Oklahoma Sooners: Nick Florence

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was talking about Johnny Manziel as his team prepared to face Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in the Cotton Bowl. Yet his words revealed the driving force behind the Sooners’ change in recruiting strategy at the quarterback position.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireIf Blake Bell wins OU's quarterback job, expect more designed runs for the signal-caller.
“Sometimes the worst thing you can do is cover everybody,” Stoops said in December.

It’s every defensive coordinator’s nightmare to play great defense, have all receiving options covered, then watch helplessly as the quarterback scrambles for a big gain. It happened time and time again during the Cotton Bowl as Manziel set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards against OU.

The Sooners are hoping they’re on the positive side of that equation this fall and beyond. With Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, the Sooners have quarterbacks who can make defenses pay with their feet if they’ve run out of options through the air.

A glimpse at the skill set of OU’s quarterbacks has led to speculation that the Sooners offense would undergo drastic changes with a shift towards an offense that features the quarterback run game.

There are several signs that will not be the case, however. The Sooners signed four receivers on Wednesday, a sign that receiver-heavy formations are here to stay.

Most importantly, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel is very diligent on the recruiting trail in his search for athletic quarterbacks who are passers first. Mental makeup, intangibles, accuracy and arm strength sit alongside mobility on the Sooners list of priorities when recruiting quarterbacks.

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Roundtable: Landmine game in 2013 

January, 24, 2013
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Every Thursday, the SoonerNation staff will answer a roundtable question about OU football. Leave a comment or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum.

Today's question: Which game in 2013, outside of at Notre Dame and at Oklahoma State, should be considered a land mine for the Sooners?

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
AP Photo/Jake SchoellkopfIf Casey Pachall returns as TCU's starting quarterback in 2013, OU's game vs. the Horned Frogs could be tougher.
• The Sooners have one of the toughest schedules in the country, with 11 of their 12 opponents coming off bowl appearances. The three-game gauntlet of Notre Dame (Sept. 28), TCU (Oct. 5) and Texas (Oct. 12) will be the defining stretch of the season. But another game OU ought to be wary of is a Nov. 16 trip to Waco. Baylor ended the 2012 season as one of the hottest teams in the country, and while QB Nick Florence and WR Terrance Williams are gone, the Bears return plenty of firepower. The last time the Sooners went to Waco they lost in dramatic fashion, and Kansas State and Oklahoma State found out how tough it is to win there this past season. The Sooners are capable of escaping October unscathed. That visit to Baylor, however, is capable of derailing them, too.

Film review: Oklahoma 42, Baylor 34 

November, 11, 2012
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In a matchup of the Big 12’s most prolific passing offense and the conference’s top pass defense, there was a clear winner.

Oklahoma knocked off Baylor 42-34 on Saturday night at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium behind a terrific performance from the Sooners' secondary. The much-maligned group held Baylor to 172 passing yards and the Sooners' offense used another solid day from quarterback Landry Jones and the return of healthy Damien Williams to keep OU’s BCS berth hopes alive. Here are some key moments from the Sooners' win over the Bears.

Kenny Stills’ 15-yard catch on OU’s first drive

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3 Up, 3 Down: Oklahoma 42, Baylor 34 

November, 11, 2012
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More on Oklahoma's 42-34 win over Baylor:

THREE UP

1. Sooners pass defense: Simply put, OU’s defense shut down the Bears passing attack. BU quarterback Nick Florence finished 12-of-33 for 172 yards and no touchdowns after entering the game averaging 377.4 passing yards per game with 25 touchdown passes in eight games. Using a defensive package with seven defensive backs, the Sooners covered well and limited the big plays that generally make the Bears offense so explosive.

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Five storylines: Baylor vs. Oklahoma 

November, 8, 2012
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Oklahoma hosts Baylor at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday as the Sooners look to improve to 5-1 in Big 12 play. Here are five storylines to keep an eye on:

1. Will the Sooners defense redeem itself?

When people think of Baylor’s win over OU last season, thoughts of Bears receivers running uncontested through the secondary immediately come to mind.

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Scouting Baylor: Williams a big threat 

November, 6, 2012
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Baylor will arrive at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium with some momentum after a 41-14 win over Kansas last weekend. When the Sooners and Bears battle at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday, OU will have to worry about Nick Florence, the Big 12’s leader in total offense who has stepped in after Robert Griffin III to provide a quality run-pass threat. But Florence is not the lone Bear who could cause concern this weekend.

SoonerNation watched Baylor’s win over Kansas and came away with three other key factors that could impact Saturday’s game.

[+] EnlargeQuandre Diggs
AP Photo/Michael ThomasBaylor receiver Terrance Williams is one of the top offensive players in the Big 12.
Slowing Terrance Williams

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Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops understands he has a difficult task this season as the Sooners defense will face Big 12 foes Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor, which rank Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in total offense.

Each of the three teams has a quarterback who can test a defense with his arm or legs, a trait that Stoops holds in high regard.

“The quarterback run game is always the difference,” he said. “In the NFL it’s usually the difference, guys that can scramble and create plays with their feet are always going to create problems. You can’t just rush and let them run wild, you have to set edges, you’re rolling the dice, if he gets outside you have other issues.”

West Virginia’s Geno Smith is a Heisman favorite with his 1,728 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 98 rushing yards in four games. Baylor’s Nick Florence has stepped up admirably in following last year’s Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, with 1,585 passing yards and 153 rushing yards through four games. J.W. Walsh of Oklahoma State, passed for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and ran for 57 yards in the Cowboys’ 41-36 loss to Texas on Sept. 29.

