Not uncommon for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to be bashful about giving himself credit for the job done this season.
He always talks about how it’s his players, how it’s his assistant coaches. But ask every assistant coach and player, and it all starts with Stoops himself.
The 2013 Sooners have had one heck of a ride and look to close with a bang in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl against Alabama.
Less than 24 hours before Bedlam at Oklahoma State, and OU had no chance at a berth in a BCS bowl. Everybody had accepted at that point that OU was heading to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl for the first time in school history.
The Sooners received one break Friday night and then created their own break Saturday. OU got the boost it needed when Northern Illinois was eliminated from BCS consideration with a loss Friday night.
OK, the door was slightly open now for the Sooners. All it had to was beat then-sixth-ranked OSU in Stillwater. And in one of the best coached games by Stoops in years, the Sooners did that with a wild, at times improbable, 33-24 win.
“Well, everybody just kept grinding, kept fighting, kept believing,” Stoops said. “We’ve had a great attitude and a tough, hard-working group of players all along. I am proud of our assistant coaches – the way they’ve continued to put pieces together when we have lost guys.
“No one has ever flinched. Everybody just kept fighting, kept getting prepare, and our players, same thing, kept a great attitude and kept working hard. We’ve been able to fight our way through it.”
There was almost a sense of relief from Stoops in the postgame press conference of Bedlam. He said he could finally talk about the adversity his team went through this season.
Finally, because boy was there a lot. Most of it on the field but some off the field issues as well. Stoops started to rattle them off. His whole mindset has been next man up all season, but for just this one question, he wanted to let it be known what this season had been like.
“You’re without your best linebacker, he’s gone,” Stoops said. “You’re without your best defensive lineman, he’s gone. We played a game or two without Aaron Colvin, he’s out there banged up with a bad turf toe.
“You’re missing Adam Shead and Tyrus Thompson, two of your starting offensive lineman and so on. Trevor (Knight) goes down, and I’m probably missing somebody with all of the injuries we had, it’s just how it is. Other guys have stepped up and kept competing and playing well. I’m proud of them for that.”
In the middle of another question that would follow, Stoops mentioned he forgot about Trey Millard to that list. Yep, the list was that long that a name like Millard was forgotten.
Bedlam saw it, too. With linebacker Frank Shannon out, the Sooners had no other choice but to go with walk-on Caleb Gastelum in at linebacker. Backup Jordan Evans was already inactive for the game.
To recap for those just now joining the party. OU has been without defensive tackle Jordan Phillips because of a genetic back issue since September. He had surgery earlier this fall.
The Sooners lost team captain linebacker Corey Nelson to a pectoral injury in early October. He’s had his surgery as well but so far it looks like he won’t be able to get a medical hardship for a fifth year.
OU suffered another blow with Millard, who tore his ACL in the fourth quarter in late October. Another team captain and the unquestioned heart and soul of the team.
OU wasn’t the only school to deal with debilitating injuries, but the Sooners were the only one to somehow pick up the pieces to go 10-2 and reach a BCS game.
Not all of it was on the field as the team’s leading rusher, Damien Williams, was kicked off the team after his second one-game suspension two weeks ago for a violation of team rules.
Stoops said this season is right up there with 2009 in terms of the level of satisfaction. That year, of course, was season-ending injuries to the likes of Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham.
But that team fought to get to the Sun Bowl. Somehow this team has scratched and clawed its way to New Orleans against the Crimson Tide.
It’s already been determined the Sooners stand no chance against the Tide. Early lines have Bama as at least double-digit point favorites. Just another challenge.
“I think it’s just incredible what Nick Saban and Alabama has done the last three, four years,” Stoops said. “They’ve been No. 1 in the country for like four years. We get it. We understand what a challenge it is. But we’re excited about it.”