Oklahoma Sooners: Dom Whaley

Damien Williams took the handoff from Landry Jones as his two teammates in the backfield rushed to find white jerseys to block. Williams cut once through the line as a diving Kenny Vaccaro missed Williams' ankles. Williams slowed to let his blockers create a lane before cutting outside and finding himself in the middle of three Longhorns defenders.

His cut put them off balance and as he hit the left sideline, he had one player to outrun -- for a while, anyway. Receiver Kenny Stills erased Quandre Diggs and set Williams free as the Cotton Bowl -- well, half of it -- exploded.

"That's something that any football player wants to be a part of. The fans were so crazy," Williams told ESPN.com this week. "Going into that game I was confident and excited."

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Matthew Emmons/US PresswireJunior Damien Williams has emerged as the Sooners' best option in the backfield halfway through the season.
No player had ever broken a longer run in the history of the Red River Rivalry than that 95-yarder, and any debate over who should be Oklahoma's starting running back ended.

The 6-foot, 208-pound junior-college transfer grabbed 22 carries, 14 more than any Sooner. A week earlier, his 14 carries in a blowout win over Texas Tech were 12 more than any other Oklahoma back. For now, this job is Williams'. He was expecting to help out the unit and "do his part," whatever that meant.

For now, it means being the Sooners' No. 1 back.

"He’s played consistently all year. He’s made big plays. He’s an incredibly physical, tough runner. He’s got great speed and he’s taking care of the ball," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He’s been reliable. He’s got great hands. He’s got everything you look for. Power and again, has incredible hands to go with his ability to run."

With Dominique Whaley returning from a fractured ankle and Roy Finch breaking highlight-reel runs, Williams ascending to win the job seemed unlikely in the preseason. Even Brennan Clay had more experience.

Through just five games, though, there's no doubt. Even in the season opener, Williams' potential was there. He broke a 65-yard touchdown run to ice a 24-7 road win over UTEP. A week later, he scored four times in a 69-13 victory over Florida A&M, turning 10 carries into 156 yards.

"I can't make any plays without my team around me," Williams said. "What the line is doing, what the coaches are calling and everything. All I can do is go out there and try to make plays."

He's got 66 carries for 508 yards and six touchdowns in just five games, one of just three Big 12 backs averaging at least 100 yards a game.

Against Texas Tech, he caught six passes for 82 yards, too.

"He’s been a huge spark, just with his physical running and ability to catch the ball," Stoops said.

Williams already has three runs longer than 60 yards this season. No other Big 12 back has one, and the rest of the Big 12 has just five combined. Only three players in all of college football have three runs longer than 60 yards, and all three players have suited up in seven games, compared to just five for Williams and the Sooners.

Midseason report: Oklahoma

October, 16, 2012
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OKLAHOMA

Record: 4-1, 2-1 Big 12

The Sooners have had the most up and down (and up again) season of any team in the Big 12. Oklahoma began the year looking like the Big 12's best team and the league's best hope for a national title.

After a lackluster win at UTEP, the questions were mounting. After a loss to Kansas State, the Sooners looked like a vulnerable squad susceptible to being swallowed up by the depth of the Big 12. They had to sit and wait a week to take the field again.

The Sooners rolled over a good Texas Tech team by three touchdowns (a week later, the Red Raiders dispatched No. 5 West Virginia by five touchdowns) and saved their best overall performance of the season for the Red River Rivalry, where the Sooners delivered a 42-point beatdown to a Texas team that looked completely overmatched.

The Sooners have the Big 12's best defense through the first half of the season, and the biggest question offensively is Landry Jones' completion percentage. The running game looks more physical than ever. Damien Williams has been a hidden gem from the juco ranks to lead the Sooners in rushing.

Oklahoma looks back on track for a Big 12 title, playing better than any team in the league these past two weeks. That big loss in Norman, though, means Oklahoma needs K-State to lose twice in order to win the league. That looks like a tall order these days.

Offensive MVP: Damien Williams, RB. Williams ascended a crowded depth chart to earn the starting gig ahead of Dom Whaley, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. He is one of just three Big 12 backs averaging at least 100 yards a game. That's even more impressive considering he hadn't received more than 10 carries in a game before last week's win over Texas Tech. He's got 508 yards and six touchdowns on just 66 carries, averaging 7.7 yards a carry.

Defensive MVP: Aaron Colvin, CB. Colvin is far from the biggest name on a loaded Oklahoma team, but he's been the team's most valuable player to this point. He has 20 tackles, two picks and six pass break-ups. The 6-foot, 180-pounder might be making himself a lot of money this season.

Friday Q&A: Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard

September, 21, 2012
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Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard has a good case as the Big 12's best offensive lineman, and this week he took some time out with ESPN.com to talk about his spot in the middle of the Sooners line as well as this weekend's game against Kansas State.

Note: Portions of this interview were cut for length.

What kind of energy do you feel like the team has entering a pretty anticipated week?

I feel like we got lots of rest last week and a long weekend off, so we definitely brought a lot of energy into this week of practice, and we’re excited to play our first ranked opponent and a great team in K-State. We’ve got a really positive attitude in practice and toward the game. That’s just kind of one great thing about the team this year. We all have a great attitude and enjoy each other, so there’s a lot of positive energy.

What do you feel like you can prove this weekend?

It’s our first conference game, so one of the things we wanted to do was get off to a good start. I don’t feel necessarily that we have something to prove, but we want to come out and play sharp, play well, play crisp and play clean. It’s one of the things where you want to come out and give your best performance in your conference opener.

