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Hallelujah & Hollywood: Marquise Brown practiced today for Sooners

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We’re three days from college football’s playoffs, a pair of semifinal matches stuffed in between relatively meaningless bowl games.

Oklahoma fans learned today that Heisman winner Kyler Murray wasn’t feeling well and missed media time. They also learned that Marquise Brown practiced.

“Thank the good Lord,” it was proclaimed even by the most agnostic football fans in the Sooner state.

Hollywood! And Hallelujah.

If only it were that easy. If dressing out for practice meant anything for sure. If Marquise’s injury was to his shoulder and not a lower extremity.

I’m not overly confident that Marquise Brown is going to be close to full-strength come Saturday night versus Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

But he doesn’t have to be to help Oklahoma. Mostly, he needs to be on the field and drawing Alabama’s best coverage. He’ll be the deadliest decoy in the sport, for one night.

Maybe Hollywood plays dead for a quarter and then busts out in the second. Maybe the third. Or the fourth.

Or maybe Marquise is good for a few possession catches and to free up other Oklahoma receivers. That’s a damned big deal if so.

Hollywood could finish the Alabama game with only a catch or two and have a major impact on the Sooners’ success.

But from one Sooner fan to another, can I give you some news that has me even more fired up?

Trey Sermon is healthy.

Remember when we lost Rodney Anderson for the season, and we thought all was lost relative to Oklahoma’s ground game?

All I have to say is: Trey Sermon + Kennedy Brooks. Oklahoma is going to have a full-strength running game.

Sermon brings the thunder, and Brooks flashes lightning. They’re both effective tools for the Oklahoma passing game.

And if Hollywood is out there drawing double-teams, whether he’s full-strength or as gimpy as Kerri Strug, he’ll be making opportunities for CeeDee Lamb and Grant Calcaterra and Myles Tease, Lee Morris, Sermon and Brooks.

So, will Hollywood Brown be ready to go at full-strength?

Don’t know.

But it sure looks as if, with three sleeps before kickoff, that Hollywood Brown intends to play.

And that is huge for the Sooners.

Marquise Brown injury: ‘Hollywood’ ending still possible for Sooners, with or without star WR

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The question on everybody’s mind is: Will Oklahoma make the College Football Playoff with Alabama beating Georgia Saturday hours after the Sooners took care of Texas, 39-27, in Dallas?

The answer is almost certainly will Oklahoma be in as a four-seed at worst, third at best.

The question on my mind is: how is Marquise “Hollywood” Brown? He left the game in the second half with a foot injury and not only didn’t return for Oklahoma, he was carted off and returned in a boot and on crutches. Hollywood is one of the best receivers in Oklahoma history, and definitely the most explosive. He’s ‘Little Joe’ explosive.

In a national title game situation, he’s an X factor — against anybody.

To be honest, the injury appears to be a foot injury, not an ankle injury. My fear is that he broke his foot on the top of it or along the midfoot, also known as a Lisfranc injury. That makes me sound smart, but I’m not. I got the idea from a tweet:

I thought, “That’s a very specific proclamation,” so I looked it up. It fit what I was seeing in how the trainers were looking at Hollywood’s foot. For what it’s worth, head coach Lincoln Riley had nothing to say about it other than stating the obvious: Brown suffered a lower-body injury, and they’d examine him further. Multiple reports indicate that Brown seemed to tell his coach that he’d be OK although that could just be him saying it’s out of his hands and not to worry about him.

Without Brown, the Sooners are much less lethal on offense. With him, Oklahoma has a chance to win the whole thing.

Eventually they’re gonna win it all, you know.

And with or without him, what Saturday’s 39-27 win over the Longhorns showed is Oklahoma’s resiliency. This is the second season in a row in which the Sooners lost midway through the year and still made the playoff. Or so we think. I think it would be the third in four, too. To be able to come back and win out in each instance is highly impressive and speaks to a team’s mental fortitude as much as anything else.

Yes, I hate that the team’s defense was non-existent for much of the season.

Yes, I’m over those 59-56 games. That’s not good football.

These Sooners had every reason to throw in the towel or let up after the Texas loss. They had every reason to cave after getting blistered on social and in the press for a defense that gave up 47 to OSU or 40 to Kansas. Yuck! It’s not like they didn’t have it coming; they weren’t really improving.

However, they just took care of business, won games and waited for the moment the defensive side of the ball would step up.

