Conference play Saturday when they host Kansas State. Kick-off is set for 11 .m. at Memorial Stadium.

Coaches feeling the pressure heading into Red River Rivalry

By Michael Kinney

The Red River Rivalry has always been a major showdown. No matter the rankings, whenever Texas and Oklahoma enter the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the game takes on epic proportions.

However, the last couple of years, the annual contest has taken on the burden of job security for the head coaches involved. Last year’s win by the Longhorns is believed to have saved the job of UT head coach Charlie Strong.

As both the No. 20 Sooners (2-2) and the Longhorns (2-2) enter Saturday’s contest, Strong is once again fighting to keep his job. After deflating losses to California and Oklahoma State in which his defense allowed a combined 99 points, many believe this will be his last Red River Rivalry.

However, Strong is not the only one hearing the call to be replaced. Despite leading OU to the Final Four last season, Bob Stoops, for the first time, is seriously hearing calls for his job.

Appearing on FS1’s ‘Speak For Yourself’, Sooner legend Brian Bosworth put a face to the behind the scene whispers Thursday when he said it may be time for OU to move on from the Stoops era.

“That’s kind of a conversation that’s quietly been had over the last five, seven years,” Stoops said. “I’ve heard that from a lot of the alumni. You look at the great traditional programs; the tenure of a coach that has had the great success that Bob has had has been remarkable. Especially as long as he’s been there.But it’s not only what you do during the season that matters. It’s how you finish the season in bowl games. And what we’re doing over the course of these seven to eight years is we’re getting embarrassed in the bowl games.

“It weighs heavily on the alumni, and it weighs heavily on the tradition, and it weighs heavily on us as players, because it’s just unacceptable going out there; I understand getting beat, but I don’t understand getting embarrassed,” he continued. “That just means the players are packing up the bags at the first sign of the avalanche starting to happen.”

While Bosworth can easily be dismissed as a disgruntled alumni, the fear that the game is passing by Stoops is the focus of talk radio, local TV and recruiting websites everyday.

That is what makes this year’s Red River Rivalry so important. The state of Texas is still fertile recruiting ground for the Sooners. It’s 2017 class already contains several commits.

With Oklahoma reaching out to states around the nation, they can’t be seen as falling behind the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson. But if they fall behind rival Texas, that disrupts the foundation of their recruiting, which is every team’s lifeblood.

A win over Texas doesn’t guarantee anything. But it does settle down the outside noise and keep the Sooners on path to win another Big 12 Conference title.

A loss only intensifies the heat surrounding the team and keeps the questions coming about the program coming.

“I appreciate everything that Bob’s done, he’s had a great run,” Bosworth said. “He’s put up more wins than any other coach there. But the game passes much faster sometimes than the coach that’s currently coaching can keep up with, if he’s not making the strategic changes on his staff to bring in the types of players that are going to keep him at that top level of winning the conference championship. But more importantly how are you going to compete once you get into the bowl games and you’re playing the teams that are competing consistently for the national championships? The Alabama’s, the Ohio State’s. Those guys are doing something each and every year to rebuild the programs. They’re losing great players and yet they’re still coming out the following year to build the momentum throughout the season.”

Sooners prepared for early season road test

 

By Michael Kinney

The first weekend of the college football schedule kicks off with a avalanche of top-shelf games. Several contests feature both teams ranked in the top 20, to make this one of the most exciting opening weekends in recent history.

Many credit the College Football Playoffs as the impetus for creating such early season matchups.

However, for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, this is nothing new. He has often stated that the Sooners have schedule top competition since he arrived in Norman.

That is the case once again as the third-ranked Sooners will take on No. 15 Houston Saturday at the NGR Stadium, where the hashtag #Htowntakeover originated.

“It’s all I’ve been thinking about,” Jordan Evans said. “Been looking forward to it since last year. I was talking today and said we play Saturday. There is no more waiting. It’s actually here. I’m very excited just looking forward to it. I’m sure it’s going to be very loud and energetic. Houston fans and Oklahoma fans that travel will make it a good atmosphere. It makes it more fun for me to play in and hopefully another good memory I’ll have.”

But Stoops does admit, playing a Cougars squad that captured the nation’s attention and hearts last year does give his team a little pep in its step.

“You can tell there is probably more of a sense of urgency,” Stoops said. “I think our guys are always excited to start the season. Anxious to get out there for the first time.”

The game will kick off at 11 a.m., a prospect Stoops has had issues with in the past. But it doesn’t seem to bother the Sooners as they fight their way back to the CFP Final Four for the second consecutive year.

“I’m Very excited,” senior Ahmad Thomas said. “I am always excited to go out and play a game at Oklahoma.”

Houston is the first of three top-25 teams Oklahoma will face in its first four games. But they may also be the most dangerous because they have the least to lose and the most to prove.

