Oklahoma Sooners: Oklahoma Sooners

NORMAN, Okla. -- Potential first-round NFL draft picks Dorial Green-Beckham and Jordan Phillips were the headliners as the Oklahoma Sooners held their annual pro day on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham participated in the NFL scouting combine in February and in Oklahoma's pro day on Wednesday.
Neither Green-Beckham or Phillips ran the 40-yard dash after solid showings at February's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Indiana, but the duo did do some on-field work and drills for the NFL scouts gathered to get a first-hand look.

At 6-foot-5, 236 pounds, Green-Beckham moved like a much smaller man while running routes and catching passes during the workouts. He also recorded a 10-foot broad jump, 33-inch vertical and 4.34 20-yard shuttle. The former Missouri receiver is confident he has improved his draft stock since the start of the process.

"I felt like at the combine my stats really improved my draft stock," he said. "I've gotten great feedback from the coaches about that and them telling me my draft stock has been going up because of how I've been improving and handling myself."

Questions about Green-Beckham's dismissal from Missouri have cast a shadow of doubt over this unquestioned physical gifts.

"At the combine I got a lot of questions," Green-Beckham said. "Overall I got great feedback about it, just showing honesty and showing you're accountable. That's the main thing they want to see. They want to know what really happened, that's when you have to confess to everything and let them know what went on."

Green-Beckham insisted he plans to get his degree from OU and considers himself a Sooner, despite being unable wear crimson and cream in a game after transferring from Missouri and spending one season on the scout team before declaring for the NFL draft.

"I felt like I improved on the field, I took advantage of the scout team and getting better, I took advantage of the school work, I took advantage of everything," Green-Beckham said of his short stint in Norman, Oklahoma. "I didn't take any days off, I became a better person and better player."

Phillips, the other potential first-rounder in action on Wednesday, went through several drills and displayed his exceptional athleticism after measuring at 6-5, 327 pounds. He looked more like a linebacker than defensive tackle in several drills as he aimed to catapult himself higher in the draft.

"I can move a lot better than a lot people out here so I wanted to show my athleticism," he said. "Three hundred and thirty (pounds) normally doesn't move the way I do."

Much like Green-Beckham, Phillips declared early for the NFL draft. He entered the process with questions about his work ethic but is confident he's taking steps to cross that off the list of negatives on his profile.

"Coming out, the question was my work ethic," Phillips said. "I feel like at the combine and here I've proven I can work."

  • Tackles Tyrus Thompson recorded a 5.39 in the 40 and 8.02 in the three-cone drill before participating in on-field drills for the scouts.
  • Daryl Williams participated in on-field drills as well after skipping the 40-yard dash and other events he did at the combine.
  • Converted quarterback Blake Bell, who played one season at tight end for OU, ran routes and caught passes for NFL scouts as his transition to the tight end spot continues. After a stellar combine showing, Bell didn't participate in the timed events.
  • Defensive back Julian Wilson made up for a subpar 40-yard time (4.58) at the NFL combine, clocking a 4.49 to secure the spot as the fastest Sooner to run on Wednesday.
  • Tight end/linebacker/defensive end Geneo Grissom could be a Sooner to keep a eye on. He went through several offensive and defensive drills, running routes with Bell one minute then going through agility drills with Phillips the next minute. His versatility and athleticism could help him earn a spot. After measuring at 6-4, 261 pounds, Grissom's 35-inch vertical was the best of the day. He ran 4.82 and broad jumped 9 feet, 10 inches.

Ranking Oklahoma's 2015 schedule

November, 20, 2014
Oklahoma released its 2015 football schedule on Wednesday. The Sooners will open at home against Akron before a road trip to SEC country. Oklahoma opens Big 12 play by hosting West Virginia on Oct. 3.

Here’s a ranking of the games, from toughest to easiest, and why:

1. Nov. 14 at Baylor: The Sooners have lost the last two times they visited Waco, Texas, and next season won’t be any easier. Art Briles program seems to get better and better, making next year’s visit to McLane Stadium for the first time likely to be Oklahoma's toughest test.

2. Oct. 10 vs. Texas: The Red River Showdown is never easy, and it's looking even tougher as Charlie Strong’s team is looking as if it's really bought into their first-year coach’s values.

