Oklahoma Sooners: Trey Millard

Oklahoma fans yearn for the time when Jermaine Gresham was catching long touchdown passes to help knock off Oklahoma State and Texas. Or even James Hanna keeping defenses honest with his forays down the hash mark.

It has been two years since a tight end caught more than three passes in a season at OU, although Trey Millard filled a tight end/fullback role in 2012 and 2013, catching 30 passes in 2012 and 11 passes in 2013.

When you're young you want to blame it on other things. As I've matured I've realized, anywhere you go, they want to play the best players, get the best 11 on the field. And I think I can be one of those [eleven] here.

-- Oklahoma TE Taylor McNamara
The Sooners are hopeful a strong receiving threat emerges this season with Blake Bell, Taylor McNamara, Connor Knight and Isaac Ijalana competing for time at tight end. OU has used players in the role of tight ends, with Millard and Aaron Ripkowski filling the void, during the past two seasons. But a passing threat like Gresham has escaped its grasp.

“There’s just not a lot of Jermaine Greshams running around,” coach Bob Stoops said. “You have to have the right people and they have to be experienced, so when they go on the field they have to be better than another personnel grouping you might have out there.”

The Sooners’ depth at receiver made wideout-heavy personnel groupings in passing situations the right move during the past two seasons with OU preferring to have Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard working the middle of the field instead of a bigger threat.

As OU builds the offense around Trevor Knight, the desire for a versatile threat at tight end increases thanks to Knight’s run-pass skills.

“It makes it more versatile as an offense,” McNamara said of the use of versatile tight ends. “If you have them in there and don’t know what personnel to put out there, you can run it and throw it so it’s a benefit, for sure.”

And McNamara is hoping to be that guy.

The junior’s development has been overshadowed by Bell’s move to tight end and Ijalana’s recent arrival from the junior college ranks but the California native stepped on campus with plenty of accolades of his own. A four-star signee and Army All-American, a lot was expected from McNamara but he will enter his redshirt sophomore season without much fanfare. Yet, after briefly wondering if OU was the right place for him, McNamara decided he was willing to shoulder the blame for his lack of an impact during his first two years in Norman, Okla.

“When you’re young you want to blame it on other things,” he said. “As I’ve matured I’ve realized, anywhere you go, they want to play the best players, get the best 11 on the field. And I think I can be one of those [11] here.”

His progress as a redshirt freshman brings hope that he can fulfill the promise he brought with him as an early enrollee in the spring of 2012. After a strong showing in bowl preparations, McNamara’s lone catch in crimson and cream is a four-yard reception in the Sooners’ Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

“The whole year I was working to get better,” he said. “Eventually I got good enough to help the team and get to play a little bit. Getting to play at all was a blessing, it’s a lot more fun when you’re involved.”

This spring is a critical time for McNamara, who at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds brings good size and could become the receiving threat the Sooners have been searching for in recent years.

“I’m here to play,” McNamara said. “I don’t want to sit my whole career here. I want to make an impact.”
Big 12 teams rejoice.

For the first time in four years, Oklahoma faces the proposition of a season without Trey Millard as a critical piece of its offense and special teams.

[+] EnlargeDimitri Flowers
Tom Hauck for Student SportsWhile only a 3-star recruit, Dimitri Flowers' versatility stood out to scouts.
The former Sooner earned a reputation as one of the conference’s most physical and versatile players as a four-year starter and could easily be considered the hardest player to replace in the Big 12. Millard ran like a running back, blocked like an offensive lineman and covered kicks like a linebacker. Locating guys like Millard is nearly an impossible task.

The Sooners hope they found a similar hidden gem in early enrollee Dimitri Flowers. He starred all over the field at San Antonio Churchill, making plays as a running back, tight end and defensive end. Flowers, at 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, has been earmarked for a Millard-type role as a hybrid tight end and running back and is already impressing coaches and teammates with his versatility.

“He’s one of the most skilled, well-rounded guys that I’ve seen come into our program,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “His ability to play in line and in space as an H-back, motion guy, [and] he does a great job of catching the football and he’s extremely bright for a young kid coming into your program.”

Flowers was called “as versatile as any player in high school” by ESPN.com recruiting experts, who rated him as a three-star athlete with “above average” size, speed and strength.

It would be asking a lot for Flowers to step right into the Sooners plan and have a similar impact as Millard, who essentially forced the coaching staff to find an immediate role for him as a true freshman. Fortunately for OU, it doesn’t need him to make an similar impact with former walk-on Aaron Ripkowski already proving he can be a core contributor as a fullback/tight end after Millard missed the end of the 2013 season with a knee injury.

Nonetheless, Flowers still could provide superb depth and play a special teams role this fall, particularly if he makes a smooth transition to college football and can handle the little details that can be the difference between seeing the field or watching from the sideline.

“He came in [as] a really good [player],” sophomore running back Keith Ford said. “He’s adjusted to the speed and the things I’ve seen with the catching the ball and pass blocking, he’s picking it up fast.”

OU used Millard and Ripkowski together at various times in 2012 and 2013 so it’s not out of the question for Flowers to have a role in the Sooners’ offensive plans with a strong showing this spring.

