2019 OU Football: A Recap
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2019 OU Football: A Recap

Overcoming Adversity in the Midst of the Chase for Eight

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2019 OU Football: A Recap
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If you asked anyone from the media in August, they would have said that 2019 was supposed to be a "rebuilding year" for the Oklahoma football program. But, like Lincoln Riley says, "we don't rebuild, we reload." The mood in Norman was rather somber as the 2018 season concluded with a loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoffs. As the coaches went back to their drawing boards to begin planning for 2019, they had to keep in mind that they would be without the assistance of Heisman trophy winner and future number one draft pick Kyler Murray, top receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, four NFL caliber offensive linemen, all-time leading scorer Austin Seibert, NFL linebacker Curtis Bolton, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, just to name a few. Having all of these assets depart certainly is not upsetting, but I think the coaches would be lying if they were to say that their stress was not heightened. Yet they were anything but intimidated, and the work began…

It began in the offseason with coach Bennie Wylie and his strength/conditioning staff leading the way. Wylie, arguably the most underappreciated member of the OU staff, knew that a difficult journey lay ahead, yet he did not panic. He brought the energy sunrise after sunrise, motivating his players to grow stronger, faster, and more athletic than ever before. As outsiders, we notice all the success that occurs on the field, but these days in the blazing Summer sun are what we don't see: they are what enabled the Sooners to have a remarkably rewarding 2019 season. Lincoln Riley officially found out in January that to replace the aforementioned Murray, he would be landing Alabama's Jalen Hurts. You all know the story by now. Amongst other things, Hurts arrived in Norman with a national championship, an SEC offensive player of the year award, and two SEC championships. But perhaps more than anything, he came motivated and ready to become what I would call one of the greatest, most inspiring leaders this talent-rich Oklahoma school has ever seen. Upon being benched in favor of Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the 2018 national championship, Hurts responded better than anyone could have expected. He supported Tagovailoa as the Crimson Tide rallied to win the game. It would be impossible for Nick Saban not to give Tua the opportunity to start the following year. Hurts, understanding this, handled the decision with the utmost class and decided to take his talents to Oklahoma, becoming "quarterback guru" Riley's third transfer quarterback in a row. This was an extraordinarily bold decision, as he would be filling the shoes of back-to-back Heisman trophy winners. Yet Jalen went to work immediately, developed relationships, and was even elected a team captain. Ceedarian Lamb knew that he would be the go-to guy in place of Hollywood Brown, and his work alongside Wylie and Hurts in the offseason was quite noticeable come Fall. Fan-favorite offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh crafted his new wall around the only returning starter, center Creed Humphrey. A trio of sophomores and a freshman surrounded Humphrey, and many thought that the offensive line would struggle heavily throughout the season. They proved the world wrong as they battled throughout the season, rotated guys in and out, and were eventually named semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award. Perhaps the most interesting story of the season came in the form of kicker Gabe Brkic. Calum Sutherland began the season as Oklahoma's PAT/field goal kicker but was suspended indefinitely after being arrested. Oklahoma fans fretted frantically as Brkic took the role but gradually grew accustomed to the freshman. Some would even argue that Brkic was the MVP of the Sooners' season, as he and his team of Casey Keller and Connor McGinnis went a perfect 52/52 on PATs and 17/17 on field goals, including the game-winner in Waco (ESPN).

On the defensive side of the ball, Kenneth Murray greatly matured physically, mentally, and emotionally, becoming one of the nation's top linebackers and leading a young defense that desperately needed leadership. Replacing Mike Stoops was Alex Grinch, who brought in new coaches and a new scheme centered around a fast defense (SpeedD). The Sooners made remarkable progression in almost every statistical category possible and even jumped into the top forty in total defense. Amongst other things, the defense did not allow a single 300-yard passer in an air-raid heavy conference until the semifinal game (Giambalvo and Bogage). SpeedD concluded the season with a bitter taste in their mouths as they rarely hindered Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson, and the rest of the LSU offense. However, throughout the season we saw a tremendously improved defensive line, a linebacker corps that flew around the field, and a secondary that communicated, covered, and tackled much better than those of recent pasts. Cornerback Parnell Motley was a standout. He went from being a quarterback's favorite target to one of the most productive defenders in the nation under Grinch and energetic coach Roy Manning. Ronnie Perkins was disruptive up front and seemed to be in the opposing teams' backfields time and time again. We also saw a much improved Neville Gallimore, Dashaun White, and Bookie Radley-Hiles. Transfer LaRon Stokes was a plug upfront, being named defensive newcomer of the year for the conference. Bursting onto the scene were also the versatile Nik Bonitto and David Ugwoegbu. Tre Brown and freshman Jaden Davis split time at the other cornerback position- Davis showed a huge upside and Brown made arguably the play of the year in reaching pro-caliber speed in a chase down tackle in Arlington. Grinch said that safeties Pat Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell were the two players that stepped up most leadership wise, as they anchored the back end quite well (ESPN). Though the defense faltered under the brightest lights, I remain extremely optimistic about the future because I have seen the way that these guys are willing to buy into Grinch's schemes and trust the men beside them.

