Oklahoma Sooners: R.J. Washington

NORMAN, Okla. -- The first time he stepped on the field as a Sooner, defensive end Charles Tapper felt uncertainty.

“It was nerve-racking,” he said.

In the Sooners’ 2012 season opener, the UTEP offensive tackle on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage did his best to intimidate Tapper, then just a freshman.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tapper
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiDefensive end Charles Tapper player sparingly for the Sooners in 2012, but he'll be a key member of the defense this season.
“I was kind of scared to go out there at first,” Tapper said. “The offensive tackle was just staring at me and I was just shaking.”

So instinct took over.

“So I tried to do a basketball move and he just threw me out of the way,” said Tapper, who was a standout basketball player who didn’t play football until his junior year at Baltimore (Md.) City College High School.

Later in the game, Tapper got the best of his one-on-one battle, pressuring UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison in the final minutes of OU’s 24-7 win.

“After my first snap I was OK, I was ready to play,” Tapper said.

Those moments in El Paso, Texas, define Tapper's first season at OU. During times of uncertainty, the raw defeensive end turned to his basketball roots yet when he focused on his football fundamentals, he saw success.

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OU position grades: Defensive ends 

December, 19, 2012
In the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the defensive end position.

GradeHighlights: Senior David King capped a solid career with a solid senior season. The second-team All-Big 12 selection finished the regular season with 25 tackles and proved to be OU’s most valuable player on the defensive line because of his versatility to play tackle, too.

Lowlights: The Sooners struggled to get pressure on opposing QBs all season and finished 61st nationally with just 24 sacks. OU had 40 sacks last season. Senior R.J. Washington came up with a huge strip in the victory at TCU, but drifted in and out of the rotation. Chuka Ndulue was solid at times, but he and Washington each struggled with their run fits. Teams such as Kansas State, West Virginia, Baylor and Oklahoma State took full advantage as the Sooners finished with the No. 83 run defense in the country.

Five Sooners to watch in bowl practices 

December, 5, 2012
Bowl practices can be a critical time for any football program. It’s an opportunity for young players to show how they’ve improved during the season and set themselves up in integral roles on the offense or defense heading into the spring while the veterans recover from a physical schedule.

Here’s a look at five young players at Oklahoma who could use bowl practices as a springboard to a bigger role for the Sooners in 2013.

[+] EnlargeTrey Metoyer
Richard Rowe/US PresswireTrey Metoyer began the season as a starter for the Sooners and finished with 17 catches for 148 yards.
Receiver Trey Metoyer

It’s important Metoyer understands he is still a big part of OU’s offensive plans in the future and that starts with these bowl practices. With Justin Brown leaving and Kenny Stills potentially declaring for the NFL draft, the Sooners will need Metoyer to emerge as a quality target as a sophomore.

With the Sooners looking at playing without Jalen Saunders after his recent arrest, Metoyer could be asked to play a bigger role in the offense during the Cotton Bowl. Metoyer began the season as a starter but his youth and inexperience showed at times during his freshman season.

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips

Phillips’ development is one of the most critical concerns for the Sooners heading into 2013 with their top three defensive tackles -- seniors Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker -- leaving the program after the Cotton Bowl.

The redshirt freshman has great size (6-foot-6, 316 pounds) and has seen more playing time as the season has progressed, recording 12 tackles. He’s had his moments when he’s played well but he’s far from a finished product. And the Sooners will desperately need him to play like one in 2013.

Cornerback Gary Simon

Senior Demontre Hurst has played as well as anyone on OU’s defense in 2012 and will be a big loss when he moves on after the Cotton Bowl. And junior Aaron Colvin could decide to test NFL waters. Therefore, Simon’s progress is important for OU’s defense.

The true freshman has seen limited playing time in blowout wins this season, so the bowl practices could be a opportunity for him to see some time with the No. 1 defense against the No. 1 offense. Simon impressed in the preseason and has the physical traits to be an impact player, he just needs the experience.

Defensive end Geneo Grissom

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Freshman update: QB Trevor Knight 

November, 29, 2012
R.J. Washington has a message for anyone who wants to hand the Oklahoma starting quarterback job to Blake Bell heading into the 2013 season.

“Everybody’s excited ... but people have to watch out for Trevor [Knight],” the Sooners defensive end said. “Don’t count him out, he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

Trevor Knight
Courtesy of Trevor KnightRedshirting quarterback Trevor Knight has impressed teammates running the scout team this fall.
Quarterback Trevor Knight has been redshirting during his first season on campus and running the scout team with efficiency against OU’s No. 1 defense in practice.

