Q&A: Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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Receiver Sterling Shepard has stepped seamlessly into the No. 1 receiver role at Oklahoma. The junior has 17 receptions for 335 yards and two touchdowns during the Sooners' first three games. Earlier this week, Shepard took time to chat with reporters about the suspension of West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley, his first experience playing in Morgantown, West Virginia, and how it feels to be a Sooner.

How does that change things when you hear an opponent will be missing a key player?

Shepard: You don’t want to change your game plan but you definitely have to, if you’re studying one-on-one film, you want to look at the guy and see what he likes to do. Everybody has a different game and it’s something you have to go back and look at some film because the guy hasn’t played.

Is it one of those things where you don’t have a reaction to it so you respect the guy that is going to come in for him?

Shepard: You go about it the same way.

What do you remember about your last trip to West Virginia?

Shepard: It was a rowdy place. I had heard about the burning couches and everything and I wasn’t familiar with that. Now I am. Fans will say anything to you there. It’s a rowdy place but a great environment. I love playing there.

How important is it to lead by example on the road?

Shepard: It’s just keeping it in their [young players'] head to stay focused on your job and if you do your job you’ll be all right. Don’t focus on the crowd. When you get into the game, stuff tends to block out and you’ll be all right. Especially the young guys, you’ll start off nervous but that will end up coming down throughout the game.

What grade out you give yourself after three games?

Shepard: I try not to grade myself. I just try to go out and help everybody else, help my team out in any way I can. Get open and do my job. It’s like I tell the young guys: Do your job and the ball will come your way. And play with speed.

How close attention do you pay to other receivers around the nation?

Shepard: Not too much. I have a lot of friends like Stefon Diggs, Cayleb Jones so I’ll see what they’re doing from time to time. That’s about as far as that goes but I’m not looking on the Internet every day trying to see what guys are doing.

I’m sure you dreamed of playing here growing up; has it been what you expected?

Shepard: Oh yeah, I love it here. I’ve known these coaches for dang near my whole life. I love being around them and it’s just as I imagined when I was a little kid.

WVU's White playing like a man on fire

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
11:08
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Kevin White, Bradley SylveJohn David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsWVU receiver Kevin White has surpassed 100 receiving yards in all three games this season.
The last time he faced Oklahoma, West Virginia wideout Kevin White had the ball with a chance to give the Mountaineers a late lead. But as he attempted to slide past a pair of Sooner defenders, Oklahoma safety Quentin Hayes jarred the ball loose, thwarting what would be West Virginia's final chance to win in Norman.

"When I think about Oklahoma, all I think about is that fumble," White said. "We could have won that game.

"That play put a fire in me."

Saturday, White will get another crack against the fourth-ranked Sooners in a showdown that could hold major Big 12 championship implications. Everyone expected Oklahoma to be in the hunt. But thanks in large part to White playing like a man on fire, the unheralded Mountaineers have emerged as a dark-horse contender after a surprisingly strong start to the season.

Through three games, White ranks second in the country with 460 receiving yards and 32 receptions.

"He's a great player and he is making big plays in every game," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said of White. "He's physical and is tough going up after the football. He's got a great physical presence -- just a great football player."

Stoops isn't the only one to take notice.

After reeling in 143 receiving yards and a touchdown in a narrow 33-23 loss to second-ranked Alabama in the opener, White boarded the bus outside the Georgia Dome and finally got around to checking his phone. The Twitter mentions came pouring in, but one specific tweet prompted him to look twice:



"That was really cool," White said. "I was pretty shocked. Larry is a guy I watch a lot, a guy I try to mimic my game after."

White has been putting together quite the imitation.

Besides sharing Fitzgerald's No. 11 jersey number, his hairstyle dreads and his physical 6-foot-3 body type, White has been destroying opposing cornerbacks downfield the way Fitzgerald has been for years.

White has already hauled in 17 receptions of 10 yards or more, a year after leading the Mountaineers with only 21 such catches during his entire first season at West Virginia.

"I don't think any cornerback not his size can guard him," said White's West Virginia cohort at receiver, Mario Alford. "He's unbelievable the way he uses his body and his athletic ability to block out smaller cornerbacks to go up and attack the ball.

"He's got a ton of confidence right now."

That confidence, however, wasn't always there.

White didn't have the grades or the tape to play FBS football coming out Emmaus High School in Pennsylvania, which prompted him to enroll at Lackawanna College down the road in Scranton. But White always had the tools. He just needed the discipline to unleash them.

"When we saw him run, jump, catch, we realized he was so much superior than any ordinary player," said Lackawanna head coach Mark Duda. "But he was undisciplined. Not in a criminal way. Just in a really young way. If we had a meeting at 10:30, he'd be there at 10:35. We knew if we didn't work a little harder on him, he might not make all that potential a reality."

Even though White had the talent to help Lackawanna right away, Duda redshirted him to get the message across.

"They were very tough on me my freshman year," White said. "At the time, I didn't understand why. I thought coach disliked me. But I realize he was trying to bring out the talent I had and show me the things I need to do to be successful."

After redshirting, White missed another season at Lackawanna for financial reasons. But when he rejoined the team for his third season, he returned a completely different player, on and off the playing field.

"He came back focused like a laser beam," Duda said. "He was like a full-grown man. Attentive. A guy who had completely bought in to being a college athlete. He didn't just get athletic, he didn't just get character. He had those things. He just put it all together."