3. Sept. 12 at Tennessee: Oklahoma will head into SEC country for a battle against the Volunteers. This is definitely one game to keep an eye on with the young talent on Tennessee's roster having more experience than it did in its loss to the Sooners earlier this season.

4. Nov. 21 vs. TCU: Gary Patterson’s program looks to be a handful for years to come, and defense tends to travel well, so the Horned Frogs’ visit to Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is a legitimate test. And this one is sandwiched between road trips to Baylor and Oklahoma State.

5. Nov. 28 at Oklahoma State: Bedlam in Stillwater is never easy. Even with Oklahoma State's 2014 struggles, the Sooners' in-state rival will bring their best at Boone Pickens Stadium and the Bedlam matchup comes after back-to-back games against Baylor and TCU.

6. Oct. 17 at Kansas State: Oklahoma will head to Bill Snyder Family Stadium the week following the matchup with Texas. The Sooners will be looking for revenge, but Bill Snyder’s team is never easy to beat.

7. Oct. 3 vs. West Virginia: A bye week before the Mountaineers' visit could make this game much more manageable. It also helps to know Clint Trickett and Kevin White won’t be on the plane to Norman.

8. Oct. 31 at Kansas: The lowest-ranked road game, Kansas tends to put up a fight at home. It’s uncertain who will be leading the Jayhawks as head coach in 2015, but it's another conference road test.

9. Oct. 24 vs. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders upset Oklahoma in Norman in 2011, so don’t just slot this game in the win column. Kliff Kingsbury’s team has the ability to make Oklahoma pay if there’s any hangover after taking on Texas and K-State in the two previous games.

10. Nov. 7 vs. Iowa State: It will be important for the Sooners to focus on the Cyclones instead of their stretch of Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State after this early November game.

11. Sept. 19 vs. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane visit Norman the week after the Sooners' trip to Tennessee, providing Tulsa’s main reason for hope.

12. Sept. 5 vs. Akron: It’s hard to imagine the Sooners dropping their season opener to a squad that is under-.500 in the Mid-American Conference this season.
Oklahoma heads to Texas Tech without its starting quarterback and plenty of baggage after one of the most disappointing losses of the Bob Stoops era, a 48-14 home setback at the hands of Baylor last weekend.

Three keys for the Sooners

Cody Thomas game management: The redshirt freshman quarterback will need to make good decisions, take command of the offense and protect the ball if the Sooners hope to win against the Red Raiders. It will be his first road start, so it will be critical for Thomas to limit distractions and focus on the managing the game well in his first extended opportunity in crimson and cream.

Time to step up for the Sooners secondary: Oklahoma's defensive backfield will need to step up against the Red Raiders. The Sooners secondary played soft and without confidence at times against Baylor, and Texas Tech has the players and system to make Oklahoma pay if the Sooners cornerbacks and safeties don’t step up and win some of the one-on-one battles they lost against the Bears.

Developing a running game: If Oklahoma can dominate with its running game, everything else might not matter. The Sooners are averaging 5.67 yards per carry and have a backfield full of talented running backs with Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Keith Ford. The Sooners have been held under 200 rushing yards in each of their three losses, so the running game is key.

Player to watch: Thomas. Don’t expect Oklahoma to put the game on his shoulders, but Thomas will have to make some plays and contribute to the cause if the Sooners hope to win. He can make plays with his arm or legs, but it will be important for him not to lose the game with poor decision-making.

X-factor: Ford could be a guy to watch after he finally returned to action against Baylor. With Oklahoma likely to lean on its running game, a healthy Ford could be poised to make a big play or two. Ford’s return (eight carries, 40 yards) wasn’t earth-shattering, but he did show he still is the Sooners' most complete running back.

Stat to watch: Texas Tech’s passing yards. The Red Raiders are third in the conference and 10th among FBS teams with 320.3 passing yards per game. Oklahoma is ninth in the conference and No. 110 among FBS teams, allowing 280.2 passing yards per game.
Baylor stormed into Oklahoma Memorial Stadium over the weekend to hand Oklahoma and Bob Stoops the worst home loss of his tenure. The 48-14 defeat has sparked plenty of discord among Sooner nation as fans left early and often during the embarrassing loss.

