Oklahoma Sooners: Kendal Thompson
Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight is growing into his role as “the man” behind center this spring. His leadership in the hallways and meeting rooms of OU’s football building could be a key to the 2014 season.
For the majority of the 2013 season the quarterback spot remained unclear as Knight was joined by Kendal Thompson and Blake Bell as options at the position. Now, after Knight’s stellar Allstate Sugar Bowl, the sophomore is the unquestioned starter and the guy the offense will turn to for leadership when adversity hits.
“[It’s] his ability to speak with a louder stick in the weight room and locker room,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “For him to [show] more of his personality and [put his] stamp on the offense.”
Yet, Knight’s role has undertaken a bigger change than his daily approach. Heupel often praised his work ethic and habits while he was redshirting in 2012, saying Knight was preparing as if he was the starter despite being the scout team quarterback at the time.
That part of Knight’s personality is as present as ever.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a change in his demeanor,” Heupel said. “He’s a great leader, a great kid on and off the field. He’s extremely competitive. He’s the same guy every day, in the meeting room or on the field, he doesn’t change. Hopefully that will transcend through entire football team.”
Those traits are one of the reasons the coaching staff didn’t think twice about naming him the opening day starter a year ago.
“I don’t notice it being much different,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Because he always did what you wanted him to do.”
It’s easy to forget that Knight is still a young player with three years to play and plenty of improvement to make. He’s the oldest player in the quarterback room with Baker Mayfield (who is ineligible for 2014 after transferring from Texas Tech after his true freshman season), redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen alongside him.
“It’s nice to be the oldest guy and be that leader,” Knight said. “But I know that I haven’t accomplished much yet. I’m still a young guy so I want to build off of that and get better and better every day.”
This spring isn’t just about becoming comfortable as the focal point and leader of the offense. Knight needs to become a better quarterback.
“He continues to progress,” Heupel said. “We think he has a great command of what we’re doing and he’s understanding defenses better. He should only get better at every practice with every rep.”
A vacant sign would be the best representation of the Sooners backup quarterback spot with Blake Bell's move to tight end and Kendal Thompson's decision to transfer to Utah.
“It’s opened that window of opportunity for him to get those reps, and I’m sure it will be the most a guy like that’s been able to get [at OU],” head coach Bob Stoops said. “But watching Justice work out, he fits the part of being here and belonging, so we’ll be excited to get him those snaps and seeing how he does.”
Questions about Thomas tend to revolve around his ability to juggle his football and baseball duties. He was solid while running the scout team last fall but will have to manage his time well to excel behind center this spring.
“Coach Pete [Hughes] and Josh [Heupel], they’ve already communicated really well through the winter,” Stoops said. “We want him to have success at both and I know they want him to have it too. So we’ll do the best we can to manage it. So far, it hasn’t been a problem.”
Three practices into the spring, the Sooners feel positive about the progress of Hansen and Thomas alongside Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who is ineligible to play this fall but has already made a strong impression in crimson and cream.
“Justice being here, Cody being involved in spring practice, those guys have done a lot of good things,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “They’ve taken their understanding to a new level and [are] spreading the ball around. We’re going to need more than one quarterback to play well for us to win games. Those guys have made some good strides in three days.”
No battle for a backup spot on the depth chart is more important in Norman, Okla., this spring. The nightmare scenario for the Sooners would be watching an injury to Knight derail what could have been a national title run in the fall.
“It’ll be a big part our team’s success, is those guys coming around and getting a really good and consistent feel of what we want them to do at the quarterback position,” Stoops said. “It’ll really important that we do a good job with them and make sure they work hard in the spring.”
There was a lot of hope for this class when these players signed in February 2011, but the class as a whole has let down the Sooners. The class was ranked No. 11 nationally by ESPN.com.
Linebacker Franklin Shannon: The No. 48 safety in the nation, Shannon made an immediate impact after a redshirt season. He forced his way onto the field as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and led OU in tackles as a sophomore in 2013. Shannon started in 15 games in his first two seasons and has 132 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss, heading into his junior year.
