COLUMBUS, Ohio — Both sides of Oklahoma football’s perception as a college football environment came out in one J.T. Barrett soundbite Monday.
“I’m not sure how Oklahoma really gets down as far as crowd,” said Barrett, who grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas, just two hours from Oklahoma’s campus. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a great environment for college football.”
There’s a reason Barrett probably wasn’t familiar with the experience at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. As good as the Sooners have been throughout their history, their stadium is rarely mentioned among the most intimidating atmospheres in the sport. Instead, such praise is usually reserved for SEC and Big Ten programs such as Alabama, Florida, LSU, Ohio State, Penn State and Tennessee.
That being said, the Sooners recently unveiled renovations that increase the capacity by around 2,000 seats and enclose the south end zone. The 87,037 crowd for the home opener against Louisiana-Monroe was the largest attendance for a football game in the state’s history. The university expects more than 87,000 fans to squeeze into the 84,389-capacity stadium when Ohio State comes to town Saturday.
According to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, the first test run of the new and improved atmosphere was successful despite featuring an opponent that never presented a challenge.
“To be honest, I kind of paid attention when I took the field and waiting for the coin toss and looked around and thought it looked great,” Stoops said in his Monday press conference. “It seemed like, (from) what you can tell, that everybody was having fun up there. And then I didn’t look at it again until I took the field in the second half, probably only because we were up 42-0 or I wouldn’t have looked up again. I just, I’m watching the field and the pieces moving around but it seemed like everybody enjoyed it from what I heard. It seemed louder, especially for a game that’s out of hand early, but it seemed to have an effect.”
Oklahoma and Stoops have an interesting history with crowd noise. In 2008, he challenged the crowd to make an impact in the Texas Tech game but did so in a way that made fans bristle, noting that he didn’t think his program had been known for hosting an “overly raucous” crowd.
Although some fans took umbrage with the remarks, they more than delivered on his request. In front of a crowd that never stopped screaming — or jumping around — the Sooners demolished the Red Raiders, 65-21.
That Oklahoma team went on to play for the national championship, where it lost to Urban Meyer’s Florida team, and was clearly more talented than Texas Tech that season. But Stoops thinks the crowd made a difference that day, and he believes Sooners fans can make life difficult for the Buckeyes inside the renovated stadium.
“It can impact how you’re receiving a snap and things like that when it’s loud and it can affect how you’re communicating with players and coaches when it’s that loud,” Stoops said. “Sometimes you just have to put your headsets back on to have a conversation. It definitely creates and has an effect on the other team.”
Stoops has never fully reissued that challenge from eight years ago, although he has referenced it occasionally. That was the case once again on Monday, when he said he probably shouldn’t have spoken the way he did in 2008 but added that it would be nice — wink, wink — if that atmosphere presented itself again.
“Everybody still shows that ‘Jump Around’ video of our raucous crowd,” he said. “Hopefully we can give ’em something to cheer about and have the same kind of atmosphere.”
Ohio State, which plays in front of a hostile Penn State crowd every two years, is preparing for the worst. Barrett said the Buckeyes are playing music and crowd noise during practices. He added that it will be up to senior center Pat Elflein to steady an offensive line that includes three players who have never started a road game.
“We’re trying to do the best we can as far as communication,” Barrett said. “If I tell the center something, he echoes that to the rest of the line. So Pat will tell the guards, guards tell the tackles, so I think that’s something that’s going to help. I’m just going to do my best to be loud, so the next time you talk to me I probably won’t have my voice.”