With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, here's a look at five key stats that defined the defeat:

Bryce Petty's third-quarter completion percentage: The Bears' quarterback was exceptional in the third quarter, completing 16 of 17 passes for 206 yards. BU used a five-receiver formation to expose the Sooners' defense and OU had no answers as Petty led the Bears to 14 points. The Bears spread the field and allowed Petty to run the show by picking the best option at the line of scrimmage, and he handled the Sooners' attempts at pressuring him with quick decisions and laser-like accuracy.

Corey Coleman's third-quarter production: The sophomore receiver had third-quarter numbers that most receivers would envy after a full game. Coleman had seven third-quarter receptions for 119 yards as he exposed the OU secondary on short and deep passes during the first few drives after halftime.

OU's punt percentage: The Sooners punted the ball on 50 percent of their drives against the Bears. OU's offense simply couldn't get it done against an active Bears' defense. The Sooners punted on four of their final six drives. OU's season punt percentage average is 31.6 percent.

OU's third-down conversion percentage: The Sooners had some success, particularly on the ground, but stumbled when it mattered. OU converted just 4 of 13 third-down conversion attempts, 30.8 percent. It's third down struggles played a major role as Baylor took control during the second and third quarter as OU converted just 2 of 7 tries during that span.

OU's one disrupted dropback (sack, batted ball, interception or pass defended) after the first quarter: The Sooners led 14-3 after the first quarter as they were in control of the game and had three disrupted dropbacks during the first 15 minutes while slowing BU's offense. OU could manage just one disrupted dropback in the final 45 minutes as BU scored 45 unanswered points. OU's four total disrupted dropbacks was a season-low and the Sooners' average 7.78 per game this season.
Oklahoma will look for revenge when the Sooners play host to Baylor on Saturday. The Bears hammered OU, 41-12, on their way to the 2013 Big 12 title. This season, the matchup between two of the conference's most talented teams provides an opportunity to add a quality win to their resumes and impress the College Football Playoff committee.

Here are five Sooners who could decide the game:

[+] EnlargeKnight
AP Photo/LM OteroThe Sooners need Trevor Knight at the top of his game if they want to knock off Baylor on Saturday.
Quarterback Trevor Knight: The Sooners are a different team when Knight is performing at his best. The shackles were taken off the sophomore quarterback against Iowa State, and he responded by accounting for six total touchdowns (three rushing, three passing) while looking like a nightmare to prepare for. Knight didn’t use his legs to make defenses pay early in the season but with increased confidence in backup quarterback Cody Thomas, Knight now appears to have more freedom to use his entire skill set.
Key stat: Even with all the ups and downs of his sophomore campaign, Knight sits atop the Big 12 with an 83.4 adjusted QBR.

Receiver Michiah Quick: The Sooners said the true freshman would get more opportunities before the 59-14 win over Iowa State and he did, with Knight looking his way on 12 occasions against the Cyclones. Quick responded with eight receptions for 56 yards. His dynamic open-field ability was on display against ISU and he showed signs he could make a game-changing play if he gets enough opportunities.
Key stat: Quick had four targets in seven games before last weekend.

Running back Alex Ross: The sophomore joins Sterling Shepard as the consistent big playmakers with the ball in their hands for the Sooners. He has been an impact player on kickoff returns for the entire season and is starting to become a bigger threat on offense with 219 rushing yards in OU’s last two games. He brings an explosive, speedy option to OU’s backfield alongside the bruising Samaje Perine.
Key stat: Ross had the first 100-yard game of his career with 144 rushing yards against the Cyclones.

Safety Quentin Hayes: Along with fellow safety Ahmad Thomas, Hayes will have to show some versatility and playmaking ability against the high-powered Bears. He has been solid in coverage during his final season as a Sooner but Baylor’s receivers and, most importantly, its receiver depth is something OU hasn’t had to deal with at any point this season.
Key stat: Hayes had a season-high six solo tackles against TCU, a team with plenty of receivers that also tries to create favorable one-on-one matchups with receivers against safeties.

Safety Steven Parker: Another true freshman, Parker has seen his role evolve in OU’s defense. He has been used as a blitzer, deep safety and cover corner for the Sooners and emerged as a valuable option for Mike Stoops defense. He’s a safety with the ability to cover like a cornerback, which will make him even more valuable against the Bears, particularly with BU's four-receiver sets and focus on stretching the field.
Key stat: He recorded his first career tackle for loss against Iowa State and has four of his eight tackles in OU’s last two games.
Oklahoma needs an impressive performance.