Defensive tackle Jordan Wade: He replaced the other Jordan after a grayshirt season, and then redshirted in 2012. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Wade was one of the heroes of OU’s 11-win season as he stepped in for Phillips and held his own in the middle of OU’s defense. The No. 103 player in the ESPN 150, Wade has a bright future ahead of him.
Completely missed the mark
Offensive lineman Nathan Hughes: The No. 101 player in the ESPN 150, Hughes played several positions before leaving the program before the 2013 season.
Running back Brandon Williams: The No. 35 player in the ESPN 150, Williams made an impact as a freshman but elected to transfer to Texas A&M after his first season.
Running back Danzel Williams: The No. 64 player in the ESPN 150, Williams redshirted in 2011, then left the program before the 2013 season. He never made an impact for the Sooners.
Overall grade: D-
More than half of this class is no longer in the program, including both Williams, Hughes, receiver Trey Metoyer, receiver Kameel Jackson, quarterback Kendal Thompson, linebacker Kellen Jones and defensive back Bennett Okotcha. Only Shannon and a pair of Jordans kept this class from being an F in one of the worst classes of the Bob Stoops era.
- Construction is coming along just fine at McLane Stadium, the future home of the Baylor Bears, reports Brice Cherry of the Waco Tribune.
- Some winners and losers at the Senior Bowl practices include Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, writes Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.
- Senior Bowl practices have been a learning experience for Richardson.
- New Iowa State running back coach Louis Ayeni has a specific trait he looks for on the recruiting trail, writes Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune.
- Kansas added a tight end to its roster this week.
- Oklahoma quarterback Kendal Thompson has announced his plans to transfer, and he won't be headed the NAIA route, reports Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman.
- The countdown of Oklahoma State's Top 13 moments of 2013 continues, courtesy of The Oklahoman's Gina Mizell.
- OSU's football program will enter the 2014 season with a better all-time record than it has ever had , writes Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World.
- Facility improvements are on the horizon at West Virginia, reports Mitch Vingle of the Charleston Gazette.
- WVU running back Charles Sims is looking to prove he is an every-down back.
- Les Koenning talks about joining Charlie Strong at Texas in this Q&A.
- Baylor guard Cyril Richardson is among several offensive linemen who could interest the St. Louis Rams, writes Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- More facility upgrades are on the way at Kansas State, including an upgrade on the north end zone of Snyder Family Stadium, reports Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star.
- The Philadelphia Eagles are looking to add a safety, which means Baylor's Ahmad Dixon could spark their interest at the Senior Bowl, writes Jeff McLane of Philly.com.
- The countdown of Oklahoma State's top 13 moments of 2013 continues, courtesy of The Oklahoman's Gina Mizell.
- Kendal Thompson's transfer changed the quarterback landscape at Oklahoma, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman.
- What does Charlie Strong to Texas mean for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State? Mizell takes a deeper look.
- A Q&A with Texas linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator Brian Jean-Mary, who seems thrilled to be joining Strong in Austin.
- TCU landed a safety commitment.
- Oklahoma's James Fraschilla is back at it again for Hayden's Hope. The Sooners' trick shot artist has made another video with a guest appearance from Sugar Bowl MVP Trevor Knight. The Oklahoman's Ryan Aber has the story.
- Iowa State has announced the date for its spring game, reports Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register.
- The Oklahoman's Gina Mizell is counting down the top 13 moments in Oklahoma State's 2013 season.
- The ups and downs of recruiting have hit Kansas State, writes Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury.
- Tulsa, Okla., has become an important recruiting focus for Oklahoma, writes Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World.
- Here's a review of Texas Tech's 2013 season.
- Former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has landed at Louisiana Tech.
- Former West Virginia running back Charles Sims hopes to prove he's an all-around running back, writes Mike Jones of the Washington Post.
- There are several Senior Bowl tidbits in this notebook from Al.com, including OU's Gabe Ikard working at a different position than he played in 2013.
- OU receiver Jalen Saunders is having a solid showing at the Senior Bowl.