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Freshman update: DE Mike Onuoha 

November, 8, 2012
At this time last year, Mike Onuoha didn’t even have a scholarship offer from Oklahoma.

After receiving an OU offer in January and signing with the Sooners, the freshman defensive end is leaving a strong impression on his teammates this fall. He played his way out of a redshirt season in August and has seen spot duty in blowout games. Onuoha has four tackles and one quarterback hurry in four games played.

Although Onuoha has seen very limited game action this season, the 6-foot-5, 235 pound freshman is improving.

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Five storylines: Kansas vs. Oklahoma 

October, 18, 2012
After impressive back-to-back wins over Texas Tech and Texas, Oklahoma hosts Kansas at 6 p.m. CT Saturday at Owen Field in Norman, Okla. The Sooners have put themselves back in position to achieve their goals, as long as they continue to play at a high level. Here are five storylines to watch:

1. Will the Sooners handle success like they handled adversity?
After their loss to Kansas State, the Sooners have responded and put their name back in the national conversation about top teams and potential BCS title participants. That all goes away with a loss to KU.

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RRR recruiting: Does it make a difference? 

October, 11, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas -- David Ash remembers watching Red River Rivalry games from a church camp in Wichita, Kan.

He remembers the men -- some from Texas, some from Oklahoma -- with the game on down in the basement who were so loud, their wives were afraid to go downstairs.

“There aren’t supposed to be divisions in the church, but there was on that weekend,” the Texas quarterback said.

[+] EnlargeCotton Bowl
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAs the designated home team this season, Oklahoma will host the recruits at the Texas-OU game.
R.J. Washington remembers watching from the recruits’ section in the Cotton Bowl.

The Oklahoma defensive end from Keller, Texas, knew which school he’d eventually pick. He pretended he was undecided. That way, he could ensure one school was going to get him tickets for the game.

“I can’t remember if I used OU tickets or Texas tickets,” he said, “but either way, I was going to go to that game.”

The players who fill Texas' and Oklahoma's rosters today had their own ways of finding this game. For many, their first impressions of either school were grounded in watching Red River Rivalries of years past. Others admit they’d never watched the rivalry before playing in it.

Those first impressions beg the question: Does the Red River Rivalry make a legitimate difference in recruiting? The answer depends on whom you ask.

“I don’t think it makes any difference in recruiting,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Watching it throughout the years, usually the kids pick the school they want to go to. If you get beat, they’ll say, ‘Well, we’ll get them next year.’”

He’d like to say who wins and who loses has a significant impact on recruits, but Brown knows that isn’t true. After all, Texas lost five straight to Oklahoma from 2000 to 2004 and that didn’t put a dent in recruiting one bit.

Put aside wins and losses and Brown will admit this is always a meaningful weekend for recruits. Those who are lucky enough to attend usually leave satisfied.

“I do think the fact that they are all at this game is one of the reasons they choose the two schools,” he said. “I think this game helps both schools in recruiting.”

But it doesn’t help the way you might assume. In today’s recruiting world, you have to look at it through a different lens. The recruits Texas and Oklahoma will try to win over this weekend aren’t the ones who will sign this February.

By October, most of the best Texas-Oklahoma recruiting wars have already been waged. Now it’s time for the 2014 class.

ESPN 150 defensive tackle Justin Manning (Dallas/Kimball) might be the big name in attendance on Saturday, but Texas stopped recruiting him months ago. No, this weekend is about battling for position with the elite juniors in attendance.

More than 15 members of the ESPN Watch List for 2014 have confirmed they’re attending Saturday’s game, and many more are expected. Thanks to the ever-increasing speed of the recruiting process, the game is becoming the battleground for next year’s class. What happens Saturday matters to the juniors and sophomores, not the seniors.

“I’ve just always dreamed of playing in this big game with a lot of fans and a lot on the line,” 2014 recruit K.D. Cannon said. “I know this is a big deal.”

Oklahoma and Texas are considered the favorites to land the Mount Pleasant, Texas, junior receiver. By this time next year, don’t expect him to be coming back to this game uncommitted.

Look at the past five recruiting classes that Texas has signed. Of the 115 that have inked letters of intent with the Longhorns, 96 had already given Texas their verbal commitment before the Red River Rivalry game. At Oklahoma, 78 of its 115 signees had already made pledges before the big game.