White has continued to put it together since arriving in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Facing off last weekend against Maryland's William Likely, one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten, White was unstoppable. He finished with 13 receptions and 216 receiving yards, as West Virginia avenged last year's 37-0 thumping from the Terrapins with a thrilling 40-37 victory over Duda's alma mater on the road.

"I thought he was the best player on the field," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "He's playing really well."

But as well as he's been playing, White still hasn't extinguished the memory of last season's fumble against the Sooners. The play that lit a fire also is the one he hopes to atone for this weekend.

"It still leaves a bad taste," White said. "But we're confident. We're looking to prove everyone wrong.

"We're looking to show we're not playing any games this year."

video

Big 12 stat check: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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A closer look at one statistic worth keeping an eye on for each Big 12 team entering Week 4:

Baylor: The combined adjusted QBR rating for Baylor's quarterbacks this season is 94.6, best in the nation ahead of Texas A&M and Oregon. The trio of Bryce Petty, Seth Russell and (in one appearance) Chris Johnson is averaging 11.14 yards per attempt, most among all Power 5 conference teams. Even with Petty missing a game and a half, this offense didn't suffer much.

Iowa State: In 14 of 28 games Iowa State has won under coach Paul Rhoads, including the 20-17 defeat of rival Iowa last weekend, ISU was the underdog. The Hawkeyes were a 13-point favorite. Past point spreads say this was the fifth time ISU has pulled off an upset under Rhoads as a double-digit underdog, joining the 2011 wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the 2010 defeat of Texas and the 2009 upset of Nebraska.

Kansas: KU is averaging 144.6 passing yards per game since coach Charlie Weis took over in 2012, which ranks sixth-worst in FBS over that period and second-worst among Power 5 programs ahead of Georgia Tech. In a 41-3 loss to Duke, the Jayhawks finished with fewer than 100 passing yards for the seventh time in Weis' tenure.

Kansas State: Under Bill Snyder, K-State is 4-0 in non-conference home games against Power 5 conference opponents, with wins over USC, UCLA, Miami and Minnesota. But No. 5 Auburn will be Kansas State's highest-ranked non-conference opponent visiting Manhattan since 1969, when No. 2 Penn State beat KSU, 17-14. Snyder was a 29-year-old high school coach at the time.

Oklahoma: Since 2009, the Sooners are just 6-7 in road games that kick off at 6 p.m. CT or later, according to ESPN's Dane Beavers. In all, OU is 17-8 in road night games under Bob Stoops and started off 9-0 in those games under Stoops until at 2007 loss at Texas Tech. OU's road game at West Virginia kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Oklahoma State: Since rushing for four TDs against Iowa State on Oct. 26, 2013, Desmond Ronald leads all active FBS running backs with 14 rushing touchdowns. Only Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (24) has found the end zone more times among active players.

TCU: TCU has the No. 1 efficiency defense in the country according to ESPN analytics. Through two games, the Horned Frogs also rank No. 1 nationally in yards per play allowed (3.04) and No. 2 in total defense (205.5 ypg). Those numbers should hold fairly steady after TCU takes on a SMU team missing its head coach and starting quarterback next weekend.

Texas: The Longhorns' run defense currently ranks 91st nationally, allowing 181.3 rushing yards per game. One reason for that? Their first three opponents have leaned heavily on the run. Texas is facing, on average, 50 rushes per game this season, second-most among Power 5 defenses behind Texas Tech.

Texas Tech: Having the second-worst run defense in the country isn't the only problem for Tech. The Red Raiders have this problem because they've given up 468 rushing yards after contact, third-most in FBS. The 416 rushing yards allowed before contact also ranks sixth-most in FBS. Only FAU's defense is averaging fewer tackles for loss per game.

West Virginia: Clint Trickett's career-high 511 passing yards against Maryland isn't that uncommon in the history of Dana Holgorsen-coached QBs. Since becoming an offensive coordinator in 2005, Holgorsen has now had five QBs surpass 500 in one game: Trickett, Case Keenum (four times), Graham Harrell (twice), Geno Smith and Cody Hodges.

Big 12 morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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No matter how many times I watch this, it's still funny. Why? What did it accomplish?
  • The quarterback curse is alive and well at Kansas, writes Tom Keegan of KUsports.com. Six different quarterbacks have started KU's last six season openers and Keegan believes that number could rise to seven next fall. I disagree. True enough, Montell Cozart was bad in KU's 41-3 loss to Duke with a 14.7 Adjusted QBR that is the worst single game QBR from a starting quarterback in the Big 12 this season. But I'm not ready to say Cozart is not the man to lead the Jayhawk offense in the future. He's still young and talented so I'd like to see him respond like he was disgusted with his performance by having a superb game against Central Michigan, then take that momentum into KU's Big 12 opener against Texas. If he can excel against the Longhorns, he can take a giant step toward shrinking his list of doubters. But if he continues this downward trend, then Keegan will be right.
  • It's no surprise but Kansas State is trying to downplay the "big game" mentality surrounding Thursday's clash with Auburn, reports Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle. Bill Snyder preaches focus and emphasizes the importance of each day, but it will be interesting to see if KSU can ignore the distractions of hosting the BCS runner-up on national television. I wouldn't be surprised to see some nervy moments but I don't expect nervous miscues to decide the game one way or the other.
  • Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman has his list of Oklahoma's 10 best players. Kersey ranks linebacker Eric Striker atop the list, which includes eight defensive players and does not include quarterback Trevor Knight. It's a surprise to see the sophomore on the honorable mention list but I can't disagree. I thought OU's defense would be good but its even better than I expected and every guy on the list is deserving. Quite frankly, the list could easily include 10 defenders, although receiver Sterling Shepard and tackle Daryl Williams, the lone offensive players on the list, are legit All-Big 12 candidates.
  • Texas Tech is taking a different approach to special teams this season, writes Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Several Red Raiders starters have found themselves on special teams with new special teams coach Darrin Chiaverini looking to find his best 11 for every unit. Some might question this approach but I think it's a good one. Special teams tend to get overlooked but games can turn in an instant on one special teams play. With its defense struggling, strong and consistent special teams units could be just what Tech needs.
  • Baylor freshman receiver KD Cannon was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list on Tuesday. It's no surprise and well-deserved for Cannon, who has been an explosive playmaker during his first three college games. He has 14 receptions for 471 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 33.6 yards per reception. Many people point to the Bears' lackluster nonconference schedule for Cannon's great numbers but it's pretty simple: If it was that easy everyone would be doing it. I don't expect Cannon to continue to be this dominant. There's no doubt he will continue to make plays when the competitive level increases in Big 12 play.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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In Tuesday's mailbag we'll talk Bryce Petty's Heisman hopes, West Virginia's future and Texas' offense. As always, thank you for all of your questions. You can submit questions for next Tuesday here.