“He’s a really versatile player, very young, but a lot of great qualities,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “A lot of our best players can do a lot of things and he’s showing a lot of versatility on the field. He’s green as grass, he doesn’t know much but he’s a good athlete and he can play for us so we’re excited to have him.”
Twenty-five Big 12 players have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 19-24. The NFL released the invite list Thursday afternoon. The Big 12 players are below:

Quarterbacks
  • None
Running backs
Fullbacks
Tight ends
Wide receivers
Offensive linemen
Defensive linemen
Linebackers
Defensive backs
Long snapper
Kicker
Punter
  • None
Notable omissions:

Grading Oklahoma's class: 2010

February, 4, 2014
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Oklahoma is poised to add several recruits into the fold on Wednesday, with its eye on creating the foundation of a future championship squad. Yet, recruiting is an inexact science, as some projected stars rise to meet those high expectations while others struggle to make a difference in the Big 12. Thus, it’s the perfect time to look back at OU’s past five recruiting classes. On Tuesday, we continue the series with a review of the Class of 2010, including recruits who exceeded expectations, those who were solid signees and complete busts.

This class featured seven players in the ESPN 150 and a ton of star power led by the “Cali Trio” of Kenny Stills, Brennan Clay and Tony Jefferson. The class was ranked No. 5 nationally by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTrey Millard earned first-team All-Big 12 honors during his final three seasons in Norman.
Fullback Trey Millard: The No. 59-ranked athlete in this class, Millard was exceptional during his four seasons in Norman. He was a mainstay on special teams, a devastating blocker from his fullback spot and a nightmare with the ball in his hands. He exceeded expectations and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors during his final three seasons.

Cornerback Aaron Colvin: An afterthought on signing day, but he was arguably the best player in this class. He started his first-ever Red River Rivalry as a freshman and started three straight seasons at two different positions, earning All-Big 12 honors twice. The nation’s No. 40 safety prospect coming out of Owasso, Okla., Colvin finished with 234 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five interceptions in 50 career games (36 starts).

Tackle Daryl Williams: The No. 53 tackle in the nation, Williams has performed like a highly-regarded offensive line prospect. He started his first college game as a redshirt freshman before injury derailed his first season. Nonetheless, Williams became a anchor on OU’s offensive line during his sophomore and junior seasons and enters his final season as one of the Big 12’s best offensive linemen.

Safety Tony Jefferson: The No. 21-ranked player in the ESPN 150, Jefferson stepped on campus with high expectations. He didn’t disappoint, earning Big 12 freshman-of-the-year honors in 2010 and All-Big 12 honors in 2012 before leaving early for the NFL. Jefferson finished with 258 tackles, eight interceptions and seven sacks in 40 career games (34 starts). He’s currently a safety for the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted last spring.

Receiver Kenny Stills: The No. 36-ranked receiver prospect, Stills started every game he played in crimson and cream. His speed and football IQ separated him from the competition, as he finished with 204 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns in 38 career games (38 starts) before leaving early for the NFL. He’s currently one of Drew Brees’ main targets with the New Orleans Saints.

Bull's-eye

Running back Brennan Clay: Ranked No. 129 in the ESPN 150, Clay overcame injuries to become a key performer. He never emerged as a star, but he was the type of consistent, productive player who helps teams win games. He had 1,913 yards and 13 touchdowns in 46 career games (18 starts).

Linebacker Corey Nelson: The No. 62 player in the ESPN 150, Nelson had a solid career. A three-year starter, he had 153 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss in 45 career games (27 starts).

Completely missed the mark

Receiver Justin McCay: McCay never made an impact with the Sooners, transferring after his redshirt freshman season. The No. 142 player in the ESPN 150, McCay transferred to Kansas and currently plays for the Jayhawks.

Receiver Sheldon McClain: Much like McCay, McClain had a higher ranking than Stills as the No. 22-ranked receiver nationally but never made an impact before transferring.

Overall grade

A-minus. Even though this recruiting class featured multiple disappointments, it was littered with stars and contributors. Tyrus Thompson, Julian Wilson, Roy Finch, Blake Bell and Chuka Ndulue are just a few of the other Sooners in the Class of 2010 who became starters or major contributors alongside Colvin, Millard and the rest of the playmakers signed in February 2010.
Our series on the 25 best players in the Big 12 comes to an end today when we reveal the conference's three best players.

We hope this list hasn't been too terribly controversial, but yes, there have certainly been some quality players who did not make the cut. Several can make a solid case for why they should've made our Top 25, including Texas defensive end Cedric Reed, Texas Tech defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney and Kansas State running back John Hubert.

We did not forget about you, guys. We tip our caps to your strong showings in 2013.

And let's not forget the many Big 12 players who would've been among the conference's 25 best had they stayed healthy. Here's a closer look at five big-time players who missed out due to injuries.

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU: The No. 3 player in the blog's preseason Top 25 did not have a sophomore season to remember. TCU shut him down for the season on Oct. 9 due to a foot injury that required surgery. He ended up appearing in just three games due to suspension and injury. The Horned Frogs were wise to end his season early and seek a medical redshirt, and let's hope Fields is back to his dominant self when he returns in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray was well on his way to an all-Big 12-caliber season before succumbing to injury in early November.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: A torn right Achilles suffered in a road win at West Virginia ended a sophomore season that could've ended with Gray earning All-Big 12 honors. He emerged as the workhorse of Texas' offense after David Ash was lost for the season and, at 780 yards and four touchdowns, was one pace to become the Longhorns' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007. If he can get healthy in time for the start of the 2014 season, he'll be on the league's best rushers again.