Similar recruiting territory? Yes. Similar recruiting approach? In many ways, yes. Both make their hay on junior days and summer camps. Similar recruiting results? Not really.

Consider the starters who will take the field Saturday morning. Texas’ starting lineup features 16 players who gave UT its verbal pledge in the spring of their junior year. Oklahoma has only five starters who made their decisions that early.

There’s no doubt the Red River Rivalry has been a beneficial one for Oklahoma recruiting in the Lone Star State. You can’t overlook the fact this year’s Sooners squad features 52 Texans. The big game in Dallas and the visibility is receives bolsters OU’s efforts.

But in the past five years, no Texas or Oklahoma signee gave either school their pledge immediately following their senior-year Red River game. Not one.

For the juniors, though, the impact of this game is tangible.

“If a guy has a top two with OU and Texas, sometimes which team wins can be the tiebreaker and sometimes it’s not,” defensive end recruit Solomon Thomas said. “I think it’s a pretty big deal for recruiting from a recruit’s eyes. For me, it’s not that big of a deal. But it’s fun to see who wins.”

The 2014 prospect from Coppell, Texas, has been watching this game since the fourth grade. Most years, he roots for Texas. He’s pulled for the Sooners a few times, too.

He’ll be at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. When he ends up making his college decision, it won’t be because of this game.

"It’s a rivalry game, but it shouldn’t change your overall decision as the whole reason you want to go to a school,” Thomas said. “One school could be better in two years. The other team could be back the next year.”

In the end, whether a recruit is on the sidelines, in his living room or even the basement of a church, it’s just one game. A win or a loss might not sway today’s seniors like they used to, but for the recruits of tomorrow the battles have just begun.

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Film room: Landry Jones solid in win 

October, 7, 2012
Apparently the boat is not sinking.

Oklahoma righted the ship on Saturday with a 41-20 win over Texas Tech at Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Coming off one of the worst games of his career, quarterback Landry Jones played a superb game as he managed the Sooners offense and took care of the football. Defensively, the Sooners got three interceptions and held TTU scoreless in the second half until a garbage time touchdown from SaDale Foster with 56 seconds left in the game.

Here are five key plays in the Sooners' third win of the season:

13-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Justin Brown on OU’s first drive

[+] EnlargeOklahoma's Landry Jones
Michael C. Johnson/US PRESSWIRE A week after turning the ball over twice, Oklahoma's Landry Jones had no turnovers and two touchdown passes vs. Texas Tech.
Facing a third-and-10, OU was in four-wide formation with Brown and Kenny Stills to the right, Trey Metoyer and Sterling Shepard to the left. The key to the play was Jones holding the safety in the middle with his eyes after the snap. Brown was less than five yards off the line of scrimmage when Jones threw the ball, meaning Jones recognized the mismatch of the 6-foot-3 Brown against 5-9 Cornelius Douglas before the snap and trusted Brown to make a play even though the senior didn’t get a great release off the line.

Another key was the placement of Jones’ throw, right over the top of the defenders head. It was terrific field awareness by Brown who was against the sideline but didn’t allow Douglas to force him out of bounds and gave himself enough room to get two feet inbounds for the touchdown.

It was a early sign that Landry Jones was poised to play a solid game.

13-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Stills

This play is key because the Sooners scored their second touchdown on third down, while Texas Tech had settled for two field goals resulting in a 21-13 lead for OU.

On third-and-six, OU had trips left with Stills in the slot closest to the ball. TTU blitzed two defenders and the Sooners kept Brennan Clay and Brannon Green in to block. Each OU offensive lineman won his one-on-one battle while Clay and Green combined to pick up the other Red Raider. The best thing about OU’s pass protection on the play was zero missed assignments, each player understood his assignment and won his individual battle.

Meanwhile on the outside, TTU defensive back Jarvis Phillips had no hope against Stills who ran a corner route and caught the perfectly thrown pass from Jones. Once OU won the battle up front, it was no contest.

Aaron Colvin’s interception

It was a one-play glimpse at why the junior cornerback is special. He showed football IQ, awareness, terrific instincts and elite athleticism all on one play. With the Red Raiders looking to drive late in the second quarter, Colvin came on a cornerback blitz and snatched Seth Doege’s pass out of the air for his first interception of the season.

After lining up on Red Raiders receiver Eric Ward, Colvin slid inside just before the ball was snapped then blitzed. Doege and Ward recognized the cornerback blitz, so Ward simply stopped and waited for the throw. Halfway to the quarterback, Colvin realized what was happening and simply jumped up to intercept the ball.