- Former Sooner cornerback Aaron Colvin tore his ACL during Senior Bowl practices.
- Backup OU quarterback Kendal Thompson has elected to transfer.
Thompson made the announcement via his Twitter page.
Enjoyed the 3 years that I spent at OU and appreciate all the support and love that this program has shown me. But I believe that God has— Kendal Thompson (@Thurm405) January 22, 2014
another path in store for me. I will be graduating in May, and transferring to play at another college next season. #WalkByFaithNotBySight— Kendal Thompson (@Thurm405) January 22, 2014
Thompson, the son of former OU quarterback Charles Thompson, played in two games during his three years on campus. He was 4-of-13 for 64 yards with one touchdown and one interception during his Sooners' career. He saw his most extensive playing time during the Sooners' 33-24 Bedlam win over Oklahoma State last December. Thompson was a three-star recruit and the No. 17 QB prospect, according to ESPN, in the Class of 2011.
Starter/contributors: sophomore Trevor Knight, senior Blake Bell
Knight and Bell took pretty much all of the snaps at quarterback in 2013. That’s a good and bad thing. Knight looked like a future star while winning the Allstate Sugar Bowl and OU wouldn’t have been there without Bell’s exceptional performance during the final drive of Bedlam. Yet, OU’s passing game didn’t look anything like the attack we’ve come to expect from the Sooners, passing for more than 250 yards just twice in 2013.
But the future looks bright for Knight, the redshirt sophomore who was outstanding in the Sugar Bowl and appears poised to enter 2014 in the same spot he started 2013: OU’s starting quarterback.
Bell, a senior, had terrific games against Tulsa, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech but stumbled in losses to Texas and Baylor. He’s a solid option but likely faces long odds to supplant Knight.
On the cusp: junior Kendal Thompson, redshirt freshman Cody Thomas
Thompson could be in position to slide in as Knight’s backup in 2014, despite Bell’s experience advantage. Coach Bob Stoops said Thompson is a better fit for some of the quarterback run game tactics they’ve used in 2013 as an explanation for turning to the redshirt junior during Bedlam. So seeing Thompson secure a spot on the depth chart wouldn’t be a major surprise.
Thomas is coming off a redshirt season where he impressed while running the scout team during his first semester on campus. This spring will be critical for him as he tries to rise on the depth chart although his baseball duties could make that challenge even harder.
On the recruiting trail: current commitment Justice Hansen
The No. 101 player in the ESPN 300, Hansen will add another promising prospect to the quarterbacks meeting room. The UnderArmour All-American brings size, athleticism and the physical skills to excel running any offense.
Overall Grade: B+
The Sooners have a sophomore quarterback with exceptional talent in Knight, a veteran in Bell, an intriguing option in Thompson and two solid young prospects in Thomas and Hansen. If you add former Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, who plans to walk on, the Sooners have a meeting room with depth and options unmatched by anyone in the Big 12. Yet without consistent production from Knight, or someone else, it won’t matter. If Knight can consistently perform at a high level as a sophomore, this grade quickly jumps to an A+. If not, OU could have a meeting room full of talented but inconsistent quarterbacks, much like it did in 2013.
Charles Thompson knows what it’s like to be the quarterback at OU. Thompson experienced the mountains as a star quarterback for the Sooners during his freshman and sophomore seasons and experienced the valleys, as his off-the-field troubles made national headlines and sparked a premature end to his Sooners’ career. He knew the legacy he left in Norman, Okla., would be placed on his son’s shoulders if Kendal decided Oklahoma Memorial Stadium would be his home field during his college career.
Yet that’s not what made Charles Thompson uneasy.
A three-star prospect out of Southmoore High School in Moore, Okla., Kendal Thompson isn't like his father, who starred as a run-first quarterback during his time in crimson and cream but steered his son away from his own playing style.