The Sooners have looked subpar in their past two games, a loss to TCU and a win over Texas. But a Big 12 title could still come into play if things fall right for the Sooners during the rest of the conference schedule. Here are five stats to keep on an eye on when No. 11 Oklahoma hosts No. 14 Kansas State on Saturday.

OU's yards per carry: The Sooners' offensive success is directly related to success on the ground. As OU’s yards per carry go up, so do the Sooners’ total points. Against Tulsa, OU averaged a season-best 8.42 yards per carry and scored 52 points. Against Texas, OU averaged a season-low 3.43 yards per carry and scored a season-low 31 points. When OU runs the ball at will it sets up everything else on the offense.

Number of receptions by OU’s other receivers: No. 1 receiver Sterling Shepard has been a star with 34 receptions for 714 yards and four touchdowns. Other receivers have been productive including Durron Neal (23 receptions) and K.J. Young (13 receptions) but no receiver has brought explosive playmaking or another consistent threat to the offense. If another receiver can have a 100-yard receiving game it would be a great sign for OU against the Wildcats and beyond.

Quarterback Trevor Knight's turnovers: The Sooners quarterback is averaging one turnover per game with five interceptions and one fumble lost in six games. If he takes care of the ball, OU will like its chances to win. With a strong defense and solid running game, OU doesn’t need its sophomore quarterback to win the game, they just need him to make sure he doesn’t lose it.

Kansas State’s third-down conversion rate: The Wildcats lead the Big 12, converting 50.8 percent of their third-down attempts. OU’s defense is allowing opponents to convert 40.2 percent of their third-down attempts, ranking eighth in the Big 12. The Sooners will have to do a great job of stopping KSU’s creative third-down plays if they hope to win this battle of top-25 teams. The key could be success on first and second down, forcing plenty of third-and-long situations for the Wildcats.

KSU receiver Tyler Lockett's all-purpose yards: The senior receiver single-handedly kept KSU in the game against the Sooners a year ago with 440 all-purpose yards including 278 receiving yards. He averaged 25.9 yards per touch in a 41-31 Sooners’ win. OU will look to force the Wildcats to turn to another playmaker on offense and special teams while KSU will turn to Lockett when it needs a big play. A big game from Lockett would make securing a win much harder for the Sooners.

Stats that define OU's loss to TCU

October, 6, 2014
Oklahoma's College Football Playoff hopes took a major hit Saturday as TCU handed the Sooners a 37-33 loss in Fort Worth, Texas.

TCU's Trevone Boykin was the best quarterback on the field and OU ran into problems running the football as avenue after avenue seemed filled by a Horned Frog. Here's a look at five stats that defined the upset loss for the Sooners, with the help of ESPN Stats & Information:

OU's 2.12 yards per carry on first down: TCU simply refused to let the Sooners run the football on first down. Gary Patterson's team was focused on stopping the run throughout the game but winning on first-down rushes was key as OU had 17 first-down carries for 36 yards and one touchdown. Samaje Perine -- the true freshman running back who many had anointed as OU's next great running back after a stellar game against West Virginia -- was held to 14 first-down carries for 46 yards (3.29 ypc).

Trevor Knight's 16.7 completion percentage on third down: To say Knight struggled on third down is to put it mildly. The sophomore was 1-of-6 for 12 yards on third-down plays including the game-changing interception by TCU linebacker Paul Dawson. He finished with a raw QBR of 5 on third down. The Sooners converted 7 of 18 third-down attempts into a new set of downs.

TCU's 87.5 third down conversion percentage in the first quarter: It was critical for the Horned Frogs to start well against OU's defense and they did, converting six of seven third-down attempts during the first 15 minutes. Boykin was 4 of 5 for 47 yards on third down as he got off to a terrific start on the way to the upset victory.

OU's 3.04 yards per play in the fourth quarter: With 14:12 left in the game, the Sooners trailed 37-33. OU's offense scored four touchdowns in the game but when the Sooners needed it the most, the offense didn't get it done. Knight and company managed just 3.04 yards per play in the final quarter, running 28 plays for 85 yards. The Sooners averaged 13.7 yards on six fourth-quarter drives.

