Mike Leach is an even bigger difference-maker. As the mastermind of his offense, he has developed it to such a level that the way in which he aligns his players and calls the plays can result in a point total that even Oklahoma's high-scoring offense might not be able to keep up with.
However, the biggest difference-maker in this game should be defensive coordinator extraordinaire, turned head coach, Bob Stoops. The problem is that the more he has molded himself into the consummate head football coach the less he has become the game-changing defensive genius. Don't get me wrong, no head coach in America can match the record that Stoops has established over the last 10 years in Norman. He has an incredible record of 106-23, one national championship and five Big 12 titles. However, it was his unique abilities as a defensive coordinator that landed him at Oklahoma in the first place, and it is those same unique abilities that are needed to make a difference in this game on Saturday against Texas Tech.
I have been watching and waiting for someone on the defensive side of the ball to come up with a scheme to shut down these high-scoring spread offenses. I've heard all the talk about how it's all about talent and not about coaching, but that ain't always so. Just like in chess, every now and then a guy comes along and knows how to move the pieces around better than everybody else and wins a boatload full of games – just like Leach has done at Texas Tech (of course that would be a Pirate Ship-load). Obviously, if that guy also has the best talent it makes a huge difference, but we all have seen how a coach steps into a program that has lost for 10-15 years in a row and by the second year – whammo – he turns everything around.
In fact, that's exactly what Stoops did at Oklahoma. He did it the same way he has done it all his life – by moving the defensive pieces around better than anybody else in the game.
I remember when Stoops first came into the SEC in 1996 as a young defensive coordinator for Steve Spurrier at Florida. The old ball coach had already turned the conference upside down with his precision routes and vertical passing game, but knew that if he was going to take his team to the national championship he had to get to the next level on defense. After the Gators gave up 62 points and the national title to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl in 1995, Stoops was brought in to save the day. The very next year his defense gave up just 16.9 points per game, and Florida won its first national championship.
I know first-hand about Stoops' ability to change the outcome of a game by the way he ran the defense, because I was calling plays for Auburn at the time. Before he arrived in Gainesville we were able to knock off the Gators twice by scores of 36-33 and 38-35, but the year after he took over their defense, we got pounded 51-10.
Then Stoops got the head coaching job at Oklahoma and in two years turned that program into a national champion as well. As much credit as you must give him for bringing in Leach to put in the spread passing attack, it was still Stoops' influence on defense that got OU over the top. In that second year, after Leach had moved on to Texas Tech, the Sooners went 12-0 during the regular season with a defense that ranked seventh in the nation while giving up just 16 points per game. Then, in the national championship game the Sooners held a Florida State offense that was averaging 549 yards and 42.7 points a game scoreless to win 13-2. The only points the Seminoles put on the board were with a safety with just seconds left in the game. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke was held to the worst performance of his career, throwing 51 times for only 274 yards with two interceptions and a fumble.
After the game Stoops, whose team was a 10½-point underdog, made the statement, "To be honest with you, we fully expected to play like that. Our players recognized that the history of Oklahoma football is about winning championships."
Since then, Stoops has become more and more of a head coach and less and less of a defensive coordinator. As a result, the defense has become less of a factor in the outcome in the big games at Oklahoma.
Ever since Oklahoma was crushed by USC 55-19 in the 2005 title game, there have been at least one or two defensive letdowns each season. The next year Boise State shocked the Sooners 43-42 in the Fiesta Bowl, and West Virginia did the same thing in Tempe last year 48-28. In last year's game against Texas Tech in Lubbock, Harrell threw for 420 yards and two touchdowns as the unranked Red Raiders won 34-27 and knocked the Sooners out of a chance to play for the national championship. Earlier this year the No. 1- ranked Sooners lost to No. 5 Texas 45-35 in the highest-scoring game between the two teams in the history of the Red River Rivalry.
Saturday's game between Oklahoma and Texas Tech will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the country and two of the highest scoring offenses in college football. However, the difference in this game will be about defense.
The question is, will Bob Stoops once again be that difference-maker?