NORMAN — The ruthless, violent nature of football is intrinsic to the game. So, it's an interesting position in which Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sometimes finds himself, under a microscope for failing to exercise enough mercy in blowout wins against opponents.
A New York newspaper columnist scrutinized a 77-0 win against Texas A&M in 2003. Last week, veteran ABC commentator Brent Musburger wondered aloud why the Sooners had defensive starters in a 55-10 game against Texas. OU went on to win 55-17.
Can Stoops win, even when he wins? The balancing act is a tricky one.
“You know what, it's one of the more frustrating situations,” Stoops said this week. “You're not sure how to handle it. … It can be difficult.”
The scenario becomes commonplace when you're as dominant as Oklahoma has been in Stoops' tenure, and the 2011 season is no exception.
The Sooners defeated Ball State 62-6 the week before demolishing Texas by 38.
Next up: A trip to Kansas to face a team that trailed 56-7 at the half last week at Oklahoma State in a 70-28 Cowboys victory.
OSU coach Mike Gundy pulled his starters, including quarterback Brandon Weeden and star receiver Justin Blackmon, with four minutes left in the second quarter and the Cowboys leading 49-7.
The backups managed three more touchdowns — something Gundy said is thrilling for their “moms and dads.”
“It was nice to take the knee brace off, untie the shoulder pads and throw a hat on and root for those guys,” Weeden said. “They're an important part of what we do here. And they're the future. To be able to watch that was a lot of fun.”
Perhaps sometimes the opponent — or who is coaching the opponent — is a factor in the decision.
“I like Turner Gill,” Gundy said, referring to KU's coach. “Not that we have to give mercy to anybody, but there's no reason to leave him and Blackmon and those guys in when we were ahead by — I don't know how many touchdowns we were ahead by.
“There's just no reason to do it, in my opinion. That's just me. Every coach is different.”
There is a lot for each coach to consider. In Stoops' case last week, he was going against an archrival in one of college football's showcase games of the week.
The better it looked, the more lopsided the end result, the higher the probability the Sooners would net more respect from pollsters and those involved in concocting the BCS formula.
Statements are potentially made when leads are increasing and time is decreasing.
OU was up 48-10 when the fourth quarter began at the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners had the ball at their own 45-yard line. Starters still in, junior quarterback Landry Jones then attempted seven consecutive passes on a drive that eventually stalled at the Texas 26-yard line after an additional throw, a deep ball on fourth-and-2, failed.
Stoops was not backing down.
“I always think, at the end of the day, heck, the other team needs to stop you,” Stoops said Monday, speaking generally about blowouts on the Big 12's teleconference.
That's what Gundy subscribes to, as well.
“I can't control what another coach does,” he said. “He has every right to play (the players) and call the plays that he thinks has to develop his football team. This has nothing to do with Kansas or anybody else, but if we were on the flip side of it, we need to stop them if we don't want them in there.”
OU's backups were in for the next offensive possession, which followed the Sooners' third defensive touchdown of the day. Jamell Fleming's fumble recovery and return made it 55-10, Sooners.
Stoops has admitted a couple of different times this week that he considered sending the first-team offense back on the field — or at least senior receiver Ryan Broyles — so Broyles could set the NCAA's career record for receptions. He needed three more catches to tie it, four to set it.
Ultimately, Broyles stayed on the sideline.
“We thought about it,” Stoops said. “We said, ‘Should we?' We said, ‘Well, we haven't done that. We haven't left our guys in to get records in those kinds of situations in the past.'
“We didn't want him to get hurt. We'll just wait and let him get it when it comes in the flow of our offense. We still had 12 minutes to go if we wanted to throw him four more balls.”
Oklahoma's defensive starters, though, remained on the field — chiefly because they were trying to prevent Texas from scoring an offensive touchdown. A kick return had accounted for the Longhorns' only touchdown to that point.
“You want to finish strong, too,” OU senior defensive end Frank Alexander said. “After we knew we had the blowout, my biggest thing was going out there and stopping them from scoring, just like it was 0-0. We didn't want them to score.”
In the final minutes, subs such as ends Geneo Grissom and Chuka Ndulue entered the game. But the starters were also interspersed with the backups.
Musburger made his comments during that point in the game, even though the 'Horns did score to make it 55-17.
“It's not the easiest thing to do, to just wholesale change,” Stoops said. “We're in good shape going into Kansas. I'm not real concerned about what he thinks we ought to do or not, in all respect to him.
“We were playing Texas. Not like we were playing the Little Sisters of the Poor, right?”
Players such as Alexander understand the delicate balance. They're immersed in the emotions of the game — and a big win — but they understand it's a 12-14-game season and decisions are made for the marathon. They're made for the future, as well.
“It's both,” Alexander said, when asked if it was a good or bad thing to exit a game early. “I feel good that you can come out and rest for the next week. The downside, you still want to go out there and play, make plays and stuff like that. I've got a competitive spirit.
“Any time I can play, I want to go out there and do it. But there comes a good point in the game to get a young guy out there, to go out there and experience the real game. It's going to be on them next year, because I'll be gone.”
John Helsley, Gina Mizell and John Rohde contributed to this story