Offensively, in a "rebuilding year," Riley again developed an offense that led the nation in many categories and wasn't far behind in others. Hurts' ability to lead largely contributed to this. Jalen is a man who trusts God's plan, was raised the right way and knows how to positively influence others. Though many would say he isn't quite as talented as Mayfield or Murray, his ability to lead with poise was something that this team desperately needed. Whether it be making time to pray alone, heading to the weight room after games, or making sure that the team was aware of what "rat poison" was, Hurts knew how to be the guy that others could get behind. Speaking of those post-game workouts, they helped Jalen develop a set of tree trunks for legs. He finished with 1,300 yards on the ground and added nearly 4,000 more through the air (ESPN). He totaled fifty-three touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per carry, more than some of the top running backs in the country (ESPN). Being the leader that Hurts is, he often in an act of selflessness deflected attention away from himself and onto his teammates, so I will now do the same.

I find it impossible not to start talking about Ceedarian (CeeDee) Lamb, a man whose game is as cool as his name. One cannot find enough good things to say about Lamb. Though he is not exactly at the very top of the Oklahoma record books because he is headed to the NFL a year early, one could make a case for Lamb being the best wide receiver to come through this program. He finished his junior season with over 1,300 yards and fourteen touchdowns and was the man that Riley turned to when it was time for a play to be made (ESPN). His most intriguing stat, however, is the 21.4 yards per catch, with many of those coming after contact (ESPN). Lamb is a Houdini when it comes to escaping defenders after being contacted: He made more jaw-dropping escapes than any player I have ever watched play the game. Number two will certainly be missed as he will likely become a first-round draft pick, yet he was able to lead and set the example for the freshman trio of Haselwood, Wease, and Bridges.

Of Haselwood, Lamb says he thinks that Jadon has a tremendous chance to be even more productive than Lamb was. Playing in such a dynamic offense, it was difficult to get all three of these highly touted recruits the ball in excess, but they all three shone brightly when given opportunities. The three combined for slightly over 500 yards and five touchdowns (ESPN). My bold prediction is that those numbers will both at least triple - the future is certainly bright. Lee Morris and Nick Basquine added quality products as well, bringing their long and very well earned careers at OU to a close. Freshman tight end Austin Stogner, who filled in for Grant Calcaterra, made several clutch receptions on the year, and will certainly be a big target in the future. Charleston Rambo was the Sooners' second-leading receiver, accumulating five touchdowns on over 700 yards (ESPN). He figures to be the homerun man next year. Other pleasant surprises were Jeremiah Hall, who flashed a nice set of hands to compliment his blocking skill set, and Brayden Willis, who had some big moments as well.

