ESPN’s midseason grade of Oklahoma’s Brent Venables shortsighted

The first year of the Brent Venables era hasn’t gone as well as Venables or anybody else would have expected. After three wins to open the season, the Sooners dropped their next three, the first three games in Big 12 play, and gave up 40+ points each week.

ESPN graded each head coach in their new locale at the midway point of the season. Though it’s still early in his tenure, ESPN didn’t look too favorably on Venables after giving the Oklahoma Football program a B+ for the hire at the time Venables was brought on board. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg gave Venables a D+ (ESPN+).

The grade might seem harsh, as Oklahoma played almost two games without star quarterback Dillon Gabriel and faced other personnel challenges. The Sooners also rebounded nicely on Saturday against short-handed Kansas, piling up points and yards and limiting some of the defensive meltdowns that had surfaced in the previous three games. But what happened against TCU and particularly Texas is unforgivable for a program such as Oklahoma and a coach with Venables’ credentials on defense. Oklahoma endured its first three-game losing streak since 1998 and absorbed its worst shutout loss in team history, while allowing its highest points total ever to Texas. Although the Sooners bounced back in Gabriel’s return on Saturday, they still allowed 42 points to a Kansas team playing with its backup quarterback. “You’ve got to continue to plant seeds of belief, not seeds of doubt and destruction,” Venables told me in September. “These players, they expect to win. We want them to play well. You’ve got to find that delicate balance as you’re building a culture and standards. You’ve got to nurture it too. In the middle of competition, in the middle of failure, mental stress and chaos, your job as a coach is to help in telling the truth, so you’re learning personalities and how to get the most out of guys and pushing the right buttons.” – Rittenberg, ESPN

You’re right, Adam. It is a bit harsh. Expectations were probably too high for a team that lost six defensive starters, five of which were selected in the 2022 NFL draft. Three of those five were key figures to your defensive front that accounts for the lack of pressure the Sooners are creating from their defensive line. The losses of Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas, and Perrion Winfrey weigh heavier than they did at the start of the season.

Throughout the losing streak, Venables discussed the need for the players to be better and for the coaches to improve as well. In particular, there were things on the defensive side of the ball that needed to improve.

While the Sooners gave up 42 points in their win over Kansas, they had a stretch where they stopped the Kansas offense on four-straight possessions with three punts and an interception mixed in for good measure. It was enough for the Sooners’ offense to jump out to a 35-21 halftime lead and control the game the rest of the way.

Brent Venables knows how to coach. He’s been doing it a very long time and has spent time under some of the best in the business over the last 30 years. There’s little doubt that Oklahoma will be a formidable program moving forward. It may take this year and next to get everything established that he wants in Norman, but the defense will come around. He’s been coaching defense at a high level for far too long for it not to evolve into one of the best in the country in a few years’ time.

This is just year one. The results in year one aren’t great, but good thing we don’t judge a book before we reach it’s climax. The “fast, suffocating defense” is on the way.

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Story originally appeared on Sooners Wire