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Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGabe Ikard and the Sooners are excited to get their first shot at a ranked opponent.
We hear so much about the way Oklahoma plays at home, why do you feel like that is?

I think we just have some of the best fans in the country. With 85,000, it gets pretty loud. It’s a great place to play. We got the natural grass, we don’t have turf anymore. We’re just very comfortable here and we get a lot of support from our fans. Other than that, once the whistle blows for the first play, it doesn’t matter where you play. It’s football. There’s something to home-field advantage.

Is there a sense of invincibility at times when you’re at home?

No (laughs). Not once we got embarrassed by Texas Tech last year. If anyone on this team had that feeling and was around here for that game, that notion went out the window.

What specifically needs to be better for you guys on the line?

The biggest thing we’ve got to keep building on is the physicality in the run game and the physicality in pass protection. Those are the two biggest things we’ve got to work on every single day. We’ve got to open up the holes for Dom and Damien and those guys and we need to give Landry time. We’ve got all kinds of superstar wide receivers, and it’s ultimately on our shoulders to let those players make plays.

What do you see when you look at Kansas State’s defensive line on tape?

I see talented guys. They’ve got quick hands, they’re quick-twitch guys who can rip inside real quick, use spin moves, use flip moves on the edge. Then they’ve got big, thick defensive tackles who really clog up gaps and clog up blockers in the run game, so they’re very talented on the defensive line and very talented at linebacker. We’re getting ready to play the best competition we’ve played, and we’ve just got to get prepared in practice for that.

What players stuck out to you?

The ends. No. 42 [Meshak Williams] making a lot of nice plays. When you drop back to pass, he’s a really good pass-rush guy. The guy who jumps off tape, though is [linebacker] Arthur Brown. He’s got a great motor and you can tell how hard he plays. He’s got great technique when he tries to shed blocks and shed linemen, getting under guys. He’s really the best defensive player we’ve seen on tape so far. He’s definitely a very talented guy.

You’re the only team that really handled K-State in the regular season a year ago. What are you expecting this time around?

I just expect to come out and play our best, but I expect them to bring a lot of energy. They’re a team that’s very good on the road, they always focus. They’re very disciplined, they don’t make mistakes and expect you to beat yourself. So, we’ve just got to come out, play disciplined, play hard, execute and it should be a good game for us.
The Sooners held a 102-play scrimmage Saturday, which Bob Stoops addressed after Tuesday’s practice. Stoops said he was pleased with the way the offense limited penalties and turnovers, and the way the defense tackled in the open field. Stoops also said the first-team defense did not give up any big plays -- a good sign, considering that was the unit’s Achilles’ heel in 2011.

Stoops really praised Penn State transfer Justin Brown and noted how “wonderful he’s fit in. He’s really made [the WRs] a solid group.” The other star of the scrimmage was Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders, who reeled in a pair of touchdowns. Stoops said Saunders is still waiting to hear from the NCAA to see if he’ll be granted a waiver to play this season. Wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said Saunders, in addition to a change of coach at Fresno State, had additional issues, both personal and medical, which could impact the NCAA’s decision. Norvell declined to elaborate on the issues.

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Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireFresno State transfer Jalen Saunders earned praise from Bob Stoops' for helping solidify the OU receiving corps.
The starting unit at the moment is Trey Metoyer and Brown on the outside, with Kenny Stills working in the slot. Should Saunders gain eligibility, he would probably be OU’s fourth or fifth option at receiver, along with LaColtan Bester and Sterling Shepard.

• Stoops dodged the question a week ago, but wide receivers coach Jay Norvell revealed that OU did in fact make the first contact with Brown.

“Justin was a kid we reached out to because we needed a mature, experienced WR that’s played,” Norvell said. “And he was interested in the opportunity here. The more we talked, the more we felt like it was a good fit. He did come out here and visit us, but we didn’t go out to see him because we didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do.”

• Running back Dominique Whaley was held out of the scrimmage, but only for precautionary reasons. Stoops said, “Dom has looked really good. He really looks to be pretty close to where he was.”

The Sooners have been careful with Whaley so far in contact drills, but look for them to ramp up his activity as the season gets closer.

Blake Bell had maybe his best scrimmage yet as a quarterback, tossing a pair of TDs to Saunders. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel says a decision on the No. 2 quarterback will be made in the next few days. He went on to explain that “the next few days” meant days or one week or two weeks or three weeks.

• One of the things to watch on the offense has been the interior of the offensive line, with the injuries to Ben Habern and Tyler Evans. But Stoops remains optimistic about the line because of the development of guards Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin.

Stoops said Shead was as good as any offensive lineman the Sooners had the second half of last season, and said Irwin “is really ready to play. He had a great winter, spring, really prepared himself.” Stoops noted that he really began to notice Irwin in the offseason, when he was beating the other linemen in track sprints.

While the Sooners might have two guys ready to fill the shoes of Habern and Evans, Stoops conceded that the unit is nowhere deep as it once was.

“We’re thin,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep everyone healthy.”

Nila Kasitati, who had a heart condition that required a procedure three weeks ago, has been back at practice the last week. Stoops indicated that Kasitati could emerge as the backup to Gabe Ikard at center. With the injuries to Evans and Habern, the Sooners could really use a healthy Kasitati.

• Among the names Stoops threw out for kick return: Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Sterling Shepard and Damien Williams. Stoops singled out Williams as someone who’s really come on in the backfield behind Clay and Whaley. “Damien really looks good,” Stoops said. “Powerful. He’s picking things up.”

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