Sterling Shepard's seven receptions: The junior had a career-high performance with 215 receiving yards on his seven catches. It's an interesting number because the rest of the team combined for seven receptions for 94 yards. Shepard is a star but as teams take him away in the future, OU will need someone to step up or Knight could be in for more days like Saturday.

Stats that defined Sooners' win

September, 22, 2014
Oklahoma is a legitimate national championship contender. The Sooners proved it with an impressive 45-33 win against West Virginia last Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia. True freshman running back Samaje Perine was the story of the night with 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns. But there were several key stats that helped decide the Sooners' first Big 12 conference victory.

100 percent in the redzone: Oklahoma scored touchdowns on all five red-zone drives, largely because of the excellence of Perine. The bruising running back had 12 carries for 60 yards and four touchdowns inside WVU’s 20-yard line, an average of five yards per carry. The Sooners' ability to convert drives into touchdowns was critical. Oklahoma entered the game ranked 16th in the FBS in red-zone efficiency at 78.9 percent.

Oklahoma converted 50 percent of its third-down attempts: The Sooners' offense had struggled on third down heading into the game and started slow on third down against WVU with 2 of 6 conversions in the first quarter. But the Sooners' offense found a rhythm in the second half, converting four of seven attempts in the final 30 minutes. Oklahoma entered the game No. 64 among FBS teams and No. 6 in the Big 12 at 41.8 percent.

WVU’s single quarterback hurry: If Oklahoma's 301 rushing yards and 6.5 yards per carry average isn’t enough to convince you the offensive line dominated the game, consider this: Quarterback Trevor Knight attempted 30 passes, wasn’t sacked and was only hurried once. The offensive line paved the way on the ground and protected Knight throughout the game. The unit is the foundation of Oklahoma's College Football Playoff hopes.

Oklahoma's 9.5 yards per carry on first down: Perine and Alex Ross combined for 235 rushing yards on first down alone. Nothing underscores Oklahoma's dominance and Perine’s rise to stardom like the freshman’s 19 carries for 181 yards (9.5 yards per carry) on first-down plays. The strong running production also helped Knight complete 7 of 11 first-down throws for 111 of his 205 total passing yards. Once the Sooners decided to lean on the running game, it was all over.

WVU’s 3.4 yards per carry: The Mountaineers weren’t any less committed to the run than the Sooners, with 40 rushes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. But they didn’t have the success on the ground like Oklahoma. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Evans, who has seamlessly slid into the starting lineup for Frank Shannon, had a team-high 11 tackles including nine solo stops to help the Sooners slow WVU's rushing attack.

Early-season pros and cons for OU

September, 15, 2014
Quarterback Trevor Knight has command of the offense like never before, Oklahoma’s defense could be even better than expected and the Sooners have a terrific trio of running backs.

Nonconference play is over and we’ve learned a lot about the Sooners, good and bad. Here are three positives and three negatives for the Sooners as OU turns to Big 12 play against West Virginia with its visit to Morgantown, West Virginia, on Saturday.


Trevor Knight has continued to improve: Through three games, Knight has already surpassed his 2013 passing yardage total. The sophomore’s 860 yards has surpassed his 819 passing yards in eight games a year ago. His 286.7 passing yards per game average is a clear sign of his improvement during his second season in crimson and cream. More importantly, his pass yardage total has increased every week during the 2014 season and he’s been much more consistent after an up-and-down debut season.

The Sooners' defensive changes have made the unit even better: Linebacker Eric Striker spent the spring working at nickelback, defensive end Geneo Grissom moved to linebacker and Julian Wilson moved from nickelback to cornerback. All three moves have paid off for OU’s defense and helped the Sooners get their best 11 defenders on the field more often. Striker can make plays all over the field yet remains a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and offensive tackles. Grissom looks comfortable in coverage yet still rushes like a defensive end and Wilson brings terrific size to the perimeter while solidifying the void created by the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin.

The running game will be able to carry the load again: Even with the progress of Knight, OU’s offense remains built upon its offensive line and running backs. The Sooners' offensive front has consistently won in the trenches while OU is able to deploy fresh legs at defenses, with Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine each averaging at least 5.5 yards per carry. Much like a year ago, the Sooners may not end up with a 1,000-yard rusher but could easily average 200 rushing yards per game in 2014.