“There’s always been this opinion across the board, although it’s changed throughout the years, that the black quarterback is an athlete and not a surgeon in terms of reading the defense and throwing the ball across the field,” Thompson said. “From 7 years old, I built him to be the opposite of those stereotypes. The Charlie Wards were starting coming out -- guys who could seriously throw the football -- who were not just the typical option quarterbacks who were run-first guys. I wanted Kendal to have that opportunity. As long as he was under my tutelage he was going to learn the game as a passer first.”
Charles Thompson’s plan resulted in the Sooners offering Kendal a scholarship to play quarterback, and his passing prowess was readily apparent to ESPN recruiting analysts. The ESPN scouting report about the younger Thompson refers to him as a multi-talented quarterback prospect, stating: “Make no mistake, he’s a passer first, runner second and a very dangerous athlete under center. He is the perfect spread-offense quarterback for these reasons.”
Thompson was alongside Trevor Knight and Blake Bell in the battle to replace Landry Jones last offseason. A preseason foot injury knocked him out of the race and the sophomore didn't resurface until a superb showing while leading OU to a touchdown in his lone series during a 48-10 win over Iowa State. Against Oklahoma State, Thompson saw the most action of his young career, finishing 2-of-9 for 17 yards and one interception after replacing Knight, who was knocked out of the game at the end of the first half.
"We stayed with Kendal to start the second half because for two weeks a big part of our game plan was obviously the zone read and option, and we felt like Kendal would operate in it a little better than Blake would," OU coach Bob Stoops said at the time.
Although a similar game plan makes sense against the Crimson Tide, the younger Thompson may or may not get an opportunity to play against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But with nobody cementing themselves as the Sooners' quarterback of the future, Thompson could be in the middle of the competition to start at quarterback in 2014, as a transfer by the sophomore seems unlikely.
“In life, you take things as they come," Charles Thompson said of the prospect of his son leaving the program. "He’s excited about being an Oklahoma Sooner.”
OU has transformed to an offense that features more zone read plays and quarterback run options this season, meaning Thompson could be a quality option for the future.
“I think the coaches feel like all three guys are viable options to lead this team,” Thompson said. “Let’s say all three were healthy, I think he would have been giving the opportunity to play much earlier than he did. I think he can show he’s every bit as good as the other two if given the opportunity.”
Alabama and Oklahoma are members of college football's aristocracy with a history of winning that goes back decades. From Paul Bryant to Bud Wilkinson, dusty images come to mind with these two schools. And it's only fitting that they'll meet in New Orleans, which holds its own storied place in history.
But what about the game itself? It's still a few weeks away, but let's break down some of the aspects that might make Tide-Sooners an interesting event to watch on Jan. 2.
Who starts at QB?: Oklahoma will begin bowl practice soon, but who starts under center is still a significant question mark. As Sooners offensive coordinator Josh Heupel explained, he'll go with, "Whoever it takes." Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight is nursing an injured non-throwing arm, though it's unclear the severity of the injury. Meanwhile, junior Blake Bell, who came on in relief of Knight against Oklahoma State and led the Sooners on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, seems like the hot hand. But he entered the game third on the depth chart behind Kendal Thompson so making any assumptions here seems futile.
Stoops vs. the SEC: Some folks just don't like to dredge up the past. But after what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has said about the SEC in the past year or so, it's hard to forget. Stoops has called the league with seven straight BCS champions overrated, top-heavy and overstated in terms of its defensive prowess. It's all propaganda, he claims. A veteran of the Big 12, he's been mostly alone in his criticism of the SEC, which has made him a favorite target of college football fans in the South who like to chide other conferences already. But Stoops will have his chance to answer their criticism and state the case for his own. A win over the Tide might spell vindication.
Players to watch
Oklahoma DB Aaron Colvin: He's a big, physical corner who might be able to give Amari Cooper trouble. At 6-foot and 192 pounds, he's an aggressive type that doesn't intercept the ball a lot -- he has just one this season -- but does draw his fair share of flags. He's fifth on the team in tackles (49) and tied for sixth in passes defended (4).
Alabama LB Adrian Hubbard: We saw it play out last season where Hubbard came from nowhere to close the season strong (three sacks in the final games) and flirt with the NFL as a redshirt sophomore. He ultimately stayed for his junior season, but we could see a repeat of last year as Hubbard has racked up three sacks and 11 tackles in the Tide's past four games.
