Oklahoma Sooners: UTEP Miners

TYLER, Texas -- East Texas often is considered one of the nation’s most underrated areas in finding elite talent when it comes to college football recruiting. Sunday featured the inaugural East Texas Sports Network combine, which showcased more than 100 players from East Texas.

The event took place at the Accelerate Performance Enhancement Center (APEC) training facility, which has trained professionals such as quarterback Graham Harrell, running back Kendall Hunter and pro baseball pitchers Phillip Humber and Josh Tomlin.


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K.J. Young surprised by Sooners offer 

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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For a while it has looked like Oklahoma has had its eyes set on one wide receiver to close out its 2013 class. The Sooners were aiming high with No. 1-ranked receiver Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee).

[+] EnlargeK.J. Young
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comReceiver K.J. Young also has offers from UTEP, UNLV and Colorado State.
OU hosted him two weeks ago, and it looked like the Sooners were in good position. They still could be, but OU is ready to move on if it has to at this point.

That became evident with a surprising offer to receiver K.J. Young (Perris, Calif./Citrus Hill) on Thursday afternoon. Even more surprising was Young said Thursday was his first interaction with the OU staff.

And he didn’t talk with OU wide receivers coach Jay Norvell. Instead Young spoke with linebackers coach Tim Kish and Young said it was head coach Bob Stoops who officially made the offer to him.

“It was amazing,” Young said. “OU never crossed my mind. I felt like I must have done something right to have Bob Stoops want to call me.”

Maybe it was his senior-year statistics. Young had 91 receptions for 1,593 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns this season. He stepped it up when it mattered most, catching 37 balls for 760 yards and 10 touchdowns in four playoff games.

Young said the OU coaches got in touch with his coach, Eric Zomalt, on Thursday. Young said he spoke to Stoops and Kish for 20 minutes.

“They were just introducing themselves and talking about when they wanted the official visit to be,” Young said. “We decided Jan. 11 would work best.

“I was thinking about committing on the spot. I mean, it’s OU. But I want to see what the campus is like. I have to be comfortable. The football program might be nice, but I have to feel at home.”

Young, who is 6-foot and 183 pounds, has offers from UNLV, UTEP and Colorado State and has made official visits to Boise State and UNLV.

He had some good offers, but he was convinced bigger programs were going to come his way once his film got out there.


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Quarterback Landry Jones was sacked three times last Saturday at UTEP, raising questions about OU’s pass protection, which for several years has been a strength of the team. Head coach Bob Stoops, however, took some of the blame off the offensive line.

“A couple of them were covered. Landry had time to throw and we need to throw the ball away or we need to get open,” Stoops said. “There was a time or two where he did get pressured. We got caught with a play or two where either from the box we need to change it or we need to be able to recognize it as it’s unfolding and pick it up.

“But overall there’s plenty of plays where we’ve got opportunities to throw the ball. It could be better, sure. But that’s not uncommon in the first game. We need it to be better, but overall it wasn’t that bad, either.”
One of the biggest questions of fall camp was who would become quarterback Landry Jones' "go to" receiver at the Oklahoma. Who will become the safety net that Ryan Broyles had been during Jones' first three seasons?

After one game, that receiver is Trey Metoyer. The true freshman was targeted 10 times by Jones in his first college game but only finished the game with four receptions for 21 yards (40 percent completion rate). Metoyer is likely to improve his catch percentage as a couple of the incompletions were results of inexperience and youth as he played his first game in crimson and cream.

Kenny Stills was Jones’ most dependable target, catching six of the eight passes (75 percent) thrown his way. The junior finished with 121 receiving yards and a touchdown. Penn State transfer Justin Brown played like a veteran as well, catching four of the six passes (66.6 percent) thrown in his direction.

Dominique Whaley (5), Trey Millard (3) and Brennan Clay (1) combined for nine of Jones’ 36 targets. Tight ends Brannon Green (2) and Taylor McNamara (1) accounted for the rest of Jones’ pass attempts.