Third-down offense: If OU expects to win a national championship, its third-down offense must get better. The Sooners have converted 38.5 percent on their third-down conversion attempts, sixth in the Big 12 and tied for 83rd among FBS teams. It’s a clear sign Knight still has room to grow as the sophomore is 13-of-26 on third down. As OU enters Big 12 play, there will be times when a critical third-down conversion is needed so this is high on the priority list.

Another big-play receiver: Sterling Shepard has been everything expected as OU’s No. 1 receiver. The junior is averaging 5.7 receptions for 111.7 yards per game as the main man in OU’s passing game. But a consistent No. 2 target has yet to emerge. Durron Neal has been solid with 15 receptions for 183 yards and could end up being a terrific complement to Shepard. And converted quarterback Blake Bell should become a bigger part of the offense as the season progresses. Yet what will the Sooners do, and who will Knight turn to, when defenses take Shepard away during Big 12 play?

Punt returns: The Sooners rank dead last in punt returns at 4.1 yards per return. After seeing Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders change games with their punt return skills during the past two seasons, OU is counting on Shepard to impact games on punt returns. He has five returns for 35 yards (7 yards per return) through three games. Shepard was a stellar punt returner in high school and has proven his big-play ability with his run-after-catch skills on offense, so it could simply be a matter of time before he makes an bigger impact on punt returns.

Stats that defined OU's 52-7 win

September, 8, 2014
It's hard to imagine Oklahoma being more impressive to start a regular season it hopes will end with a College Football Playoff berth.

OU's 52-7 win over Tulsa was a dominant game from the Sooners. Here are five stats that defined the win and what they could mean for OU in the future.

OU’s 10.4 yards per play on first down

The Sooners ran 35 first-down plays, gaining 363 yards against the Golden Hurricane. Keith Ford’s two touchdowns and Alex Ross’ 82-yard score were on first-down plays. OU had exceptional balance on first-down plays as well running the ball 17 times and putting it in the air 18 times to keep Tulsa off balance throughout the game.

What it means: While the production is great, the balance is even better. Defenses won’t be able to tee off on any Sooners’ tendencies if their production and balance on first down continues as the level of competition amps up.

Tulsa’s 1.8 yards per play on third down

OU’s defense was dominant on third down, allowing just 34 yards on 19 plays against TU. The Golden Hurricane converted just 6 of 19 third-down attempts.

What it means: It’s a sign the Sooners' defense could be as good on third down as it was in 2013. OU allowed 3.9 yards per play on third down a year ago and was among the Big 12’s best in third-down conversion defense at 33.7 percent. OU lost a pair of seniors, Aaron Colvin and Gabe Lynn, from last year’s secondary but has filled the void with relative ease so far this season.

Trevor Knight’s 95.7 raw QBR on third down

The sophomore quarterback was efficient in clutch situations against TU. He finished 6-of-9 for 96 yards and one touchdown on third down. Each of his six completions went for first downs as he converted 66.7 percent of his passes into first downs.

What it means: Knight continues to improve. A year ago, he completed 55.3 percent of his third-down throws and finished with a raw QBR of 76. His performance on third down was a clear area of improvement for Knight during his second season as a starter and he’s showing signs that he will be more efficient this fall.

Sterling Shepard’s 100 percent reception rate on third down

The junior had a career-high performance with eight receptions for 177 yards and one touchdown but he really excelled on third down. He caught all three passes thrown his way for 64 yards on third down.

What it means: It’s not a surprise to see Shepard excel on third down. He led the Sooners in third-down reception yardage (227) and touchdowns (four) in 2013. But he’s the unquestioned No. 1 receiver now -- instead of Jalen Saunders -- which underscores the importance of another target emerging in OU’s passing attack in 2014. Otherwise defenses will roll their coverages toward Shepard, especially on third downs.

TU quarterback Dane Evans’ 3.2 yards per pass attempt in the first quarter

OU got off to a terrific start, leading 21-0 after the first quarter thanks in large part to its defense. Mike Stoops’ unit was able to dictate where Evans threw the ball, evidenced by the 3.2 yards per attempt by TU’s signal-caller in the first 15 minutes. He completed six passes but gained just 29 yards and led the Golden Hurricane to just two first downs.