Trey Millard, FB/RB/TE, Oklahoma: Millard, who ranked No. 11 in our preseason Top 25, brought so many things to the Sooners' offense both in production and intangibles. He was pretty much guaranteed a spot in our postseason list until Oct. 26, when a torn ACL suffered against Texas Tech ended his season and his OU career five games too early. It's a shame we only got to see him touch the ball 28 times is his final season, but Millard and his many niche contributions won't soon be forgotten by Sooners fans.

Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma: Sure, you can argue that OU linebacker Corey Nelson deserves this spot as the Sooners' captain and possible defensive MVP prior to his injury. But losing Phillips to a season-ending back injury in the middle of October was just as damaging, not only to the middle of the Sooners line but also because he seemed on pace to developing into an All-Big 12 caliber talent. He played in four games, missed two, and then was done. Let's hope he can get healthy and back in track as a junior.

Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese came very close to making our Top 25 despite missing five games this season with a broken wrist. He was one of several Baylor players who went down during the stretch run, and arguably the most critical one. He finished the year with 867 receiving yards and eight touchdowns and only needed 38 receptions to get there. His 22.8 yards per catch average ranked No. 2 nationally, and three of his scores came from 60-plus yards.
In the next few weeks leading into signing day it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting heats up during these final weeks before signing day on Feb. 5. On Thursday, we take a closer look at the tight end/fullback position, a spot that has essentially become interchangeable thanks to the talents of departing senior Trey Millard.

[+] EnlargeRipkowski
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe Sooners return Aaron Ripkowski, and not much else, at fullback/tight end.
Starter/contributors: FB Aaron Ripkowski (Jr.)

Ripkowski was a critical replacement when Millard was sidelined midway through the season. The former walk-on has been an impact player since his freshman season and should continue to play a major role in OU’s offense while lining up all over the field.

On the cusp: TE Taylor McNamara (So.)

McNamara actually saw the field during OU’s 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory and (gasp!) caught a pass. OU’s tight ends finished the season with three receptions for 33 yards, including McNamara’s 4-yard reception against Alabama. But, McNamara’s Sugar Bowl performance aside, don’t expect OU’s tight ends to become a big part of the offense until it actually happens. The coaching staff has been talking about it for years.

Sophomore tight end Sam Grant is another option at the position but didn't become a key contributor during his redshirt freshman year.

On the recruiting trail: ATH Dimitri Flowers (San Antonio/Churchill), TE Carson Meier (Tulsa, Okla./Union), TE Isaac Ijalana (Mount Holly, N.J./Pierce College)

Ijalana is a junior college signee who is a solid prospect at the tight end position. He should give the Sooners an immediate option as they try to replace Millard and Brannon Green.

Millard’s excellence and versatility sent the Sooners on a search for a player who could aim to mimic his ability. Flowers is the result of that search and OU hopes Flowers can develop into a player who can line up at fullback and tight end with equal effectiveness. The question is how soon can he start to slide into a similar role.

Meier, the No. 277 player in the ESPN 300, is a prototypical tight end. He brings good size, good ball skills and the ability to block effectively. He’s the exact type of well-rounded tight end prospect the Sooners will need to have if they hope to make the tight end position a productive part of their offense.

Overall Grade: D

Ripkowski kept this grade from being an F. He’s physical, experienced and talented, so the Sooners would really be up a creek without him returning. OU has minimal experience and no proven playmakers after Ripkowski. Neither McNamara nor Grant have never made a significant impact and the rest are newcomers. But if Flowers, a unique prospect, can develop into a Millard clone, it might not matter what else happens with the rest of the group. One of those prospects emerging as one of OU’s top 11 offensive players and forcing their way on to the field next season is the best case scenario for the Sooners.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Three thoughts

January, 3, 2014
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Oklahoma pulled off one of the great upsets of this bowl season Thursday with a 45-31 victory over heavily favored and No. 3 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Three things we learned about the No. 11 Sooners following their biggest win in a long time.

1. Knight’s big moment: Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight got the start, his fifth this season, and absolutely shined. Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns to guide an Oklahoma offense that put up 45 points on one of the nation’s toughest defenses. The knock on Knight in his inconsistent debut season was his accuracy, but you wouldn’t have known that on Thursday. He hit on a career-best 32 of his 44 attempts and was as sharp as he was aggressive. Too often we can make too much of a bowl-game performance and what it means, but this was a legitimate breakthrough. The Sooners, it seems, have finally found their triggerman.

2. Big 12 tempo pays off: In the battle of Big 12 vs. SEC, who would’ve figured Alabama would have a hard time keeping up with a Sooner offense that went surprisingly high tempo? We saw the effects Auburn’s quick attack had on confusing Tide defenders, and Bob Stoops and Josh Heupel deserve plenty of praise for turning up their speed in bowl practices and unleashing a much faster offense, one that gave the Tide fits and got plenty of big plays. Remember, one year ago Oklahoma was the one that couldn’t keep up with Johnny Manziel and the frenetic Texas A&M offense. This time, the Sooners dropped 31 in the first half and Bama couldn’t stop them.

