His smile was unmistakable. She often is.
“Or yes. It says” Venny “all over the place, right?” Brent Venables said as he wore an OU hat last December 5 on a private plane chartered by the university.
The rumors have gone away. The ink on the paperwork had finally dried. Venables was Oklahoma’s last football manager.
“It had to be,” Venables beamed.
Later that December night, a pack of Sooner supporters screamed and cheered as the private plane carrying Venables and his family dropped off and then landed at 9:47 pm on a runway at Max Westheimer Airport in Norman.
It was infinitely fascinating to watch a fan base – one who enjoyed their status as a card-carrying member of the college football elite – being loved so quickly by a brand new manager.
Some of those feelings were affected by how the last guy left. Rumors of Lincoln Riley leaving Norman seemed to swirl throughout his tenure at OU, but he’s always been around.
Until he did.
You would have thought fans were missing it for an Oklahoma native, but technically Venables isn’t. He was born in Florida, moved to Kansas as a child and later played as a linebacker and later coached at Kansas State.
His 13 seasons as assistant coach under Bob Stoops, including the 2000 National Championship season, also brought out good feelings for Sooner fans. Venabili hears like an Okie.
“There are a lot of good football programs that are out there, but there is only one OU,” Venables told the crowd after he landed.
The Sooners drove wire-to-wire on Saturday to give Venables his first win in a 45-13 win over UTEP.
First takeaway: who are you?
Perhaps the biggest question that came up in the opening of OU was, “What would the attack be like?”
The first quarter, while exciting, was not what Venables or new attacking coordinator Jeff Lebby expected.
The Sooners cut the Miners for large chunks of yardage in a short amount of time. They made five plays and scored a touchdown in one minute and 17 seconds.
“This is going to be a tough team,” game analyst Brock Huard said during the Sooners’ opening drive.
Three of the first four OU plays that led to the 7-0 lead were played in passing. I didn’t believe him.
They gained 93 yards and put another six points on the scoreboard in one minute and 48 seconds. Apparently, it was quick enough for OU because they added another TD on a backhand of the Heritage Hall alum and first comer Gavin Freeman in 30 seconds.
But then the Sooners got nice. They played three plays on the next record and bet. Two of those plays were passes. You also did three and three on the next drive. All the steps.
Oklahoma went back to basics with the next possession and slid the ball down UTEP’s collective throat. Eleven plays, eight of which were racing and the drive was crowned by Dillon Gabriel’s second touchdown pass to Brayden Willis.
New crime, new staff, new everything. That’s why week 1 is for solving the knots to learn who you are as a team.
And maybe Huard was right after all.
According to Takeaway: Luke’s Legacy
The 2022 season is the old hat for UTEP. Last Saturday the Miners started their year with one less home in North Texas in week 0.
This Saturday marked the second for new UTEP starting quarterback Gavin Hardison. If you watched the game, you noticed that Hardison was wearing a number and a shirt that weren’t his.
This season, Hardison wears the number 2 shirt that belonged to former UTEP tight end Luke Laufenberg. Laufenberg, the son of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and current broadcaster Babe Laufenberg, died of cancer three years ago.
Young Laufenberg was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, when he was 19. Despite his diagnosis, Laufenberg continued his football career at a junior college in Arizona before catching on with the Miners in early 2019.
Since his passing, the Miners have carried on Laufenberg’s memory by having a player wear his number 2 jersey. Wide receiver Justin Garrett, who has since graduated from UTEP, has worn the number 2.
The honor was passed to Hardison for 2022.
“To me, it represents everything this number means: Babe (Laufenberg), all the people I’ve talked to and Luke,” Hardison told The El Paso Times earlier this year. “Representing him to the best of my ability on and off the pitch. It’s a blessing to be able to wear this number and what it means to me.”
Hardison fought for five sacks to pitch for 244 yards and complete 26 of the 43 passes (60%) on Saturday, among the best games of his career in UTEP.
Third takeaway: excessive reaction time
Two months ago, the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas hosted the Big 12 Media Days.
In the background was a large sign with the College Football Playoffs logo. Next to the logo, a message read: “The Most Challenging Path for the CFP”.
There are a few ways to read this. I’m sure the intent of the Big 12 was to communicate how difficult it is for a team to play once with all the conference teams, win the conference championship game, and then qualify for the four-team College Football playoffs.
I choose to read the conference message as “challenging” because the Big 12 teams are usually not good enough to do CFP in the first place, much less win everything.
There have been eight years of PCP. Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to go this far. The Sooners are 0-4 when they hit the last four of college football.
If week 1 is any indication, 2022 will be more or less the same. The Sooners weren’t particularly impressive. The Cowboys in 12th place had trouble pushing Central Michigan out on Thursday night. West Virginia let things slip away in a Backyard Brawl renewal against Pittsburgh.
Come back to see me whenever the playoffs officially expand to 12 teams.
Related: The college football playoffs are expected to expand from the 4-team format