As a Sooner fan living in the heart of Longhorn country, I’ve had some interesting dialouge over the past 24 hours with Texas fans, as I do each time this year after the annual Red River Rivalry game.
This season’s contest goes to the Longhorns in a 16-13 defensive slugfest that saw OU quarterback Sam Bradford leave the game after re-injuring the sprained A-C joint in his throwing shoulder – the same ailment that knocked him out of the BYU game over a month ago.
Let me preface the rest of this by admitting that I’m about to come off as a whining, flailing OU fan trying to rationalize what’s turning into a bad season. Guilty as charged. At least I don’t lack self awareness.
Given the circumstances – no Bradford, no All-American tight-end Jermaine Gresham, and top receiver Ryan Broyles playing hurt with a fractured shoulder blade – I’d say no OU fan could have asked for the Sooners to play much better Saturday. All the cards were lined up for a Texas blowout, and the OU defense didn’t let it happen. Two dropped interceptions by OU linebacker Keenan Clayton and a touchdown saving tackle by Colt McCoy after throwing a pick to Brian Jackson allowed the Longhorns to survive this one. And hats off to them – wounded opponent or not, a win is a win in this rivalry.
But here’s what I find interesting in talking to some Texas fans (some…not a blanket statement here…just some). There’s a school of thought among some of them that OU fans are just “making excuses” when they blame their three losses (by a combined five points) on injuries. Right. As if the presence or absence of a Heisman winning quarterback (Bradford), All-American tight-end (Bradford), and the nation’s leader in TD receptions (Broyles) don’t have enought impact to swing a one-point or three-point game in the other direction.
What’s really neat about this is the fact that in 2006, when Colt McCoy was hurt late in the season, those same Texas fans had no problem using that injury as an excuse in losses to Kansas State and Texas A&M (and they were right…and I agreed with them). So to be sure I’ve got it right: When a Texas player gets hurt, it’s a legitimate reason for losing, but when an OU player gets hurt, Sooner fans are “whiners”. Airtight logic.
Also had a dialouge with my best friend, who also happens to be a Texas fan, about Bradford’s injury. His contention is that OU fans have no right to complain about the injury because poor offensive line play has allowed Bradford to take a lot of hits, and with more hits comes a greater risk of injury. He has a point on some level, but it’s not that simple.
My rebuttal is this: There are 120 teams in Division I college football, and OU ranks 34th in fewest sacks allowed, with eight. That means there are 86 teams in the nation with quarterbacks who have been hit MORE than Sam Bradford this season, and NONE of them have sprained AC joints in their throwing shoulders. So I think my contention that Bradford’s injury is a rare, flukish, unlucky, freak occurence is well supported by the numbers. By the way, Texas has actually allowed one more sack than OU this year, and Colt McCoy’s shoulder is not in a sling – again evidence that shoulder injuries to quarterbacks are rare, not common.
Now… to what this game means for the college football season…Texas, at 6-0 and with a favorable Big-12 schedule in front of them, has a tremendous opportunity win its second conference title in the Mack Brown era, and to advance to the BCS championship game. The Horns shouldn’t have a problem on the road at Missouri this Saturday, but visiting OSU in Stillwater on Halloween could get hairy, especially if Dez Bryant is reinstated by the NCAA & suits up for the Boone Pickens Pokes. Remember – the Pokes (refuse to call them the Cowboys – the Cowboys play in Dallas) gave UT a scare in a 28-24 game in Austin a year ago, and they’ve got plenty of offensive firepower.
Texas, by the way, has offensive line issues of its own to work out. Frankly, I was shocked to see the stats reveal that the Longhorns had actually given up more sacks than OU this season. But in the past two games, against OU & Colorado, UT has struggled to protect Colt McCoy and has had to rely almost exclusively on defense and special teams play to win. This will have to get fixed as the stakes get higher later in the year.
As far as the Sooners go, the season goals have dramatically changed…OU came into the year with national title aspirations, and anybody with common sense has to admit that those hopes would still be alive if the Sooners had the fortune of fielding a healthy team this year. But the reality of it is that three losses by five total points leave OU at 3-3 and unranked for the time being. The focus for the Sooners now is on just trying to win out and let the chips fall where they may. Texas has to lose twice for OU to have a shot at another Big 12 title, and that’s highly unlikely to happen. So we Sooner fans are now relegated to seeing a 9-3 regular season and Cotton Bowl berth as a successful season. That’s life. The cupboard isn’t bare in Norman, and OU will be right back in the hunt next year.
There…the whining OU fan now has it out of his system. Cowboys are off today, so I’m off to the driving range to work on my golf swing – a pursuit even more hopeless than the Sooners’ national title chances.