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During season of injuries and adversity, OU stayed strong, stayed the course

After a long and utterly forgettable night of football in Waco, Texas, back on Nov. 7, Oklahoma captain Gabe Ikard sat down to answer questions from reporters.

Were the Sooners still in Big 12 championship contention?

“No,” Ikard responded frankly.

So what about motivation going forward?

Next on OU’s schedule was Iowa State. You never get too amped to play the Cyclones when things are going swimmingly. The Sooners had just lost 41-12 to Baylor.

After Iowa State was Kansas State in Manhattan. Perfect. The hottest Big 12 team this side of Oklahoma State.

After K-State? Of course. O-State.
So absolutely, motivation going forward was key.

“It’s one of those things where the team can go one of two ways,” Ikard began. “We’ve got three quality opponents left. You can either pack it in and hang your head and feel sorry for yourself and get beat three more times. Or you can come back, be a man, show some character, respond to this adversity, come back, play and represent the University of Oklahoma well and play for your family, your teammates, everyone that’s involved and loves this program.

“It’s one of those things where we’re not used to getting beat like this. We shouldn’t get beat like this. But we’ve got to take it for what it is, come back to work and be men about what happened.”

Ikard was right. The OU team that played Baylor could have been beaten three more times. They could have packed it in on the trip home from Waco, finished the season with a 7-5 record and hoped to get a call from the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

They could have played JV to Big 12 champ OSU in the varsity Fiesta Bowl, just like they did in 2011, when an Insight Bowl victory over Iowa wasn’t enough to keep Bob Stoops from answering questions about what was wrong with his program from December into the offseason.

Instead, the Sooners are headed to New Orleans, to a Sugar Bowl date with college football Goliath Alabama. They won 10 games, not seven.

They pivoted at halftime of the Iowa State game and pounded the Cyclones. They took it to K-State.
They prevailed in Stillwater with what turned out to be the program’s first ever three-quarterback system.

The Cowboys won’t be playing in that varsity game after all. OU is the state’s BCS rep this year. And win or lose in New Orleans, the only question Stoops should be answering this offseason is: “How great can next year turn out?”

It took some serious coaching to turn things around. And some serious luck, when you consider the chain of events at OSU.

More than anything, though, this was about the character Ikard referenced that night in Waco.

Brennan Clay rushed for 200 yards at K-State. For three years, fans have screamed for Roy Finch, Trey Millard and Keith Ford to get more carries. Funny, they never mentioned at whose expense, but everyone knew.

Well, looky there. As Finch, Millard, Ford and Damien Williams fell off for different reasons over the course of 2013, last man standing was also the most productive. Clay.

Blake Bell came in and threw the game-winning touchdown pass at Bedlam. From Belldozer cult hero to quarterback competition runner-up, from Notre Dame game-winner to third-stringer headed to Stillwater, Bell rode the ultimate roller coaster the past year.

Did it with both arms in the air, judging from his Bedlam performance.

Gabe Lynn made two critical plays during the Sooners’ goal line stand at OSU. Lynn has spent the past four years finding a home in the OU secondary, while enduring the most scrutiny since Eric Bassey replaced Roy Williams.

What was it Lynn’s father always taught him? “When the going gets tough, you’ve got to stay the course.”

There’s your theme to the Sooners’ 2013 season.

The coaches caught heck for what happened against Texas, but they stuck with the players. An injury bug unseen since 2009 left the depth chart in tatters by November.

Several starters played hurt, several reserves played big in place of the starters who couldn’t go.

Somehow, some way, OU made it to 10 wins and New Orleans.
The 2011 Sooners lost a late-season game in Waco. They swore they would respond with poise and character. Then they went to Stillwater and taunted the Cowboys like schoolyard bullies before being knocked on their butts. That set up the JV game in Arizona.

This year, the Sooners ran onto the field, made it to the 50-yard line, turned around and went about their business. They had a job to do, just like the previous two games.

They had their character to reveal.
The floor was Ikard’s leaving Waco. Leaving Stillwater, it belonged to Stoops.

“I’m really proud of our players for the way they’ve responded and the way they’ve played through today and have competed till the end,” he said. “We’ve had some adversity, it’s safe to say, but the guys kept going. Nobody flinched. Nobody said anything about it and everybody kept working.”

(This column appears in the 2013
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