Houston is still trying to make an impression on the Big 12 to prove they deserve a seat at the conferences table. A win over the prohibited favorite to win the Bog 12 title would go a long away.

The Cougars enter the game with one of the most dynamic players in the country. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. only started playing the position a month into last season. But since then he has elevated his stature among coaches who are now tasked with trying to stop the elusive signal caller.

Ward finished last season with 21 rushing touchdowns, 17 passing TDs and a combined 3,936 yards.

“You don’t have a lot of quarterbacks that you’re going to see that have his type of potential to move around in the pocket like that,” Steven Parker said of Ward. “To move in general. There’s going to be a lot of QB run game. A lot of extra time in the pocket, trying to get him bottled up. That’s something different we haven’t seen in a while.

However, Oklahoma is one of the few teams in the country that can counter the magic of Ward. Baker Mayfield returns for his second year under center for the Sooners and looks to be even more impressive with a full offseason as the starter under his belt.

“Baker Mayfield’s doing great,” Stoops said. “Been a great leader. He’s so much more comfortable. Rightfully so. He’s been in the leadership position.”

Stoops also sees that Mayfield and Ward are comparable to what they do on the field and bring to their respective teams.

“It tells you they are talented guys,” Stoops said of Ward and Mayfield. “They’re smart guys. You can see that. Both give you trouble scrambling around with their legs. Just talented players is the No. 1 thing you can say about them both.”

Whether it was against a dangerous team like the Cougars or a DII cupcake, the Sooners just wanted to get back on the field and play.

“Personally, I’m very excited to be out there,” Parker said. “The wait is over. Finally. We finally get to play some football. Football season is here. I’m excited. The change is going to be great. Finally we are getting out there and getting to butt heads with a different team. It’s going to be great. It’s a big opening weekend. College football is here. It’s a very exciting atmosphere. It’s in Houston, so we already know it’s going to be a hostile crowd. It’s going to be sold out. Blood is going to be pumping. Let’s get it going.”

Sooners look to have impact at Rio Olympics

Coach Mark Williams and former OU gymnast Jake Dalton talk over routines as they prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games.

By Michael Kinney

When the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics team takes to the competition floor for the first time during the 2016 Olympic games, they will have a familiar look to them. Those who have followed the Oklahoma gymnastics program for the past decade or so will recognize several faces.

Three of the five gymnasts who will represent the United States in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the Olympic games are alumni of the Sooners. They include Jake Dalton, Chris Brooks and Alex Naddour. They will join Sam Mikulak and  Danell Leyva, who round out the five-man squad.

Leading US team into Olympic battle is OU head coach Mark Williams. After four previous trips to the Olympics as an assistant and individual coach, this will be his first turn as the lead man in charge.

“I am honored,” Williams said. “It’s amazing to be in a position to lead any team at the Olympic Games, and I feel we are very fortunate to have athletes that have been part of the Olympic process in the past. I’m excited about this team. I think we have a tremendous opportunity in Rio and I’m looking forward to the journey.”

Williams, who is heading into his 18th season at Oklahoma, is coming off back to back national championships and the 10th for the Sooners’ program. That resume helped him secure the national team coaching gig.

“Obviously my Oklahoma teams have done very well over the years,” Williams said. “They want to have somebody that is in a place that continues championships. I am hoping I can put the pieces together with the five man team where we’re in a great position to be able to be put up on the medal stand at the end of the competition.”

This will be Dalton’s second trip to the Olympics. He was part of the 2012 squad that took fifth in London.

But being able to go to the games with his coach leading the way makes it even more special for him.

“It’s incredible,” Dalton said. “It has to be so rewarding for him. Even for us to watch it for him because he deserves it. No one deserves it more than this guy. He is such a good coach because he can put together a training plan and make the athletes peak at the perfect time. That’s kind of what he has been known for in college. And he’s been doing it with me the last three years, helping me put together training programs. He is going to be a great coach out on the floor.”

The men’s team has had a chance to bond and get to know each other in the weeks heading up to the games, which last from Aug. 5-21. But because of the Oklahoma connection, it was a much easier task than previous Olympic teams.

“I feel very comfortable with those guys having coached them before,” Williams said. “I know they have been on championship teams and have represented the United States at World Championships and at the Olympics for Jake. They are guys that have earned their spots and in the next three or four weeks we will put in the training necessary to go to Rio very well prepared.”

This is the first time since 1984 that there have been three members from once school on a gymnastics team. Then it was UCLA, who had three of the six Olympic gymnast.

“It’s incredible. Speaks volumes about the program, about the coaches here and even the athletes,” Dalton said. “Everybody gets here, they go through Mark’s training. It’s hard, but if you stick with it, you’re going to come out a better gymnasts. Everybody is really a family here when they are training together. They you get the support from the University and we get to team in this amazing facility every single day. Couldn’t ask for a better place to train.”

