- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma has had several inexperienced players step up and make a major impact as it has rolled to a 4-0 start.
Veterans like cornerback Aaron Colvin, linebacker Corey Nelson, center Gabe Ikard and running back Brennan Clay have performed well, overshadowing contributions by other Sooners. Here’s a look at five unsung Sooners who have helped OU get off to a quick start:
Safety Quentin Hayes: The junior was set to make an impact for the Sooners earlier in his career before off-the-field struggles resulted in a season-long suspension. This season, he has proven to be a integral part of the secondary. He ranks second on the squad with 20 tackles, including one tackle for loss and a forced fumble. His ability to hold up in pass coverage has made the Sooners’ secondary more versatile than 2012, and his tackle numbers show he’s willing and able to make plays in space.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips: Phillips has solid numbers with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. But the Sooners' top defensive tackle is a key reason the Sooners’ linebackers, Nelson and Frank Shannon, rank 1-2 in tackles for OU. The sophomore has been stout in the middle and been able to get penetration into opponents’ backfields. He could be on his way to becoming a star. As he starts to command more double teams, it will open even more playmaking opportunities for the rest of OU’s defense.
"He’s been really consistent and strong in how he’s played," coach Bob Stoops said.
Cornerback Zack Sanchez: Not much was expected from Sanchez after the spring game. Even with very limited depth at cornerback, the redshirt freshman didn’t stand out during the spring. His destiny completely changed during the summer as he emerged as a guy who could help OU this season. H has done much more than help the Sooners’ defense, emerging as a competitive, dependable starter opposite Colvin. Notre Dame tested him immediately last Saturday and Sanchez responded knocking away Tommy Rees’ throw. He has been tested time and time again this season and has passed every test, leading the Sooners with five passes broken up.
"He’s been playing really well," nickelback Julian Wilson said. "People are attacking him but he’s stepping up and coming to the plate every game."
Linebacker Eric Striker: The sophomore is the face of change on the Sooners’ defense. OU’s decision to take a defensive lineman off the field and add Striker into the mix has paid off handsomely. Striker is a terror for offensive tackles coming off the edge with his quickness, acceleration and pass rushing skills. His hit on Rees helped give the Sooners immediate momentum with Nelson’s 24-yard interception return against Notre Dame. He averages just three tackles per game but Striker is tied for the team lead with four quarterback hurries.
"Eric Striker has been getting pressure and making big plays," Stoops said.
Tackle Daryl Williams: The most experienced player on this list heading into the season, Williams is taking his game to another level as a junior. He has been a terrific right tackle for the Sooners’ offense and played a big role in OU’s offensive balance (1,021 rushing yards, 894 passing yards). Williams is one reason the Sooners have looked like a tougher, more aggressive offensive line in 2013. Stoops called Williams’ play “outstanding” this week following OU’s win over Notre Dame.
6dJake Trotter and Brandon Chatmon