Oklahoma DL Charles Tapper: The Sooners have struggled some on offense this season, but their youth on defense is cause for hope. Trapper, a big 6-foot-4, 261-pound defensive end, is one of those bright spots. As a sophomore, he leads the team with nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Alabama QB AJ McCarron: It's ironic to consider that McCarron's final game at UA will come against a team he nearly signed with as a player coming out of high school. The night before he was set to decide, he said he was thinking he'd go with Oklahoma. Why? He liked their program and Sam Bradford. But as he said, when you're a teenager, "Your mind changes about 20 times a day." In the end, it's safe to say McCarron made the right decision as a win over Oklahoma would be the cherry on top of a career that's seen him win two national championships as a starter and earned him a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Stats to keep an eye on
2: Oklahoma has a history of being a talent-rich program on offense, but this season's been different as the Sooners placed just two such players on the first- and second-team AP All-Big 12 Team. And those two selections -- center Gabe Ikard and kicker Mike Hunnicutt -- aren't what you'd call impact players.
18: The Sooners have flipped the script after being known as a passing team under former quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. This season Oklahoma's relied heavily on the run, ranking 18th in the country with 235.8 rushing yards per game.
20: Alabama's still shaking off the reputation of a slow and plodding offense. And while it may be true the Tide doesn't huddle, it does get big plays. In fact, UA ranks 28th in the country with 68 plays of 20 or more yards. Meanwhile, Oklahoma ranks 86th with only 48 such plays.
And even though the ending was seismic, the result was not.
Another phenomenal Bedlam victory for the Sooners. Another catastrophic Bedlam loss for the Cowboys.
Despite shuffling through three quarterbacks and not scoring an offensive touchdown until the final 19 seconds, Oklahoma ruined Oklahoma State’s Big 12 title and BCS-bowl hopes with a 33-24 victory Saturday.
“The feeling in the locker room is a bad feeling right now,” Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland said. “We had it right on the line, and we couldn’t finish it.”
This one, however, was most disastrous in a long line of Bedlam disappointments for the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State had everything on the line this time.
A chance for its second Big 12 title in three years.
A chance at a top-five finish and a Fiesta Bowl berth.
And, perhaps most important, as a double-digit Bedlam favorite for the first time since Vegas began keeping track, the most golden of opportunities at home to send a message that Oklahoma State was finally on equal ground with the Sooners.
Instead, Oklahoma downed the Cowboys in the final seconds for the third time in the past four years.
“A tough one to swallow,” Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey said.
Maybe the fact a magnitude-4.5 earthquake struck Boone Pickens Stadium just as the Cowboys were attempting a second-quarter field goal should have been a sign. Ben Grogan made the kick. But fate, yet again in this rivalry, would not be wearing orange.
With starting quarterback Trevor Knight out and backup Kendal Thompson erratic, Blake Bell returned from his sarcophagus to lead the Sooners on a game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes, capped by a 7-yard scoring strike to Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining.
It was Oklahoma’s first offensive touchdown of the game.
And it was the only one the Sooners would need, as linebacker Eric Striker delivered the exclamation point by scooping up a fumble and returning it for a touchdown as time expired.
“We like to have the pressure on us, the defense,” Lavey said. “That’s something you wish you could have back. But that’s not gonna happen.”
The Cowboys would like to have several plays back.
On their first from scrimmage, Roland broke free around the edge for an apparent 75-yard touchdown. But wideout Charlie Moore was flagged for holding, and the play was called back.
“We didn’t look like the normal Oklahoma State offense,” Roland said. “We moved the ball the whole game, but we couldn’t capitalize. I feel like we could have put up more points than we did.”
The Cowboys entered Bedlam red-hot offensively, especially quarterback Clint Chelf, who had the highest QBR of any signal-caller in the nation in the month of November. But in sub-10-degree temperatures, Chelf lost his rhythm. And he completed just 2 of 10 passes on third down without a conversion against Oklahoma, causing several promising drives to stall out.
“Our mental focus just wasn’t there,” Roland said.
Later in the first quarter, with Oklahoma State up 7-0 and seemingly in control, Saunders, who sparked Oklahoma’s fourth-quarter comeback last season with a punt-return touchdown, weaved through defenders before dashing right for a 64-yard punt-return score.
In the third quarter, Oklahoma State regained control. With Knight out with a separated non-throwing shoulder, the Sooners failed to get a first down their first four drives of the half. And when Chelf hit a wide-open Roland for a 15-yard wheel-route touchdown, it looked as if the Cowboys would finally put the game away.
Instead, the Sooners answered again with a 37-yard reverse from Saunders, who took the ball to the Oklahoma State 7. After the drive stalled, Bob Stoops called his first successful fake field goal in 11 years, and holder Grant Bothun flicked the ball on the run to place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt for a touchdown to again tie the game.
“Did Bob make some great calls? You bet,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of his counterpart. “We lost the kicking game. When you do that, it’s always tough to win.”
The Cowboys, as they have five other times in Bedlam since 2000, lost the final two minutes, too. Ultimately dooming them again.
After going up 24-20 on Roland’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 1:46 remaining, all the Big 12’s best defense had to do was keep Oklahoma’s third-string quarterback out of the end zone.
Instead, Bell came alive. He found Sterling Shepard for two big pass plays, then forced a defensive pass interference.
For a moment, it looked as if Oklahoma State had made the winning play that had eluded the program in Bedlam for so many years. Justin Gilbert appeared to come down with an interception, but the ball popped out at the last moment, and Gundy didn’t challenge the incompletion.
Five plays later, Oklahoma did what it’s usually done to the Cowboys.
“It hurts,” said Oklahoma State cornerback Kevin Peterson, who originally committed to the Sooners coming out of high school.
“Feels like a missed opportunity.”
Oklahoma State’s biggest Bedlam miss yet.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma just found a way.
That explains the Sooners’ 33-24 Bedlam win over Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday.
Yet, it might more aptly sum up the Sooners’ season.
“‘Big Game’ Bob must be back,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops quipped of his brother and boss.
Bell, who came in to run the Sooners offense for the majority of the second half after Trevor Knight was injured in the first half and Kendal Thompson was ineffective, took his game to another level when he stepped on the chilly turf with 1 minute, 46 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and his team trailing 24-20. The junior completed 4 of 7 passes on the final drive before connecting with receiver Jalen Saunders for a 7-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left. And he did it after having very limited practice repetitions heading into Saturday because Oklahoma planned to use a lot of the quarterback run game, the system within which Knight and Thompson are supposed to excel.
“I’m still in shock of the whole deal,” said Bell, who finished 10-of-16 for 140 yards and one touchdown. “That was everyone being out there, doing their job and marching down the field and getting the game-winning drive.”
It was a measure of redemption for Bell, who had been up and down this season but played like an elite quarterback with his team’s back against the wall. His response to being the third signal-caller to take a snap during the game was the perfect portrayal of how the entire Sooners squad has responded to adversity throughout the season.
For this Oklahoma outfit to finish 10-2 makes it easily one of the best coaching jobs of Bob Stoops' career. Scheme changes and the lack of a reliable quarterback hindered the offense. And a seemingly endless string of injuries saw the defense’s starting lineup crippled.
Yet OU kept winning.
“We had some adversity but the guys kept going,” Bob Stoops said. “Nobody flinched, nobody said anything about it and everybody just kept working.”
During the course of the season, OU lost three of its top players -- fullback Trey Millard, linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips -- for the season and dealt with various injuries that forced other starters to miss games during conference play.
None of that adversity, however, kept Sooners from loading their buses and heading back to Norman with a victory over a Cowboys team that had played the best football in the Big 12 since November.
“It shows a lot of toughness on the players' part to continue to battle back,” said Bob Stoops, who likened this season to the Sooners’ injury-riddled 2009 campaign.