What it means: OU’s desire to "be the cause not the effect” on defense is paying off. The Sooners dedicated everything against Tulsa’s offense early in the game on Saturday and will be looking to do the same in every game this season. OU’s defense is miles ahead of where it was last September and the offseason tweaks the coaching staff has made -- like moving Geneo Grissom to linebacker -- seem to be paying off.
It’s football time in Oklahoma.

The Sooners open the season against Louisiana Tech on Saturday with an eye on cementing a spot in the College Football Playoff derby in 2014. Here are five key stats to keep an eye on.

Sooners yards per carry average: It is important for the Sooners to replace last year’s trio of seniors — Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Damien Williams — with another solid running game. Oklahoma averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2013 and leaned on its running game to carry a Sooners’ offense that averaged 199.1 passing yards per contest. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will get the first chance to prove they can handle the bulk of the carries, but they could be looking over their shoulders at true freshman Samaje Perine. Between the three of them, Oklahoma should hope to, at the very least, match last year’s yards-per-carry average against Louisiana Tech.

Trevor Knight’s completion percentage: Knight’s 59-percent completion rate from 2013 isn’t going to get it done if the Sooners expect to earn a College Football Playoff berth. The good news for Sooners fans is Knight had a 67.1 completion percentage in the final five games of the 2013 season. So if he can mimic his strong play at the end of the season, Oklahoma could be in business. It starts against Louisiana Tech, so the Sooners should hope Knight can complete 65 percent of his throws on Saturday.

Sooners’ second leading receiver: Nobody’s worried about Knight finding a No. 1 target. Sterling Shepard should fill that role with ease. But Oklahoma needs at least one more consistent target to emerge in the offense alongside Shepard. It feels like now or never for junior Durron Neal, who stepped on campus with as much acclaim as Shepard. Redshirt freshman K.J. Young joins Shepard and Neal in the starting lineup and could become a key playmaker if he fulfills the promise he’s shown during his 12 months on campus. Tight end Blake Bell could also emerge as a legitimate No. 2 option. It doesn’t really matter who it is, but someone needs to show signs they will be a trustworthy target for Knight against Louisiana Tech by hauling in at least five receptions.

Tackles for loss: The Sooners defense was good in 2013, but it could be dominant in 2014 if it can make more tackles for loss. Oklahoma finished seventh in the Big 12 with 73 tackles for loss, an average of 5.6 per game. If the Sooners can record at least seven tackles for loss against Louisiana Tech, it would be a sign that the defense can create more chaos in opponents' backfields this season, which could be the perfect recipe for a College Football Playoff berth.

Third-down conversion rate: Oklahoma must get better on third down if they plan to compete for a national championship. The Sooners converted just 39.5 percent of their third-down attempts a year ago, ranking 69th among FBS teams. It’s no coincidence the Sooners were 7-0 last season when their conversion rate was 40 percent or higher, including victories over Alabama, Kansas State and Texas Tech. Thus, converting 45 percent of their third-down attempts should be the goal on Saturday.

Five impact freshmen for Sooners

August, 25, 2014
Oklahoma knows a lot more about its Class of 2014 recruiting class than it did a month ago.

Several true freshmen could make an impact for the Sooners this fall after impressing during their first month on the practice fields in Norman, Oklahoma. Here’s a look at five impact true freshmen that could make noise during their first season in crimson and cream:

[+] EnlargeDimitri Flowers
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiDimitri Flowers has impressed coach Bob Stoops with his versatility and smarts.
Fullback Dimitri Flowers: Flowers' potential impact has been clear since he stepped on the field as an early enrollee last spring. OU’s coaching staff has raved about his maturity, versatility and upside since he arrived in January. Flowers has the ability to slot in at various different spots in the offense from fullback to H-back to tight end. It would be a surprise if he isn’t a consistent contributor in 2014.

“He has a natural feel for the game and is a very bright young man, picking up on schemes and everything,” coach Bob Stoops said. “As you can see, a player very similar to Trey [Millard] in how versatile he is.”

Safety Steven Parker: Parker has arrived on campus as one of the most “college ready” freshmen in recent memory. Currently listed as a second-team safety on the depth chart, Parker could be too versatile to keep on the sideline. He has the coverage skills of a cornerback and range of a safety. OU has a pair of quality sophomore safeties in Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd along with senior Quentin Hayes ahead of Parker but he is still likely to force himself on to the field at some point this season.

