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- American football coach
The 2021 Valero Alamo Bowl provides a final opportunity for the Oklahoma Sooners to put their stamp on a 2021 season that didn’t go as expected. Despite how the season turned out, there’s a lot of optimism heading into 2022 following the return of Brent Venables.
As the Sooners head into their matchup with the Ducks, there’s an excitement for this game as well. The return of Bob Stoops has brought energy to a game that might otherwise feel like a typical bowl game.
As the Sooners close the 2021 season against the Ducks, there’s a lot to watch in this final game of the season. Oklahoma will get a great opportunity to evaluate talented players who might not have received a lot of snaps this season. The Alamo Bowl will provide a great look at what the young guys who will be important pieces for the 2022 team can provide as they step up the depth chart.
With a late kickoff tonight, here are my final thoughts on the Oklahoma Sooners matchup with the Oregon Ducks.
Win it for Bob
Nov. 29, 2021; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners interim head football coach Bob Stoops speaks to the media during a press conference at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
The Oklahoma Sooners have a lot to play for heading into their Valero Alamo Bowl matchup with the Oregon Ducks. Namely, momentum. There’s a lot of energy and optimism surrounding this team and a strong performance against the Ducks would further that.
While much of tonight’s game will be about how it shapes the future, the past and present has an opportunity to be honored as well.
Bob Stoops stepped in as interim head coach when the Sooners were reeling from the loss to Oklahoma State in Bedlam and the departure of Lincoln Riley. The captain returned to steady his ship while OU looked for its next head coach.
Letting Stoops end his tenure with the Sooners on a high note would be huge.
Get the ball to Eric Gray
Sept. 25, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma; Oklahoma Sooners running back Eric Gray (0) runs as West Virginia Mountaineers safety Sean Mahone (29) defends during the first quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kennedy Brooks will start and lead the Sooners in carries. He’s their best running back. At the same time, the Oklahoma Sooners offensive staff should use the Alamo Bowl to get a head start on evaluating Eric Gray and Marcus Major heading into 2022.
After Gray transferred to OU from Tennessee, there was a thought in some circles he could be the starting running back for Oklahoma. In each of the first four games of the season, Gray saw at least 10 touches, averaging nearly 13 touches a game. Over the final eight games, Gray averaged just 4.6 touches per game.
It was easily Gray’s lowest touch total of any season that he’s played in college football. His utilization was head-scratching, especially in games late in the season when the team could have used a spark from the electric dual-threat running back.
The Oklahoma Sooners need to get Gray the football more as they head into the offseason. We saw glimpses of the electric playmaking ability. However, his lack of usage minimized his impact on the Oklahoma Sooners 2021 season.
Living On the Edge
Sept. 11, 2021; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners defensive end Ethan Downs (40) causes Western Carolina Catamounts quarterback Carlos Davis (5) to fumble during the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
As has become the norm across college football, veteran players heading to the NFL will opt out of the bowl games to begin their professional pursuits. This is the case with the Oklahoma Sooners. Perrion Winfrey, Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas and Brian Asamoah opted out of the Alamo Bowl to begin preparations for the 2022 NFL draft.
The loss of these veteran players provides opportunities for the Oklahoma Sooners to see more of the young talent they have on the defensive side of the football, in particular on the edge.
Bonitto and Thomas’ departures opened snaps for Ethan Downs, Reggie Grimes, Marcus Stripling and Clayton Smith. Oklahoma will need big games from them in the Alamo Bowl and will need them to step up this offseason to provide confidence in the Sooners pass rush in 2022.
Caleb Williams last Hurrah?
Oct. 30, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws during the first quarter against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
I keep resting on the idea that no news is good news in regards to Caleb Williams’ future with the Oklahoma Sooners. While I lean to the true freshman quarterback returning to the Sooners in 2022, there remains a sliver of doubt, because only Williams and his family know what he’s going to do.
Regardless of what happens, the Alamo Bowl provides one more opportunity for us to witness “Superman” on display.
Williams has wowed the college football world with his relentless spirit and an ability to create big plays with both his legs and his arm. Even prior to taking over as the starting quarterback, Williams dazzled with big runs and seemed to be a big play waiting to happen. In the Texas game, every bit of Caleb Williams’ ability was on full display as he brought them back from an 18-point deficit after replacing Spencer Rattler.
Against an Oregon Ducks team that allows 5.26 yards per play and ranks 87th in passing yards allowed per game, Williams should be able to end his freshman season on a high note.
As soon as the game ends, the college football world will wonder what comes next for the star quarterback, but at least for tonight, we’ll get a chance to watch one of the best players in college football.
And just like that, it was gone.
Safety Patrick Fields #10 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates after intercepting a tipped pass with linebacker Brian Asamoah #24 against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the second quarter at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Oct. 30, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma. Brian Bahr/Getty Images
It seemed just yesterday we were in our pregame prep for the Oklahoma Sooners opener against the Tulane Green Wave. OU and Tulane officials were working through contingency plans as Louisiana was on alert with a hurricane bearing down.
And then in the blink of an eye, we’ve reached the final game of the 2021 season. The Oklahoma Sooners will not play against another team for nine months after tonight’s matchup.
It was a wild ride in 2021, full of so many unexpected twists and turns that Hollywood would have a difficult time scripting it. But it was a football season that we won’t soon forget. It didn’t go as planned and the Sooners didn’t meet preseason expectations, but that wasn’t even the top storyline of 2021 for Oklahoma football.
But they’re on a new path now, with renewed energy and anticipation as they begin the Brent Venables era. With the fervor and excitement surrounding the program after the hiring of Venables, the next nine months will create an incredible build-up for the Sep. 3 opener against UTEP.
Nine months is a long time to wait for meaningful football to hit your television screen, so enjoy tonight as the Sooners strap up their helmets for the final time in 2021.