They stepped up today.

That resiliency is proof positive that Oklahoma fans don’t need to sweat too much the loss of Marquise Brown. Hollywood will be back if he can, and if he’s not available for a Dec. 29 national semifinal, these Sooners of all Sooners are well equipped to figure it out.

Not because it wouldn’t hurt losing a player the caliber of Hollywood Brown.

But because this team, even though they’ve made us crazy for much of the season, might just be the most resilient Sooners of them all.

Resiliency is a winning quality. Winners are resilient.

Well done, men.

Heck of an example to the rest of us.

Oklahoma escapes Iowa State with 37-27 win, but old (bad) habits reemerge

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Oklahoma is not going to win every game by 28 or 49, and so Sooner fans are grateful for Saturday’s 37-27 win over Iowa State in Ames, especially after last year’s 38-31 loss to the Cyclones in Norman. Saturday’s win was hard-fought and presented plenty of opportunities for confidence going forward as well as room for improvement.

Lots of room for improvement.

This football game had every opportunity to be a good old-fashioned blowout. The Sooners went on a 10-play, 74-yard drive to end the first half up 24-10 with possession ahead of them to start the second half. After picking up a first down, Oklahoma proceeded to lose yardage on two consecutive plays, setting up a third-and-17 from the Sooners’ 35.

Kyler Murray just missed Hollywood Brown.

And within :47 seconds, Iowa State was back within 7.

Oklahoma missed a chance to go for the kill.

The two things that happened today or that were exposed for Oklahoma should be correctable. First, the Sooners weren’t able to connect deep in the second half. Brown gained 189 yards on seven carries in the first half, 139 of those in the first quarter, an Oklahoma record.

The second half? Two catches, two yards. It looked on TV like Murray had trouble seeing downfield, possibly the result of Cyclone pressure. One exception was this beautiful 50/50 ball to fullback Carson Meier in the third quarter:

That was Murray’s longest completion of the second half by a lot, and note that Meier was in front of his defender, making him easier to see for Murray. When you have a home run threat the caliber of Hollywood Brown, he should be given a deep look at least once a quarter. It opens up the run, the short pass; it opens up everything.

When a receiver the caliber of CeeDee Lamb only catches three balls for 36 yards, you’re not using your best assets.

For the day, Murray finished with 348 yards on 21-of-29 passing, three TDs and a quarterback rating of 90.5. That’s his lowest rating of the season, but he’s consistently been over 90. On the other hand, Murray ran 15 times for 77 yards, his highest yardage of the season and his highest number of carries, by quite a bit. Against UCLA, Murray carried ten times for 69 yards, and he carried four times for 23 yards against Florida Atlantic.

When considering Murray’s feet, one can wonder whether they’re an attack weapon or a weapon of last resort. In other words, the more Murray is running, the more pressure he’s facing and the harder it is for him to find receivers. Credit to Iowa State for adjusting to Oklahoma’s deep threat after the first quarter, but the Sooners need to be able to find Hollywood deep in the third and fourth quarter of ball games on a consistent basis.

The other area for improvement for Oklahoma is on defense, all of it. It felt like Mike Stoops and the Sooner defense regressed this week, going back to old, bad habits such as not blitzing and sitting back on receivers by 10 to 15 yards.

Iowa State had a lot to do with that. Sophomore quarterback Zeb Noland was largely good, finishing with 360 yards on 25 of 36 passing. Receiver Hakeem Butler was terrific with 174 yards on five catches and two big scores that exposed all sorts of tackling issues.

That tied the game at 10, and I counted four missed tackles. Parnell Motley was the first to miss him. Kahlil Haughton was the second. Tre Norwood and Curtis Bolton both went whiff on Butler before he romped into the end zone.

On Butler’s second score, Parnell Motley got victimized again with Tre Norwood left to chase him into the end zone.

For what it’s worth, Motley had a bad day at the office. Got beat, missed tackles and, well, he saved the game.

Look at what that pressure off the end will buy you. Maybe Oklahoma tried to do that more in the second and third quarters and it wasn’t noticeable by the average football fan. To most folks following the game on social media, it sure seemed as if Mike Stoops had been spooked by Butler’s physicality, speed and his ability to break tackles so he decided to play off Cyclone receivers and lay off the blitzes.

I likened it to a new believer backsliding.