Assisting Hurts and Hall in the backfield was primarily Kennedy Brooks. Brooks saw his role increase significantly after Trey Sermon was announced out for the season in early November. Brooks, though not an absolute speedster nor a bowling ball, flashed an uncanny ability to make defenders miss as he amassed the 1,000-yard mark while averaging six and a half yards per carry (ESPN). TJ Pledger also averaged six and a half yards per carry, while Sermon was averaging more than seven yards per carry prior to the injury (ESPN). As if that were not enough, junior college transfer Rhamondre Stevenson averaged eight yards per carry as he demonstrated both his power and speed throughout the season (ESPN). It appears as if all four of these backs, as well as Marcus Major, will be returning to the stable next season- there will be no lack of depth there. Leading the way for these ball carriers was an offensive line that was highly questioned coming into the season. As I said, the 2018 offensive line consisted of four NFL draft picks, and only Humphrey was returning. Creed was able to learn from the current professionals and used his role as team captain not only to lead the young offensive line but also to lead the entire team well. After a largely successful season, he ended up a finalist for the Rimington Award, which is given annually to the nation's best center. Filling the four void holes was a committee of guys which primarily consisted of RJ Proctor, Adrian Ealy, Tyrese Robinson, Erik Swenson, and Marquis Hayes. With only thirteen years of college amongst them and zero starting snaps in an Oklahoma uniform, nobody quite knew what to expect. Yet Bedenbough never wavered and eventually ended up coaching a group who paved the way for an offense that averaged eight yards per play and ball carriers who amassed more than 240 yards on the ground per game on average (ESPN). This group tremendously exceeded its expectations but will look to improve on committing fewer careless penalties and giving up fewer sacks. As of now, it appears as if four of five starters, including the leader Humphrey, will return to flaunt the holes they pave on the G/T counterplay, amongst other things.

What you begin to notice in the above words is that success and victory were quite prevalent throughout the 2019 season for the Sooners. However, what you aren't able to see within these words are the tribulations this team had to go through in order to obtain that success. A lot of things played into the Sooners' hands this season; however, much did not go the Sooners' way at the same time. It all began with a late October trip to the little apple (following the crash of the Schooner). After the season commenced about as well as it possibly could, a large helping of adversity fell on the Sooners' plate. Perhaps they jumped out of the gates a little bit nonchalantly that morning and woke up just a little bit too late. The Wildcats nabbed a twenty-five point lead in the fourth quarter before Oklahoma finally decided to turn the switch on. Yet, it was too little too late. After a valiant comeback effort and apparent recovered onside kick, it all came crashing down after the officials overturned the call. Most of the country thought that OU's playoff hopes were shattered, but as they say, life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it. Riley knew that his team's season was far from over, and persuaded his players to buy-in. Yet, the road became much rougher before it got any smoother. Though they won the battle, the Iowa State game did not treat the Sooners well. Following the win, it was announced that both defensive lineman Kenneth Mann and running back Trey Sermon would miss the year entirely with nasty injuries. Then, just as the team attempted to recover from those losses, the adversity heightened a few weeks later. Perhaps the worst of luck fell upon tight end, Grant Calcaterra. Grant had an amazing 2018 and was poised for a breakout 2019. After a slow start in the first few games, he sat out the next few with a concussion. As Grant continued to miss games throughout conference play, something just didn't feel right. He tried to overcome a vicious history of concussions, but at the end of the day made a wise decision in choosing to retire from football and instead move back to California to serve his community as a fireman. This was an absolutely devastating blow, as Grant was a tremendous player, teammate, leader, and man of God. Fortunately, no other devastating injuries occurred moving forward; only a sporadic missed game or two. The remaining anxiety inducers came in the form of nail-biting games. In fact, after the Kansas State loss, four of the next six games were victories of seven points or less (ESPN). A thrilling comeback victory in Waco, along with a Big 12 championship victory in Arlington, secured the Sooners the number four spot in the playoffs and a date with LSU in the Peach Bowl. But what if I told you that the adversity did not terminate there? On December 18th, three Sooners players were announced suspended for the playoff game (Murdock). So, as the team rallied behind these players and tried to become more of a brotherhood, starting safety Delarrin Turner-Yell suffered a broken collarbone just two days later.

As much adversity as the team was able to fight through over the course of the season, these final blows proved to be too much. Joe Burrow and the dynamic receiving corps found every weakness in the defense they could and exploited them all. A defense that had been in opposing teams' backfields all season got very little pressure on Burrow, and the secondary struggled to contain the Tigers' playmakers. By the end of the game, Oklahoma was playing with a Justin Broiles and Woodi Washington- both of whom were talented yet had combined for just thirteen tackles on the season (ESPN). Unfortunately, only one team can end their season the way that every team wants to. For OU, 2019 was not that season, but it certainly was not far from it. At the end of the day, the mountains of adversity that this team conquered this year will ultimately help them grow toward that next national championship. Despite the continued adversity of transfer portal entries, the chase for eight will continue. Perhaps 2020 is the year… only time will tell.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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