Metoyer’s amount of targets means Jones has developed a trust in him and the true freshman has found ways to get open. He just needs to finish those opportunities with catches to reward Jones’ trust. If Metoyer improves, the Sooners could have a lethal three-receiver attack with Stills and Brown using their talent and experience to be dependable targets for Jones.
For true freshman wideout Trey Metoyer, the UTEP game was a learning experience. He caught four passes for 21 yards, but could have had a much bigger game.

“He hasn’t played in a game, and some of it showed,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “The long screen, we curled it and run him back, we bust on who’s picking up the linebacker, so instead of being third-and-medium or short, we ended up third-and-11 and, again, in a bad spot because of a breakdown mentally.”

Metoyer had a chance at a touchdown, when he brought down the ball over a UTEP defensive back near the goal line. But Metoyer’s foot was out of bounds.

“He’s an inch out of bounds on a fade route that he scores a touchdown on and that’s him being a young guy that hasn’t played much,” Stoops said. “He’s just drifting instead of holding his ground. He wasn’t being pushed out, he’s just drifting out instead of staying in bounds and being more precise and just staying in bounds and then he’s got a touchdown.

“I still have got great confidence in Trey. He’s going to be really good. Again, it’s just one of those things, you’ve got to keep playing. The more you play, hopefully, he’s going to continue to get better and make those kind of plays that he almost made. We say almost, but in the end, he’s competitive like that, going after the ball.”(
NORMAN, Okla. -- At the moment, the Sooners are still without their two projected starting defensive tackles in Stacy McGee and Casey Walker. McGee remains suspended for a violation of university rules. Walker has not been at practice for more than a week as he deals with a personal issue.

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said he’s not concerned with who’s missing.

“We coach our players who are there and we try to put them in the best position to do the things we need them to do to be successful and coach the players and scheme the guys we have,” Stoops said. “Who we don’t have, we really don’t worry about them.”

In place of McGee and Walker, David King and Jamarkus McFarland took almost every snap at tackle against UTEP and performed well as the Miners offense was kept out of the end zone.

“We play with the guys we have and coach them all the same and hopefully we won’t have to change our defense too much based on the personnel we have available,” Stoops said.

With Torrea Peterson also out with an academic issue, Stoops is hopeful some of his younger tackles like Jordan Phillips and Marquis Anderson will develop to where he can play them on a more consistent basis. Neither player got more than three snaps apiece in El Paso.

“It just wasn’t a comfortable feeling and I think our offense settled in and starting making some drives so I didn’t think we were too gassed (on defense),” Stoops said. “We stuck with the guys on the first line probably more than we would have liked but as the season goes on you hope younger players progress and continue to gain confidence and trust in what they’re doing.”
In their first game as a unit, Oklahoma’s wide receivers had their ups. But also plenty of downs. Penn State transfer Justin Brown was the only receiver to grade out in the 90s with a 90 out of 100. Kenny Stills was second with an 84. Position coach Jay Norvell conceded that his unit could have played much better in El Paso.

“Lot of things we could do better,” he said. “Depth on our routes, knowing where we are on the field. Trey (Metoyer) had a couple of go balls where he was too close to the boundary. But Trey hadn’t played a real game in two year.

[+] EnlargeBrannon Green
Jim Cowsert/US PresswireBrannon Green caught the first pass of his OU career -- and first by a tight end for the season -- against UTEP.
“There are the things that sometimes happen when you have a lot of young guys. But we’ve got to play with more precision, execution.”

Norvell also noted the receivers struggled with their perimeter on bubble screens and runs to the outside. He was also disappointed with the unit’s yards after catch, which were minimal.

“We need to make more plays,” Norvell said. “And all get on the same page, and we will. That’s what good teams do, they get better. We’ve got a lot of good players, and we’ll improve in the coming weeks.”

Dominique Whaley forged his career last season as a running back that wouldn’t put the ball on the ground. But in his first game back from the broken ankle, Whaley fumbled late in the second quarter with the game tied 7-7. Fortunately for Whaley and the Sooners the ball rolled out of bounds.