3. What can Oklahoma do in 2014? On paper, the Big 12 looks about as wide open in 2014 as it was going into this season, when four teams all could’ve made legitimate claims they were the league’s best. The Sooners made their case in New Orleans. While they’ll lose several key cogs to graduation -- including Gabe Ikard, Aaron Colvin, Jalen Saunders, Brennan Clay, Trey Millard and Corey Nelson -- this defense could be loaded next fall and Knight will break in some exciting new weapons at the skill spots. Calling them the league’s runaway favorite for 2014 might be premature, but Oklahoma will definitely be in the title hunt again.
Somewhere between the incomplete passes, ineffective quarterback runs and incomprehensible play calling, one fact became rather obvious early Thursday night:

This Oklahoma offense just isn’t very good.

Facing off against the nation’s top-scoring offense, the Oklahoma defense gave the Sooners a chance in Waco.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezBob Stoops was at a loss to explain the Sooners' offense performance: "Obviously [the offensive game plan] wasn't executed very well."
The Oklahoma offense, however, gave the Sooners no chance.

Instead, the Baylor defense dominated, offering its offense time to find its footing. By that point, the game was over. In the end, the sixth-ranked Bears handed the Sooners the fourth-worst loss of the Bob Stoops era, destroying No. 10 Oklahoma 41-12.

“You’re not going to come here, get one touchdown and think you’re going to win,” Stoops said. “We didn’t execute near well enough to give ourselves a chance.”

Despite failing to generate a single first down the entire first quarter without assistance of a penalty, Oklahoma somehow led 5-3.

With Baylor’s high-powered offense still trying to overcome some big-game nerves, the Sooners had an opportunity to put the Bears in a hole going into halftime.

Oklahoma had racked up 277 yards on the ground its last game against Texas Tech. But without fullback Trey Millard, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel seemed hesitant to lean on the power running game that had become the offense’s calling card.

With the ball at the Bears 31 after a Baylor personal foul, Heupel instead called another three pass plays. And all three of Blake Bell’s attempts fell incomplete. Michael Hunnicutt missed a 48-yard field goal, and Baylor was in the end zone the other way five plays later.

Before long, an Oklahoma defense that had been on the field seemingly the entire half finally capitulated. And the rout was on.

“You’re not going to go out there and keep putting your defense out again and again against Baylor and keep giving them opportunities and not have it affect you,” Stoops said. “[The offense] chipped away at our team’s performance. In the end, you have to stay on the field. I don’t know how many three-and-outs we had, but we had way too many.”

The Sooners finished with six three-and-outs. But of their other eight possessions, only two lasted more than seven plays.

Stoops said he was confident in the offensive game plan going in. But it’s difficult to see how. From the very beginning, the Sooners looked completely bemused about what they wanted to do.

On the second drive, they curiously put in backup quarterback Trevor Knight for two runs.

Then on third-and-1, even more curiously they brought Bell back in for a quarterback keeper off-tackle that fooled no one.

But most curiously, not until its third possession did Oklahoma even bother handing the ball off to a running back.

Stoops noted afterward the original goal was to keep the Baylor offense off the field. But in the first half, the Sooners attempted 16 passes, while handing the ball off to their running backs just seven times.

A depleted Oklahoma defense could not have played any better the first quarter-and-a-half. But without any complement from the other side of the ball, the defense was doomed.

“Obviously [the offensive game plan] wasn’t executed very well,” was all Stoops could say about it.

Bell completed just 15 of 35 passes for 150 yards and two interceptions. His raw QBR for the night was 5.9, on a scale of 0-to-100. (Scary side stat: Bell now has two of the four worst QBR game performances in the Big 12 this year.) Without any commitment to getting the running backs involved, the Sooners averaged just 2.6 yards on the ground. As a result, Oklahoma went just 4-of-17 on third down attempts, and was stuffed twice on fourth down. In all, the Sooners gained just 237 yards, the worst output from an OU offense since 2007 at Colorado.

Both Stoops and Heupel were vague about whether Bell would be the starting quarterback going forward. And Stoops was even vaguer about whether Heupel would remain the primary play-caller.

“We’re going to assess Sunday when we get back from recruiting,” he said, “and we’ll see what we do from there.”

But without serious changes to the offense, the Sooners could be in for one crash-and-burn November.

Oklahoma still must go to Kansas State in two weeks. The Sooners also travel to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale. And while Oklahoma has lost its offensive stride, the Wildcats and Cowboys are hitting theirs.

No doubt Millard’s absence hurt. By refusing to address questions about it, Stoops indicated as much.

But it’s hard to believe a fullback averaging less than four touches a game is the singular difference between an offense being good and bad.

Going forward, the Sooners could be without Sterling Shepard, too. Oklahoma's second-leading receiver was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an apparent head injury and didn’t return. Shepard has a history with concussions going back to high school.

“It's not good,” Stoops said. “We'll find out. All the guys that went off the field were hurt. We'll see how that ends up.”

The Sooners left Waco hurting and firmly out of the Big 12 title. Thanks to their offense, they never had a chance.

Big 12 predictions: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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Welp, it finally happened. I finally lost to a guest picker. And to a 14-year-old, no less. Thanks, Caymen. I thought you weren’t going to embarrass me?

