Oklahoma Sooners: K.J. Morton

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 15

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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Taking stock of Week 15 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Baylor was unranked to begin the season and picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. Instead, with a convincing 30-10 victory over Texas, the Bears won 11 games for the first time in school history to capture the program’s first outright conference title in 33 years. Baylor will cap its magical season against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State had a chance at a second Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth in three years. And all the Cowboys had to do was beat Oklahoma in Stillwater as 10-point favorites. Instead, despite shuffling through three quarterbacks and not scoring an offensive touchdown until 19 seconds left in the game, the Sooners knocked off their instate rival yet again. The Cowboys have lost 10 of 11 to Oklahoma, but given the circumstance and the ending, this one hurt worst of all.

[+] EnlargeJalen Saunders
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesJalen Saunders had another memorable day against Oklahoma State.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Jalen Saunders is to the Cowboys what kryptonite is to Kryptonians. A year after sparking Oklahoma’s Bedlam fourth-quarter comeback with a punt return touchdown, Saunders gashed Oklahoma State again, having a hand in Oklahoma’s first three touchdowns. He returned another punt for a score in the first quarter. He took a double reverse 37 yards to set up the fake field goal touchdown. Then, with 19 seconds remaining, he hauled in the game-winning touchdown from Blake Bell in the corner of the end zone from 7 yards out. Saunders will finish his two-year career in Norman with four Bedlam touchdowns.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Cornerback K.J. Morton returned from an abdominal strain to deliver the exclamation point to Baylor’s season. Morton picked off Texas quarterback Case McCoy twice, returning the second 57 yards in the fourth quarter for an apparent touchdown. The score was nullified on his celebration penalty. But by then, the party had already begun in Waco.

Special teams players of the week: The field goal tandem of Grant Bothun and Michael Hunnicutt converted Bob Stoops’ first successful fake field goal attempt in 11 years. After their drive stalled at the Oklahoma State 8-yard line, the Sooners lined up for a field goal. Instead, Bothun, the holder, took off running with the ball left and threw the ball to Hunnicutt, the kicker. Hunnicutt backed into the end zone before getting belted by two Cowboys, tying the score 17-17.

Play of the week: Cornerback Justin Gilbert appeared to have ended Bedlam with an Oklahoma State victory, as he came down with an apparent interception on a jump ball to Lacoltan Bester. But instead of landing on the turf, Gilbert landed on Bester, who tapped the ball out of Gilbert’s hands at the last moment. Officials ruled it an incompletion, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy inexplicably didn’t challenge the call. Five plays later, Bell hit Saunders for the game-winning score.

Stat of the week: As Oklahoma State’s head coach, Gundy’s record against Oklahoma is 1-8. Gundy’s record against the rest of the Big 12: 44-22

Quote of the week: “A defining moment for our program and one I think we'll be able to repeat many times." -- Baylor coach Art Briles, after the school’s first Big 12 championship

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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Recognizing the best of the best from the Big 12 in Week 15:

CB K.J. Morton, Baylor: After sitting out last week’s game against TCU with an abdominal strain, Morton came back big against Texas. He picked off Case McCoy twice, returning one for a touchdown that ended up being called back on a penalty. That fourth-quarter INT, on an errant screen pass, ended up finishing off Texas and securing the Bears’ Big 12 championship and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl bid. Morton also had two pass breakups and three tackles on the day.

K Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma: Hunnicutt was 2-for-2 on field goals and hit all three of his extra-point attempts. But his performance in this Bedlam game won’t be remembered for those makes. It’ll be for the 8-yard touchdown pass he caught from Grant Bothun on a third-quarter trick play that tied the game at 17-17 and helped swing momentum considerably.

QB Blake Bell, Oklahoma: What a comeback and a moment for Bell, whose junior season had highs and lows, but it closes with a remarkable high. With Trevor Knight knocked out of the game, Bell came off the bench as the third-string option and threw for 140 yards on 10-of-16 passing, capped by the 7-yard game-winning touchdown to Jalen Saunders. He ran a near-perfect two-minute drive to knock off a hated rival and perhaps send the Sooners to a BCS bowl. Doesn’t get much better than that.

