War Eagle Extra

Gus Malzahn sees talent in Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon, not controversy

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, No. 25, practices in New Orleans, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, for the Sugar Bowl.
Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, No. 25, practices in New Orleans, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, for the Sugar Bowl. AP Photo

The controversy swirling around Oklahoma’s handling of the Joe Mixon situation was front and center Sunday morning in New Orleans.

Coach Bob Stoops fielded multiple questions from reporters during his Sugar Bowl press conference regarding the recent release of surveillance footage showing the running back punching a female student in the face as a true freshman.

“Two and a half years ago, and I feel like this young 18-year-old deserved that opportunity and has made the most of it, really, overall,” Stoops said defending his decision not to expel Mixon from the program. “And I don't believe a person's — all of his opportunities need to be finished in the reactionary moment, split second, you know, reaction to something. He has been given another opportunity, and has grown from it, and it's really been a positive influence around our team.”

Mixon punched Amelia Molitor back in July 2014 at a restaurant on campus in Norman, Oklahoma. The incident resulted in a year-long suspension, but surveillance video of the was held up in court until the weeks leading up to this year’s Sugar Bowl.

The graphic recording shows the entire confrontation between the two students. Molitor slaps and shoves Mixon, who responds by punching her in the face. Molitor suffered facial fractures from the encounter.

Mixon was charged with misdemeanor assault, but reached a plea deal mandating counseling and community service.

In a bizarre exchange, Stoops was asked if a win in the Sugar Bowl would help change the “vibe” around the program that the tape created. Mixon held a press conference on Dec. 23 to apologize and take full responsibility for the incident.

“That's not going to change that,” Stoops said. “So we have won a lot of football games already. And that has not changed that. So in the end, it is what it is. We will continue to move on from it.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn declined to address the situation earlier this month. Malzahn claimed he hadn’t seen the tape and didn’t want to address Oklahoma’s disciplinary process.

“I don’t get into other people’s teams and all that, I just worry about ours,” Malzahn said. “Every coach coaches their program like they want. I don’t get into all that.”

Mixon was one of Oklahoma’s key contributors this season rushing for 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also the team’s second leading receiver with 32 catches for 449 yards with five touchdowns. The third-year sophomore is part of a talented backfield featuring fellow former 1,000-yard rusher Samaje Perine.

While Malzahn is staying away from the controversial aspects of Mixon’s young career, Auburn’s coach wasn’t shy about complimenting what the running back doesn on the field.

“He is one of the best running backs in all of college football,” Malzahn said. “And not just running, but he is such a good receiver. So he presents a lot of different challenges. I think the first two (Baker Mayfield and Dede Westrbook) were in New York for the Heisman, and I think he could have been there just as well.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra