Oklahoma Sooners: Damien Williams

Oklahoma will hold its spring game on Saturday, and there are several storylines to keep an eye on for the Allstate Sugar Bowl champions. Here's a closer look at what to watch in OU's spring game.

When: Saturday at 2 p.m.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight won't play a lot in OU's spring game, but he has a chance to showcase his development.
Where: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

What to watch for:

  • Has Trevor Knight continued to develop? Don’t expect the Sooners quarterback to get a lot of work during the spring game as his health is a top priority. Yet, Knight is still a young and relatively inexperienced quarterback who needs quality reps. The spring game will show if he carries himself like a veteran and if his teammates are responding to him as the man in command of OU’s offense. A strong one or two series would show Knight is continuing to develop as a player despite not being pushed by daily competition for the starting job.
  • What about behind him? Quarterbacks Cody Thomas, a redshirt freshman, and Justice Hansen, a true freshman, are raw and untested. The spring game gives the duo the chance to show they can handle the No. 2 quarterback job if called upon in the fall. Thomas has been splitting his time with the Sooners’ baseball team with no ill effects on his football duties, while Hansen enrolled early and is adjusting to life as a college football player.
  • Who will get the bulk of the carries? OU will welcome ESPN 300 signees Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to its running backs group this summer. So this spring is the opportunity for sophomore running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross to cement their spots at the front of the line alongside Knight. Ford was a pleasant surprise as a true freshman. He earned carries before fumble troubles placed him on the sideline. Ross has been one of the stars of the spring with coaches and teammates alike lauding his explosiveness in scrimmages. Saturday is their chance to show they’re ready to fill the void left by the departures of Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch.
  • DB Ahmad Thomas: It would be a surprise if Thomas doesn’t see the field a lot this fall. The sophomore is proving to be versatile and talented while lining up at multiple positions in OU’s defense. After enrolling early in January 2012, Thomas played in 12 games as a true freshman and finished with nine tackles in limited action. Now, he appears poised to be a key piece of the Sooners defense as a sophomore. The Sooners are tinkering to find the best spot for Thomas, but a strong spring game could reaffirm his place as one of the breakout stars this spring.
  • New names: Several young players are creating a buzz, including receiver Jordan Smallwood, cornerback Dakota Austin and defensive tackle Charles Walker. Smallwood’s name has repeatedly come up this spring, as he’s made a solid impression after missing the 2013 season with a broken foot. Austin has been competing with Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson to replace All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, and, while undersized, his coverage ability and competitive nature have shone through. Walker has earned a reputation as a future star with his exceptional size and speed combination, so Saturday will be the first glimpse at the redshirt freshman. The spring game will give that trio and many other young Sooners the opportunity to show they can be contributors on offense or defense in 2014.
Oklahoma began its spring practices last weekend with back-to-back practices Saturday and Sunday. The Sooners get back to work today with an eye on capturing another Big 12 title under Bob Stoops. Here are some things to watch this spring:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Sophomore running back Keith Ford could be ready to take the next step in the Sooners' offense. OU needs someone to fill the void left by departed running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch, who combined for 4,824 career rushing yards in crimson and cream. Ford earned himself some carries as a freshman, but fumble troubles put him in the doghouse for a portion of his first season. This spring, Ford could lock down a major role in the offense with his power, decisiveness and quickness.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Thomas
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAhmad Thomas' blend of size and athleticism makes him a candidate to step in at safety as a sophomore.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Safety Ahmad Thomas didn’t get major time on the Sooners' defense as a freshman. But the versatile defensive back appears poised to become a key piece of OU’s defensive plan as a sophomore. At 6-foot and 218 pounds, Thomas brings terrific size, athleticism and aggressiveness to the Sooners secondary. If he continues to improve and develop, he could be too good to leave on the sidelines, forcing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to find ways to get him involved.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Defensive tackle Charles Walker was an unknown with an underwhelming offer list when he signed with OU in February 2013. But Walker was one of the guys who repeatedly earned praise during discussions of scout-team stars last fall. At 6-2 and 289 pounds, Walker moves like a much smaller man and could force his way onto the field with his play this spring and provide young, quality depth along the defensive line.

Most significant position battle: The battle to replace two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin should be entertaining. There is no clear favorite among a group of talented cornerbacks that includes Stanvon Taylor, Cortez Johnson and Dakota Austin. This spring provides the opportunity for someone to step up in Colvin’s absence and become a trustworthy cover man on the perimeter of OU’s defense. If that doesn’t happen, the Sooners could be forced to account for a weak link in the secondary, particularly if none of the freshman arrivals in the summer (Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green) proves they can slide into Colvin’s spot.

Key midterm enrollee: Linebacker Devante Bond already is making an impression during his short time at OU. An outside linebacker with pass rush skills, Bond isn’t going to replace Eric Striker in the Sooners lineup. Yet if he proves to be one of the best pass rushers on the squad this spring, Stoops could pair him with Striker to give Big 12 quarterbacks headaches this fall.

Question that could be answered: Will Trevor Knight build on his Sugar Bowl MVP performance? The sophomore ended his first season with a bang, leading OU to a upset win over Alabama. This spring will show if Knight is hungry for more and striving to play at a championship level every Saturday this fall, or if he could return to the inconsistency that hampered his play in 2013.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will get the majority of the carries in OU’s backfield this fall? Even if Ford has an exceptional spring, there’s no guarantee he can hold off the talents of incoming freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the summer. The lone certainty is that there will be a bunch of talented options for running backs coach Cale Gundy.
The NFL scouting combine ended on Tuesday with two former Big 12 stars stealing the headlines on the final day. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were among the top performers, as the NFL hopefuls participated in defensive back drills and performance testing in Indianapolis.

Here’s a look at the Big 12’s top performers during the 2014 combine:

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State cornerback: Gilbert ran the fastest time among defensive backs, clocking a 4.37 in the 40 while finishing tied for third with 20 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press. Add his 35.5 inch vertical and 10.5 broad jump and Gilbert seems to have secured himself a spot in Round 1 as arguably the best cornerback in the draft. He was expected to excel at the combine, and he did.

Jace Amaro, Texas Tech tight end: The Big 12’s best tight end set the standard for tight ends at the combine, finishing among the top five in the 40-yard dash (4.74, 5th), bench press (28 reps, tied for 2nd), vertical jump (33 inches, tied for 5th), broad jump (9 feet, 10 inches), 20-yard shuttle (4.3, tied for 3rd) and 60-yard shuttle (12.26, 4th). Amaro moves like a much smaller man and proved it with strong combine numbers.

Jason Verrett, TCU cornerback: Verrett was nipping at the heels of Gilbert and Amaro as the Big 12’s best performer at the combine. He ran 4.38 in the 40 (tied for 2nd), recorded a 39-inch vertical (tied for 3rd) and 10.6-foot broad jump. Questions remain about his size, at 5-foot-9, 189 pounds, but his physical abilities could help lessen those worries.

Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas defensive end: The Big 12 co-defensive player of the year along with Verrett, Jeffcoat probably helped himself by finishing among the combine’s best defensive linemen in several drills. His 6.97 in the 3-cone drill was second among defensive linemen and his 4.63 in the 40 and 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump were fourth among defensive linemen. Concerns about his lack of ability haven’t been at the forefront of his draft résumé, but it was still a strong showing for the former Longhorn.

Notable: Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard had the best 20-yard shuttle among offensive linemen, recording a 4.37 and the best 3-cone drill, recording a 7.3. ... Former Oklahoma running back Damien Williams ran a 4.45 in the 40, fourth among running backs. ... Baylor tight end Jordan Najvar recorded the best 60-yard shuttle among tight ends at 12.02 and tied for second in the 3-cone drill at 7.14. ... Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George recorded 28 reps on the bench press, tying for third among linebackers.
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 the class: 2012

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Oklahoma added several recruits into the fold on Wednesday with an 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 last five recruiting classes. On Thursday we begin with a review of the Class of 2011 including recruits who exceeded expectations, recruits who were solid signees and complete busts.

OU landed 11 four-star recruits in 2012, including five members of the ESPN 150, and while it’s relatively early in their careers, several signees, including defensive end Charles Tapper, linebacker Eric Striker, quarterback Trevor Knight and receiver Sterling Shepard, have already made major contributions. The class was ranked No. 11 nationally by ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCharles Tapper (right) was a raw talent when he arrived at Oklahoma, but has developed into an All-Big 12 defender.
Transcendent figures

Defensive end Charles Tapper: He was the rawest signee in the class. Now, two years later, he’s an All-Big 12 defensive end with an NFL future. OU deserves a ton of credit for finding this hidden gem and Tapper deserves just as much credit for pushing himself to greatness and turning his potential into on-field production. Not bad for the nation’s No. 74-ranked defensive end.

Quarterback Trevor Knight: The sophomore quarterback was showing unique traits before he even stepped on campus, organizing fellow recruits and displaying leadership ability before he signed with OU. The No. 22-ranked quarterback in the nation, Knight won the starting job last August and, after some ups and downs during the regular season, lifted up the Sugar Bowl MVP trophy in early January after leading OU to an impressive win over Alabama. OU will build its offense around his talents this offseason and if he plays like he did in the Sugar Bowl, the sky is the limit for the Sooners in 2014.

Receiver Sterling Shepard: As soon as the Under Armour All-American stepped on campus everyone knew Shepard would be a key part of the Sooners’ plans. He was one reason OU went to a four-receiver base package in 2012 as they aimed to get their top 11 players on the field and he hasn’t disappointed with 96 receptions for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first two seasons. The No. 60 player in the ESPN 150, Shepard should be Knight’s primary target in 2014.

Linebacker Eric Striker: Sooners running backs were complaining about having to try to block Striker during his freshman year but he rarely saw the field on defense in 2012. That changed in 2013 as he became one of the Big 12’s most feared pass rushers. His acceleration and knack for getting to the quarterback made him a critical part of the defense as a sophomore and earned him All-Big 12 second team honors after stepping on campus as the No. 62 safety in the nation.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez: The No. 64 cornerback in the nation, Sanchez has started every game of his young career and has displayed the competitiveness required to excel at cornerback. He’s already exceeding expectations.

Bull's-eye

Center Ty Darlington: He could be the anchor of OU’s offensive line as a junior after two quality years behind All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard. Darlington was No. 148 in the ESPN 150.

Receiver Lacoltan Bester: A late junior college signee, Bester did exactly what he was brought in to do. He provided veteran depth and competition to the receiving corps during his two seasons.

Receiver Durron Neal: His junior year is a big one for Neal. He’s seen spot duty during his first two seasons but needs to step up and secure a spot in the starting lineup this fall. Neal was No. 64 in the ESPN 150.

Receiver Derrick Woods: Woods made an impact on special teams as a redshirt freshman and his Sugar Bowl catch was a glimpse at his potential to make an impact on offense. Woods was No. 137 in the ESPN 150.

Running back Damien Williams: Williams did what he was brought in to do, provide competition and big plays at the running back spot for two seasons. Even though his Sooners’ career ended with his dismissal, he gave the program two productive seasons.

Tight end Brannon Green: Green was a valuable blocker and overlooked key to OU’s running success during his two years in Norman, Okla.

Completely missed the mark

Offensive lineman John Michael McGee: It always was odd for the Sooners to sign McGee, who said he didn’t love football during the recruiting process. Therefore, it really was no surprise when he quit the team before his freshman season even began.

Overall grade: A+

This class has been on campus for two years and already features an All-Big 12 first teamer, All-Big 12 second teamer, a freshman All-American and a Sugar Bowl MVP. Anyone expecting more from a recruiting class that has been on campus for 18 months needs to re-think their expectations.
Images and highlights of Big 12 football are often filled with high-flying catches, deep throws and pass-happy spread offenses. Yet, Big 12 title hopes were rooted in the ability to run the ball in 2013.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWith Lache Seastrunk off to the NFL, Shock Linwood will find a more prominent role in Baylor's rushing attack.
Baylor and Oklahoma were the lone 11-win teams and BCS bowl participants and that duo finished atop the Big 12 in several rushing categories. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, let’s take a closer look at some revealing Big 12 rushing statistics, how they impacted 2013 and what it could mean for 2014.

OU and Baylor each rushed for over 1,900 yards before contact in 2012

The Bears and Sooners were consistently winning the battle in the trenches with a pair of quality offensive lines. OU rushed for 1,949 yards before contact (3.81 ypc), and BU rushed for 1,909 yards before contact (3.33 ypc) in 2013.

Impact on 2013: For Baylor, it meant the Bears could put multiple running backs in the backfield without missing a beat. Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood had plenty of success thanks to BU’s offensive line. For Oklahoma, it meant the Sooners were able to overcome inconsistency at the quarterback position. Seastrunk (720 yards before contact) and OU’s Brennan Clay (682) finished 1-2 in yards before contact in the conference.

What it means for 2014: Both offensive lines lose their anchors (BU’s Cyril Richardson, OU’s Gabe Ikard). The two teams will have to find quality replacements for those players but BU returns quarterback Bryce Petty to keep defenses honest, and OU returns some quality, experienced linemen who can step in to do the job.

Baylor led the Big 12 with 1,995 yards inside the tackles, averaging 5.4 yards per carry on designed run plays

In other words, the Bears spread you out, make you cover every inch of the field and then run the football right at you. It makes BU’s offense extremely difficult to stop as defenses have to account for everything and everyone without making mistakes.

Impact on 2013: Linwood’s 7.4 yards per carry inside the tackles led the Big 12, and he was joined in the top five by Seastrunk (6.1). They helped the Bears lead the league in rushing with 259.69 rushing yards per game.

What it means for 2014: Baylor’s offense won’t change. Art Briles and Co. will still force defenses to cover the entire field while aiming to run the ball down the defense’s throat. Even with Seastrunk and Richardson off to the NFL, it’s unlikely the Bears' rushing attack will become much easier to stop.

Oklahoma led the Big 12 with 1,625 rushing yards outside the tackles

The Sooners averaged six yards per carry on runs outside the tackles. With OU adding more quarterback zone-read plays to its offense, the Sooners used their quickness and speed at running back to test defenses.

What it meant in 2013: The Sooners aimed to use Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch to challenge defenses with their athleticism, while also utilizing the quickness of quarterback Trevor Knight to get on the edge during the eight games (five starts) the redshirt freshman was under center. The approach helped OU win 11 games and finish with 223.92 rushing yards per game, second in the Big 12, despite an inconsistent passing game that averaged 199.08 yards per outing.

What it means for 2014: Don’t be surprised if this number increases in 2014. If Knight locks down the job and plays consistently, he provides a running threat on the perimeter from the quarterback position. And OU has some quality young options at running back, led by sophomore Keith Ford, to replace Clay, Finch and Williams.

Other notable numbers

Texas Tech led the Big 12 in rushing yards against a five-man box with 102 carries for 508 yards, five yards per carry. Baylor’s 6.5 yard average paced the conference… Baylor led the Big 12 in rushing yards against a six-man box with 323 carries for 2,095 yards, 6.5 yards per carry … Kansas State led the Big 12 in rushing yards against a seven-man box with 196 carries for 1,103 yards and 5.6 yards per carry. OU led the conference with 6.1 yards per carry against a seven-man box.

Sooners' report card: Offense

December, 16, 2013
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Unlike previous campaigns, Oklahoma’s offense was not the envy of the rest of the Big 12 this season. The Sooners running game was second to none and provided a foundation that allowed OU to stay in games, control the ball and create opportunities in its passing game. But it’s lack of explosiveness through the air, leading to poor offensive balance, made this year’s offense one of the worst in Norman, Okla. in recent memory. Yet the Sooners limited turnovers and mental mistakes while running the ball well enough to earn 10 wins, which should quiet critics considering a double-digit win season was unexpected heading into the season.

Quarterback: C+. Where are all the Landry Jones haters now? A quick glance at the Sooners passing stats (186.67 ypg, No. 99 in FBS) makes this grade seem way too high. But a quick glance at the win column makes everything clear. OU never got consistency from the position, as Blake Bell and Trevor Knight each had their moments of success and failure. Bell was the starter in Sooners’ losses to Texas and Baylor, and looked uncomfortable in both games, but played a key role in road wins at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State. And Knight showed flashes of big-time upside but also showed the inexperience of a redshirt freshman. Through it all the Sooners found a way to get 10 wins and the quarterbacks played a key role in that success. A significant drop off from Jones yet OU finished the regular season with the exact same record Jones led them to as a senior.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesSenior Brennan Clay led a cadre of Oklahoma running backs which helped the Sooners rush for over 3,000 yards as a team this season.

Running back: A+. Who knows how the Sooners’ season would have ended up if it wasn’t for a talented and deep group of running backs led by Brennan Clay. The senior led the Sooners with 913 rushing yards, averaging 5.78 yards per carry, but Damien Williams (553 rushing yards) and Roy Finch (347 rushing yards) joined him as quality threats in the backfield. The Sooners running backs brought a physical running style and game-breaking ability which helped offset OU’s ugly passing attack.

Receiver: B-. The quarterbacks shouldered a bunch of the blame for OU’s passing troubles, but the Sooners receivers deserve their share of the burden. Jalen Saunders performed like an “A” student and Sterling Shepard wasn’t far behind. After those two playmakers, the Sooners receivers left plenty to be desired. Lacolton Bester had good moments but wasn’t the constant threat that Saunders and Shepard were in 2013 and the overall depth seemed nonexistent as young players such as Durron Neal never emerged as difference makers at the receiver spot.

Offensive line: A-. OU rushed for nearly 3,000 yards yet didn’t feature a single 1,000-yard rusher, speaking volumes for the offensive line. The only reason the Sooners’ starting front didn’t get a A+ was lackluster efforts against Texas and Baylor, helping to contribute to OU’s only losses. Center Gabe Ikard was the anchor and star of the offensive front, but tackle Daryl Williams made an overlooked but valuable contribution as the other all-Big 12 level performer on the squad. Tackle Tyrus Thompson, guard Nila Kasitati, guard Bronson Irwin and guard Adam Shead each played well while helping pave the way for OU’s running game and limiting opponents to 15 total sacks.

Overall: B-. The lack of balance keeps this grade from being higher but OU averaged more than 31.8 points and 5.84 yards per game, ranking them in the top half of the Big 12. The Sooners running game was superb and overcame the passing game struggles while protecting the football. OU's offense is not an national championship-level offense, but it's not as bad as it appeared at various times either.

Run game, defense define OU's season

December, 13, 2013
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Oklahoma excelled in several aspects on its way to a 10-win season. The Sooners’ running game was on point, their third down defense was stellar and they showed the ability to limit big plays. Yet, there are still areas of improvement looking forward to 2014.

Here are five stats that defined OU's season, what they mean and how OU can improve or maintain those trends in 2014.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsThanks to an offensive line that opened hole after hole, Brennan Clay and the OU running backs averaged 5.35 yards per carry.
Yards per carry

OU averaged 5.35 yards per carry this season, ranking second in the Big 12 and No. 16 among FBS teams.

What it means: The first year of Bill Bedenbaugh was a success. OU’s offensive line did a terrific job of creating running lanes for whoever was in the backfield. True enough the Sooners had three quality veterans at running back but Brennan Clay (5.78), Damien Williams (4.78) and Roy Finch (5.88) each averaged at least 4.5 yards on at least 59 carries this season thanks to the big uglies up front.

How OU can maintain in 2014: It’s going to be tough as the Sooners lose Clay, Finch, Williams and center Gabe Ikard. But the Sooners have some solid young backs, including Keith Ford, who had 20 carries for 119 yards and one touchdown but dealt with fumble troubles as a true freshman. With the young talent in place and poised to replace the departed seniors, there’s no reason to believe the Sooners can’t match this year’s production in 2014.

Third down conversion defense

OU allowed opponents to convert just. 32.5 percent of their third down attempts, ranking second in the Big 12 and No. 13 among FBS teams.

What it means: The Sooners defense was among the best in the nation on third down. OU’s coaching staff focuses on third down plays and it’s clear they had the defense ready to step up in those key moments. In fact, eight of OU’s 14 interceptions came on third down, including all three interceptions by Julian Wilson.

How OU can maintain in 2014: Well, Mike Stoops returns, so that’s half the battle. OU should be even better on third down in 2014. Most of its key contributors return but replacing All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin won’t be easy. The Sooners defense was littered with youngsters this season and still ranked among the nation’s best. So expect even better in 2014.

Percentage of opponent drives without a first down or touchdown

The Sooners held opponents without a first down or touchdown on 40.8 percent of their drives, ranking second in the Big 12 and No. 13 among FBS teams.

What it means: OU did a terrific job of getting off the field and stopping offenses before they could gain momentum. While the Sooners offense was leaning on the running game and controlling the ball, OU’s defense came onto the field fresh and with a purpose to get off the field quickly. That combination made it hard for opposing offenses to find their rhythm against OU.

How OU can maintain in 2014: It won’t be easy because the Sooners offense should have better balance, resulting in more plays and opportunities for opponents as OU turns to the pass more often. Yet, OU’s defense should be talented enough to come close to matching that percentage.

Opponent rushes of 10 yards or more

OU allowed 46 runs of 10 yards or more to opponents, leading the Big 12 and tying Stanford and Utah for 16th among FBS teams.

What it means: One key reason the Sooners won five games by single digits was the defense’s ability to keep OU in games while the offense was struggling, particularly in the first quarter. If opponents were making big plays in the running game that wouldn’t have been possible. It also points to the increased quickness, speed and athleticism of OU’s 3-4 approach this season.

How OU can maintain in 2014: It will take a combination of good coaching and on-field leadership. And since the Sooners return several key players, including linebackers Frank Shannon and Dominique Alexander, they should be able to match that number.

Passing yards in the first quarter

OU averaged 32.75 passing yards in the first quarter, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 112 among FBS teams.

What it means: The Sooners’ inability to pass (186.67 passing yards per game) made things difficult for OU’s offense. And their struggles to pass in the first quarter often impacted games by forcing the Sooners to lean on the running game simply because they didn’t have a lot of confidence in their passing game. Fortunately for OU, its running game was one of the conference’s best.

How OU can improve in 2014: Find stability at the quarterback position. Blake Bell played well at times, struggled at other times. Trevor Knight flashed big-time ability and displayed his inexperience as well. No matter who emerges as the No. 1 guy for 2014, he’ll have to consistently play well to help OU’s offense regain the balance that helped make it one of the nation’s best in previous years.
Recruiting season is about to kick into high gear. As soon as Bedlam is over on Dec. 7, Oklahoma will hit the recruiting trails hard looking to secure the future.

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIOU didn't offer Dominique Alexander a scholarship until last October. Now he's a starting linebacker.
OU has been superb at finding late hidden gems in recent seasons, with cornerback Zack Sanchez, a redshirt freshman from the Class of 2012, and linebacker Dominique Alexander, a true freshman from the Class of 2013, already making an impact on the program after getting relatively late offers from the Sooners.

Here are some priority spots for the Sooners to address in their 2014 class during the final two months of this recruiting cycle. Keep in mind, this list has everything to do with the young players on campus at each position, not necessarily the guys who are playing at that position each Saturday in 2013.

Offensive tackle: Derek Farniok and Christian Daimler are the lone underclassmen at offensive tackle. OU badly needs depth at the position and should be aiming to land at least two offensive tackle prospects in this class. If redshirt freshman tight end Sam Grant ends up at tackle, that would help the cause and lessen the urgency, but its a high priority position in this year's class. Worse yet, there doesn't seem to be a lot of hope at the position with top prospects mentioning OU on their lists. Finding a hidden gem in December could be the top priority for offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.

Defensive tackle: This position looks a lot better right now than it did a year ago with the early play of Jordan Phillips, a sophomore, and the emergence of Jordan Wade, a redshirt freshman. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as too many quality defensive tackles. The Sooners have one commit in Irving (Texas) Ranchview's Brandon Glenn, but that's not enough. OU needs to secure at least one more defensive tackle prospect to join Glenn and redshirting freshmen Matthew Romar and Charles Walker as the future at the position.

Linebacker: OU rallied to bring in two quality linebackers late in last year’s recruiting cycle with Alexander and Jordan Evans. Each committed to OU late in the process and became impact freshmen this fall. The Sooners need to supplement that duo with a least one more playmaker to join Allen (Texas) linebacker Tay Evans and Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta linebacker Curtis Bolton on their commit list. Several linebackers could be in play and keep in mind the Sooners did secure Alexander and Evans late in the process.

Running back: You can never have too many running backs. And OU loses three quality ball carriers in Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and the recently dismissed Damien Williams. Redshirt freshman Alex Ross has a good size/speed ratio, true freshman Keith Ford has terrific upside, and commitment Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) is a member of the ESPN 300. But the Sooners need to add another quality runner into the mix. Oakley (Calif.) Freedom running back Joe Mixon, No. 72 in the ESPN300, would be an outstanding addition to this class.

Receiver: Even though the Sooners seem to have some solid youngsters already on campus, they don't have a proven game-breaking receiver outside of Sterling Shepard returning in 2014. But, and this is critical, they can't just use a scholarship to bring in another guy. With Tulsa (Okla.) Union receiver Jeffery Mead and La Mirada (Calif.) receiver Dallis Todd already committed, receivers coach Jay Norvell should think elite receiver or bust. Norvell should join Mike Stoops in doing whatever it takes to land Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif/Central East), then fight for him to end up on the offensive side of the ball.

Big 12 predictions: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
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So, I received this email from Charlie “Bear” Boyd, last week’s guest picker:
I do not know how you pulled off that Kansas pick, but you better believe I will be launching an all-out investigation to see if there was any foul play involved. Seriously, though, well done! You were probably one of five people in the known universe who picked Kansas to beat West Virginia. Props where props are due.

I cannot confirm or deny whether foul play was involved. But Charlie is right about one thing -- props are due.

Like Clint Chelf in his return as Oklahoma State’s quarterback, I’m back with a vengeance in the picks following a sparkling 5-0 week. Sources have told ESPN that KU officials are planning to erect statues of both me and Charlie Weis outside Memorial Stadium to commemorate the West Virginia victory.

Can I keep the train rolling against this week’s guest picker, Wichita, Kan., resident Drew Hays?
Hey, I’m currently wrapping up my masters in sports management at Wichita State, however I graduated undergrad at Oklahoma State in 2012. I currently work in baseball, for an American Association Independent Baseball team called the Wichita Wingnuts (#GoNuts)! Currently, we are in our offseason, which means I get to sit around the house all-day on Saturday's doing nothing but watching football. You were one of two people that had the Jayhawks winning last weekend (very impressive pick I might add) -- my girlfriend was the other one. As a big Jayhawks fan, she likes to constantly remind me that her team beat the team that beat my team. So pick this Wingnut as your guest picker, so I can silence my girlfriend (until Marcus Smart does backflips again in Allen Fieldhouse).

Good luck silencing your girlfriend, Drew. Hope you have better luck than me with my wife (don’t worry, I got permission before writing that).

This weekend, Brandon and I will be in Stillwater manning the game of the week in college football. It should be a good one.

To the Week 12 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 5-0 (1.000)

Guest picker (Charlie “Bear”) last week: 4-1 (.800)

Trotter overall: 52-15 (.776)

Guest picker overall: 38-12 (.760)

Kansas State 31, Oklahoma 24: An early start with a freshman quarterback (Trevor Knight) with two more key offensive players (RB Damien Williams and WR Lacoltan Bester) out against a well-coached team? This is a tough spot for the Sooners. K-State is on a roll and playing with confidence, while 13 weeks into the season, Oklahoma is still trying to find its footing offensively. Even if QB Trevor Knight shines again, which he does, the Sooners lack the adequate firepower around him to keep up. Instead, K-State drops off 30 for the fifth straight week to thwart Bob Stoops’ attempt to break the Oklahoma record for coaching victories. With a road trip to Stillwater and the bowl game (Holiday Bowl?) all that’s remaining, it could be awhile before Stoops breaks that record, too.

Drew’s pick: Did anyone honestly think I would pick the dark side? The Cats are hot right now, and while the Sooners won’t make this easy, Jack Cantele nails another fourth-quarter field goal to start the party in Aggieville. K-State, 30-27



Kansas 28, Iowa State 24: Usually this time of year, the Jayhawks are the only ones in full basketball mode. But last week, Iowa State fans stormed the court after a home victory over Michigan (come on, guys, it’s November). Then again, given how south this season has gone in Ames, it’s understandable. Meanwhile, James Sims shows again why he’s one of the best running backs in the Big 12, while QB Montell Cozart makes enough plays with his feet to give Kansas -- that’s right -- the third-longest winning streak in the Big 12.

Drew’s pick: As an OSU fan, seeing anyone play a night game at Jack Trice Stadium makes me feel queasy. I don’t expect a repeat performance from Sims from last week, and Iowa State holds on for its first Big 12 win. This pick ensures I will be in the doghouse with my girlfriend for at least a week, but probably longer. Iowa State, 24-17



Baylor 49, Oklahoma State 45: Baylor coach Art Briles said this week that the Bears have played in comparable road environments this season. In actuality, Baylor has only played at Kansas State during the day and Kansas at night. A sold-out Stillwater, with “College GameDay” in town, will be a completely different animal. Especially against these Cowboys, who seem to be improving with every passing week. Especially against this veteran Oklahoma State defense, which is the class of the Big 12. This Baylor offense, however, is the class of college football. And with Levi Norwood emerging at wideout and Lache Seastrunk back to flank Shock Linwood in the backfield, the Bears outgun Oklahoma State in a Big 12 thriller to solidify their No. 3 ranking ahead of Ohio State in the BCS standings.

Drew’s pick: First, I would like to thank the Baylor faithful for returning almost your entire ticket allotment back to OSU. This will only make Boone Pickens Stadium louder. Behind the home crowd, "Choo-Choo" Chelf and Desmond Roland establish the run game early and the Oklahoma State defense keeps forcing turnovers, as the Cowboys prevail in another wild Stillwater shootout. OSU, 45-42

Third quarter, third down spark OU win

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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After stumbling out of the blocks, which has been the norm this season, Oklahoma finally got on track in the second half and dominated Iowa State in the Sooners' 48-10 win Saturday. OU scored 45 unanswered points in the win.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight's ability to break down Iowa State with his legs opened up Oklahoma's offense.
Dual-threat running game averages 12.55 ypc: Quarterback Trevor Knight had 10 carries for 123 yards and running back Damien Williams had 10 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns as the Sooners used the dual threat of quarterback and running back to perfection. The duo combined to average 12.55 yards per carry. Williams and Knight are the first pair of 100-yard rushers at OU since 2008 against Missouri. It’s a clear sign of how OU’s offense has evolved this season and could continue to evolve with a running threat such as Knight behind center.

ISU’s 2.5 yards per play on third down: Mike Stoops defense was dominant on third down, allowing just 35 yards on 14 third-down plays while holding ISU to 5 of 14 third down conversions. Frank Shannon, Gabe Lynn and Eric Striker each recorded sacks and safety Quentin Hayes grabbed his interception on third-down plays. OU’s defense stepped up in those clutch moments on Saturday.

OU’s 212-yard margin in the third quarter: The Sooners gained 231 yards in the third quarter compared to the Cyclones' 19 yards as OU pulled away after halftime. Brennan Clay had a 63-yard touchdown run and Williams added a 69-yard touchdown run as OU put the game away by averaging 14.93 yards per carry during the third quarter. OU came out of the locker room with a different focus and execution, allowing it to impose its will on ISU in the final half.

OU’s pass defense expected points added: The Sooners pass defense finished with 7.38 expected points added, an ESPN metric which essentially means that OU's pass defense contributed 7.38 points to the win. They rallied after ending the first quarter at minus-3.14 expected points added. They added 2.39 points in the second quarter, 3.35 points in the third and capped it off by adding 4.79 points in the fourth. Playing without All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, the Sooners' secondary was solid with Cortez Johnson and Stanvon Taylor each playing well in Colvin’s absence.

OU’s 3.73 points per drive: The Sooners averaged 3.73 points per drive against the Cyclones, including a game-high six points per drive in the third quarter. OU is averaging 2.21 points per drive this season and the Big 12 average is 2.06. Florida State leads the nation with a 3.84 points per drive average. It was the second-most points per drive for the OU offense this season behind its 4.64 average against Tulsa. Seeing OU’s offense be so prolific with Knight, a redshirt freshman, behind center could be an encouraging sign for the future.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 12:

1. Oklahoma State can win the big one: Mike Gundy's team went to Austin, Texas, knowing a loss knocks it out of the Big 12 title picture. It didn't have top playmaker Josh Stewart. But the Cowboys had a sound plan for shutting down the Longhorns on both sides of the ball, and they executed it very well. OSU held a Texas team that was 6-0 in the league to a season-low 13 points and handed coach Mack Brown his most lopsided home loss (38-13) in his Texas tenure. As Gundy put it after the win: This is playoff football. Win one game and the next one gets bigger. Oklahoma State won what might've been the Big 12 semifinals on Saturday. Now the Cowboys get a de facto conference title game at home next Saturday against Baylor and are in firm control of their own destiny.

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLevi Norwood scored two TDs, as Baylor rallied for a big win against Texas Tech on Saturday.
2. What's it gonna take to beat Baylor? The Bears kindly spotted Texas Tech a 20-7 lead in the first quarter with Tech touchdown drives of 75, 89 and 75 yards. Baylor punted on two of its first three drives. Normally a start like that spells disaster for even good teams. But Baylor got back to moving the ball and took a 21-20 lead at the end of the first quarter that it never relinquished in a 63-34 victory. And the Bears did all that without Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin or Tevin Reese on offense. Even when this team is beating itself, it's still hard to beat.

3. Kansas finally tastes sweet victory: If you don't understand why Jayhawks fans ripped down the South end zone goal posts after KU's 31-19 home win over West Virginia, you don't recognize how much agony this fan base has had to endure in the past few seasons. Kansas won its first Big 12 game since Nov. 6, 2010, and got coach Charlie Weis his first conference win by pounding the rock against a banged-up WVU defense. Unless Kansas loses every Big 12 game from now until the end of the 2016 season, it appears the Jayhawks will not be the ones to break Baylor's record of 29 consecutive conference losses -- at least not for a long time.

4. Welcome back, OU run game: It's getting a little tiresome to constantly fluctuate between the narratives of "Oklahoma has no identity" and "Oklahoma found its identity!" this season, so why don't we just stick to the facts: The Sooners ran the ball well against Iowa State, winning a 48-10 game that was much closer early on. As a team, OU rushed for 405 yards on 44 carries, and 390 came in the game's final three quarters. The trio of Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and backup QB Trevor Knight combined for 337 yards. Going 2-to-1 on the run-pass ratio did the job this week against the Cyclones. That ISU team is also a bit of a mess at this point, so maybe it's safer -- for now -- to hold off on saying OU made some grand discovery in its run game.

5. TCU's nightmare season is almost over: The two newest members of the Big 12 are both now 4-7 and will not go bowling. But we expected West Virginia to take a step back in 2013 after basically overhauling its entire offense. The Big 12 media believed TCU would be the No. 3 team in the league this fall. Wrong on that one. For the third time this season, the Horned Frogs lost a game by three points or fewer. They've lost by more than two TDs only once. They've had bad luck and bad injuries. It's just not their year. TCU finishes with a visit from Baylor in two weeks, and Gary Patterson will have his players treating that one like their bowl game.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Recognizing the best of the best from the Big 12 in Week 12:

RB James Sims, Kansas: The senior rushed for 211 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries, and you know he would’ve traded the stats for a victory if given a chance. On Saturday he got both, as Kansas broke its 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 upset of West Virginia. With freshman Montell Cozart at QB, Kansas ran the ball 55 times and threw on 12 plays, with just five completions. Going all-in on the run game paid off big, and the Jayhawks have Sims’ monster day to thank.

WR Levi Norwood, Baylor: The Bears were in need of a big-play threat after losing Tevin Reese for the year. They’ve found one in Norwood, who helped save the day in the first quarter with a 40-yard touchdown catch and a 58-yard punt return for a score after Baylor fell behind 14-0. Norwood finished with seven catches for 156 yards and two scores and 244 all-purpose yards in all.

CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Gilbert was the game-changer for OSU in a 38-13 win at Texas. He returned his first interception of Case McCoy 43 yards in the final minute of the first half to put the Cowboys up 28-10, and he snagged another interception off McCoy on a deep ball late in the third quarter. He also finished second on the team with nine tackles on the day.

RB Damien Williams and QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: Neither started the game for Oklahoma, but both got the Sooner offense running with their own running. Knight replaced Blake Bell and had a modest passing day, but he ran for 123 yards on 10 carries with a 56-yard score. Williams put up 128 yards and two touchdowns, with one coming from 69 yards out, to put Oklahoma back on track to a blowout win.

K Jack Cantele, Kansas State: Let’s give some love to a kicker for once. Cantele was a perfect 4-for-4 on his attempts against TCU, hitting the easy ones from 31, 34 and 23 and then making a 41-yarder with 3 seconds remaining to give K-State the 33-31 win and secure bowl eligibility.

RB Shock Linwood, Baylor: We’re giving a bonus one to Linwood for another stellar performance filling in for the injured duo of Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Linwood carried 29 times for 187 yards and one touchdown. The third-stringer remains No. 2 in the Big 12 in rushing at 101.5 yards per game. He got some help from freshman Devin Chafin, who ran for 100 yards and two scores on 11 rushes.

Week 12 helmet stickers

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Here are the helmet stickers after Oklahoma's 48-10 win over Iowa State on Saturday.

Quarterback Trevor Knight: The redshirt freshman replaced Blake Bell and helped spark the 48-point outburst from the Sooners’ offense. Knight had 10 carries for 123 yards including a 56-yard touchdown gallop as the Sooners had three touchdown runs of 56 yards or more. Knight was 8-of-14 through the air for 61 yards and finished with a 70 raw QBR.

OU’s offensive line: The Sooners had three different rushers average at least 12 yards per carry with seven carries or more. Knight was joined by Damien Williams (10 carries, 128 yards, 12.8 avg, 2 touchdowns) and Brennan Clay (7 carries, 86 yards, 12.29 avg, touchdown). Overall the Sooners had 44 carries for 405 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 9.2 yards per carry. None of that is possible without a strong game from an offensive line that struggled against Baylor.

Linebacker Frank Shannon: The sophomore has been incredibly productive despite not being 100 percent healthy for the past two games. He had eight tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks after recording 15 stops against Baylor.

Planning for success: Oklahoma

November, 7, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma will enter Thursday night’s Top-10 matchup against Baylor as underdogs.

The Sooners will also step on the field with plenty of confidence.

[+] EnlargeDamien Williams
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDamien Williams and the Oklahoma running backs will be key in the matchup with Baylor.
“Nobody has the type of players we have,” Sooners running back Damien Williams said. “They haven’t seen anybody like us. We’re an explosive offense, we have a lot of weapons on offense and we’re ready to get after it.”

The Bears have reeled off an 7-0 start while beating opponents by an average of 48 points but they haven’t seen anything similar to what the Sooners will bring to Waco, Texas. Oklahoma holds the clear edge in experience with tough games against West Virginia, Notre Dame, TCU and Texas Tech on its road to 7-1.

Baylor is the only team ranked in the BCS top 15 that has not faced a ranked opponent and its strength of schedule is ranked No. 113 in the FBS. Buffalo is the only Baylor opponent that has won at least 70 percent of their games this season compared to the three Sooners' opponents (Notre Dame, Texas, Texas Tech) that have won at least 70 percent of their games.

“We play a tough schedule at Oklahoma,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “We get tested early, and I think it benefits us this time of year. We understand that, and I think we’ve been in this situation before, and now I think we will benefit from having tough opponents.”

Baylor’s schedule can be questioned but the improvement of its defense cannot. Its offense has gotten all of the attention but the Bears have been putting up eye-popping numbers on that side of the ball for several seasons. The Bears defense is the biggest area of growth the program has seen since last season. BU ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 in points allowed (15.9), yards per play (4.17), yards per rush (3.04) and passing yards (177.29).

“The defense is a big part of this success,” Norvell said. “I know offensively they’ve gotten a lot of notoriety for what they’ve done scoring a lot of points, but their success on defense is a big part of why they’re undefeated right now.”

Those athletes you see on the Bears offense? They’ve been adding more and more of those type of playmakers on defense in recent years. Safety Ahmad Dixon brings a physical tone to the defense, linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey make plays all over the field and defensive end Shawn Oakman has lived in opponents' backfields this season.

“It’s the part of their team that hasn’t been talked about nearly as much as it deserves,” coach Bob Stoops said. “It’s not surprising, they have like seven seniors on their defense and they are in the top part of the league in about every category. They are very aggressive and very disciplined in how they play you so they are playing well.”

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