At least the Sooners punched back in their latest bowl loss

At least the Sooners punched back in their latest bowl loss

The Game According to Guerin: The longer this season progressed, the more significant Kip Lewis became. Expect even more significance next season, his third in Venables’ system.

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

| Dec 29, 2023, 3:15pm CST

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

Dec 29, 2023, 3:15pm CST

SAN ANTONIO – The Alamo Bowl was a mix of really good, really weird and really careless for Oklahoma Thursday night. It was three different games, with an end result favoring Arizona 38-24. 

Reason to feel better about the past

At least the Sooners didn’t get run out of the stadium. 

OU trailed 13-0 two minutes into the second quarter, with a total yardage deficit of 197-36. Ghastly visions of the 2019 Peach, 2015 Orange, 2014 Russell Athletic, 2013 Cotton, 2008 Fiesta and 2005 Orange Bowls appeared, reminding us that for all the Sooners have accomplished in the past 20 or so years, they have a nasty habit of losing one-sided bowl games. 

This time, Jackson Arnold got hot as the second quarter unfolded. The defense started stopping Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita. And OU rang up 24 unanswered points to assume some command late in the third quarter. 

The Sooners’ implosion, triggered by Jalil Farooq’s fumble at the Arizona 16-yard line with OU driving to a 31-13 lead, happened late this time, not early like in so many recent bowl losses. 

If that’s damning with faint praise, too bad. When the Sooners lose a bowl game, they tend to go down without much fight. 

Reason to feel better about the future

Arnold showed he belonged. 

The 19-year-old debuting starter went 3-of-8 for 30 yards and 2 interceptions in a rough first quarter. The only he couldn’t have happen was to be overwhelmed by the moment. 

By the end of the third quarter, Arnold was 21-of-35 for 309 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while adding 42 yards rushing. He was outplaying Fifita. 

Arnold threw a third interception on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Fifita tossed a 57-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Jacob Cowing with 4:27 left. Experience prevailed. 

But at least Arnold settled into his first college start and flashed his five-star potential. 

“He’s going to have an amazing future,” Brent Venables predicted. 

It’s easier to believe that based on Thursday night. 

Reason to worry about the future

OU’s offensive line often struggled to block Arizona. It was a patchwork group overall but did include starters Walter Rouse and McKade Mettauer. 

Now Rouse and Mettauer are gone and O-line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has a ton of work to do in putting his pieces together. 

If he can’t do it, the Sooners will have even worse luck blocking Alabama, Auburn, LSU and the rest of the SEC. 

Coaches who can put up their feet and crack a beer

Isaiah Coe and Ethan Downs pressured Fifita on the game’s first play, resulting in an incomplete pass. That set the tone for one of the most impactful games by the OU defensive line all year, impressive considering Venables and Ted Roof used three D-linemen all game. 

Ends Rondell Bothroyd and Trace Ford harassed Fifita later in the first quarter. Coe got to Fifita twice more in the second quarter, forcing an incompletion and setting up Marcus Stripling’s sack. 

Bothroyd pressed Fifita into a third-down incompletion, R. Mason Thomas blindsided the Arizona QB for a sack later in the second quarter, and interior linemen Jacob Lacey and Da’Jon Terry made run stops for lost yardage. 

Todd Bates, OU’s defensive tackles coach, and MIguel Chavis, the D-ends coach, had their linemen ready, and the group carried the defense all night. That’s a positive sign heading into the SEC next fall, when the Sooners must continue to make gains at the line of scrimmage.

 

Coach headed straight back to the film room

It isn’t that OU’s new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell did anything wrong Thursday night, he just hasn’t had enough time to mesh with Arnold and put his stamp on the offense. That was more Jeff Lebby’s system against Arizona. 

It is about to be Littrell’s, with ample input from co-coordinator Joe Jon Finley. 

To that end, expect Littrell and Arnold to see a lot of each other over the coming weeks. Same for Littrell and assistants Bedenbaugh and Emmett Jones, the wide receivers coach. 

We’ll get a progress update at OU’s spring game next April, and a much better one when the Sooners host Temple next Aug. 31. 

For now, we’ll take Arnold’s postgame comment from San Antonio: “I loved the way Coach Littrell and Coach Finley did tonight. I’ve got the utmost confidence in them.”

SportsCenter highlight: Arnold’s strike to Brenen Thompson

Littrell did throw in this wrinkle against Arizona: a reverse to Gavin Freeman, with seldom-used tight end Josh Fanuiel as lead blocker, on the first play of the second half. The play gained 12 yards and set up Arnold’s biggest moment of the game.

On the next snap, Arnold faked to Gavin Sawchuk, set his feet from his 30-yard line and fired a post-pattern strike to Thompson at the Arizona 15. Thompson made the catch and accelerated from covering safety Gunnar Maldonado for the touchdown, providing OU a 21-13 lead. 

Name to remember: Besides Arnold? Kip Lewis

Lewis started ahead of Jaren Kanak and joined linebackers Danny Stutsman and Dasan McCullough in OU’s 3-3-5 alignment. He rotated some with Kanak and hobbled off the field with an apparent ankle injury late in the first quarter. 

It didn’t keep him from tying Woodi Washington with a team-team 7 tackles, sacking Fifita for a 7-yard loss and tripping running back DJ Williams for a 1-yard loss. 

The longer this season progressed, the more significant Lewis became. Expect even more significance next season, his third in Venables’ system. 

Perfectly put

“Sure there’s some disappointment, but there’s a lot more to be thankful for than not.” – Venables offering perspective on Thursday’s loss in the context of OU’s 10-3 season

Could you repeat that? 

“Can’t go broke taking a profit.”– Venables on his message to the turnover-prone Arnold during the game

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Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig. .

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