One of my all-time favorite football stories, I witnessed live, courtesy of an old high school coach, Dave Brown. The 1983 Norman staff sat around and discussed the previous night’s junior varsity game, and Brown wanted to know why a certain halfback phenom barely played.
"Coach, he doesn’t know half the plays,” said a young assistant. Responded Brown, "Run the half he does know.” I’ve thought of that story a thousand times, watching football teams get all dazed and confused in this era of complicated schemes and formations. Defenses that don’t get lined up right or on time. Players out of position. Safeties who look at each other after they’ve been split for a touchdown. Why not streamline assignments? Why not go back to basics? Why not just line up and fight off blockers and rush the passer and tackle the man with the ball? Fun to think about. Impractical to implement. Not in the 21st century. "You want to say keep it simple,” said Bob Stoops. "But you can only keep it so simple (against) offenses, with all their formations and different things they do.” He’s got a point. Think about all the razzmatazz coming from OSU and Texas Tech and the Sooners themselves. The no-huddle. The uptempo. Formations that stretch from library to tailgate tent. Offenses these days are designed to outwit opponents. "Usually when we’ve given up plays in the past, it’s been more mental than it has been physical,” Stoops said. Said Stoops’ defensive chief, Brent Venables, "I really felt last year, when we weren’t successful, it was more us than it was our opponents.” Which brings us to 2009 and why the Sooners seem loaded. They’ve got big-time defenders, everyone would agree. G.K. McCoy and Travis Lewis and Dom Franks and Jeremy Beal. A dozen more that intimidate just by stepping off the bus. But what OU also has is experience. Defenders who know where to line up and when to adjust and how to shift on the fly when Mike Leach or Mike Gundy trots out a trick. The Sooners have nine returning starters and several experienced sabertooths behind them.