On to the mailbag:

Greg writes: OK, I know this is a crazy question but it crossed my mind. Say at the end of the regular season you have a one-loss West Virginia team (I know, I know, just humor me). Do you believe they would have a shot at the playoff?

Brandon Chatmon: Why not? That would mean wins over Oklahoma and Baylor, a pair of Top 10 teams currently, along with a sole loss to Alabama. The key would be a strong season from the Crimson Tide to reaffirm the Mountaineers’ effort in the season opener. If the Crimson Tide somehow tumble down the SEC standings, that would hurt a one-loss WVU’s chances, no doubt about it. A solid season from Maryland would help the cause as well. After all, it’s not like all of the other Power 5 conferences have been dominating the competition, so any one-loss Big 12 champion could have a strong case.

Singletary in Austin writes: I recognize it's faced subpar competition, but how would you rate Baylor's defense and defensive depth against the last couple years? To my eyes they look bigger, faster and deeper.

Chatmon: I’d agree. Even though the Bears haven’t been tested, the talent upgrade is obvious. I really like what I’ve seen from Shawn Oakman, Jamal Palmer and Xavien Howard thus far, but those three are just a few of the athletes on Baylor’s defense that I would consider an upgrade over previous years. It’s becoming really clear how well Art Briles and company have done on the recruiting trail lately.

NoZe in Austin writes: What chance do you give Bryce Petty of winning the Heisman? Do they have to run the table (which would include a first-ever win in Norman)?

Chatmon: Petty just needs to play extremely well in big games. It wasn’t numbers that kept him away from New York a year ago (4,200 passing yards and 46 total touchdowns is enough). He looked like a superhero at times but looked human against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas last season. It really doesn’t matter what he does right now, he just needs to excel against the Big 12’s best and have his Heisman moment with everyone watching. If that happens, even if BU is not undefeated he could cement his spot in the Heisman race.

Ben in Waco, Texas, writes: Why isn't Oklahoma State's defense, and particularly our D-line, getting any love? Going into the Florida State game, everyone knew our D-line was the strength of our team, yet when FSU had trouble with them, national media made no mention of OSU having anything to do with FSU's struggles. They've chalked it up to a bad game, despite OSU's defense continuing to look the part of a solid D. We heard about how good Oklahoma's defense was against Tulsa, and how good Baylor's D looked against SMU, but OSU's performance against FSU no big deal???

Chatmon: I was candid about my concerns about OSU’s defense, although not necessarily the defensive line, before the season opener and they accepted the challenge against FSU. I apologized on Twitter to the Pokes defense for questioning it, so I can’t really speak to what others are doing. If OSU’s defensive line wants more love, it can earn it with dominant performances in Big 12 play because it looks like, for the second straight season, OSU’s destiny will be decided by its defense, not its more ballyhooed offense in 2014.

Josh in Morgantown, Kentucky, writes: How do you think WVU's offense will fare against the Oklahoma defense? Do you see the WVU defense getting enough stops for a win?

Chatmon: I think it will be a great back-and-forth battle to watch between WVU’s offense and OU’s defense. The Sooners will force other playmakers to emerge, and I think WVU has some guys, like Wendell Smallwood and Daikiel Shorts, who are ready to do that. I expect both sides to win their share of battles. Ultimately I think WVU’s defensive line, which impressed me against Maryland, will decide the game. If that group plays well, WVU can upset the Sooners. If not, OU’s running game and deep passing will prove too much for the Mountaineers.

Kurt in Lubbock writes: Hey guys, love the blog. I'm going to support and back my team no matter what, but do you think Texas Tech has any chance of making a bowl game this year? And do you think our defense can ever get better? Or are we doomed to a three- to four-win season this year?

Chatmon: I’m not ready to say Tech has no chance at a bowl game, but a lot has to change if the Red Raiders even hope to go bowling. I think we will learn everything we need to know about Texas Tech when it visits Oklahoma State Sept. 25. How much pride do the Red Raiders have? Do they have the depth to make the needed changes on defense? We will find out at Boone Pickens Stadium. If those answers are negative, that’s when I’d start thinking just three or four wins is a distinct possibility.

Don in Muscatine writes: Can Iowa State win four Big 12 games (as well as Toledo) and push for a bowl game?

Chatmon: I love the fight the Cyclones have shown early, but I just don’t see where those wins would come from. The Big 12 is even deeper than I expected with West Virginia and Oklahoma State looking like they will be better than I thought. Toledo should be a win, but it’s hard for me to see them reaching four conference wins unless Sam Richardson really takes his game to another level during the rest of the season.

Aaron in Temple, Texas, writes: How scary would the Longhorns be if they had a better offense?

Chatmon: I wouldn’t call them scary, but I’d consider them Big 12 title contenders. But that’s not the scenario for Charlie Strong’s bunch. They rank eighth or lower in several major offensive categories, including points (20.7), third-down conversions (27.3 percent) and yards per play (4.6). There have been some positive signs from Tyrone Swoopes, and he’s starting to make me rethink my belief that Jerrod Heard is the future under center. Nonetheless, UT’s offense is not explosive, dynamic, powerful or efficient. Until that changes, nobody can consider the Longhorns a real threat in the Big 12.
With one swift swing of his leg, Cole Netten was able to give his dad a great birthday gift, make a memory he won’t soon forget, reward his teammates for their hard work while doing his own job and give Iowa State a 20-17 win over in-state rival Iowa.

[+] EnlargeCole Netten
Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressCole Netten's clutch field goal gave Iowa State a big win over Iowa.
 It was the perfect day.

The Cyclones kicker buried a 42-yard field goal to secure the Cy-Hawk Trophy for Paul Rhoads’ program and became the big man on campus in Ames, Iowa last weekend.

“That’s something that usually doesn’t come around for anyone,” Netten said. “I’d definitely say it was the biggest kick of my life.”

It was Netten’s first game winner since his sophomore year in high school, so it’s safe to say this situation was a little different.

“You can’t prepare for that,” he said. “The only thing you can do to prepare for it is actually [being] there before. We have situations like that in practice, but it’s nothing compared to sitting in front of 70,000 fans screaming at you and being on ESPN as well. It’s just something you have to take as a regular kick, every kick is the same.”

Adding intrigue to the situation was his miss on the previous play after Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called a timeout with the hope of freezing him, thus allowing Netten to have what essentially turned out to be a practice kick before his game winner.

“I knew before I even started to kick [that first one] I was getting a second chance,” Netten said, while adding he debated whether to even follow through with the first kick. “During the second kick, my body just took over, it did what it always does on a field goal. There’s no thinking, just total focus.”

The decision to try to freeze Netten didn’t have any impact. In fact, Netten was surprised by his own reaction to the pressure situation.

“For some reason I was definitely super calm,” he said. “To be honest, I was 10 times more nervous for [our first] two games than I was for that kick. I feel like I felt the presence of God with me, and that’s something I believe in. I just felt like everything was going to be ok. It was so relaxing.

“It was the weirdest feeling and a surprising one at that.”

Coupled with the confidence from kicking a career-long 47-yard field goal earlier in the game, Netten stepped up and buried the biggest kick of his life. His biggest question was what to do next.

“I had no idea what to do,” he said. “Once I kicked it, I had a feeling [it was good] and looked up and you could tell it was going in. I just started running, I had no clue where to go or what to do.”

The hours that followed were full of congratulations from friends, family and Cyclone nation.

“It felt pretty good, but I was just part of the game,” Netten said. “Without the offense and everyone else, I’m no good. That’s what I’m here to do. I kick field goals, that’s my job. It’s no different from someone in an interview for a regular job out there. Everyone else on the team did their job.”

Netten could have bigger kicks in his future and more memories to carve, but nothing will take away his first experience in ISU’s cardinal and gold at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. He has a laundry list of things he will always remember.

“It was my dad’s birthday; that made that kick even more special,” Netten said. “Anytime you beat the Hawks, it’s something you’re going to remember. I’m so glad I could make everyone who loves me proud. I gave my dad a pretty good birthday present, and I thought I’d have to buy my mom a new heart but she made it out ok too.

“That’s something every year we’ll be able to look back on as a family and remember.”

Roundtable: Keys for K-State, OU, WVU

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
1:00
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With only four teams playing, it’s a light week for the Big 12. But it’s also another monster one, with a couple of nationally relevant matchups in Auburn-Kansas State and Oklahoma-West Virginia. We examine the keys in these two games in our weekly Big 12 roundtable:

What is the biggest key for Kansas State against Auburn?

Max Olson: Gap integrity. Kansas State's defense sees high-caliber option football on a daily basis in practice, but it doesn't see many athletes like the ones Auburn brings to the table. The Tigers are so good at stretching and squeezing defenses and setting them up to fail. What's essential for KSU is smart decision-making and reads, fundamentally sound tackling and playing consistently solid assignment football. You won't stop these guys if all 11 defenders aren't operating on the same page.

Brandon Chatmon: The Wildcats will need big plays if they hope to knock off Auburn. All three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- will need to provide a big play to overcome a Tigers offense that will be tough to hold down for the entire contest. Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett has the proven ability to provide several big plays, and quarterback Jake Waters is improving with each game. But outside of that duo, K-State will need a relatively unknown name to rise to the occasion Thursday.