Even as the team prepares for the Olympics, controversies continue to surround the games. Everything from beaches polluted with body parts to the Zika virus has driven away other athletes from competing.

But Dalton said, for him, it’s worth the risk to fulfill a lifelong dream and wear USA across his chest.

“There is a lot of media about it. I think some of it is a little bit over hyped,” Dalton said. “I think there are concerns some people need to make sure they are aware of. For me, if I get the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympic Games, I’m not backing down.”

Kinney is a freelance writer. Go to Eyeamtruth.com

Stunning developments

Oklahoma’s Jayden Chestnut and Erin Miller sit stunned during post game press conference after watching Auburn comeback to beat them Tuesday in the Womens’s College World Series. (Photo by Michael Kinney)

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Jayden Chestnut finally got her first taste of the Women’s College World Series. Through four games of the tournament the Oklahoma freshman had only watched as Paige Parker pitched every inning.

But with Parker getting the night off Tuesday, Chestnut finally got the call she had been waiting on. Unfortunately for her, she was on the wrong end of one of the most remarkable comebacks and finishes in World Series history as the Sooners lost 11-7 to Auburn at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

“Quite a game,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “Another tough game for two teams that played really hard. Jayden Chestnut specifically fought her tail off tonight. I thought our offense came out and attacked early, then we just went a little stagnant. That hurt us. We make no excuses for the loss. We just needed to execute a little bit better.”

The game was tied at 7-7 heading into extra innings. When the Sooners didn’t score in the top of the eighth, it set up the Tigers to find a way to win it in the bottom of the inning.

After Chestnut got the first out, she allowed a bunt, a single and a walk to load the bases. That brought Auburn’s Emily Carosone to the plate. Chestnut delivered the first pitch and Carosone crushed a grand slam over the right field fence to end the game.

“Really right before I got in the box I was thinking, hit it hard, because if I hit it hard and it went somewhere, Victoria (Draper) was going to score no matter what,” Carosone said. “But I don’t know, that pitch was just there. It was – softball is a game of inches, and my bat was there. It’s amazing. God is good. God is good.”

The Tigers scored 11 straight runs to close out the game and tie the championship series at 1-1. It sets up a decisive Game 3 at 6 p.m. tonight with the winner being crowned the national champion.

Parker will be back on the mound for the Sooners. Not letting her pitch Tuesday was not a difficult decision for Gasso, who wanted her ace to be at 100 percent.

“Paige having this night off I think will help her tremendously for (Wednesday), and like I said, whether we have gas in our tank or not, we’re going to do everything we can tomorrow as a team,” Gasso said.

Malayka Martin picked up the win while Chestnut (9-1) suffered her first defeat of the season. She pitched 5.2 innings, allowed 11 hits, six runs and struck out three.

“I mean, I was always ready to go in, and I had a lot of excitement about it,” Chestnut said, “And my plan was to just go in and be fearless and keep us in the ballgame, and I think I executed that pretty well.”

Auburn’s Kaylee Carkson found herself in a jam at the very start. The Sooners had runners on second and third with Fale Avlu at the plate. Avlu hit a dribbler to second base and beat out the throw to knock in the first run of the game.

Kady Self added to the mounting problems in the second inning when she clobbered a solo homer into center field. Two straight defensive miscues by shortstop Whitney Jordan led to another run scoring.

The game was on the verge of getting out of hand when Caleigh Clifton and Shay Knighten laid down perfect bunts to plate two more runs.

After Sydney Romero singled in a run and Auburn had yet to register an out, Carlson was pulled for Rachel Walters. Nicole Pendley added another RBI before Auburn finally got out of the 2nd inning trailing 7-0.

Auburn quickly got over the shock of the onslaught and put three runs on the board in the bottom of the inning. Jordan did the honors with a 3-run homer off Stevens. An error by Self in left field allowed another run to score and Stevens was taken out of the game.

That brought Chestnut into the game. The Tigers loaded the bases and had an opportunity take the lead, but Chestnut struck out Jade Rhodes to end the inning leading 7-5.

The 11 total runs scored by both teams was the most in a single inning in championship series history.

Chestnut gave up a 2-run homer in the fourth inning that tied the game at 7-7. She kept the Tigers bats silent until the eighth.

“Yeah, it obviously didn’t turn out my way and it stings a little bit,” Chestnut said, “but I think it’s just motivation to come out tomorrow and just fight even harder.”

Now everything is riding on one game to win it all. The Sooners are confident they can get it done.

It’s about resiliency,” Erin Miller said. “It’s about how you answer. I think we’ve done a great job of that all season. Someone throws a punch, you throw it back. That’s the game of softball, I think. You’re going to see a dogfight tomorrow. It’s for a national championship; why wouldn’t you?”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtuth@gmail.com

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