Anyway, this reporter’s pride is on the line again. This week’s guest picker submission:

My name is Claire Stallings and I would love to one day be a guest picker for you. It’s about time a lady shows these men how to pick a perfect week! I love the Big 12 and of course Baylor. I worked for the team all through college and I am that girl who knows more about Baylor football than most of the men on campus. I think it would be interesting to throw a girl into the “man’s world.” Don’t worry, I can hold my own. #GirlPower

The last time a girl challenged me to something, I was destroyed by my wife in a 5K. So this is my shot at redemption. #BringTheNoiseClaire.

Tonight, Max and national writer Mark Schlabach will be in Waco for Oklahoma-Baylor. Saturday, Brandon will drive to Stillwater to check out Kansas-Oklahoma State. Due to my horrific picking, I've been benched for the weekend.

To the Week 11 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 2-2 (.500)

Guest picker (14-year-old Caymen) last week: 3-1 (.750)

Trotter overall: 43-14 (.754)

Guest picker overall: 29-11 (.725)

THURSDAY

Baylor 52, Oklahoma 34: The Sooners’ best chance in this game is to pound the ball, wear out the clock and keep Baylor’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. But without star fullback Trey Millard, I’m skeptical OU can pull off such a game plan. The Sooners have no viable tight end, and none of their other fullbacks are capable receiving threats off play-action. OU’s remaining firepower keeps the game interesting into the second half. But a Sooners defense playing two freshman linebackers finally capitulates to the overwhelming speed of the Baylor offense, as the Bears make a statement they belong in the national title picture.

Claire’s pick: The media (including you, Jake) keeps saying K-State laid out the blueprint on how to beat Baylor, but then again, Mack Brown made it clear that OU is far from invincible. Between Baylor’s dynamic receiving duo, Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, along with Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty’s Heisman-worthy performances, this pick was easy. #GoingTarpless. Baylor 56-35

SATURDAY

West Virginia 26, Texas 23: I find it strange the voters still haven’t put Texas back in the Top 25 polls. I actually had the Longhorns ranked 14th in the ESPN power ranking, the highest of the 19 voters in the ESPN poll. But this is a tough spot for Texas. West Virginia has been a far better team in Morgantown than away from it. The Mountaineers also have a ton of momentum from last week’s comeback overtime win over TCU, with a bowl appearance in their sights. Texas QB Case McCoy comes back to earth a bit and the Longhorns get caught peeking ahead to next week’s clash with Oklahoma State, as Charles Sims runs wild again to hand Texas its first Big 12 loss.

Claire’s pick: The Horns will win if they keep the ball with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. But they have to make sure Case doesn’t make too many mistakes on the road. If they are not careful, West Virginia will upset Texas, just like they did to OSU. #TexasStayawayfromBriles. Texas 31-28

Kansas State 37, Texas Tech 34: With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back in the fold, the Wildcats are finally firing on all cylinders offensively. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been terrific lately, and, much to Bill Snyder’s satisfaction, have been taking care of the ball, too. Tech has had a great run. But turnover-prone teams usually don’t fare well against Snyder-coached teams, and only six offenses in college football have turned the ball over more times than the Red Raiders. As a result, K-State continues its late-season push and hands Tech a third straight defeat.

Claire’s pick: I grew up in a Tech-loving family from Midland, Texas. I have lost sleep over this pick, and I may lose friends and a chunk of my inheritance after this is published. Unfortunately, the clock has struck midnight for Cinderella, and they are beginning to look reminiscent of last year’s West Virginia squad. #SorryDad. K-State 38-35

TCU 19, Iowa State 13: Will either side have enough players left to actually stage the game? Iowa State figures to be without running back Aaron Wimberly, who’s been its best offensive player, and could be without QB Sam B. Richardson, too. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and running back B.J. Catalon are questionable on a team that also will be missing running back Waymon James and receiver Brandon Carter. The difference in this game proves to be TCU QB Casey Pachall, who finally showed signs of returning to his old self last week.

Claire’s pick: This is the “Battle of Who Could Care Less” between two struggling teams. TCU’s players are dropping like flies. TCU barely wins, but for sure is not making a bowl. #NotYallsYear #ByeFelicia. TCU 14-10

Oklahoma State 55, Kansas 9: Kansas has been hanging tough in Big 12 play. That ends here. The Cowboys have finally found their identity offensively with Clint Chelf at QB and the tough-running Desmond Roland at tailback. Oklahoma State keeps rolling in its return to the thick of the Big 12 title race.

Claire’s pick: I have always liked Kansas -- they have great school colors for game-day outfits. But that is all they have. Chelf is a real threat and the Cowboys' backfield has exploded these past few games -- they might actually steal the Big 12 title right out of Baylor’s little paws. #ButPleaseDont. Oklahoma State 56-14
NORMAN, Okla. -- The look of despair and disappointment on the face of Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard spoke volumes.

It’s rare that a win over a Top 10 team feels so bittersweet.

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTrey Millard, who has played running back, fullback and tight end in his time at Oklahoma, has 13 career touchdowns.
Ikard was excited his team had just knocked off then-No. 10 Texas Tech, 38-30, last Saturday, yet the entire mood of the conversation changed when the senior was asked about the season-ending injury to fellow senior Trey Millard, who tore two knee ligaments -- including his ACL -- on special teams.

