Oklahoma Sooners: Grading the positions

OU position grades: Safeties 

January, 2, 2013
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In the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the safety position.

GradeHighlights: Tony Jefferson delivered one of the best seasons by an OU safety in the Bob Stoops era, while Javon Harris bounced back from an inconsistent 2011 season with a strong senior campaign. Jefferson led the Sooners with 113 tackles and two interceptions on his way to all-Big 12 honors. Harris had a team-high five interceptions, and was second with 77 tackles. The heart and soul of the Mike Stoops defense is the safeties, and Jefferson and Harris were solid to stout the majority of the season.

Lowlights: The safeties were awesome the first half of the season, but struggled in November – along with the rest of the defense. Harris was much better about not getting beat than he was last season, but was late helping Demontre Hurst on a critical throw down the middle in the loss to Notre Dame. The same thing happened against TCU, resulting in an 80-yard touchdown for wideout Brandon Carter. Jefferson, a sure-handed tackler all season, struggled to wrap up anyone in Bedlam.

OU position grades: Cornerbacks 

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
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In the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the cornerback position.

GradeHighlights: During the preseason, the cornerback duos at Texas and Oklahoma State seemed to be gathering all the accolades. Turned out, the best cornerback tandem in the Big 12, and one of the best in the country, resided in Norman. Demontre Hurst capped off his solid career with a standout senior season. Aaron Colvin, meanwhile, had a breakout campaign, with four interceptions while earning all-Big 12 honors. Their ability allowed Mike Stoops to stick with his man-to-man defensive coverage all season.

Lowlights: As good as they were, Colvin and Hurst both had some down moments. Colvin was abused by West Virginia wideout Stedman Bailey, who had three touchdown catches in the fourth quarter alone in their game. Hurst surrendered a huge fourth-quarter pass that proved crucial in the loss to Notre Dame.

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OU position grades: Linebackers 

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
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In the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the linebacker position.

GradeHighlights: Frank Shannon was one of the stories in the 41-20 win at Texas Tech. Replacing veteran Tom Wort at middle linebacker in the first half, Shannon was a menace on the Red Raider offense, both against the run and covering crossing routes across the middle. With OU leading 24-13, Tech elected to go for it on fourth down with the ball in Sooner territory. But Shannon exploded between blockers on a blitz to sack Seth Doege, giving the Sooners back the ball, and the momentum for good.

Lowlights: This unit had a few. In the beginning of the season, they were exposed covering the pass. Kansas State sealed its win with a completion across Wort for a fourth-quarter first down. Later in the season, Mike Stoops simply abandoned using linebackers altogether, for fear the better pass offenses of the Big 12 would abuse them. All four of OU’s starting defensive backs finished with more tackles than any of the linebackers.

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OU position grades: Defensive ends 

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
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In the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the defensive end position.

GradeHighlights: Senior David King capped a solid career with a solid senior season. The second-team All-Big 12 selection finished the regular season with 25 tackles and proved to be OU’s most valuable player on the defensive line because of his versatility to play tackle, too.

Lowlights: The Sooners struggled to get pressure on opposing QBs all season and finished 61st nationally with just 24 sacks. OU had 40 sacks last season. Senior R.J. Washington came up with a huge strip in the victory at TCU, but drifted in and out of the rotation. Chuka Ndulue was solid at times, but he and Washington each struggled with their run fits. Teams such as Kansas State, West Virginia, Baylor and Oklahoma State took full advantage as the Sooners finished with the No. 83 run defense in the country.

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OU position grades: Guards/centers 

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
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In the weeks leading up to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the guard and center position.

GradeHighlights: The injuries were downright incredible. Before the season even began, OU lost starters Ben Habern and Tyler Evans for the year to injuries. A few weeks into the season, the Sooners lost top reserve Nila Kasitati to injury as well. With no depth remaining, guards Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin had to battle through ankle injuries all season. Even center Gabe Ikard missed the Baylor game because of a concussion. In 2009, the offensive line experienced similar injuries. And that line completely wilted. This line did not. And somehow kept performing at a high level all season. Even in the final game, Shead couldn’t continue to go because of his back and ankle. Ikard slid to guard, and true freshman Ty Darlington came in at center. And yet, the line didn’t miss a beat. That game underscored the entire season.

