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COLUMN: Oklahoma Didn't Respect the Process Leading Up to the Kansas Game

Players said the right things about canceling practice Monday, but Alex Grinch said after such a slow start, it's worth looking into how the team prepared for KU.

Forget whether Oklahoma respected Kansas or not. It was clear from Saturday’s result that the Sooners did not.

More importantly, did OU respect the process?

Alabama coach Nick Saban made “the process” famous by harping not on winning championships, but on doing all the things that are necessary to win championships.

COLUMN

One of those things — one of the most important, Saban says — is a fanatical commitment to the weekly college football routine: do the same thing every Monday, then do the same thing every Tuesday, then do the same thing every Wednesday, etc. College football’s strictly regimented weekly schedule provides coaches an easy blueprint — one from which there’s no need to deviate.

Simply put, don’t outthink yourself. Stick to the process. Do the same thing, week in, week out.

All year long, players and coaches extoll the virtues of adhering to the process, no matter which logo the upcoming opponent wears on their helmet.

“We treat every opponent the same,” everyone says. Everyone. Every week.

That’s denying human nature, of course. Getting ramped up for Texas isn’t the same as trying to get focused on Kansas. It’s not even close.

We know it’s not true, yet that’s the company line.

Still, it wasn’t a small thing when Oklahoma deviated from that process last week. Lincoln Riley gave the players Monday off.

Hey, it’s just Kansas, right?

KU's Devin Neal scored two touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards against the OU defense.

KU's Devin Neal scored two touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards against the OU defense.

Wrong. Oklahoma wasn’t playing Kansas. The Sooners were playing against their own high standards. They were playing against the process.

OU players did gather at the Switzer Center last Monday per usual. They had team meetings, offense/defense meetings, positional meetings. They watched film. They even walked through some elements of practice and previewed the Kansas game plan a little.

But no practice? That’s simply not respecting the process.

Pressed into desperate action by mounting injuries and an unfavorable game schedule of nine straight Saturdays, Riley did what he thought was best. His players were hurt, sore, tired, worn down. He took action.

He deviated from the process.

It’s hard to fault him. The team’s uneven performance over the first seven weeks of the season was, indisputably, a byproduct of young, inexperienced players and career backups being forced into duty. If all the missing starters were healthy and contributing, it’s entirely likely the Sooners wouldn’t be so lacking in consistency from week to week.

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Players said Saturday after escaping KU 35-23 — overcoming a 10-0 halftime deficit to move to 8-0 and extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 16 games — that skipping practice Monday didn’t result in a poor performance Saturday.

“You know, they gave us a day off to let our body heal a little bit,” said captain and H-back Jeremiah Hall, “but I don’t want to blame our lack of not having a Monday practice (on) coming out slow this week.”

“Nah, I wouldn’t say that,” said captain and defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas. “Coach Riley’s been in this game for a long time. He’s been very successful, so I think what he puts in front of us is the right thing regardless of what the outside people may think or believe.

“We’ve got the guys on this team to handle having a day off and still perform in an elite way on Saturday. This isn’t the first time that we haven’t performed to our standards, so I definitely don’t attach that to us not practicing Monday. We’ve just got to go out and be mature about it and handle it the right way.”

Yet it was Thomas who first put his finger on this thing way back in early September.

“A lot of the guys on the team will look at the schedule and who we’re playing,” Thomas said after OU beat Western Carolina, “and that will determine their energy level for that game or that week … Regardless of who you’re playing, you have to have that same mindset as if you’re playing in the Big 12 Championship.”

The KU defense didn't back down from Oklahoma's offense.

The KU defense didn't back down from Oklahoma's offense.

Easier said than done, obviously.

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch talked about the importance of practice — and everything that goes along with it — after OU survived an upset scare by Kansas State.

“We believe in practice,” Grinch said that day. “Some of our players don’t.”

Asked Saturday if not practicing last Monday might have led to a team-wide slow start in Lawrence, Grinch said it’s worth looking into.

“No, it's a question you've gotta ask yourself,” Grinch said. “Anytime you do anything different in a game week and maybe you don’t — ultimately got the result that we wanted, but didn't play to the standard in which we expect ourselves to — you go back and say, ‘What didn't work over the week of preparation?’

“I don't know. I think when you play, you're in the eighth straight ballgame, you're trying to take advantage of the mental aspect of things and trying to gear back a little bit from the physical standpoint to get guys quote-unquote to the dance and making sure guys are healthy as they're going through this thing.”

Riley said last Tuesday the coaches laid out the plan at the beginning of the week and that the idea was to “just trust our feel.”

“We may not do quite as much on the field on Monday,” Riley said Tuesday, “maybe more middle (of the week) and walkthrough, meetings, all that. That means Tuesday through Friday, you’ve got to be elite.”

That apparently didn’t happen.

Grinch, for one, said he “had to look myself in the mirror,” specifically in relation to spending practice time on an opponents’ “bread-and-butter” plays rather than what he called “oddities” or “problem” plays.

Whatever the priorities become each week, Grinch wants them to be addressed in practice.

“I certainly dial back to preparation,” he said. “I’ve said this before. You either believe in preparation or you don't. We've gotta do a better job as coaches with that, getting a better week of prep, making sure that the plan is geared toward the success come Saturday.”