RB Glasco Martin, Baylor: Bears WR Antwan Goodley put up big numbers too, as usual, but Martin’s contribution was critical in the second half. A Baylor run game that was limited to 62 yards on 19 rushes in the first half finally got rolling late, thanks to the bruising senior. Martin gained 102 yards on 22 carries and sealed the victory with an 18-yard touchdown.

K Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State: I know, I know, how can two kickers earn Helmet Stickers? What about Goodley, Desmond Roland, Jalen Saunders, Eddie Lackey or lots of other deserving candidates? Well let’s talk about Grogan, who achieved as ridiculous a feat on Saturday as we saw in the Big 12 this season: He nailed a 41-yard field goal in the middle of an earthquake. A 4.5-magnitude earthquake, in fact. Even with the loss, it’s an accomplishment he’ll get to talk about it for the rest of his life. And he’ll always have the shaky camera footage to prove it.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
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Here are the Big 12’s unsung heroes for Week 11:

[+] EnlargeK.J. Morton, Jordan Najvar
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsK.J. Morton and Baylor's defense made it a difficult night for Oklahoma's offense last Thursday.
Baylor cornerback K.J. Morton: The senior was active and physical in Baylor’s 41-12 win over Oklahoma last Thursday. Morton’s hit on Sooners receiver Sterling Shepard set an aggressive tone for the Bears’ defense early. He finished with seven tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and was one of the reasons the Bears' defense has surpassed expectations this season.

Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs: The junior was the Cyclones' leading receiver with seven catches for 63 yards in ISU’s 21-17 loss to TCU. Bibbs provides a solid athletic target, particularly on third downs. He had three receptions for 28 yards (two first downs) on third down against the Horned Frogs.

Kansas linebacker Darius Willis: The senior was productive in spot duty for the Jayhawks in their 42-6 loss to Oklahoma State. He had a season-high six tackles, including four solo stops, and looked like one of the few KU players who was engaged and excited to compete against the Cowboys.

Kansas State cornerback Randall Evans: Playing alongside Ryan Mueller, who had three sacks, and Ty Zimmerman, who returned an interception for a touchdown, it was easy to overlook Evans’ performance. He had 10 tackles, one pass breakup and one interception in KSU’s 49-26 win over Texas Tech.

Oklahoma linebacker Dominique Alexander: Corey Nelson’s replacement has been growing into his role during his first four games as a starter. Even though he still shows his inexperience at times, he flashes the upside that had OU’s coaches raving about his ability earlier this season. He finished with 11 tackles, including eight solo stops, one sack and one forced fumble in OU’s 41-12 loss to Baylor.

Oklahoma State receiver David Glidden: The sophomore was terrific after standout receiver Josh Stewart left with an injury. Glidden finished with six receptions for 73 yards in OSU’s 42-6 win over Kansas. He entered the game with eight career receptions but filled in admirably against the Jayhawks. Three of his six receptions came on third down.

Texas defensive tackle Desmond Jackson: The junior stepped right in for the injured Chris Whaley with little drop off in the Longhorns’ 47-40 overtime win over West Virginia. He had eight tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, with two sacks and one forced fumble. It’s rare to lose a player like Whaley without taking a step backward, but Jackson seamlessly filled in to help UT remain undefeated in the Big 12.

Texas Tech running back Kenny Williams: The junior is a solid threat as a running back in the Red Raiders’ offense. Kansas State took control of the game and limited Williams’ opportunities, but he finished with 15 carries for 66 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per play. He hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game this season, but he is a quality running and receiving threat in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s attack.

TCU linebacker Paul Dawson: The junior quietly has been playing as well as any linebacker in the Big 12 during the past month. He’s recorded double-digit tackles in four of his past five games, including the past three. Dawson had 14 tackles, including eight solo stops and two tackles for loss, in TCU’s 21-17 win over Iowa State.

West Virginia receiver Mario Alford: The junior had arguably the most explosive game by a Mountaineers’ receiver this season. He finished with 205 all-purpose yards, including 97 receiving yards, 88 kick-return yards and 20 rushing yards. His 72-yard touchdown catch and run in the fourth quarter looked like last season's WVU offense.

Baylor defense makes statement against OU

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
2:25
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WACO, Texas -- The Phil Bennett who held court with reporters late Thursday night was telling stories and laughing and glad-handing anyone who approached.

