Delusions of grandeur dashed, now we get to really watch Brent Venables coach
The problem is we wanted to believe in Nebraska.
We wanted to believe the Huskers were no worse than the squad that had played a buffet line of ranked teams close over the past two seasons.
We wanted to believe, too, they were better than that, the albatross that was head coach Scott Frost finally flung from their necks, replaced by the feel-good narrative of Mickey Joseph’s elevation.
A year ago, OU topped Nebraska by seven points in Norman.
This time it was by 35 in Lincoln.
How could we not put so much into it?
It’s no longer happening
Now we can look at this team as it really is, unmoved by the ballyhooed return of a hard-not-to-like coach.
OU was pillaged by the transfer portal. Venables, forever an assistant, had to put together a new staff, beginning with new coordinators and, eventually, without Cale Gundy, who would have connected the past to the present.
Dillon Gabriel was a solid quarterback at Central Florida in the American Athletic Conference but never a great one and now he’d be stepping into the Big 12 against more pressure, better athletes, more screaming fans at one of the nation’s most storied programs.
Seven Sooners went in the last draft.
Others, like Kennedy Brooks, signed as free agents.
Much was lost.
Not all ground zeroes are created equal.
The one Bob Stoops inherited was mired in dysfunction. Going 7-5 his first season, a bowl setback the last loss, it felt like a miracle
Venables didn’t inherit that but did inherit tumult.
The team he might have brought back after OU popped Oregon at the Alamo Bowl was not the one he brought back.
So here we are.
The Sooners must top unbeaten TCU to not drop to 3-2, which would feel calamitous one week before meeting Texas in Dallas.
Tuesday, when Venables met the media to talk about it all, many might have expected precise answers succinctly explaining how Kansas State beat OU 41-34 and the fix required to put an end to further frivolousness.
They didn’t get it.
What they got was Venables being Venables, and the next time OU suffers an early-season loss to a double-digit conference underdog, should there be one, they’re bound to get the same thing.
Specifically, he was asked about balancing the patience required for his players to find their way against the pushing required to get them there.
Venables offered his entire coaching philosophy boiled down to two minutes.
“They’ll listen to you when you’ve got connection and trust built and credibility,” he said. “This isn’t about baptizing anyone, it’s helping guys grow, acquire the mindset, the skills, the fundamentals that it takes.
“Wisdom is the application of knowledge and we’ve got to get our guys to be able to be intelligent football players on both sides of the ball.”
He said players must “buy-in and run towards the hard.”
He said “our guys are hungry, they’re eager and willing to put in the work and so that’s where it starts and I have not been disappointed in that.”
He said “you want them to have belief in themselves and the team and what we’re asking them to do, which they do.”
When he gets like that, Venables can be kind of a broken record.
It’s also what you want.
It’s all process.
It’s all culture.
It’s all buy-in.
It’s all running towards “the hard.”
It’s all these things he’s built his entire career around.
Of course Gabriel must hit open receivers on third- and fourth-down with the game on the line.
Of course, guys who played great defense one week, can’t play awful defense the next.
Of course, upon calling time out to dial up a fourth-down call that will work, the quarterback, nor Venables can allow the play clock to run out.
All kinds of things that happened against Kansas State can’t continue to happen.
The good news for the Sooners is the only course their coach knows is to walk through it. To walk through it and access, respond and not flinch in the face of setbacks.
If you’re inclined to bet on Venables, you can ask for no more.
Now, illusions of grandeur dashed, we get to see this team as it really is, playing for a coach who knows only one way.
It ought to be fascinating.
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