Center Gabe Ikard said as a captain he considered talking the fumble over with Whaley. Then on Monday, he saw Whaley working on his ball security by carrying a ball with his arm strapped to a bungee cord.

“I was like, ‘Eh, I don’t think I’m going to say anything,” Ikard said. “He knows. That happens sometimes, but Dom Whaley will get that taken care of.”

• Tight end Brannon Green confessed that his heart almost stopped when Landry Jones threw the ball his way during the fourth quarter at UTEP.

“It was pounding,” he said. “Kind of like a blur.”

Despite the nerves, Green snagged the pass for an 18-yard touchdown that put the Sooners ahead 17-7.

“The good thing was I didn’t even have to move by hands,” Green said. “The ball hit me right in the chest.”

It will be interesting to see how the tight end rotation works out going forward. Green played very well in his OU debut, but projected starter Geneo Grissom returns this week after serving out a one-game suspension. The Sooners also played true freshman Taylor McNamara in El Paso. Green, however, said he’s looking forward to Grissom rejoining the rotation.

“We’re all getting reps,” Green said. “I’m glad Geneo is back. If he gets a touchdown, I’m going to be just as happy for him.”

• Since the moment he stepped on campus, Sterling Shepard had a goal for his freshman season: to play in OU’s season opener against UTEP. The true freshman accomplished that goal on Sept. 1, playing limited action behind slot receiver Stills in his first collegiate game.

“I knew I could play at this level,” Shepard said during Tuesday’s media session. “I wanted to test myself and show that I could. In practice, I just tried to show myself in every practice and it paid off.”


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Kenny Stills didn’t think the ball was coming his way.

[+] EnlargeKenny Stills
Jim Cowsert/US PresswireKenny Stills led the Sooners with six catches for 121 yards and a touchdown against UTEP.
And yet, just seconds later, the Oklahoma receiver was celebrating his 68-yard touchdown catch alongside his teammates in the UTEP endzone. Quarterback Landry Jones had thrown the ball from the left side of the field to Stills along the right sideline, who galloped the final 36 yards for a touchdown.

“It was different for me and something I didn’t expect,” Stills said. “He was on the opposite hash, so I felt like the play was kind of over, he was working that side of the field, the ball came out and I went after it. I felt like that showed he had a lot of trust in me.

“As soon as he released it, I was like, ‘Whoa, the ball is coming.’ I had to get on my horse to go get it. I didn’t expect it but it was great of him to throw it up there and for me to go and make a play.”
Oklahoma’s offense was not operating with maximum efficiency in the Sooners' 24-7 win over UTEP on Saturday. It never found a consistent rhythm or tempo throughout the night.

“I felt like that game taught us what we need to do more of in practice,” receiver Kenny Stills said. “Focus on the smaller things and it will pay off on Saturday.”

Little things such as lack of field awareness and blitz recognition led to incompletions instead of big gains against the Miners. And the Sooners ran 73 plays, seven plays fewer than their 80.92 average in 2011.

“We didn’t practice our tempo stuff as much last week; our guys are kind of young and didn’t know the stuff,” Stills said of an offense that features five newcomers joining him in the two-deep at receiver. “After being in a game, we can go out and practice the tempo stuff.”

Oklahoma awards tracker: Week 1

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
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Each week, SoonerNation will update how Oklahoma players mentioned on preseason award watch lists fared in their most recent game. Here is what transpired in the opener against UTEP:

QB Landry Jones, Sr.: Walter Camp, Manning, Maxwell
Jones threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover and showed much improved foot speed.

RB Dominique Whaley, Sr.: Maxwell
In his first game back from a broken ankle, Whaley rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries but was outdone by UTEP's Nathan Jeffrey (177 yards, 21 carries) and teammate Damien Williams (104 yards, nine carries).

WR Kenny Stills, Jr: Walter Camp, Maxwell
Stills had one of the best games of his career with 121 yards on six catches and a 68-yard touchdown reception.

LB Tom Wort, Jr.: Butkus, Nagurski
Wort graded out at a 93 out of 100, his highest grade in a Sooner uniform; he finished with seven tackles, including one for loss.