It’s correctable, but it’s got to get fixed if Oklahoma were to have any thoughts of winning a national title. Alabama’s 62-7 win over a decent Mississippi team after the Rebels scored on the first play from scrimmage should serve as a warning to the rest of college football and especially the Sooners that it would take an extraordinary season with a gutsy, go-for-it, aggressive defense to have any shot at a national title.

Or to beat TCU or OSU or West Virginia and win the Big 12.

Enjoy the win. Here’s hoping that the coaching staff recognizes these issues and fixes them posthaste.

The cover photo is from OU football’s Twitter feed.


 

Oklahoma 49, UCLA 21: Huge game for CeeDee Lamb; Update on Rodney Anderson

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We should be celebrating a quality, big win over a quality opponent — but Sooner Nation isn’t because the early vibe is that we may have lost running back Rodney Anderson for the year.

The official latest word from Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley is that there is nothing definitive and that they’re hoping for the best.

I knew it as soon as he grabbed his knee, and I have a time-stamped tweet to prove it, not to congratulate myself but to note that, to me, it was pretty obvious. I’ve seen it all too often, an awkward plant and the reach-and-grab.

Damn you, football gods!

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Oh, yeah. Oklahoma beat UCLA 49-21 Saturday afternoon in a game that felt a little flat in parts. The Bruins are not yet close to a good team, especially offensively. However, they improved this week. I should note that as part of my recent vacation to southern California, Kristi and I went to the Rose Bowl to watch Cincinnati beat the Bruins, 26-17. The Bruin offense lacked imagination, and it looked like Chip Kelly was in search of a system that would fit his players.

Last week: Oklahoma 63, Florida Atlantic 14

They still scored more points against the Sooners on the road than they did against Cincinnati at home. Mind you, 14 of those points came in the final frame.

The final score could have just as easily been 63-7, especially if Rodney Anderson hadn’t gotten hurt.

Flashes of Oklahoma brilliance were spotted, first by Hollywood Brown on a 58-yard Sooners’ touchdown to make it 14-7, Oklahoma.

CeeDee Lamb had a pair of eyebrow-raising grabs, one for a touchdown and one that didn’t even count. That “non-catch” was one of the best grabs I’ve ever seen in my years watching football.

It wasn’t Lamb’s first eye-opening moment of the afternoon. Check out this catch he made in the first quarter:

And then how about his 35-yard touchdown grab from Murray to make it 42-7, Oklahoma.

In all, Lamb caught seven balls for 146 yards. In my estimation, he just became a millionaire today because every NFL scout in the country will have their eyes on him for the League. Brown had a pretty good game himself, catching four balls for 88 yards. At one point, he too appeared injured, although the response of trainers stretching him made you think it was just a cramp.

The football gods taketh away, and sometimes they have mercy.

Murray improved, I thought, as the game wore on. He floated some balls early but was crisp and made good decisions late. He ran for two scores and accounted for five touchdowns in all, finishing the afternoon 19 of 33 passing for 306 yards. Murray was also the team’s leading rusher with 69 yards on ten carries.

Defensively, Oklahoma shined for the most part, finishing with six sacks for the afternoon, five of them in the first half. Neville Gallimore and Curtis Bolton were standouts, and Kenneth Murray Jr. was outstanding.

So far, I’ve got nothing but praise for Mike Stoops’ side of the ball. They played with energy, aggressiveness and were smart. Special teams have been terrific thus far, too. After UCLA took an early 7-0 lead, Tre Brown put the Sooners in business with an 86-yard kickoff return.

What you might not know from all this Boomer Sooner talk is that I’m actually a UCLA fan, too. Oklahoma is my alma mater and my passion, but I like other teams as well. I’m just a sports fan, truth be told. My thoughts on UCLA is that the Bruins are headed for a losing season, maybe as bad as 2-9. I’d guesstimate 4-7 is the more likely record for the Bruins.

However, freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson was significantly improved over last week, and that has to make UCLA fans encouraged, at least a little.

Also, they matched up with OU for much of the game quite respectably. Oklahoma is far superior, no doubt. However, UCLA had some periodic success, especially when Kelly focused on the ground game with Bolu Olorunfunmi and Kazmeir Allen. They combined for 98 yards and kept some key drives alive.

UCLA’s biggest success came when Thompson-Robinson was able to find tight end Caleb Wilson, as he did over the middle for a big gain to set up their first touchdown. Wilson finished the day with 92 yards on four catches. I should note that Caleb is the son of 1980s sooner Chris Wilson.