Jake Trotter: Establishing the run. Even with a wideout the caliber of Lockett, Bill Snyder’s attack is predicated on getting the run game going, either with Waters (the leading rusher in the Big 12) or the committee of running backs. An effective run game would keep the Auburn defense on its heels while also keeping Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense on the sidelines.

What is the biggest key for Oklahoma against West Virginia?

Olson: Endurance. West Virginia is averaging 91 plays per game this season, more than any other Power 5 conference team. OU is holding opponents to 75 per game thus far, but if that number gets into the 80s or 90s on Saturday, the Sooners need to be able to hang in there, get stops and get off the field in a hostile environment. WVU only needed 82 plays to absolutely terrorize OU in 2012. I don't doubt this defense can answer the challenge, but Clint Trickett and his crew of skill players shouldn't be taken lightly.

Chatmon: Adapt. The last time OU went to Morgantown, the Sooners didn’t adapt well during the game as Tavon Austin ran through, around and by their defense. Mike Stoops' defense is much better equipped to adjust to anything WVU throws at Oklahoma this time around, with a defensive unit overflowing with versatile talents like Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom and Quentin Hayes to deal with the run and the pass from Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

Trotter: Another quick start. Oklahoma has been unbelievable in the first quarter of its three games this season, and another quick start would serve the Sooners well in Morgantown. It would deflate what will be a hostile crowd. It will take pressure off quarterback Trevor Knight. And it will allow Oklahoma's defense to do what it does best, and that’s tee off on the quarterback in obvious passing downs.

What is the biggest key for West Virginia against Oklahoma?

Olson: Knight. He was downright average against the Mountaineers last season, turning the ball over three times and getting benched for the final quarter of a close game. Granted, his two interceptions came after suffering a bruised knee. And it was his second career start. Knight has been sharp to start the 2014 season, but it'll be fascinating to see how WVU comes up with ways to challenge and frustrate him again.

Chatmon: A quick start. If Trickett and the Mountaineers can take a quick lead, the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium could reach epic levels. A WVU lead, especially a double-digit one, could also force the Sooners to move away from their running game and lean more on the pass to try to regain the momentum. Tennessee tried to take away the run game and Knight made the Vols pay, but it could be another story in the first road start in a night game for the Sooners’ sophomore.

Trotter: The Mountaineers have to stop the run. Or at least slow the run. West Virginia allowed 5.9 yards per carry to Alabama and 6.0 to Maryland. Those numbers will get West Virginia beat against Oklahoma, which features one of the most powerful rushing attacks in the country -- even without sophomore running back Keith Ford. Samaje Perine and Alex Ross are more than capable of shouldering the load, and Knight can be lethal off QB draws, zone reads and play-action rollouts. The Mountaineers have to hold their own up front against the best offensive line in the league. Because once the Sooners get the ground game going, they are difficult to stop.
The words of Mike Gundy left no doubt where he stands when the subject of Oklahoma State's running game is broached.

"We are a very average football team, I think everybody is aware of that," the Cowboys head coach said. "We have to establish a running game on offense."

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brody Schmidt/AP PhotoThrough three games, Cowboys RB Desmond Roland has carried the ball 33 times for 123 yards.
When it hosts Texas Tech on Sept. 25, OSU will enter Big 12 conference play averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which ranks seventh in the conference. It's unusual territory for the Cowboys, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry --ranking second in the Big 12 behind Baylor (5.1) -- and 181.3 rushing yards per game during the previous five seasons.

Gundy was particularly unhappy with the Cowboys' running game after OSU's win against Texas-San Antonio last weekend as he knows his team will have to establish a more balanced offensive attack if they hope to insert themselves in the Big 12 title race again this season. The Pokes had 49 carries for 162 yards (a 3.3 yards per carry average) against UTSA.

"Our offense relies on the run and throw," Gundy said after OSU's 43-13 win against UTSA. "We're very balanced, and if we're not effective in one area, we have to manufacture a way to be effective in the other."

The Pokes' offensive line was solid in the season-opening loss to Florida State but hasn't built upon that performance, taking a step backward in wins against Missouri State and UTSA to finish their non-conference campaign.

"We just didn't block anybody," Gundy said. "We didn't move anybody out there. I'm sure there is a contributing factor, which is the youth. We're going to have to move people out of there if we're going to play in this league because we aren't going to be able to protect and throw the ball down the field every game. We have to get better up front."

The ups and downs along the offensive front aren't unexpected for OSU. The Cowboys have 47 career starts among its five starting offensive linemen including 11 combined starts among sophomore center Paul Lewis, sophomore right guard Zac Veatch and redshirt freshman right tackle Zachary Crabtree. The inexperience is one reason OSU ranks ninth in the Big 12 and No. 77 among FBS schools with 23.8 percent of its rushes resulting in zero or negative yardage.

The weekly progress of the offensive line will be a glimpse at the impact of new offensive line coach Bob Connelly, who took over for long-time offensive line coach Joe Wickline after Wickline left for Texas after last season.

Yet, it's not all doom and gloom for OSU's running game which still finds itself among the Big 12's leaders in multiple categories. The Cowboys rank third in rushing yards (529), second in rushes of 10 yards or more (21) and are one of four Big 12 teams with at least 300 rushing yards before contact this season.

"We just have to get better each week," Gundy said. "They've got three games under their belts and there's some youth there so we just have to bring them along. We have to improve them."

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
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video
The upcoming week for the Big 12 will be quiet, as only three games featuring conference teams will take place -- one of those occurring on Thursday. Fortunately, the conference is coming off a dynamic week of football that featured big-time commitments for Oklahoma.

Film review: Swoopes takes next step

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
9:30
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Calling Tyrone Swoopes the quarterback of Texas' future still feels premature. But the quarterback of Texas' present is not what some Texas fans have cynically feared.

Back in December, when Swoopes floundered against Oregon in an Alamo Bowl cameo, it seemed his development was destined to be a long, multi-year project for whomever became his next quarterback coach. Or maybe, with his size, he'd someday make a great tight end.

He won't have to hear those backhanded comments any more. Not at the rate of growth he's displayed since being handed the keys to Texas' offense on Sept. 1. In the second start of his career, against a top-15 foe under the bright AT&T Stadium lights, Swoopes offered proof not only that he can handle pressure, but that his passing abilities are steadily improving.

Here are four throws Swoopes made Saturday, all on scoring drives, that showed what he can do when he has a little confidence.

1. Moving the feet and the defense
Situation:
Second-and-21, 2nd quarter
Play: 15-yard completion to Jacorey Warrick to UCLA 48

There's a fundamental misunderstanding about Swoopes when you throw around the word "dual-threat." Yes, he can run. He cannot run like Vince Young. Not when he's 245 pounds. Swoopes is still learning this today, that he can't dance around much on runs and keepers because he doesn't have big-time speed and defenders close quick.

But co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has done a nice job of finding ways to put Swoopes' feet to use. On this play, after a 15-yard clipping penalty put Texas off-schedule, Swoopes took the snap at the left hash and rolled out all the way to the right hash, scanning the field throughout. The rollout put UCLA's linebackers, particularly the exceptional Myles Jack, in conflict.

Once Jack had drifted far enough over to account for the possibility Swoopes might tuck and run, the quarterback fired a 15-yard bullet to Warrick that set Texas up for a third-down conversion and kept a TD drive alive.

2. A laser under pressure
Situation: Third-and-6, 2nd quarter
Play: 8-yard completion to Jaxon Shipley to UCLA 40

On the very next play, another sharp decision. Right after the snap, UCLA's Deon Hollins Jr. easily got around Texas right tackle Kent Perkins and went right after Swoopes, forcing the quarterback to scramble back and right. Just as Hollins was 1 yard from the takedown, Swoopes chucked a pass off his back foot that was as good as it gets, a 22-yard laser that Shipley and only Shipley could catch.

Texas moved the chains, Charlie Strong fist-pumped toward his quarterback and the "Swoooopes" chants began.

3. Best play of young career
Situation:
Fourth-and-8, 2nd quarter
Play: 33-yard completion to John Harris to UCLA 5.

Texas elects to go for it from UCLA's 33 and the Bruins responded by dropping eight in coverage and rushing three. Unsurprisingly, that pass rush still got into the backfield when a double-blocked Anthony Wallace pressured Swoopes from behind. Swoopes rolled right and threw on the run into a small window to Harris for the 33-yard pickup into the red zone. Through two starts, almost one-third of Swoopes' passing yards have come on throws outside the pocket.

Harris gets a lot of credit here. He broke on his route and took off toward the sideline when he saw Swoopes on the move. Then he climbed the ladder to catch the pass in front of Ishmael Adams and hold on. This one had Texas in the end zone four plays later and had Strong jumping, dancing, shouting and fist-pumping on the sideline.

4. The potential game-winner
Situation:
Second-and-goal, 4th quarter
Play: 8-yard pass to Harris for touchdown

On the lone third-down situation of Texas' masterful 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to go ahead, Swoopes hit Harris on an out cut for a 6-yard gain. He went to him again to finish the drive in similar fashion.

This is just a textbook solid throw, a three-step drop and a fastball into one-on-one coverage just as Harris turned back to Swoopes. Another perfect out cut to beat UCLA's Jalen Ortiz rewarded with a precisely-located pass. With 5:13 left, the go-ahead score could've been the game-winner. But Swoopes would have to take the field again, and his misfire to Marcus Johnson on a slant on fourth down sealed the defeat.

But if the once-raw passer can make these throws now, the future looks brighter -- especially with two more weeks to improve before Texas takes the field again.

Planning for success: Kansas State

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
9:00
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There are similarities in the ways No. 5 Auburn and No. 20 Kansas State approach moving the ball on offense. But good luck replicating that in practice.

Both programs have taken option ball to new heights in recent years. That doesn't mean K-State coach Bill Snyder is feeling any more comfortable this week as his Wildcats prepare to host last season's BCS championship runner-up on Thursday night.

What's the biggest difficulty Kansas State will face against Auburn's offense this week? Good question.

“Take your pick. It’s like throwing at a dartboard,” Snyder said on the Big 12 teleconference Monday. “Probably being in the right place at the right time, being assignment-sound, execution of what you do defensively and having a reaction time to compensate for the quickness they have."

Considering what the Tigers have achieved offensively through two games, it'll take more that just precise execution. This is one of the nation's most efficient offense: Auburn is No. 1 in FBS in third-down conversions (67.9 percent), No. 1 in the SEC in red-zone efficiency (90.9 percent) and is picking up first downs or touchdowns on nearly 40 percent of its rushes.

Playing in the Big 12, K-State does see bits and pieces of the schemes that Auburn rode to a 14-2 record since coach Gus Malzahn took over. This is a copycat sport, and offenses around the country are beginning to embrace the pop pass and some of the wrinkles that the Nick Marshall-led Tigers mastered last fall.