The difference? OU finished 8-5 in 2009, which is the last time it didn’t win 10 games in a season. This year’s group won 10 games in the regular season and could secure its first 11-win season since 2010 with a bowl victory.
“Another disappointing 10-win season at Oklahoma,” center Gabe Ikard said. “Some people didn’t think we were going to be very good, it’s a rebounding year, you heard a lot of that before the season. So to win 10 games this season, I’m really proud of the coaches and players on this team to get us to this point.”
It was an improbable season capped off by an improbable win led by an improbable hero in Bell. The only consistent thing was the Sooners’ ability to find a way to get it done, no matter what obstacles dropped into their path.
“With our inexperience, our youth, our changing of quarterbacks, we played three quarterbacks today,” Mike Stoops said. “We’re still consistently good, all the way through. When you look at the totality of what we had to go through, we’re moving in a very positive direction.”
And still among the best the Big 12 has to offer.
1. Who’s the king of the conference? The Big 12 title race won’t officially be over after this weekend’s big showdown, but by the end of Saturday we should know whether Baylor or Oklahoma State is the conference’s top team. If the Bears win, they’re one big step closer to being No. 3 in the polls and fighting for a spot in the national title game. Oklahoma State sets up a three-way tie at the top of the Big 12 standings with a home victory, and then things get messy and crazy. But the Cowboys would assert themselves as the best of the bunch with that upset.
3. Winning the battle of the injury report: Baylor doesn’t know if running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be available to play Oklahoma State. Top Bears linebacker Bryce Hager could be out, too. And the Cowboys need top playmaker Josh Stewart back on the field after he missed the win over Texas. Cornerback Justin Gilbert got banged up against Texas but has said he won’t miss Baylor. Don’t expect Mike Gundy or Art Briles to tip their hands until kickoff.
4. Baylor tries to break Stillwater curse: The last time Baylor defeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater was 1939. Since 1994, the Cowboys are 9-0 at home against Baylor and 6-3 in Waco. There’s no obvious reason for the Bears’ longtime futility at Boone Pickens Stadium other than, you know, that BU used to be the cellar dweller of the Big 12. But they have a chance to end that slump on Saturday.
5. Kansas State: Big 12’s fourth-best team? The Wildcats are on quite a hot streak after starting 2-4 on the year. K-State has won four in a row, clinched bowl eligibility last weekend with a win over TCU and has a chance to land a signature win in the home finale against No. 20 Oklahoma. Beat the Sooners head-to-head and KSU can finish 6-3 in league play and as high as fourth place in the Big 12.
6. Trevor Knight time: Or maybe Blake Bell will start. Or it could be Kendal Thompson, which evidently would make a lot of Sooners fans happy. If the Iowa State game is any indication, we could see two or all three make appearances against Kansas State. No matter what, OU needs to find a solution to its QB carousel before the team travels to Oklahoma State on Dec. 7. This is the last chance for an in-game audition.
7. Jayhawks going for two: Kansas went more than 1,100 days between Big 12 victories. Might this program have to wait only seven days for its next one? KU knocked off West Virginia with a heavy commitment to the James Sims-powered run game and has been playing foes much closer than Iowa State has in Big 12 play. This is a big chance for the Jayhawks to notch their first road win since 2009.
8. Iowa State just wants a W: Iowa State remains winless in Big 12 play, and since knocking off Baylor 35-21 last October, ISU has won two of its last 15 games. Cyclones fans are ready for this brutal 1-9 season to end. The home finale against Kansas is as good a chance as any to at least get one win and send the program’s seniors off on a good note.
“No need in presenting that,” Stoops said Monday. “That’s something I’m not going to [do]. Why would I?”
Can you blame him? There’s really no reason to let the Wildcats know who to prepare and game plan against.
The Sooners played Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson in their 48-10 win over Iowa State last weekend. A closer look, via film study, at the quarterbacks' performance reveals who could be the guy when the first-team offense takes the field in Manhattan, Kan. Here’s a breakdown of the good, bad and ugly from all three signal-callers against the Cyclones.