Lowlights: The Sooners were dominated up front in their two losses. OU struggled to run the ball against Kansas State, and couldn’t do anything against Notre Dame nose guard Stephon Tuitt. In that game, the Irish used only three down linemen, and only Louis Nix in the middle. And still, the Sooners struggled to block him or create running lanes.

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OU position grades: Offensive tackle 

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
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In the weeks leading up to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the offensive tackles.

GradeHighlights: In shootout wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State, Landry Jones dropped back to pass 122 times. He was sacked once. Without such spectacular protection from Lane Johnson, Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, the Sooners do not win those games.

Lowlights: The tackles and the rest of the offensive line figured out a way to overcome a slew of injuries. But in the Notre Dame loss, the Sooners were dominated up front. Jones was sacked twice and the running backs managed just 44 yards on 17 carries. The Sooners couldn’t run up the middle. And they couldn’t produce anything on the perimeter, either. The worst part? Notre Dame dominated while playing only three down linemen.

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OU position grades: Receivers/tight ends 

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
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In the weeks leading up to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will look back at how the Sooners performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the quarterbacks:

GradeHighlights: Never was OU’s lethal ability at receiver more on display than in Bedlam. Jalen Saunders (10 catches, 162 yards), Justin Brown (15, 146) and Kenny Stills (9, 103) became the first trio in Sooners history to have more than 100 yards receiving in the same game. Freshman Sterling Shepard had a big game, too, with six catches and 65 yards, as the unit was impossible for OSU’s beleaguered secondary to keep tabs on. Bob Stoops has had some deep receiving corps before. This one proved to be as deep as any, as the Bedlam win underscored.

Lowlights: It’s hard to find a moment in which the receivers as a whole didn’t play well. Maybe against Kansas State, although Shepard had a big night in that game. Maybe Notre Dame, except Saunders set school records in that one. But this is an opportunity to hammer the tight end position, which was a lowlight all season and the impetus for OU going to the four-wide set. Tight ends collectively have caught three passes all season. It’s no wonder that, even with a tight end tradition that includes Keith Jackson and Jermaine Gresham, top high school tight end target Beau Sandland cut the Sooners from his list of finalists.

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OU position grades: Running backs 

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
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In the weeks leading up to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the quarterback position:

GradeHighlights: Junior-college transfer Damien Williams shredded Texas in the Cotton Bowl, rushing for a season-high 167 yards on 22 carries. Williams’ 95-yard touchdown early in the game not only put the Horns away, but was the longest OU TD run in Red River Rivalry history. Brennan Clay added 59 yards, Dominique Whaley chipped in with 51, and Trey Millard rumbled for 45 yards on three carries. The Texas front lines were powerless to stop them.

Lowlights: An ineffective running game doomed the Sooners in the home loss to Kansas State early in the season. Williams and Whaley combined for just 85 yards on the ground, as the OU offense sputtered. The K-State defeat was the impetus that had the Sooners move Williams into the starting lineup and the ailing Whaley to the sideline.

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OU position grades: Quarterbacks 

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
10:30
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In the weeks leading up to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the quarterback position:

GradeHighlights: In hard-fought wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State, Landry Jones was never better. He threw for 500 yards in both games, and led the Sooners on come-from-behind, fourth-quarter touchdown drives. The TD pass in the final seconds to Kenny Stills -- in which Jones called an audible from a fade to a slant -- proved to be the game-winner over the Mountaineers. The following week, Jones quarterbacked the Sooners to another fourth-quarter touchdown drive to send Bedlam to overtime, and OU prevailed. Belldozer QB Blake Bell also had a hand in the comeback, powering through the OSU defensive front for the tying TD on fourth down with just a couple of seconds remaining.

Lowlights: Some OU fans were calling for Jones to be benched after the Kansas State loss. Jones’ two turnovers were turned into Kansas State points, including a fumble recovered in the end zone for a K-State TD. Bell also struggled, fumbling away a golden scoring opportunity inside the Wildcats’ 5-yard line.

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