"Everybody in the country has moved into some things Auburn does," Snyder said. "They have a lot more offense than what people might indicate. I mean, they do a lot of different things a lot of different ways, and it’s not just the zone read.

"Zone read is the major part, is starts there, and they make you have to play that first, and then you put yourself in position where you might weaken yourself against other things. It’s not the entirety of it, the entire playbook you don't see it a great deal in the conference, but pieces of it, you see every week."

Though Kansas State will have a total of 11 days to prepare for Auburn, what makes this matchup tougher in practice is the fact no program has scout-teamers who can, as Snyder put it, replicate what the Tigers bring from a speed, quickness, strength and size standpoint.

What stands out to Snyder about this deadly offense isn't just the production, but the "tremendous personnel."

"I think [Cameron] Artis-Payne has really stepped up and proven they're not going to take a step back at the running back position," Snyder said. "Marshall, as good as he was last year, he's gotten invested in his improvement, and he's [an] extremely talented young guy who is, I'm sure, more relaxed in the system because he's been around it a little longer. They have good size and range at the wide receiver position and guys who can go up and make the difficult catches. Big, physical offensive line. Take your pick."

Snyder knows the scouting report well by now. He'll have plenty of time to come up with solutions for a unit that is averaging 7.61 yards per play (seventh-best in FBS) and has allowed just one sack. And, surely, he knows what a win would mean for his perpetually under-the-radar program.

Well, he probably does. But he doesn't have time to get into that right now.

"Ask me Thursday night, and I can tell you," Snyder said. "If you're successful, it's a great thing. If you're not, it's not all it's cracked up to be."

Big 12 morning links

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
8:00
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Happy Tuesday to all you NFL fantasy owners of Big 12 legend Darren Sproles.
  • You knew this talk was coming: Kliff Kingsbury has a lot of work to do to earn his rich contract, writes Nicholas Talbot of the Lubbock Avalance-Journal. Talbot calls this a potential four- or five-win Tech team and goes so far as to suggest there are parallels between the start of the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame and the much-hyped Kingsbury era at Tech. He also fears the contract extension Kingsbury got after his first year was too premature. I would probably urge a little caution before making those claims, but then again, Texas Tech's next three games are all quite losable.
  • Kudos to Jacob Gannon for not only returning to the Iowa State football team, but also for opening up to Tommy Birch of The Des Moines Register about his anxiety disorder diagnosis and his decision to continue playing. Many were quick to call Gannon a quitter when he exited the program 12 days ago, but the truth is, he believed football was the source of his panic attacks. He's now on medication and sounds motivated to get back on the field. ISU coach Paul Rhoads deserves a lot of credit for welcoming Gannon back.
  • Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine will step into the spotlight this week with Keith Ford ruled out against West Virginia. The true freshman sure doesn't play or act like one and, as Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman reports, his maturity has never been an issue (though birth certificates have been demanded). I covered Perine as a high schooler and knew he'd be the kind of thumper who'd catch people's attention early on (plus, look at those arms). A torn ACL and MCL in 2011 caused a lot of schools to overlook him, but now that he's full-speed again, Perine is going to be fun to watch.
  • Really nice use of Vine videos here by Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman to give a thorough breakdown of Daxx Garman's first career start for Oklahoma State. Against a UTSA defense that really impressed me in the first two weeks, Garman averaged 19 yards per completion and hit seven completions of more than 20 yards. With J.W. Walsh sidelined, he's bringing a downfield component that seems to be bringing out the best in OSU's receiving corps.
  • OK, this is just flat-out cool. In an effort to determine whether Texas Tech fans are the Big 12's worst, Nicole C. Brambila of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal did an extensive study of game-day arrests and ejections in 2013. Of the eight schools analyzed (TCU and Baylor, as private schools, refused to provide data), West Virginia had one arrest/ejection for every 3,000 fans. Lots of great anecdotes and info in here, give it a read. And, in the comments below, let us know who you think the worst Big 12 fans are and why.

Daryl Worley violates WVU rules

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:44
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West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen announced Monday night that sophomore cornerback Daryl Worley has been suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Worley, who started as a true freshman last year, has 17 tackles this season. He also has both of West Virginia's two interceptions so far, including one in the Mountaineers' opener against Alabama.

West Virginia (2-1) plays host to fourth-ranked Oklahoma this weekend.

OU forged new defense from WVU debacle

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
5:00
PM ET
Oklahoma SoonersJ.P. Wilson/Icon SportswireThe Oklahoma Sooners return to Morgantown with an improved defense.

NORMAN, Okla. -- The Sooners' maiden trip to Morgantown two years ago resulted in the lowest point in the history of the Oklahoma defense.

The Sooners somehow prevailed in a 50-49 shootout. But West Virginia running back Tavon Austin turned the defensive culture that Jerry Tubbs and Lee Roy Selmon and Brian Bosworth built over six decades into a punch line.

The Sooners looked slow chasing around Austin, who set a Big 12 record with 572 all-purpose yards, including 344 rushing.

The Sooners looked discombobulated, with each defensive bust leading to another play bigger than the one before it.

And, perhaps most troubling at the time, Oklahoma looked as if it had no defensive identity, an unforgivable transgression for a program with so much tradition on defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was so disgusted despite the win that he declined to glance at the box score sheet after it was handed to him during a postgame interview.

But as they prepare for a return to Morgantown this week, the Sooners are none of the things they were two years ago.

