By KOLBY PAXTON
The list of things that I like about my apartment is short. It includes items like air conditioning and windows.
To say that my living conditions are primitive may be an overstatement – they may not be. Admittedly, I was spoiled by my accomodations in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Fayetteville, Ark. Still, taking into account factors such as neighbors and functioning garbage disposals, one could make a strong argument in either direction, I’m sure.
Anyway, on that relatively brief checklist of pros, is my proximity to a convenience store. I feel confident in saying that I could consistently lob a baseball from my balcony to the back door of this establishment, provided the absence of a headwind. Good news as it pertains to the availability of potato chips and beer. Bad news as it relates to my checking account after a week of Hunt Brothers pizzas.
I’m there all of the time. It’s too easy not to be. Gatorade? Fifty yards away. Caffeine? Fifty yards away. Paper towels, cheese, candy bars, charcoal, all just a few first downs from my front door. Over the course of my frequent patrondom, I have developed a friendly acquaintanceship with an employee named Paul.
Paul reads my column faithfully, and for that I am grateful. He’s a generally knowledgeable fan of sports – particularly football, I’ve noticed. Our conversations routinely last beyond the point of sale, irritating the foot-tapping, thumb-twiddling customer standing behind me. Last week, however, I drew the ire of Paul, an Oklahoma fan, for giving the Razorbacks clock on first and second down.
“If I want to read about Arkansas, I’ll pick up a Southwest Times Record,” he told me.
My argument? Simple. The University of Arkansas is nearer to Tahlequah – 57 miles – than any of the in-state schools, including Tulsa.
The truth? I’m an Oklahoma alum. I attended TU, as well. But I was raised in Springdale, Ark., just minutes from the Fayetteville-based campus. My mother has two degrees from the school. My girlfriend will join her on the sidewalk in eight months. Arkansas Media Relations Director Zack Higbee, a Tahlequah-native, gives us far better access than OU – where I was locked out of Notre Dame, and force-fed FAMU and Kansas State (instead of KU and Baylor) in spite of the fact that I’ll be in town for neither.
Gun-to-head, I’d probably have to admit to caring more about the Hogs. This is the Tahlequah Daily Press, not the Times Record, or even the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But as long as I’m here, Paul is going to have the read about the Razorbacks from time to time.
This week, though, at the urging of the man behind the counter, I will not spend first down on Arkansas. It has nothing to do with losing to someone called Louisiana-Monroe. I’m just taking the feelings of a reader into consideration. I’m not avoiding the subject of John L. Smith, just trying to courteously avoid playing favorites.
1.) Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon didn’t play defense.
It doesn’t seem to matter, though. The Oklahoma State coaching staff propped up the defense all summer. The unit was supposed to be talented enough, stingy enough, that the departure of the school’s most accomplished passer and pass-catcher would not mean its departure from the Top 25.
So much for that.
After a 59-38 loss to an Arizona team that averaged 26.2 points per game a season ago, it appears as though the best avenue through which to achieve/maintain national relevance remains rapid pistol firing from the quarterback position – even if that quarterback is a true freshman.
This defense looks to be no different than the one that ranked 104th in 2011. It was supposed to serve as a crutch for Wes Lunt. Instead, it was Lunt - throwing for a Big 12 freshman record 436 yards on 60 attempts - carrying the defense in Tucson.
2.) Justin Brown making early impact
The Penn State transfer has only six receptions for 87 yards through the Sooners’ first two games. He has zero touchdowns. Still, he has left his finger print on both victories.
In the west Texas desert, it was Brown’s effort that stood out. He is Oklahoma’s best blocking wide receiver, evident on multiple occasions, including Damien Williams’ game-clinching touchdown tote.
Saturday, Brown was the recipient of the game’s longest pass play – a 46-yarder – and covered 102 yards on just two punt returns. His performance in the return game triggered comparisons to OU-great, J.T. Thatcher.
“What makes him such a good punt returner, and reminds me of the days of J.T. Thatcher, is he can run through some people,” said head coach Bob Stoops. “He’s not a guy, you get ahold of his jersey and swing him down. He’s got a lot of strength to him.”
Even better, Brown seems to be the consumate teammate.
“Actually my punt return team made the play,” Brown said of his 62-yard return to the FAMU 4. “They held them up and made a nice little crease for me to run through. It’s not the returner, its the return team.”
3.) Kenny Stills playing more than he’s Tweeting (finally)
Stills hasn’t Tweeted since Aug. 26. He hasn’t put on a dress since early-July.
Perhaps coincidentally, the Broyles Effect that seemed to hamper the flamboyant receiver every bit as much as his quarterback has been a thing of the past through the first two weeks of the regular season.
Stills has effectively been the No. 1 receiver that Sooner Nation fancied him for when Ryan Broyles went down last fall, compiling a team-leading 16 receptions, 241 yards, and two touchdowns.
Nearly half of Landry Jones’ 28 pass attempts were intended for Stills on Saturday; 10 were caught, one was intercepted and one led Stills into the brick wall behind the north end zone.
In other words, when Jones isn’t testing Stills’ durability or firing the ball to the other team, Oklahoma’s mohawked playmaker has portrayed Broylesesque reliability in the passing game.
4.) I hope John L. Smith is renting.
Ah, that’s right. Michigan State fired Smith because he wasn’t a very good head coach. I knew there was a reason that I was uncomfortable about his role as duct tape – you know, other than everything about his general demeanor.
The Razorbacks are totally and completely void of coaching leadership this season; an even more glaring omission in the aftermath of the Bobby Petrino dictatorship. Which brings me to...
Is there any reason that Paul Haynes was hired, other than the fact that he’s one of Bobby’s guys? Would he have been given the job without his time as the Jaguars quality control coordinator? Or without spending those years under Petrino at Louisville? Haynes only had experience as a defensive coordinator because Luke Fickell was busy interiming.
With Urban Meyer in, Fickell was getting a demotion. Haynes was getting a pink slip. Bobby needed to replace Willy Robinson without introducing a personality that might rival his own. Haynes was introduced as the new coordinator in Fayetteville – over the likes of former-Miami head coach Randy Shannon.
And then there’s Paul Petrino. He was good in Louisville – when his big brother called the plays; and during his first stint at Arkansas – when his big brother called the plays.
After the Fighting Illini offense fell flat a season ago, Paul – who left to “pursue a head coaching career” in the first place – was rescued by big brother Bobby once again; allowing him the opportunity to rebuild his fraudulent reputation as a play-caller.
Just one problem: Bobby’s gone, and none of these guys are qualified to do what they’re being paid to do – let alone overcompensate for their former boss’ absence. Instead, Smith – whom Weber State so narrowly avoided – is left staring blankly out onto the field, as Petrino refuses to call a run-play, Brandon Mitchell watches the wrong Brandon play quarterback, and Haynes makes Robinson look like a defensive innovator.
In the history of the Southeastern Conference – and surely in the history of the Razorback football program – this has to be one of the worst coaching staffs ever assembled. Bad enough, even, to lose to a Sun Belt Conference foe, at home, as a 30-point favorite.
It’s going to be a long season in the Ozarks.