He looked like a proud papa, and not just because of his bright yellow V-neck sweater.

"I told the kids today: This is a validating game," Bennett said. "Validation of who we are and who we want to be."

The only thing that shocked the veteran defensive coordinator about his Baylor defense on Thursday night, in a 41-12 victory over No. 10 Oklahoma, might've been the ice-cold bath safety Ahmad Dixon and his teammates dumped on Bennett's head in the game's final minute.

He reacted with stunned, wide-eyed silence as Dixon and the rest of the Bears defenders jumped and screamed. But Bennett at least can appreciate their affection.

"After the way I work 'em, it's amazing they even speak to me," he joked later.

But he has people talking about his defense. The Bears aced their first serious test of this 8-0 season.

The game could've swung in the opposite direction quickly on this night. Baylor's offense got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, and its defense was put in some tough spots early.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Baylor defense hounded Oklahoma's Blake Bell into 15-for-35 passing with two interceptions.
The Sooners had four chances to score from 7 yards out after three Baylor personal-foul penalties. Blake Bell was stuffed on fourth and goal at the 1.

They got another opportunity for six points minutes later, with first and 10 at the 12, and settled for a field goal.

And on their next possession, the Sooners got three plays from the Baylor 31. Three incompletions and another field-goal attempt, this one missed.

When this Baylor team gives an opponent those kinds of chances, especially at home, touchdowns are a must. Oklahoma could've gone up 17-3 midway through the second quarter, putting real pressure on a team that doesn't have much experience playing from behind.

"You're not going to come here, get one touchdown and think you're going to win," OU coach Bob Stoops said.

Those goal-line stops proved to be the game-changer. Baylor put up 21 points in the second quarter and was never tested the rest of the way.

"I feel like that really set the tone," Baylor cornerback K.J. Morton said. "I feel like we had our back against the wall. We went out there on third down and were like, 'Come on. Everybody come together and do their job.'

"We practice really hard on the goal line, so everything we saw we'd worked on in practice. We already knew what they were going to do before they did it."

That's the kind of confidence Bennett has instilled in this defense. The starters have given up only nine touchdowns in eight games. They stopped the Sooners run game from the start, allowing 87 yards on 34 rushes. Oklahoma went 4-for-17 on third downs.

And this was not another cupcake opponent for Baylor. It wasn't a top-50 offense entering the night, but it was one that had nearly two weeks to prepare an attack that would expose this much-improved unit. Didn't happen.

"I think we just showed we can play defense and compete with any team in this conference and the nation," BU defensive end Chris McAllister said.

Bennett believes his defense really bought into that belief after a 35-25 win at Kansas State, perhaps the unit's worst defensive showing of the season. A new standard was set for what his players were willing to accept.

"We're taking it one game at a time," Bennett said. "If you do that, every game gets better and bigger. I do believe we can play with anybody in the country. Time will tell."

This is his third year in Waco. The first two, he said, required some of the best coaching he's ever done in a career that began in 1979. And that was just to build a foundation, to build trust and experience and develop leaders.

Now eight of his starters are juniors or seniors, and the depth behind them has never been better. Now Baylor is really playing some defense.

"We're not a tradition," Bennett said, "but we're going to be here awhile, the way this thing is going."

They had the attention of the nation on Thursday night, of folks skeptical that their improvements would hold up against a top-10 team.

"Keep doubting us," Dixon said. "We'll earn your respect sooner or later."

They might not convince everyone else until later, but on Thursday they at least got the Sooners.
Not everybody gets their just deserts in college football, but it's time to do my part to change that. Sometimes, it's the team they play for. Sometimes, it's an underappreciated position. Other times, it's a combination of several things. Either way, here are the Big 12's most underrated players heading into 2012.

Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese is undersized at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, sure. Who cares? He's productive, and should only be more so without Kendall Wright in Waco this season. Reese will likely be the second option behind Terrance Williams, but the speedster at inside receiver managed to rack up 877 receiving yards, eighth-most in school history, as the third option for RG3 last season.

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireKeep an eye out for Sooners fullback Trey Millard this season.
Toben Opurum, DE/LB, Kansas: Opurum used to be a running back, but he's learned his new position well, playing the "Buck" spot last year for the Jayhawks. Opurum's a high-motor type of player, and ranked 10th in the Big 12 last season with 10.5 tackles for loss and made four sacks.

