For Sooners, Sugar has turned bittersweet

NORMAN, Okla. -- Turns out the Alabama game was an aberration after all.

Oklahoma tied a bow on the most disappointing season yet of the Bob Stoops era, as the Sooners rolled over Saturday to Baylor.

The first signs of capitulation came on the first drive of the third quarter. Oklahoma’s cornerbacks played almost 10 yards off the ball in hopes that Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty or the fans wouldn’t notice. He did. And they did. And after Petty drove the Bears down the field with unbelievable ease for another touchdown, boos cascaded down from the Owen Field bleachers at levels not heard since John Blake roamed the sidelines.

Since 2008, staleness had enveloped the Oklahoma program. The Sooners had still been good. But not good enough to at least contend for a national championship.

That all seemed to change in New Orleans in January.

Befitting the days of Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and the early years under Stoops, Oklahoma took it to the Crimson Tide with an aggressive attitude and game plan on both sides of the ball. The Sooners swarmed quarterback A.J. McCarron. Offensively, they reeled off big play after big play.

The Sooners seemed to finally be shedding the staleness.

Oklahoma football finally appeared to be back.

A legitimate championship contender again, with new uniforms and a $400 million stadium renovation on the way.

But we were all bamboozled.

Somewhere along the way of three Big 12 losses, the Sooners lost their Superdome edge.

Pick-six interceptions have chipped away at Trevor Knight’s fragile confidence. The most experienced offensive line in the Big 12 has been blown up on key short-yardage situations.

And perhaps most troubling, the Stoops Brothers have returned to devising schemes not to lose instead of devising them to win.

Nowhere was that more evident than on the opening possession of the second half against Baylor.

Instead of attempting to pressure Petty, the Sooners were content to sit back and wait for him to pick them apart. Petty obliged, completing all nine pass attempts to effectively put the game away.

The drive underscored all that has become troubling with Oklahoma in the second stanza of the Stoops era.

It began this season with the Sooners admitting they were afraid to run Knight, in fear he might get injured. It culminated Saturday with the Sooners playing off the ball, in fear Petty might beat them deep.

So much for playing with an edge.

“When you’re not executing really well, it’s hard to have a great edge,” Stoops said. “They go hand in hand. When you’re executing really well, everyone calls it an edge. When you’re not, you don’t have it. It has nothing to do with effort or attitude.”

Despite the most embarrassing home loss of his tenure, Stoops tried to remain positive on Monday.

He said recruiting was going “fantastic” this year, though he conceded the heavy booing might have turned off the recruits in attendance for the Baylor game.

“We’re eight-nine months away from being ranked sixth in the country, and winning the Sugar Bowl,” he said, when asked to characterize the current state of the program. “We had a top-15 recruiting class [in February]. We’re 6-3, the coaches still got us in the top 25, the AP is pretty close.

“Some are better than us, but we’re probably better than most.”

Stoops also noted that the program was in a similar predicament this time last year after a blowout defeat at Baylor, before surging to the phenomenal finish in the Sugar Bowl.

That, however, was a young team that found its stride.

This is a veteran team that has massively underachieved.

That team had the opportunity to rally, with road trips to stalwarts Kansas State and Oklahoma State before the Alabama game.

This team has no real opportunity for redemption. Oklahoma’s final three opponents might not even make a bowl. And with three losses, the Sooners have already squandered any chance of going to a noteworthy bowl themselves.

“I’m very aware as a coach, as all our assistants are, that yes, there’s a sense of urgency to improve and get things corrected,” said Stoops, when asked if Baylor’s rout set off alarms something might fundamentally be wrong with the program. “I don’t want to say no and act like I ignore it.

“All of us together have got to do a better job. … I hate where we’re at, too. Very angry.”

The boos said everything about where the Sooners are.

The triumph over Alabama was fool’s gold, offering false hope of still another season that failed to deliver for a program that has never felt staler.