Cornerback Jordan Thomas: Arguably the most surprising name on this list, Thomas also could end up being the best. He didn’t step on campus with as much fanfare as some of the other names on the list this summer but he has immediately impressed. He’s secured a spot as Julian Wilson’s backup at cornerback and should be a contributor in the secondary.

“He and Steven Parker are as good of players at corner and safety as we have ever recruited,” Stoops said. “It is obvious though this number of practices how strong they are and how they are physically in a position to play and to handle it. They are intelligent and it is natural for them. You usually don’t get that all in one.”

Running back Samaje Perine: Sophomores Alex Ross and Keith Ford set atop the running back depth chart but the Sooners have been impressed with the upside of Perine during his first month on the field. He provides another physical running option for OU.

“He’s one of the freshmen that has an opportunity to contribute,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “He’s a big, physical kid, he’s taking care of the football, we’re gaining more confidence in him every day. He runs with his pads really well and he’s learned quickly. Kids that play as freshmen carry themselves with maturity and he’s done that.”

Receiver Michiah Quick: The California native has been the best true freshman receiver on the roster. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him force his way into the lineup at slot receiver or punt returner this fall. His surname (Quick) is the perfect description the asset that could help him earn a role in OU’s offense.

“[He’s] explosive when he has the ball,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s made some freshman mistakes at times because the game is faster, the plays are more competitive; he is learning to play in that atmosphere.”

Joshua McMillon announcement

August, 22, 2014
Four-star linebacker Joshua McMillon, ranked No. 163 in the ESPN 300, is set to make his college decision. The 6-foot-3, 249-pound linebacker has big names Alabama, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the mix. Tune in at 11 a.m. ET for the announcement.

This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series followed the roster numerically and concludes today with No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 98 Chuka Ndulue, defensive tackle, 6-foot-3, 289 pounds, senior

Impact thus far: Arguably the most overshadowed contributor on the roster. He’s displayed terrific versatility and production during his time as a Sooner. He’s started 19 of 32 career games with 91 tackles including 12 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. In 2013, he brought a veteran presence to the defensive line with nine starts in 12 games played and 42 total tackles.

Impact in 2014: Ndulue should be a core contributor for the Sooners’ defensive line for the third straight season. His versatility and experience are key assets on a defensive front that could become the Big 12’s best unit.

Long-term upside: Much like 2013, he’s likely to be outshined by Eric Striker, Geneo Grissom, Charles Tapper and the rest of OU’s attacking pass rush, thus missing out on postseason honors, but he’s a key part of the Sooners' defense.

Evaluation grade for Ndulue: A. Anytime a signee becomes a three-year starter, he’s a pretty good evaluation. Brought in as a defensive end, Ndulue should the willingness and ability to move around the defensive line to help OU get its top performers on the field.

Development grade for Ndulue: A. Thanks to a redshirt season in 2010, Ndulue is around to provide a productive, experienced player in the middle of OU’s defensive interior.
This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 97 Charles Walker, defensive tackle, 6-foot-2, 296 pounds, redshirt freshman

Impact thus far: Walker hasn’t made an impact on the field but did create a buzz during his redshirt season and this offseason. If his production can match the hype, the Sooners will be thrilled.

Impact in 2014: Walker is one reason veterans like Torrea Peterson and Quincy Russell will have to raise their games if they want to earn a spot in OU’s defensive plans. It would be a surprise to see him force his way into a major role but he should be a contributor in his redshirt freshman season.

Long-term upside: It’s early to say but he has exceptional talent so fulfilling his upside would mean emerging as a major force for the Sooners during his career.

Evaluation grade for Walker: B. The only reason this grade is not an A is because Walker has not done anything on the field yet. All other signs point to an exceptional evaluation as he appears poised to make an impact as a redshirt freshman, yet his other offers were New Mexico, Houston and others. He looks like a hidden gem who was unearthed by OU.

Development grade for Walker: A. A redshirt season was perfect for Walker, who needed the time to adjust to playing defensive tackle in the Big 12 after lining up at several positions in high school. Thanks to a year of seasoning, Walker should be better prepared to help the Sooners this fall.


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