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Venables Vibes: Oklahoma Working to Fix Fundamentals, Rebuild Confidence Against Texas

The OU coaching staff is trying to correct breakdowns in technique as the Sooners look to rebound from back-to-back losses this weekend.

NORMAN — Texas week feels a little different this year for the Sooners.

Oklahoma (3-2) enters the game riding a losing skid in Brent Venables’ first year as a head coach.

Unlike last week’s reserved press conference coming off the Kansas State loss, Venables was energetic and had more of the fire he’s become known for throughout his career while fielding questions from the local media.

But the fact remains that the Sooners have plenty to fix, while the status for a number of key players remains up in the air.

Quarterback Dillon Gabriel is in concussion protocol, and key starters like safety Billy Bowman, right tackle Wanya Morris and wide receiver Theo Wease all exited the TCU game after appearing to be banged up.

Venables said it was too early to offer any updates on those players straight from the top of his press conference.

“There's some injury situations going on right now that are still up in the air,” said Venables, “and I'm really not going to talk about any of those right now until I have clarity and I'm 100 percent sure on who's going to be available and who's not. Today is not that day for that.”

Regardless of who takes the field on Saturday, the Sooners will need improved performances across the board to reel off their fifth straight win over the Longhorns (3-2).

Preparation Remains Unchanged, Even For Texas

FB - Davis Beville, TCU Horned Frogs

Oklahoma may have to start backup quarterback Davis Beville against the Texas Longhorns this week.

The way things have gone the past couple of weeks in Norman, the Sooners could probably use an emotional win over the ‘Horns.

And while Venables himself led the press conference by expressing his excitement for getting to once again (his 14th) be on the sideline in the Cotton Bowl, he was steadfast that the preparation this week won’t be different than for any other team.

“I know the emotion, the intensity and what this game has meant to so many people,” he said. “But we shouldn't prepare for this game any different than we do any other game. And if we are and I allow that then I'm not doing a good job leading.

“We shouldn't do extra this week or be more committed this week. We should be habitual in how we get ready to play. And so that's my focus, is to make sure that the emotion doesn't paralyze you, you know, so that you can't have an intense focus about what we need to do to win and what you need to do individually to play well.”

That doesn’t mean the Sooners aren’t working hard to beat Texas.

After giving up 55 points and 668 yards total offense to the Horned Frogs, Venables stressed there was a great urgency to take massive strides forward as a defense.

But that attitude doesn’t reflect what Oklahoma has on the horizon, just how Venables hopes his program can operate week-to-week.

“This is about Oklahoma and what we need to do to improve,” Venables said. “We should always play with passion and a love for the game. And you get 12 guaranteed opportunities. And so we've got seven more games. And this is the biggest game of the year because it's the next one. So hopefully we're not more excited to play this one than somebody else. That's a wrong state of mind in my opinion.”

Handling Failure

FB - Justin Harrington, TCU Horned Frogs

The Oklahoma defense gave up 668 yards total offense to TCU last Saturday.

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Through the first three weeks, the Oklahoma defense had to learn how to continue to stay motivated despite plenty of success.

Now, Venables’ defense is going to have to find a way to peel themselves off the mat after a pair of dreadful showings.

The coaching staff has to be mindful of how they correct the mistakes, Venables said, balancing making the adjustments necessary while still instilling the unit with confidence.

“Continue to show belief in people,” he said. “It’s getting the best out of them. It’s still correcting them and holding them accountable and being tough and demanding. But to continue to give them hope.

“I think it’s important that you do a good job of showing them all the good plays they’ve made that align with, again, ‘Here’s the mistake. Hey, guys, it wasn’t just a 4-yard gain, it’s a touchdown. What can we do to prevent that?’ ”

To keep the defense from second guessing themselves, the group has to have faith in what they are doing to read and react to the play in front of them.

“Defense is trained reaction,” Venables said. “Guys have got to feel not only confident in what they’re doing, but I think the maturation is, when they really understand what the guys around them are doing, their game goes to another level. Both in their consistency, aggressiveness, precision.

“We’re not there, where we need to be yet, consistently. We’re working hard on it and you just go back to practice. There’s no other way to get yourself out of a bad spot. But you gotta have the right mindset. And we gotta do a great job as coaches and leaders to help those guys in that way.”

Quarterback Questions Won’t Change Game Plan

FB - Dillon Gabriel, TCU Horned Frogs

Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel exited last week's contest against TCU in the second quarter and was placed in concussion protocol.

Both teams enter the Cotton Bowl with mystery surrounding who will start at quarterback.

Quinn Ewers reportedly is nearing his return for the Longhorns, and OU is waiting to see if Gabriel will clear concussion protocol.

Still, Venables doesn’t think there will be widespread changes to the offensive game plans in Dallas.

“My guess is that it won’t affect either side,” Venables said. “I know it won’t for us. They’re gonna run their system. They have tremendous football players and quarterbacks that have played really well. We haven’t seen anything dramatically different from them.”

The Sooners will still have to deal with running back Bijan Robinson and wide receiver Xavier Worthy no matter who is taking the snaps for the Longhorns, and the key to an OU victory will be getting Marvin Mims the football in space as many times as possible.

“Schematically, teams lean on what they do. Both offenses lean on what they do,” Venables said. “It’s up to the quarterback to execute what they want to do, whether it’s hand the ball off or in the throw game. All the quarterbacks can do the same things out of those sets.”

The 118th edition of the Red River Rivalry kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday, and the game will be broadcast on ABC.

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