Sooners schedule preview: Baylor 

August, 7, 2012
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November 10, 2012: Baylor
2011 record: 10-3 | 2011 conference record: 6-3 (Big 12)
OU’s all-time against Baylor: 20-1

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

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

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

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

Three things to watch:

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

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

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

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We'll be walking through the top 10 players at each position in the Big 12 before the season, but we'll start with the most important, especially in this league.

Let's do this:

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia: Smith put up huge numbers (4,385 yards, 31 TD, 7 INT, 65.8 completion percentage) and did so efficiently last season. Both of his top two targets are back and the adjustment to Big 12 defenses shouldn't be too difficult.

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Jones and Smith will go head-to-head all season for honors as the Big 12's top passer. Who comes out on top is anyone's guess, but Jones regressed last season, and his receivers let him down after Ryan Broyles' season ended with a knee injury. He'll try to bounce back with just one reliable target (Kenny Stills) to start the season. The rest of the receiving corps is loaded with potential, but very inexperienced.

3. Collin Klein, Kansas State: Clearly, I'm taking more than just passing acumen into account here. Klein is the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, and also threw for just under 2,000 yards last season, adding 13 passing touchdowns to the 27 he scored rushing. We'll see how much better he is as a passer this fall.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesTCU's Casey Pachall could be poised for a big year with a stable of talented receivers.
4. Seth Doege, Texas Tech: I refuse to hang last year's failures on Doege's shoulders. Absolutely not. He played well, at least as well as he could. The running game struggled and offered almost no support after Eric Stephens' injury. The defense was a disaster and there were injuries all over the place. Doege still went for more than 4,000 yards, 28 scores and just 10 picks. Don't be surprised if Doege throws his hat in the ring as the Big 12's best passer by season's end.

5. Casey Pachall, TCU: Pachall didn't have eye-popping numbers, but only because TCU rode on the shoulders of its trio of running backs. Still, Pachall's numbers are going to be better this year, and he's got great targets in Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter, not to mention youngster LaDarius Brown.

6. Nick Florence, Baylor: I like Florence to have a big year with really good receivers, but he's got too much to prove for now. He looked good in spot duty for RG3 against Texas Tech last season, but his senior season will look much, much different than his inconsistent freshman year all the way back in 2009.

7. Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State: The Big 12's only freshman quarterback is a true freshman, and Lunt earned this spot by beating out some really tough competition in J.W. Walsh and Colton Chelf this spring. Amazing stuff, and his coaches know good quarterbacks. Zac Robinson and Brandon Weeden have established quite the QB tradition in Stillwater. Here's guessing Lunt continues it.

8. Dayne Crist, Kansas: Crist's college career hasn't been what he imagined after coming to Notre Dame as one of the most highly recruited signal-calling prospects in his class, but he's got a chance to start something special at Kansas in his senior year, reunited with former coach Charlie Weis. Crist won't have the weapons some of the other guys on this list have, but he gives KU a big, big upgrade at the position.

9. Steele Jantz/Jared Barnett, Iowa State: These two have to cut down the turnovers, but they've both shown the ability to be playmakers. There's no guessing who wins this legitimate battle in the fall, but coach Paul Rhoads isn't afraid to bench either one if the turnovers don't stop.

10. David Ash/Case McCoy, Texas: Mack Brown insists it's still a contest. My jaw will be on the floor if Ash doesn't trot out on the field for the first game of the season. Ash has some potential and promising targets in Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, but he hasn't shown the big-play ability of Jantz or Barnett. Expect Ash to move up this list by season's end, but for now, it's all just potential.

Big 12 position rankings: Quarterback

January, 25, 2012
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Today, we'll kick off a look at the postseason rankings for each position in the Big 12. Here's a look back on where our first position, quarterback, stood in the preseason.

Quarterbacks' rushing talents are factored into these rankings. As such, it's tough to figure out how to weigh that vs. passing acumen. Ultimately, teams ranked 4-7 were really, really close.

In these position rankings, we take into account backups, though that impact is minimal at the quarterback spot.

1. Baylor

If your quarterback wins the Heisman, you're not finishing below No. 1 on this list. Robert Griffin IIIlit up defenses and broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency, even though Wisconsin's Russell Wilson did the same this year, and finished higher than RG3. Even when RG3 suffered concussion-like symptoms against Texas Tech, backup Nick Florencecame in and burned Texas Tech's defense in a 66-42 win. Griffin finished with as many touchdowns as Brandon Weeden (37), but threw as few interceptions as Collin Klein (6), despite throwing the ball 121 more times than Klein.

2. Oklahoma State

Brandon Weeden is a solid second place in this ranking, and backup Colton Chelflooked good in lots of mop-up duty, too. Weeden was the star, putting together an All-Big 12 caliber season, though Griffin's otherworldly performance in 2011 knocked him off his first-team perch from 2010. He led the league with 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also had the second-most pass attempts in the league, with 564.

3. Oklahoma

Landry Jones got some help late in the season when Blake Bell's BellDozer racked up a team-high 13 touchdowns. Jones wasn't outstanding late in the season after Ryan Broyles' knee injury, but his receivers didn't help him much, either. The dropsies seemed to infect everybody after Broyles' college career ended. Jones finished with 4,463 yards passing, second most in the Big 12. He also added 29 touchdowns but must improve on his 15 interceptions, a regression back to freshman-year Jones.

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