“My heart is just broken for him,” Ikard said. “He’s one of those guys who just loves the game, and for it to happen on something like getting rolled up on a kickoff, that’s tough to swallow for everyone on this team.”

It's heartbreaking because Millard returned for his senior season to finish his career with his teammates as a critical cog in the OU machine. His numbers --17 carries for 97 yards, 11 receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns -- don’t come close to representing his value. Millard often paved the way for an OU rushing offense that averages 234 rushing yards per game, and he has been the Sooners’ top special teams player for the past three seasons, according to coach Bob Stoops.

“He’s the best player on our football team,” Ikard said. “He’s the most versatile person on our football team. He’s the heart and soul of this team, and he’s one of the leaders.”

Millard, who has played 48 career games for OU, had the ability to line up at fullback or tight end and excel during his four-year career.

“All you can say about Trey is he is the best in the country in doing what he does,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s been that way for a long time. We’re going to miss him. Other guys are going to have to step up and play well.”

As the Sooners strive to play without Millard it will be like trying to hang a picture without a hammer. It’s still doable but you’ll have to get creative to find a way to get the job done and your task just got much more difficult.

One player won’t be able to replace Millard. Tight end Brannon Green and fullback Aaron Ripkowski will be asked to fill the void on offense, with several candidates likely to fill his role on special teams. A huge portion of Millard’s value was in his ability to do so many things, thus allowing the Sooners to adapt without changing personnel.

And, with Baylor looming next on OU’s schedule, Millard’s injury couldn’t come at a worst time. The Sooners will undoubtedly try to control the ball against the Bears, leaning on its running game to help stop Baylor’s high-powered attack by keeping Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk on the sidelines.

“We’re going to miss him a lot,” Ikard said. “We’re going to have to make some serious adjustments on the offensive side of the football without No. 33 out there.”

The Sooners have used two tight end formations, featuring Millard and Ripkowski, to have running success this season. After Millard was injured early in the fourth quarter, OU used Green and Ripkowski in those two tight end formations and had success with 16 fourth-quarter rushes for 81 yards (5.06 yards per carry) against the Red Raiders.

Even with that success, Stoops isn’t looking forward to the task of replacing Millard.

“That’s tough because Trey is so versatile,” Stoops said. “We don’t have anybody else like that nor does anybody else. He’s pretty unique.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 9 in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBlake Bell answered his critics with a big performance in Saturday's victory over previously unbeaten Texas Tech.
Team of the week: After three scuffling weeks, Oklahoma finally broke out with an inspiring 38-30 win over Texas Tech. Most encouraging, QB Blake Bell had his best game since Notre Dame. On a second-quarter touchdown drive that finally got the Sooners going offensively, Bell completed 3 of 4 passes on third downs for 45 yards. After the lone third-down incompletion, Bell rushed for 10 yards on fourth-and-2 to the Texas Tech 14. Two plays later, he found Jalen Saunders for a touchdown. That kind of drive inspires confidence as the Sooners get ready for Baylor -- both for Bell in himself, and for the Sooners in their quarterback.

Disappointment of the week: West Virginia had begun to show signs of life offensively, scoring 30, 42 and 27 points, respectively, in its previous three games. But the Mountaineers took a major step back at Kansas State on both sides of the ball. After taking a 12-7 lead early in the third quarter, West Virginia was thoroughly outplayed the rest of the way. K-State scored four unanswered touchdowns on the next four drives while the Mountaineers mustered nothing, as the Wildcats coasted to a 35-12 win. West Virginia can still get to a bowl game. But the margin for error is running out.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland, K-State QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters and Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard.

Roland proved he’s the Cowboys’ most effective running back, racking up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns in his first game as a featured back. His 58-yard rumble in the third quarter essentially put Iowa State away.

Sams and Waters were stellar in K-State’s win over West Virginia. The dual-threat duo combined to complete 18 of 21 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and ran for 71 yards.

This will be the last time Millard will be eligible for any game recognition. He tore his ACL in the fourth quarter covering a kick. On the previous drive, he took a pass and hurdled a Tech defender for a 14-yard gain to set up a touchdown from the Tech 3. Millard was also tremendous all game as the lead blocker for Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Brennan Clay. Millard’s great career in Norman comes to a close.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and K-State safety Ty Zimmerman.

Edmond led a Texas defense that completely shut down TCU in the Longhorns’ 30-7 win. He had an interception, two pass breakups and helped thwart the TCU running attack.

Gilbert had a pick-six early that gave OSU an early 14-0 lead. He added three tackles and a pass breakup.

Zimmerman spearheaded the Wildcats defensively with 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. The forced fumble of West Virginia QB Clint Trickett set up a K-State touchdown that put the Wildcats ahead 28-12 in the fourth quarter, effectively putting the game away.

Special-teams players of the week: Everyone involved with the Texas Tech punt return and kickoff coverage teams. Trey Haverty’s units masterfully executed a pair of maneuvers in the third quarter that almost allowed Tech to knock off the Sooners. Down 21-14, deep man Jordan Davis ran away from the ball to draw the OU punt coverage team toward him. Toward the other side of the field, where the ball actually was, Tanner Jacobson scooped up the ball on the bounce and returned it 17 yards. The play set up a field goal. Immediately after the field goal, Kramer Fyfe's onside kick was recovered by Summitt Hogue. Three plays later, the Red Raiders were in the end zone to take a 24-21 lead.

