(“Best of” Week continues with BH columnist Native State discussing of Bob Stoops’ cojones. Hit up Native State on Twitter: @NativeState.)
We tend to view gambles in terms of outcomes. A questionable call that works is “gutsy.” One that doesn’t? Well, that’s just plain “questionable.”
The truth is that gutsy calls are inherently questionable. That’s what makes them gutsy. (Follow?)
Here are the five in-game decisions that make my list as Stoops’ gutsiest. I guess that also makes them his most questionable.
5. Tulsa – 2005
The setup: The Sooners are 0-1 and breaking in freshman quarterback Rhett Bomar after Paul Thompson was benched after a stunning 17-10 loss to TCU the week before.
The call: With Bomar at quarterback, the Sooners have one of the worst passing performances in school history. OU relies heavily on sophomore star Adrian Peterson, who carries 32 times for 220 yards. After Tulsa pulls within 17-15 with 9:20 left in the game, the Sooners embark on their longest drive of the game. They eventually face a fourth-and-1 at the Tulsa 41-yard line with 3:13 remaining. Stoops chooses to put the ball in the hands of the best player on the field. Smart move. Peterson proceeds to not only pick up the first down but ends up giving the fans one of his signature runs, willing his way into the endzone. Sooners win, 31-15.
The analysis and aftermath: AD’s bruising touchdown run spared the Sooners a second consecutive embarrassing home defeat. It turned out to be a rare rebuilding year in Norman, as OU grits out an 8-4 record and defeats No. 6 Oregon in the Holiday Bowl.
4. Missouri – 2010
The setup: OU is 5-0 and ranked No. 1 in the first BCS standings of the season. Although OU has won the tight games that it didn’t the year before, there is still concern about the Sooners’ ability to finish and get a quality road win with Landry Jones under center.
The call: After holding a 21-20 lead late in the third quarter, OU is facing 4th down with 10 yards to go on its own 7-yard line. With 2:27 left on the clock, Stoops opts to punt the ball away, and Missouri takes over on its 45-yard line. Sooners lose, 36-27.
The analysis and aftermath: By punting, Stoops raised a white flag and invited a storm of criticism in settling for a not-so-ugly loss in lieu of a scoreboard beatdown. With the BCS standings holding the key to any tiebreakers, though, minimizing the damage in the polls was paramount. Was Stoops vindicated? The Sooners finished the regular season ranked ahead of Big 12 South co-leaders Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, putting OU into its eighth Big 12 championship game. The Sooners went on to win the conference title and their first BCS bowl game in eight years.
3. Missouri – 2002
The setup: OU is 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation. OU is coming off a lackluster win against a South Florida team that had more yards and first downs than the Sooners.
The call: After falling behind the Sooners 23-7, Missouri roars back behind a brilliant performance by redshirt freshman Brad Smith to take a 24-23 lead midway through the fourth quarter. OU lines up for a 31-yard go-ahead field goal with 6:33 left to play. Instead of kicking, though, holder Matt McCoy takes the snap and throws a pass to backup tight end Chris Chester for a 14-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion is good and the Sooners hang on to win, 31-24.
The analysis and aftermath: Kicker Trey DiCarlo had already missed an extra point and two field goal attempts of 34 and 43 yards. Also, the Missouri offense was still hot, rendering a two-point lead temporary. The big shift in momentum, along with a seven-point deficit would put the pressure back on the Tigers. OU goes on to win the Big 12 championship and the Rose Bowl to finish 12-2 overall and No. 5 final ranking.
2. Texas A&M – 2006
The setup: OU is 6-2 and trailing Texas in the Big 12 South standings coming into College Station.
The call: After OU goes up 14-3 by scoring on its first two possessions, the offense stalls for most of the game. Up 17-16, the Sooners have the ball on their own 29-yard line with 1:29 to play. Facing 4th and inches, Stoops opts to go for it. Quarterback Paul Thompson appears to punch it over for the first down, but the play is negated because Stoops calls a timeout. On the second attempt, A&M is flagged for having 12 men on the field. OU’s first down clinches the 17-16 win.
The analysis and aftermath: OU went on to win the rest of their regular season games. After a late-season collapse by Texas, the South champion Sooners beat Nebraska for their fourth Big 12 championship. The Sooners finished 11-3 after an overtime loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
1. Alabama 2003
The setup: OU is ranked No. 1 in the preseason for the ninth time in school history. The Sooners are coming off their second Big 12 championship and BCS bowl victory in three years. Although OU is still riding the early peak of Stoops’ career, it is unclear whether this will be truly be a special year for the Sooners. QB Jason White is the senior starter, but he has been hampered by injuries and has only started five times in his career. OU is 1-0 after a defacto exhibition game with North Texas.
The call: In a defensive struggle in front of a hostile crowd in Alabama’s season opener, OU clings to a 13-10 lead late in the third quarter. Alabama has just completed a seven-play, 86-yard drive to cut the Sooner lead to three. The Sooners face 4th and 10 at their own 31-yard line. The crowd is in a frenzy. Confident in his stellar defense, Stoops orders up a fake punt. A pass to defensive back Michael Thompson, who’s lined up on the right end of the punt formation, goes for 22 yards and a first down.
The analysis and aftermath: This was the kind of call that epitomized the Big Game Bob. Stoops seized the moment and dialed up a 47-yard dagger up the middle to Brandon Jones for a touchdown on the very next play. The Crimson Tide crowd was silenced, and the Alabama defense, which had been consistently holding the Sooners in check, was dejected. OU holds on to win, 20-13. A dominant regular season ends in disappointment, as OU drops the Big 12 championship and national title game.
*Texas A&M – 2006: Onside kick in first quarter after going up 14-3.
*Nebraska – 2006 (Big 12 Championship): Clinging to a 14-7 lead in the third quarter, Paul Thompson completes a play-action pass to Jermaine Greshman on 3rd and 10 from OU’s 1-yard line.
*West Virginia – 2008 (Fiesta Bowl): Onside kick late in third quarter when OU cuts lead to 20-15.
*Texas – 2008: Stoops fake punt at midfield late in third quarter while leading Texas 28-27.
*Texas A&M – 2010: Fake field goal pass to James Hanna while trailing 19-17 late in the third quarter.
Alright Sooner Nation, what did I miss?