ARLINGTON — There’s one reason Bob Stoops is here, coaching under the spotlight of a professional football startup. It’s the same reason he had at Oklahoma, the job he walked away from over 1,100 days ago.
That’s why, despite positive league wide reviews and a seamless transition to professional football at Globe Life Park, Stoops left Sunday’s Dallas Renegades debut feeling one way.
“I came all-in expecting to win,” Stoops said. “I’m not doing this for any other reason. I want to win — win big. So I’m disappointed.”
Stoops’ Renegades flashed moments of success but ultimately found themselves on the wrong side of too many big plays, leading to a 15-9 loss to the St. Louis BattleHawks. The Renegades, playing in the first XFL weekend in 19 years, were the only home team that didn’t win. They also didn’t score a touchdown.
“I’ve said it and lived it my whole life as a head coach: Too many field goals get you beat,” Stoops said. “You’ve got to put the ball in the end zone, and we didn’t do that.”
Former Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis was responsible for all the Dallas scoring, going 3 for 3 on field goal attempts.
The loss stings, Stoops said, but aside from the outcome he said coaching in the XFL was a great experience. Stoops and the Renegades were the final game of the XFL’s debut weekend. By that time, there had already been a lot of positive feedback about the league. The reason: The XFL was doing what it said it would.
Leading up to its debut, the XFL pitched the idea of affordable professional football without the unnecessary interruptions or delays. The league used focus groups to listen to the fans, tailoring a game that was meant for them. That meant $6 beers — 75 cents cheaper than a large soda — and a game with less downtime, including a 10-minute halftime and instant replay review that lasted a maximum of 60 seconds. The old XFL was a gimmick; this would be about football with a few rules tweaks.
The result: an attendance of 17,026 that almost filled the lower section of Globe Life Park and the newly added grandstand.
The St. Louis Battlehawks face off against the Dallas Renegades in an XFL football game at Globe Life Park on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Arlington.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)
“I wasn’t surprised,” Renegades running back Lance Dunbar, a former Cowboy, said of the fans. “It’s Texas. Everyone loves football here.”
They love good football, too. And though the Renegades’ offense showed flashes, it couldn’t consistently produce that against St. Louis.
The Renegades went 1 for 10 on third down and 1 for 2 on fourth. It led to field goals instead of touchdowns and punts instead of progress.
Philip Nelson, starting while former Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones recovers from a training camp knee injury, completed 33 of 41 passes but for only 209 yards. He said the offense did a a good job of pushing the ball deep against St. Louis in the preseason, but the BattleHawks wouldn’t allow that this time, forcing Nelson to take what he could get.
“You could tell today they were backing up,” Nelson said. “Coach [Hal] Mumme [the offensive coordinator] says all the time you have to have a capacity for boredom, which meant tonight checking it down.”
While the Renegades offense struggled to find the big play, their defense struggled to stop it, especially in the run game. St. Louis had 191 rushing yards on 42 carries. No XFL team had a 100-yard rusher this weekend, but BattleHawks running back Matt Jones and quarterback Jordan Ta’amu combined for 162 rushing yards. Former Texas A&M running back Kirk Ford and wide receiver Alonzo Russell had the game’s only touchdowns.
Dallas outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha said the rushing numbers weren’t as bad as they look.
“I don’t want to take anything from them because they did a good job, but some of those bigger plays were busted on our end,” Kikaha said, “and we can fix those.”
Mistakes, no matter how costly, were to be expected. It’s a new team playing football with some different rules, including a new kickoff and extra-point format. Still, Stoops came in expecting to win. And though it stings, it is only the first of 10 games.
“I’ll move onto the next one,” he said, “and hopefully get our team in a position to play better. That’s the whole focus.”
A game of firsts
Sunday’s game was the beginning for a lot of things, even though the Renegades failed to score a touchdown. Here’s a look at some of them.
First attendance: 17,206
First play from scrimmage: An incompletion from Philip Nelson intended for Jeff Badet
First catch: a 12-yard reception from Nelson to Flynn Nagel
First touchdown at Globe Life Park: A 16-yard touchdown run by St. Louis running back Kirk Ford
First Renegades tackle: Former Duncanville defensive back Dashaun Phillips
First Renegades sack: Frank Alexander
First turnover: A forced fumble by Renegades defensive tackle Tony Guerad