One series of plays from the 1998 Oklahoma football season jumped out at new coach Bob Stoops, and he made a point to mention it to his players this week.
It was the Sooners' opening series against Texas. After a long pass completion put the ball deep in Texas territory, a Sooner player got penalized for too much celebration. That pushed the ball back 15 yards, and an illegal procedure penalty on the next snap pushed the ball back five more.
"Three plays later, we get zero points," Stoops said Saturday at the team's annual photo day. "And it had nothing to do with playing. Those are things we can correct. I'm not being critical, I'm just saying that's an obvious situation to me that says a lot."
"Those are the kind of things that you don't need, and those are the kinds of things that we can change and develop that kind of
attitude and mental ability to win."
As he prepares for his first season as a head coach, Stoops said he has no qualms with the talent on hand. Quite the contrary -- he
said the Sooners can match up with every team on the schedule when it comes to physical ability.
What needs work, and what the coaches have stressed since coming on board in December, is preparation -- attention to the details
that can make the difference between winning and losing.
Stoops has been a part of some very good teams, as a player at Iowa and later as an assistant at Kansas State and Florida. The
players on those teams, he said, expected to be successful and it showed in everything they did.
"There's no reason we can't have that, and we will," he said. Jay Smith has seen a difference. The most veteran player on the
team, Smith is entering his sixth season at Oklahoma. He redshirted during Gary Gibbs' final year as coach in 1994, then played under
Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake.
He is back this year because of a special injury exemption granted by the NCAA.
"There's more discipline. There's more direction and we understand what's expected of us," Smith said. "These coaches
will not tolerate mental mistakes, a lack of effort. If you do that, you're not going to play. They keep telling us you have to earn your way on the field and I strongly believe that. All the players know that."
Smith stressed that he wasn't trying to be critical of Blake. But he said that because Blake was "a player's coach," things
such as being late for meetings or workouts tended to be overlooked.
That isn't the case with Stoops' staff.
"If you do anything bad wrong such as those things, then you're going to be punished for it and if you don't want to make up your
punishment, they'll tell you to leave," Smith said. "It doesn't matter who you are."
Stoops said he has seen the players' attitudes change. The Sooners are a better team now than they were at the end of spring
practices, he said, simply because of the commitment the players have made.
The work will continue during two-a-days and throughout the season on aspects of the game that have nothing to do with talent --
preparation, playing intelligently, competing from the first play to the last.
"If we do that, we've got a chance to prove a lot of you wrong and win a lot of football games," Stoops said. "And that's what
we intend to do."
(Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)