They are fast. They are focused. In Stoops' new 3-4 scheme -- whose impetus traces back to the West Virginia debacle -- Oklahoma has fashioned a new identity centered on its ability to harass opposing quarterbacks with defenders from many angles.

"Both Bob and Mike Stoops have done a great job revamping [the defense]," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. "They're everywhere right now."

Just ask Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley, who was sacked five times Saturday while facing the most recent Oklahoma onslaught.

"We're totally different, in every aspect," said a succinct Bob Stoops, when asked Monday for the contrast between this defense and the 2012 one. "Simplest way I can put it."

This West Virginia offense, however, isn't all that different from the one that torched the Sooners for 778 total yards -- the most an Oklahoma defense had ever surrendered since the school began recording statistics.

The Mountaineers no longer possess a versatile talent like Austin, who probably still haunts Mike Stoops' nightmares. But West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett is second in the nation in passing QBR and trails only Ole Miss' Bo Wallace by a tenth of a point for the nation's top completion percentage. Trickett also has two of the most lethal wideouts in the Big 12 at his disposal in Mario Alford and Kevin White, who is second in the country with 460 receiving yards.

"We're going to have to play a lot better than the last time we went there," Mike Stoops said. "That was a bad night for all of us. Bad game plan, bad execution, bad everything."

Plenty of good, however, came out of so much bad for the Sooners.

The defensive collapse in Morgantown spearheaded the biggest coaching shakeup of the Stoops era, which included the aggressive pursuit and hire of Michigan defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. Since, Montgomery has whipped Oklahoma's front into one of the most disruptive and deepest in the country. Under Montgomery, end Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips have developed into All-Big 12-caliber performers. And outside linebacker Eric Striker has emerged into arguably the most ferocious pass-rusher at his position in the country -- even drawing comparisons in "destructiveness" from Bob Stoops on Monday to former Oklahoma 2001 All-American Roy Williams.

But the front isn't where the reconstruction effort stopped.

The Sooners have also assembled a sure-tackling, ball-hawking defensive backfield, which has matched the swagger of the Oklahoma defensive line. Saturday in the first quarter, Quentin Hayes blindsided Worley off a safety blitz to force and recover a fumble. Cornerbacks Zack Sanchez, who how has an interception in five of his last six games, and Julian Wilson both picked off Worley in the end zone. Wilson returned his interception 100 yards for an exclamation point touchdown.

“The secondary is playing great right now,” said Wilson, who had to play middle linebacker at the West Virginia game two seasons ago because they had no better option. "But we still have room to improve."

That's a scary thought. Since last bowl season the Sooners have now produced the third-most sacks and third-most interceptions in college football. And that combination of an overwhelming front and an opportunistic secondary has given this Oklahoma defense the potential to become one of the school's all-time.

"They've got their guys, defensively, playing as good as they have," Holgorsen said, "since I've watched tape on them going back to the 2000 season."

Holgorsen has his guys playing well, too. And a game that appeared to be a cakewalk for the Sooners in the preseason now looks to be one of the toughest games on their schedule.

Just like its last visit to Morgantown, the Oklahoma defense will be severely tested. But this time -- thanks to the foundation forged out of that West Virginia trip two years ago -- the Sooners will be equipped for it.
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Oklahoma will make its first Big 12 road trip of the season without leading rusher Keith Ford.

Ford will miss the Sooners game against West Virginia and could be out for two-to-three weeks with an ankle injury, coach Bob Stoops announced on Monday. Stoops said sophomore Alex Ross to likely start against the Mountaineers.

"You need a bunch of running backs when you go through a long year," Stoops said.

Ford, a sophomore, is the Sooners' most complete running back. Ford has 34 carries for 194 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns this season. He’s also proven to be a valuable asset in the passing game with six receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown along with his solid pass blocking skills.

"Keith has great hands and is really explosive out there in space," Stoops said. "He has played really well."

Yet losing Ford is not a crippling loss for the Sooners' offense, which has featured the trio of Ford, Ross and true freshman running back Samaje Perine during the first three games. Ford is averaging 11.3 carries and 64.7 yards per game. Perine is averaging 10.7 carries for 59 yards per game (5.5 yards per carry). Ross is averaging seven carries for 44 yards per game (6.3 yards per carry).

Despite Ford's injury, the Sooners' running back-by-committee approach remains intact and OU will continue to build its offensive success around the running game with Ross and Perine as a main contributors.

Ross has already shown his big-play ability with a 82-yard touchdown gallop against Tulsa and a 80-yard kick return against Louisiana Tech. Sliding him into the starting lineup won’t limit anything the Sooners try to do against WVU.

"Alex is a big, strong, powerful, fast guy," Stoops said last week. "So hopefully he’ll just continue to play the way he has."

Perine should be able to continue his trend of entering games midway through the first or second half and punishing defenses with his physical running style while helping the Sooners put the game away. Perine's team-high 108 rushing yards after contact reinforce OU's plan to wear down defenses with the 5-foot-11, 243-pound big back.

"He’s a really bright young guy that is playing really well and he knows what he’s doing," Stoops said of Perine. "We love him. He’s an excellent runner. Even when there isn't much there he finds a way to make something happen with his power."

The loss of Ford gives Ross and Perine the chance to prove they can handle an even bigger role in OU's offense as much as anything else. The duo has each shown the ability to be impact running backs but Ford’s injury means even more carries to show they could handle the burden of being the No. 1 guy if that opportunity arises in the future.

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