Play of the week: For the second straight week, Oklahoma wide receiver Lacoltan Bester takes this category. After the Sooners fell behind 24-21, Oklahoma dialed up a double reverse pass for Bester -- the same play that resulted in a touchdown pass last week. But with no one to throw to this time, Bester took off and weaved his way through the Tech defense 35 yards for a touchdown. The Sooners never trailed again.

Stat of the week: By defeating Kansas 59-14, Baylor extended its winning streak to 11 games dating back to last season, the longest winning streak in Baylor history.

Quote of the week: “They’ve all had a goal and a dream to play on Sunday, and now they’ve done it.” -- Longhorns coach Mack Brown, after the weather-delayed Texas-TCU game went past midnight

OU runs over Tech with eyes to Baylor

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
4:12
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NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma’s game plan coming out of halftime Saturday night didn’t include tailback passes, onside kicks or punt-return decoys.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBlake Bell and the Sooners found an offensive identity -- less than two weeks from a showdown at Baylor.
The Sooners’ scheme was sublimely simple. Get behind all-everything fullback Trey Millard and pound the ball between the tackles.

That wham-bam offensive style topped Kliff Kingsbury’s wily bag of tricks in a 38-30 victory over Texas Tech, and it reestablished the Sooners as big a threat as any to unbeaten Baylor for the Big 12 title.

“I love our team and their attitude,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “Are we in great shape? No. Am I excited about our team and our opportunity and our willingness to fight and all of that? Yeah, I am.”

The Sooners suffered yet another devastating injury, as Millard tore his ACL covering a kickoff in the fourth quarter. The Sooners had already lost their best linebacker (Corey Nelson) and best defensive lineman (Jordan Phillips) for the year. Now, they’ll go to Baylor without their most valuable offensive player, too.

But even with more injury adversity, the Sooners also, for the first time in a month, looked like a team that could challenge for the Big 12 crown.

When he had to, quarterback Blake Bell delivered confident completions to convert third downs. The defense continued to batten down the hatches, even while having to resort to playing true freshmen Jordan Evans and Dominique Alexander at linebacker.

And the Sooners ran the ball at will.

Oklahoma racked up 277 yards on the ground, featuring the trio of Damien Williams (101 yards), Roy Finch (55 yards) and Brennan Clay (42 yards).

“When you’re blocking it that way and running it that way,” Stoops said, “you have got to keep calling it until they can stop it.”

Tech couldn’t stop it.

In fact, on the first possession out of halftime, Oklahoma called 10 runs and one pass and marched right down the field to take a 21-7 lead.

“That was the game plan,” Finch said. “We wanted to play Oklahoma football, get our run game going, and open up shots down field.”

The run did exactly that.

Early in the second quarter, after three inept weeks of offense, the Sooners rediscovered their stride offensively. In its longest drive of the season in plays, yards and time, Oklahoma ground out an effective -- if aesthetically displeasing -- 16-play, 97-yard touchdown drive covering almost eight minutes.

“I thought that drive was really good,” Stoops said. “When you can run a bunch of plays, and stick it in the end zone, it makes a big difference.”

On the first play of the following possession, with Tech’s safeties creeping up to the line of scrimmage, Bell faked a handoff, then uncorked his best pass since the Notre Dame game over the top to Jalen Saunders, who coasted in for a 76-yard touchdown to give Oklahoma its first lead, 14-7.

The Red Raiders were on their heels defensively the rest of the way.

“We controlled the line of scrimmage,” center Gabe Ikard said. “We ran power a lot. I don’t know how many times we ran it, but we ran it over and over and over again. We had a lot of success with it.”

Even without Millard, who has been an integral piece of the running attack, the Sooners are sure to heave the same game plan at Baylor in two weeks.

These Sooners can’t outscore the Bears through the air. Who can? But as they did with Tech, they can run the ball at Baylor, control the clock and keep the Bears off the field. After all, a team far less imposing than Oklahoma almost beat the eighth-ranked Bears with that formula two weeks ago.

With little semblance of a passing game, Kansas State still racked up 327 yards on the ground, while keeping Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk on the sidelines. As a result, the Wildcats took a lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t make enough plays to hold on.

The Sooners made enough plays to topple one of the Big 12’s last two unbeatens on Saturday. A week from Thursday, they’ll see if they can do the same to the other.

“I feel good about what we’re doing,” Stoops said. “I’m excited.

“And we’re excited.”

Sooners' Big 12 hopes dwindling

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
7:06
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DALLAS -- Dressed in all-white uniforms with crimson-and-gold trim, a shell-shocked group of players sat before the media after Oklahoma’s 36-20 loss to Texas, yet the Sooners didn’t really have answers.

Two hours earlier, on the field, they didn’t really have answers either.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell looked like a totally different quarterback Saturday.
Texas outplayed, outschemed, outexecuted and outcoached Oklahoma on its way to an upset win at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. Some may say the Sooners didn’t take the Longhorns seriously, entering the game as clear favorites with UT struggling. Yet anyone taking away all expectations and just watching what occurred on the Cotton Bowl turf would assume the Longhorns entered the game as the favorite and simply took care of business.

