Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Can't throw, can't defend; impossibly, at TCU, Sooners get even worse
Seems like it has to be.
Given a week to regain their pride and confidence, to recalibrate after being torched by Kansas State, the Sooners got to go away and prove that’s not who they really are.
Turns out they're capable of being so much worse, falling 55-24 inside TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium.
The two things that held them back most against the Wildcats, a quarterback who couldn’t hit open receivers and rotten defense, were the same two things that held them back most against the Horned Frogs, only each factor held them back far more.
Because there’s the complimentary football we heard about the first two weeks of the season, so often the phrase became a cliché, and there’s the precise opposite of it, which Oklahoma has now offered twice in eight days.
Then it got even worse than that.
If wondering how bad could Dillon Gabriel’s backup could be, now you know.
Both he and Davis Beville completed 7 of 16 passes, only Beville for 76 fewer yards than Gabriel’s 126, with less pocket awareness, too.
We saw it because Gabriel’s now in concussion protocol thanks to a targeting incident, clocked by TCU linebacker Jamoi Hodge in the second quarter as he attempted to slide safely into the grass.
Adding injury to insult, joining Gabriel in not returning to the game following various dings were Theo Wease, Eric Gray, Wanya Morris and Billy Bowman.
That appeared to be it until, following the indignity of the game’s last eight minutes getting moved from ABC to ESPNNews, sophomore defensive back Damond Harmon went down, too, his legs not appearing to move before being carted off, restrained on a stretcher, several minutes later.
Thankfully, that drama was relieved when the Sooner Radio Network reported Harmon had movement in all extremities before being taken to a local hospital.
In a world in which Gabriel, Harmon and others recover reasonably quickly, the only lower depth OU might could reach would require it being beset by the same dysfunction and poor communication as existed on John Blake’s old Sooner staff, the kind of thing that would produce third-and-42 with no timeouts to prevent the next pre-snap penalty, each of them already burned.
Still, OU’s going nowhere without two things happening.
One, Gabriel, or an understudy, must hit open receivers, because for two weeks the Sooners have traded touchdowns for punts.
Two, Brent Venables must take a long look at himself.
Concerning the play-to-play management of his defense, should he remove himself or become more involved and, independent of that, is he overseeing a defensive operation that’s asking too much of his defenders once the talent advantage is leveled?
“We’re not very good right now,” Venables said.
As to Gabriel, a Marvin Mims fumble stopped OU’s first drive and a Jayden Gibson drop stopped its second, but the Sooners’ next three drive failures were all Gabriel.
Facing second-and-8 from the TCU 26, he overthrew a wide open Jalil Farooq and anybody else standing within 5 yards of the right sideline. Next, from the same spot, he threw an uncatchable ball toward Mims over the middle.
OU settled for a 43-yard field goal.
Next, after TCU’s second touchdown made it 13-3, after a big kick return from Farooq, Gabriel faced third-and-4 from the TCU 33 and threw too tall to Brayden Willis, before missing a wide open Mims on fourth down.
After that, TCU needed one snap for quarterback Max Duggan to dash 63 yards and make it 20-3.
Next, still in the first quarter if you can believe it, facing second-and-9 from his own 45, Gabriel missed Mims on a short shot to his left that might have been a touchdown if he hadn’t, and then threw too high at Drake Stoops.
Gabriel was 1 of 7 during that three-possession span, when OU scored three points instead of 21. Perhaps not enough to win, but enough for the game to have been dramatically different well into the second half.
Defensively, OU’s implausible struggles could be typified by one play.
Third-and-2 at the TCU 36, Horned Frog Quentin Johnston was bottled up five yards short of a first down, surrounded by a circle of six Sooners: Jaden Davis, Isaiah Coe, Reggie Grimes, Danny Stutsman, Justin Harrington and Harmon.
Impossibly, Johnson got to the marker, giving the Horned Frogs a new set of downs, of which they required only one because Duggan found Gunnar Henderson over the middle for a catch-and-run 62-yard score on the next snap, putting TCU on top 41-17.
It’s not that they didn’t make the play from an utterly dominant position, but that they were still on their heels, uncertain what happens next, waiting for somebody else to something.
In the right position, they were still lost.
“We’re a long way away from, ‘There’s a coverage giving us trouble,’” radio color man Teddy Lehman said before dropping his mic.
Rex Ryan’s old 62 defense would be better.
Rush everybody, cover on islands, see what happens?
Uncomplicated, at least.
Venables must figure it out.
Despite ultimate faith in his process, poor decisions are clearly being made somewhere and simplifying things could hardly hurt.
It’s sort of happened before.
The last time OU lost twice on the way to the Cotton Bowl, it beat Texas 53-45 in 2020. Before that, in 2016, it was a 45-40 triumph. Before that, a 16-13 defeat, part of a five-loss 2009 campaign.
Now, five losses doesn’t seem so bad, because if it ends there, eight might still be won.
It’s a long, long way away.