LB Corey Nelson, Jr.: Lombardi
Nelson also graded out in the 90s and had four tackles and a pass breakup.

C Gabe Ikard, Jr.: Lombardi, Outland
Behind Ikard, the Sooners averaged 5.5 yards per carry; Ikard, however, squandered a call that led to UTEP blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown.

S Tony Jefferson, Jr.: Walter Camp, Nagurski, Bednarik, Thorpe
Jefferson led the Sooners with 10 tackles and spearheaded a stingy OU secondary.

CB Demontre Hurst, Sr.: Nagurski, Bednarik
Hurst had a pair of pass breakups and was a big reason why the Sooners' longest pass play surrendered was 13 yards, coming on UTEP's first drive.

PK Michael Hunnicutt, So.: Groza
Hunnicutt had one field goal blocked, although the blame fell on holder Tress Way; he made his only other try, a 38-yarder.
Sooners head coach Bob Stoops was taciturn Monday when asked why running back Roy Finch did not get a single offensive snap against UTEP. Finch has been OU’s second-leading rusher in each of the last two seasons.

“You want to ask why another 90 guys didn’t play?” Stoops responded to the question. “I mean, we play who we feel is set to play. There’s no specific reason from today through the end of the year. Guys play who we feel are in the best position to play at the time. So I’ll repeat that answer from here until the end of time.”

Stoops was pressed that Finch wasn’t another guy, but OU’s starting running back at the end of last season.

“OK, well, he isn’t today,” Stoops said. “And Dominique (Whaley) was the starter at the end of the year until he got hurt if you remember. OK?”
In his first game back as coordinator of the Oklahoma defense, Mike Stoops was pleased with the overall performance. Despite giving up 177 yards on the ground to tailback Nathan Jeffery, the Sooners kept UTEP out of the end zone.

“We had consistent pressure all night,” Stoops said. “Thought we made it very uncomfortable for them.”

[+] EnlargeTom Wort
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireJunior linebacker Tom Wort was satisfied with his performance against UTEP.
Stoops said the “front played awfully well,” despite not having starting tackles Casey Walker (who again wasn’t at practice Monday because of a personal issue) and Stacy McGee, who remains suspended. But Stoops saved most of his praise for the back seven, which didn’t give up a pass for longer than 13 yards.

“The linebackers (Corey Nelson and Tom Wort) are both outstanding players,” he said. “I think (the back seven) can be the strength of this team. Julian Wilson played well (in the dime) -- I’m very pleased with the whole back seven.”

The performance, however, wasn’t perfect. The Sooners allowed UTEP to march down the field on its opening drive before the Miners missed a field goal. Jeffery also broke off a 71-yard run. Stoops, however, put that on the coaching staff and the fact the scheme was rather vanilla.

“That’s the great thing -- we could have dominated the game,” Stoops said. “We went in there with a very limited package and we played well. We can get those things fixed.”

• Because of the change in defensive scheme, some seem to think that middle linebacker Tom Wort had a poor performance. That’s not what the defensive coaching staff thought. Instead they handed him a 93 percent grade -- the highest grade he has ever received wearing an OU uniform.

“I don’t think people understand what ‘Gap Defense’ is,” Wort said. “It’s about playing your gap.”

Under Brent Venables, the Sooners allowed Wort to flow from sideline to sideline making tackles. But in the scheme the Sooners played against UTEP, Wort was responsible for taking on anything in his gap -- leading people watching on TV to think he was getting blocked on every down.

“I’ve heard people saying I can’t get off blocks,” said Wort, who still finished with seven tackles. “But when you’re playing gap, you’re responsible for that gap.”

Weakside linebacker Corey Nelson also graded out in the 90s. Like Wort, Nelson too agreed the new scheme was an adjustment for him.

“It was good, I kind of felt like a role player,” he said. “I didn't make as many plays as I wanted to, but that's how the defense is.

“Me, Tom Wort and Joseph Ibiloye graded out in the high 90s.”