Trey Millard, FB/TE, Oklahoma: Millard is a jack of all trades for the Sooners, and played three positions last year. He's invaluable for the Sooners, and may be even more so this season. Look for him to grab some touches at tailback this season, probably in short yardage situations that require a power back.

Alex Elkins, LB, Oklahoma State: Elkins was second on the team with 90 stops, including five tackles for loss. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is a solid tackler, but too often, the former walk-on who didn't play football until junior college gets written off as one of the league's top linebackers.

James White, RB, Iowa State: White looked like a non-factor last season, but after Shontrelle Johnson went down with a neck injury, White ascended to starter status. He finished with 743 yards and eight scores, including the game-winner against Iowa in triple overtime.

Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech: Doege's offense put up big numbers last year, but he didn't have much of a chance to win big last season. Doege's name never comes up among the league's best passers, but despite having no running game and tons of injuries on the offensive line, Doege topped 4,000 yards and threw for 28 touchdowns with just 10 picks. If Tech starts winning (which wasn't much of Doege's fault in 2011), his name might come up in the debate for the Big 12's best passer.

Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas: Shipley's instincts and great hands are two things you simply can't coach. Now, he'll only get better as a sophomore, and his numbers will balloon if his quarterback improves and Shipley can stay healthy. Even with the revolving door at QB last year and an injury that caused him to miss three games, he finished with 607 yards and three scores on 44 catches.

K.J. Morton, CB, Baylor: Baylor's defense caught big criticism last year, but Morton was a big bright spot late in the season. The Bears were +10 in turnover margin over the last six games, and Morton was a big reason why. All four of his interceptions came in the final three games of the regular season. Now, he's got to improve his coverage skills.

John Hubert, RB, Kansas State: You know about Collin Klein, but it seems like nobody's paying attention to Hubert, who just so happens to be the Big 12's No. 3 returning rusher with 970 yards on just 200 carries.

Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech: Texas Tech's 2011 season was rough, but Ward emerged as the most consistent target for a receiving corps racked by injuries. It wasn't fun last year, but now, the Red Raiders have some serious depth, and Ward gets no attention, despite catching 84 balls for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns.
November 10, 2012: Baylor
2011 record: 10-3 | 2011 conference record: 6-3 (Big 12)
OU’s all-time against Baylor: 20-1

Top returners: WR Terrance Williams, WR Tevin Reese, TE Jordan Najvar, OT Cyril Richardson, CB K.J. Morton, S Ahmad Dixon

Key losses: QB Robert Griffin III, RB Terrance Ganaway, WR Kendall Wright, C Phillip Blake, OG Robert T. Griffin, DT Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DT Tracy Robertson, LB Elliot Coffey

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Terrance Ganaway (1,347 yards)
Passing: Robert Griffin III (3,998 yards)
Receiving: Kendall Wright (1,572 yards)
Tackles: Elliot Coffey (114)
Sacks: Tracy Robertson (4.5)
Interceptions: K.J. Morton* (4)

What they’re saying: “It's been a phenomenal year for Baylor athletics. In general, I think our national brand is probably as good as it's ever been on a national level. I'm just thankful and happy to be a part of it. What we have to do now is maintain it, and that's where my inspiration, passion, and drive certainly is going to come from.” -- head coach Art Briles

Three things to watch:

1. It’s pretty much impossible to replace the best player in college football. After all, QB Robert Griffin III had the best football season in Baylor history. But the Bears must turn the page with Griffin in the NFL. The good news is that they have a veteran in senior Nick Florence. Briles praised Florence’s maturity at Big 12 media days. He doesn’t need to be RG3. But for Baylor to come close to the year it had last season, Florence will have to be good.

2. The Bears quietly picked up a transfer from running back Lache Seastrunk. The former No. 1 RB in Texas transferred to Baylor from Oregon last year, and now is eligible. The Bears have other backs, but Seastrunk could be a difference-maker who eases the sting of losing Griffin.

3. The Bears beat OU for the first time in 21 tries. How will Baylor handle that going to Norman? More importantly, how will OU handle it? The Sooners have been good in revenge games under Bob Stoops. Baylor better bring its best game.

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