Despite concerns, Sooners still confident

Updated: September 7, 2005, 10:20 AM ET
By Tim Griffin | Special to ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- Bob Stoops hasn't had many bad days at Owen Field over the years.

TCU's stunning 17-10 victory over Oklahoma on Saturday was more than just Stoops' first nonconference home loss. It also might foreshadow Stoops' most massive rebuilding job since his first season at OU in 1999.

It doesn't even taken a talented football player to go out there and play hard with toughness and attitude. You can get a guy off the street to do that. We have great talent, but we just have to have a better attitude.
Dusty Dvoracek

All the post-Orange Bowl questions about the Sooners' toughness appear to be resurfacing after the way they were pushed around in their opener. "Big Game Bob" might have morphed into "Bob the Builder" before our very eyes.

The Sooners were bullied on both sides of the ball by a team that was picked to finish sixth by Mountain West Conference coaches before the season and was a 26-point underdog for Saturday's game.

"I felt going into the game that we were stronger and had a little bit more attitude than what we showed," Stoops said. "The way we reacted was a disappointment. I'm really disappointed across the board."

Those struggles were especially gnawing for defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, who returned for a dose of humiliation on his home turf after being suspended most of last season.

"It doesn't even taken a talented football player to go out there and play hard with toughness and attitude," Dvoracek said. "You can get a guy off the street to do that. We have great talent, but we just have to have a better attitude."

The day could not have gone much worse for Stoops. Not only did the Sooners lose and look badly doing it, but neither Paul Thompson nor Rhett Bomar staked a legitimate claim to the starting quarterback position.

Thompson completed only 11 of 26 passes and had trouble all afternoon long.

His struggles started when he overthrew open wide receiver Travis Wilson on a deep post play on the game's first play. Thompson lost a fumble at the TCU 4 later in the first quarter, killing the Sooners' best scoring threat of the first half.

And his struggles commanding the offense were highlighted when he was forced to call two time outs four seconds apart on the drive after TCU's game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Bomar, the most heralded quarterback recruited during Stoops' tenure, wasn't much better in an 11-snap performance that appeared tentative at stretches. His critical fourth-quarter fumble set up TCU's game-winning drive deep in OU territory.

"We were just a tad off all day," Bomar said. "And in the end, it cost us."

Opponents watching the TCU game film will glean a recipe to beat the Sooners this season. TCU stacked the line with eight defenders to check tailback Adrian Peterson and dared whoever the quarterback was to beat them. Neither Thompson nor Bomar could do it.

"They've been a lot better than what they've showed," said OU offensive coordinator Chuck Long, who expects to rotate quarterbacks next week against Tulsa. "It just didn't happen for us today."

Peterson struggled in his second-worst college game, netting 63 yards in 22 carries. He hobbled on a sprained right ankle for most of the fourth quarter.

Even before then, the holes that were open when he raced for 1,925 yards last season weren't there against TCU.

After Peterson's injury, the Sooners produced only 25 yards on their 25 final snaps of the game.

Before the injury, Peterson made a desperate plea to his teammates at halftime. The Sooners trailed 10-0 -- the first time they had been shut out in the first half during the Stoops era.

"At halftime, I told the guys they had to get physical and knock guys on their back," said Peterson, who was limited to five yards on eight first-half carries. "I feel we didn't do that all the time today."

A retooled offensive line struggled with a TCU defense that allowed at least 40 points in five games last season. All five OU starters on the offensive line were playing new positions this season and three were new starters. Starting right tackle Akim Millington quit the team early last week.

Millington's departure prompted some harsh words from his teammates after the game. Veteran tackle Davin Joseph called out his roommate after the game.

"We lost a guy, yeah," Joseph told the (Oklahoma City) Daily Oklahoman. "I guess it's better to have guys that want to fight than guys who want to quit. If he doesn't feel like he needs to be here, that's for himself."

The offensive line will have a chance to rebuild confidence against Tulsa on Saturday before a key game at UCLA that will set the tone for how the Sooners approach Big 12 play.

"Whether it was discipline, toughness, attitude ... we just weren't very good," Stoops said. "Guys were running through us, getting penetration. Not being able to hold up the pocket and give the quarterbacks time. It just wasn't near good enough."

The Sooners' defensive depth took a hit when sophomore defensive end John Williams was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Stoops said. It's perhaps the position of greatest concern because projected impact starter Larry Birdine was lost for the season with a torn biceps before the season started.

Williams' departure will mean that redshirt freshman Alan Davis and true freshmen Auston English and Brody Eldridge will be thrown into the rotation at defensive end behind Calvin Thibodeaux.

Maybe it's too early to talk about rebuilding this season with 10 games left, but growing pains will be understandable considering all the talent that must be replaced after 10 Sooners were selected in the NFL draft.

Eight players made their first starts against TCU and eight true freshmen saw action during the game. And starting Bomar, a redshirt freshman, might have the best long-term consequences for the program.

The Sooners' confidence is shaken, but their goals still are in front of them. They can still claim the Big 12 championship for the third time in four seasons. They can still make a fourth-straight appearance in a Bowl Championship Series game.

And most importantly, they still have a chance to beat Texas for a sixth straight season.

"This wasn't a Big 12 game," Dvoracek said. "That's the only good thing. We still have 10 or 11 more games on the schedule and there's no reason we can't win them all. We've just got to show up with a different football team than the one that played today."

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.