• Senior defensive end R.J. Washington got the first start of his career against UTEP, and performed pretty well. Washington graded out at an 87.

“I got a couple pressures,” he said. “But I got caught upfield (on some of Jeffery's runs). I wasn’t reading the mesh fast enough.”

Washington attributed his over-commitment to rushing the passer to anxiety in making his first start. But he said all of that is correctable going forward.

“I just messed up,” he said. “Wasn’t overly terrible. But not what we need. I can’t be making technique mistakes.”

Washington admitted it was somewhat surreal to be finally starting after four years on the sidelines. It was even more surreal to never come off the field.

“At one point I looked at Chuka (Ndulue) and was like, ‘We’ve been on the field for a long time ...’ ” Washington said. “Last year we rotated people in. I just started thinking, ‘There’s nobody coming.’ But I wasn’t even tired, the work we put in during the winter and the summer led to us being ready for that situation.”

Washington said he played a career-high 62 snaps on Saturday after entering the game with a career best of 34 snaps during his first three seasons.


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Video: Kenny Stills on OU's opening win

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
4:00
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video
Jake Trotter talks with Sooners wide receiver Kenny Stills about Oklahoma's closer-than-expected season-opening win at UTEP.
This week, SoonerNation introduces a way to rank Oklahoma’s top ten contributors. Each week we’ll update these rankings to reflect which OU players are raising their level of play. Feel free to give your opinion on our list in the comments section our on our forum.

During a 24-7 win over UTEP to open the season, several Sooners made a case to be considered the top contributor on the roster. While these ten players earned themselves a spot on the list after Week 1, their spots are far from secure.

Here are this week’s power rankings:

[+] EnlargeDavid King
AP Photo/Mark LambieDavid King (90), making his first start at defensive tackle, was stellar for the Sooners against UTEP.
1. CB Aaron Colvin: Colvin is productive, consistent and humble. Three traits that tend to be mainstays within elite players. During his return to cornerback, Colvin wasn’t tested much, yet still ended up with six tackles and one pass breakup, which speaks to his playmaking skills. He’s also one of the better tacklers on the team and saved a UTEP touchdown on Nathan Jeffery’s long run.

2. DT David King: If it wasn’t for King, things could be looking pretty bleak for OU’s defense. His versatility and leadership are critical for the Sooners defensive line. He had three tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss -- he also should have been credited for a sack -- against UTEP.

3. WR Kenny Stills: The junior looked explosive in the slot and has the trust of Landry Jones. He had six receptions for 121 yards and one touchdown and appeared to be the most comfortable playmaker on OU’s offense. His stated goal is to be considered among the best in the nation at his position. He’s well on his way after Week 1.

4. C Gabe Ikard: Nobody cares if the snap is good until they aren’t. In his first game as the permanent replacement for Ben Habern, Ikard was solid in all aspects. Keeping the interior clear is critical to any passing game and Ikard helped down that for the majority of the game against UTEP.

5. S Tony Jefferson: Jefferson was all over the field for the Sooners helping OU hold UTEP to 49 passing yards and 255 total yards. The junior had a team-high 10 tackles (three solo) and one pass breakup during his debut as a free safety in Mike Stoops' defense. He provides a solid anchor in the Sooners secondary.

6. QB Landry Jones: Jones had a solid game, finishing 21-of-36 for 222 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He displayed his improved pocket awareness and mobility while protecting the football. At the same time, the senior knows he left some opportunities out there. Once he gets back in the rhythm of playing games and operating in OU’s offense, he’ll be fine.

7. DE Chuka Ndulue: Making his first start in the crimson and cream, the sophomore had a key fourth down stop in the second quarter, seven tackles, two quarterback pressures and a half-sack. His emergence has helped keep OU’s defensive tackle scenario from being a total disaster by allowing King to move inside without worry.


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video
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.

Oklahoma began its 2012 season with a 24-7 victory over UTEP at Sun Bowl Stadium on Saturday night. Some questions were answered and some questions arose while everyone agrees the Sooners have work to do if they plan to compete for a national championship this fall.

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