NORMAN — Changing a culture takes time.
That’s the harsh reality the Oklahoma Sooners were faced with last Saturday.
Riding high off a dominant win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, OU was run out of its own building by the Kansas State Wildcats.
The No. 18-ranked Sooners were dominated physically on the defensive side of the ball, falling 41-34 to the No. 25-ranked Wildcats behind five Adrian Martinez touchdowns.
Brent Venables’ program hadn’t faced much adversity on the field up to that point, and Oklahoma was unable to rise to the challenge.
With the loss behind them, the Sooners turned their efforts to responding in practice.
“We know what it's like during the season,” defensive end Ethan Downs said after practice on Tuesday. “There's ups and downs. There's always a roller coaster, it doesn't matter how good you are. So and you're always going to be challenged. We know we're going to get the best out of every team that we face.”
The approach from Venables has been unchanged.
“You handle it the same way every week,” Venables said Tuesday. “You start completely over. You always, as coaches, whether you’re successful or not, and I’ve said this plenty of times the first three weeks, is that sometimes you had a successful play but you did a lot that was wrong. You were just the lesser of two evils.
“… But no different. Again, you start completely over every single week. That’s the way that I know how to do it and has proven over time that that’s the right way.”
Tearing everything down to the studs and building it up again week over week has been a constant message from Venables to the entire team.
But four games into the Venables era, Downs said it took some real adversity for that message to trust sink in with the team.
“When you're growing up you always hear the same life lessons from your parents,” Downs said. “You gotta hear it like three or four times before you finally get it.
“I think that's where we're at right now is we're being shared this wisdom and it's not clicking just yet until we go through those hard times, we go through those struggles. And we're like, 'man, we really need to rely on what Coach BV said' because he's so experienced and he's a legend.”
Early in the week, Downs said he could tell the defensive especially had dedicated themselves to looking after all the little things.
From taking extra notes to ensuring they maximized every single second of practice, Downs said the defense was intent on learning their lesson and coming back better.
“The adversity defines who you are and what you’re made of,” Downs said. “Like you test for exams, right? If you study the information, if you write down the good notes, right? Read it before you go to bed, re-hash on it and on top of it, you’re going to make a good score on the exam.
“The next exam is coming up quick. Maybe you don’t prepare as much. Maybe you’re stressed out. Maybe fatigued. It’s like I have to re-focus, re-dial in or else that exam is going to trip me up.
“Right now, it dropped our grade a little bit, but we know what we’re made of. We have to keep studying, keep focusing and get right back into that next exam.”
Up next for the Sooners is another offense with a mobile quarterback and explosive skill position players.
Max Duggan and the TCU Horned Frogs have been one of the most efficient offenses in college football to date, and success in Ft. Worth will start with keeping Duggan in the pocket.
Back in 2019, the TCU quarterback rushed for 92 yards on 12 attempts against the Sooners, flashing his mobility.
A controlled pass rush will be key to chaining OU’s fortunes, as Downs said too many times the defensive line overran their rushing lanes against Kansas State and allowed gaps to open up for Martinez to tuck the ball and deal damage on the ground.
“We have to be more disciplined with our pass rush, with our depth,” Downs said. “Working together as a d-line, complementing each other. Not one of us, like me running up the field and creating a huge pocket for the quarterback to run out of when all our guys are putting on great rushes. But I screw the whole d-line up by rushing up the field.
“… Not being selfish, doing our job and staying disciplined is what we need to do.”
One win or loss won’t define what the Sooners can be this season or what they will be in the future under Venables.
But a nice response in Ft. Worth this weekend could be a step in the right direction for the culture Venables is trying to establish in Norman.
“It’s like a little baby learning how to walk, right?” Venables said. “You take a couple of head plants into the coffee table, right, along the way. Eventually they are running and doing their thing. Same thing, if you’re going to grow a healthy culture and a healthy defense, there’s no easy way to do it.
“It has to go through that process. It doesn’t ever happen fast enough, but you know there’s incremental improvement.”
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