The Bruins host Fresno State next Saturday from the Rose Bowl at 9:30 p.m. CT. I’m counting on that being UCLA’s first win of the year.

Oklahoma heads to Ames, Iowa, to try to exact revenge on the Iowa State Cyclones, who beat the Sooners in Norman last year. I think the Sooners will have their hands full, especially without Rodney Anderson. Ames is a tricky, tricky place to play.

From an Oklahoma perspective, no real complaints: today’s win over UCLA was a workman-like whipping — but sure feel bad for No. 24 if he’s indeed out for the year. We need him badly.

From a UCLA perspective, we saw improvement although we also saw no real indication as to anything that resembled a Chip Kelly-esque system. Not yet. I’d also say, definitively, that the Bruins also didn’t get embarrassed. They had a couple of moments to shine.

And as to Oklahoma’s place atop the college football pecking order, what I’d say is that I’ll take a Sooners team with a much-improved defense and maybe a little bit less of an offense than the alternative. Very encouraged by what we’ve seen so far on defense.

Next week at Iowa State will be a good test for the crimson and cream.

Featured photo credit: By Bobak Ha’Eri – Own work, CC BY 3.0


Sooners super against Florida Atlantic, but what about that Austin Kendall injury?

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The Oklahoma Sooners were supposed to lose a step after Heisman winner Baker Mayfield took his talents to the NFL.

Florida Atlantic was supposed to take their next step toward becoming an elite mid-major football program, with many experts projecting a New Year’s Day 6 bowl game for the Owls.

Well, it was a surprise Saturday for some across college football as Oklahoma dominated Lane Kiffin’s FAU 63-14 in a game that was truly over after one quarter.

I watched from sunny Southern California where I went to the UCLA game later that evening. One question stuck in my head after watching both games yesterday was, which team is better right now — the Bruins or the Owls?

Seriously.

The most beautiful part of Saturday’s football surprise might have been the performance of Kyler Murray’s former teammate at Allen High School, Lee Morris.

Morris is a walk-on at Oklahoma. Doubt he’s that for long.

Rodney Anderson opened the scoring on a 30-yard scamper after the Owls had penetrated Oklahoma territory on their opening possession.

My thought after 3:00 of the first quarter was, “Are the Sooners ready to play?”

Offensively they sure were. Kyler Murray went 9 for 11, throwing for 209 yards and running for 23 more. Murray’s passes were clean, but his protection had a lot to do with that. On one of the rare occasions when his protection broke down, Murray made like little Joe and scampered brilliantly for a first down.

Defensively, I sensed this Oklahoma club was more ready to attack than in years past. Redshirt senior Curtis Bolton recovered a blocked punt in the end zone, courtesy of Lee Morris, to give the Sooners a 14-0 lead.

And then Morris, a former high school teammate of Murray in Allen, Texas, hauled in a short pass and took it 65 yards for the score. To be honest, I figured Morris was a tight end and not a wide receiver. Big dude! Fast legs.

And he’s a walk-on? Wow.

Trey Sermon ended the first frame with a 17-yard score before Rodney Anderson and Hollywood Brown matched 65-yard scores, the most impressive part being Murray’s b-o-m-b to Hollywood. That pass was Jason White-esque in its height and length.

https://twitter.com/BarstoolBig12/status/1035944201396125696

It was a thing of beauty.

After that, in came Austin Kendall and the second-team crew. The game was over, and Lincoln Riley knew it. Lane Kiffin knew it. Oklahoma had gone for the kill early so that there were no issues in the second half.

Well, except for one.

Backup QB Kendall slid out of bounds in the fourth quarter and bashed his knee against the big equipment chest on the FAU sideline. It’s no fault of FAU’s. Every team has this, but it didn’t look good at the end of that play.

As of Sunday morning, there was no update on Kendall other than Riley was “optimistic.” On a conference call Monday, Riley said Kendall was questionable for the UCLA game but avoided serious injury.

Truth be told, his optimism might be simply that Kyler Murray looked super solid. It’s just one win, and we don’t know for sure just how bad this FAU team is.

So it’s possible we still don’t yet know just how good this Oklahoma team is.

Gotta stay healthy though. College football is one part talent, two parts execution and a whole lot of attrition.


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