“I don’t think we were overconfident,” Sooners center Gabe Ikard said. “I think we got outplayed.”

Quarterback Blake Bell's interception was returned 31 yards by Texas’ Chris Whaley for a touchdown, the Sooners’ punt team gave up an 85-yard touchdown by UT’s Daje Johnson, and OU was 2-of-13 on third down and allowed UT to convert 13 of 20 third downs. All this from a team that many expected to compete for the Big 12 championship and maybe even insert itself into the BCS title conversation after a stellar 5-0 start to the season.

“You give up a touchdown on offense, give up a touchdown on special teams, can’t convert on third down, can’t stop them on third down,” Ikard said. “All of these things adding up to something that was really poor on our part.”

That’s phrasing it nicely. Not to mention, OU’s offensive and defensive lines consistently lost the battle up front, as a Sooners rushing game that averaged 246 yards entering the game was held to 130 rushing yards and 3.9 yards per carry.

“They dominated up front, the offensive and defensive lines,” fullback Trey Millard said. “That was one of the things we wanted to focus on, and they beat us in that aspect. We wanted to play better than we did, get more consistent runs.”

Meanwhile, the Longhorns were running all over the Sooners defense, which had looked much improved through five games. On Saturday? Not so much. Johnathan Gray (29 carries, 123 yards) and Malcolm Brown (23 carries, 120 yards) became the first Longhorns duo to rush for more than 100 yards in the same game against OU.

While the Sooners' rush defense was nonexistent, Bell wasn’t much better in his first Red River Rivalry start. The junior finished 12-of-26 for 133 yards and two interceptions while looking jittery and uncomfortable in the pocket, the complete opposite of how he played in the Sooners’ 35-21 win over Notre Dame on Sept. 28.

“I’m the same player today I was at Notre Dame,” Bell said after the loss.

He sure didn’t look like it.

It all adds up to one of the worst performances of the Bob Stoops era, as there was never really any point in the loss when OU looked comfortable or confident.

“I expect more out of us,” Ikard said. “We weren’t able to get the job done today, and it starts with me and my guys [along the offensive line]. We’re a much better team than we played today.”

OU entered the game as one of the favorites to win the Big 12 alongside Baylor. Now, it's looking up at Texas and Texas Tech in the Big 12 standings. Unless the Sooners drastically improve in the weeks following Saturday’s debacle, they could slide even further down the standings.

The Sooners insist they are still in race to win the Big 12, and they’re right, as the 2009 Longhorns were the last Big 12 team to go undefeated to win the conference.

“We had one loss in the Big 12 last year, and we got a co-championship,” Millard said. “It’s still out there for us.”

But they’re not going to insert themselves back into the Big 12 title hunt playing like they did against the Longhorns.

“We just have to win all of our games,” defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Five things: Oklahoma vs. Texas

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
7:00
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Here’s what we’ll be watching when Oklahoma and Texas battle in the Red River Rivalry at 11 a.m. CT at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Replacing Corey Nelson: It’s been a disappointing end to his senior season for the Dallas native. Nelson, a linebacker, will miss the remainder of the season with a pectoral injury that will need surgery, but Dominique Alexander, a freshman from Tulsa, Okla., has played well in spot duty for the Sooners. OU is confident the youngster will play well today, but there’s no question he will be wide-eyed early and the Longhorns will probably try to expose him as much as they can with a quality group of running backs led by Johnathan Gray.

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTrey Millard's leap over Adrian Phillips in last year's Sooners rout is the latest legendary play in Red River Rivalry lore.
Quarterback Blake Bell's first RRR start: The junior has had a bunch of success in the Red River Rivalry, scoring four rushing touchdowns in the Sooners' 63-21 win in 2012. Yet he’s never been the trigger man of OU’s offense at the Cotton Bowl. Bell had a subpar game against TCU with 152 passing yards, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to his worst production of the season.

OU running game: The Sooners have dominated on the ground, and thus the scoreboard, during the past two seasons. OU averaged 6.1 yards per rush and scored seven touchdowns on the ground in its back-to-back blowout wins and will be looking to match its season average of 246 rushing yards per game against the Longhorns. Frankly, the Sooners might not need much from Bell if they can get running backs Brennan Clay and Damien Williams unleashed in the open field against UT.

OU's aggressive defense: Turnovers have helped spark the Sooners’ three-game win streak, with the Sooners owning a plus-8 turnover margin against Texas and scoring 44 points off Longhorns turnovers. Don’t be surprised if that trend continues on Saturday, as defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has been more aggressive this season and the Sooners defense features a faster, more versatile unit. This season's Sooners have a turnover margin of plus-3 and have not allowed a point off of a turnover, so don't be surprised if they find a way to make turnovers a key in this game as well.

Big play battle: The Red River Rivalry is known for the big plays that make legends of its participants. Roy Williams’ Superman leap, Trey Millard's stiff-arm hurdle and Williams’ 95-yard scoring gallop immediately come to mind. Who will make a big play that will be remembered in this year’s edition?

Big 12 lunchtime links

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
12:00
PM ET
Think twice before holding up a train folks, think twice.

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