The good: Bell opened the game with easy and accurate completions to Roy Finch and Jaz Reynolds and his third throw was an accurate one dropped by Jalen Saunders. LaColton Bester and Jalen Saunders were open on the play when he found Finch but he made a quick decision and delivered the ball accurately to one of the Sooners’ best open-field playmakers. It’s hard to have a problem with that decision.
The bad: After his good start he was hesitant to pull the trigger and attack Iowa State’s zone approach, which resulted in incompletions and negative plays. His last three throws were incompletions where he decided to hold onto the ball instead of make a mistake.
The ugly: The hit Bell took that eventually knocked him out of the game. The junior didn’t see it coming and paid for it.
Overall: Bell finished with a 21 adjusted QBR and never looked decisive in the pocket after a solid first few plays. The worst performance of the three.
The good: In his first drive after replacing Bell early in the second quarter, Knight was more decisive and showed better anticipation than Bell had in the first quarter. He played with confidence and the Sooners offensive rhythm changed for the better when he entered. He rarely settled for no gain plays on early downs, allowing the Sooners more play calling options on second and third down. OU scored on six of seven possessions (four touchdowns) with Knight under center. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
The bad: He could have had an easy touchdown to Bester late in the second quarter if he didn’t make a pre-snap decision where he wanted to throw. Bester had a linebacker on him in OU’s trips formation and was wide open down the middle of the field after a play-action fake to Damien Williams. Knight could have recognized the mismatch before the snap, but chose to throw to Saunders on the opposite side of the field instead. Pre-snap decisions about where to throw the ball can handicap an offense.
The ugly: The word ugly is a bit strong but Knight missed multiple touchdown opportunities. Ideally he would hit at least one of them.
Overall: Knight finished with a very solid 75 adjusted QBR. His passing numbers were subpar but he consistently led OU to points when he was on the field, which is all that really matters.
The good: The sophomore led OU to a touchdown on his first drive of his career late in the fourth quarter of the blowout victory. He made good decisions with the ball including recognizing a busted coverage by the Cyclones’ defense to find Bester on a 44-yard throw and showed good running skills as well. His field awareness and recognition was probably the best of the three.
The bad: Thompson probably could have been more accurate on his incompletions, one to Durron Neal and one to Bester.
The ugly: Not much to say here, Thompson performed about as well as could be expected in his first-ever game action.
Overall: Thompson led the Sooners with a 94 adjusted QBR in his lone drive. Simply put, he was outstanding.
While Stoops has no interest in revealing who will start against Kansas State on Saturday, it should raise eyebrows if it is anyone except Knight. He stepped in and performed extremely well against the Cyclones. Thompson could be the wildcard, and earn a few snaps this weekend, if his late game performance was impressive enough for OU decide to give him more opportunities.
The Sooners can still have success against average defenses. We’ve seen this before. OU can have plenty of success and put up plenty of points against defenses ill-equipped to put up with its strength up front or athletes at the skill positions. The Sooners proved it again with 405 rushing yards (9.2 yards per carry) as their running game was clicking against the Cyclones. Some wondered if the Sooners could have any success on offense after its ugly showing against Baylor. Saturday proved OU still has some explosiveness in its offense.
The Sooners still can’t pass. OU finished with 118 passing yards against the Cyclones. Nobody should be surprised. The Sooners played three quarterbacks, Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, and none of them passed for more than 61 yards. Knight, who rushed for 123 yards, played the majority of the game after Bell was injured. OU receivers combined to catch eight passes in the win.
OU’s defense will bring hope in 2014, no matter what happens with the offense. There’s a bunch of young talent on the defense and even more was on display in the blowout win over the Cyclones. True freshman Dakota Austin got his first career interception, true freshman safety Ahmad Thomas recorded more tackles against the Cyclones (six) than he had all season (2) and true freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander led the team in tackles with 11. There are a bunch of reasons for OU fans to be excited about 2014, no matter how the offense looks for the remainder of the season, because the Sooners defense is young, athletic, fast and improving.