NFL-level play. Mentally and physically. If Colvin continues to make plays like that, he'll open up all kinds of options for Mike Stoops as he devises schemes to stop the explosive offenses in the Big 12.

Frank Shannon’s fourth-down sack on TTU’s first possession of the second half

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Revenge is a word that has been used often when discussing Oklahoma’s game with Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, this weekend. But redemption is probably a better word. The Sooners enter the game with a defense that was torched by the Red Raiders in 2011 and a quarterback who played one of the worst games of his career in his previous outing.

Here’s a look at five storylines for the Sooners' matchup with Texas Tech.

1. Can Landry Jones regain confidence?

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After Monday’s practice, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said he was mostly pleased with how the defense performed in the loss to Kansas State.

“For three quarters we did exactly what we wanted to do,” he said. “If you can hold them to three points through three quarters, that’s very difficult to do. I don’t know if anybody’s ever done that.

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Film room: K-State 24, Oklahoma 19 

September, 23, 2012
Oklahoma's hopes of competing for a championship -- either Big 12 or BCS -- took a major hit with the 24-19 loss to Kansas State at Owen Field on Saturday. The OU offense shot itself in the foot with three turnovers, two by senior quarterback Landry Jones. Here’s a closer look at the Sooners' loss after further review:

Jones third-down incompletion targeting Kenny Stills on OU’s first possession

Two plays after Jones missed a wide-open Brannon Green for a touchdown on play action, he missed Stills in the corner on third down. This play was important for various reasons:

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Analyzing the finer points of Oklahoma's 24-19 loss to Kansas State:

• The Sooners nearly suffered another disastrous turnover in the third quarter. As jet back Roy Finch came in front of Landry Jones in motion, Jones took the snap and heaved it Finch’s way. Officials originally ruled the play a fumble and Kansas State recovered deep in OU territory. The replay booth, however, reversed call and gave the Sooners the ball back.

Initially, it looked as though Finch ran the wrong play or wasn’t expecting the ball. But after the game, Bob Stoops said the play was simply mistimed.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIBlake Bell's fumble in the red zone was costly for the Sooners, who had three turnovers vs. Kansas State.
“The timing of it wasn’t what it should have been,” Stoops said. “That’s why we do it the way we do, so if we drop it, it’s an incomplete pass.”

• Landry Jones wasn’t the only QB to commit a costly turnover. OU had the ball on the 1-yard line and was on the verge of taking the lead. But Blake Bell dropped the ball out of the Belldozer snap and Kansas State recovered. Even though the snap was a tad low, Stoops put the blame on Bell for the turnover.

“It hit him in the belly,” Stoops said. “What’s he going to say? He dropped it. You’ve got to catch the ball.”

• The Sooners committed another costly mistake, when Damien Williams’ 65-yard touchdown run was negated by a Justin Brown holding penalty. Brown grabbed the jersey of a Kansas State defensive back, clearing the path for Williams to dash through.

“One of those judgement calls,” Stoops said. “Changes everything.”

Even without the penalty, the touchdown wouldn’t have stood. Replay showed Williams stepped out of bounds well before reaching the end zone.

• Bad decisions and bad execution doomed Oklahoma in its 24-19 loss to Kansas State on Saturday night.

Landry Jones’ fumble gave the Wildcats their first touchdown, Jones’ interception led to the Wildcats second score and Blake Bell’s red-zone fumble erased a eight-play, 54-yard drive in the second quarter.

“It’s just bad football when you turn the football over,” coach Bob Stoops said. “You give up three turnovers and don’t get one, you’re going to lose against a good team every time and that’s how it went.”

Said center Gabe Ikard: “It’s kind of uncharacteristic stuff for us there. We just put the defense in bad spots.”

It’s a scary trend for the Sooners, who turned the ball over 29 times in 2011.

• Even though Oklahoma has put itself behind the eight-ball if the Sooners hope to compete for a Big 12 or even national championship, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops knows it’s not time to throw in the towel.

“It is a long season and we have to regroup,” he said. “I don’t think it is anything we can’t fix. I thought our kids competed and played hard. And that’s the bottom line to me.”

Unlike it’s Bedlam loss to Oklahoma State in the regular season finale in 2011, the Sooners competed throughout the entire 60 minutes even though the Wildcats took a double-digit lead with 7:27 left in the game.

“We broke down in a lot of elements in the game but our kids competed,” Stoops said.

• The Sooners made some defensive personnel changes against Kansas State.

Chuka Ndulue and David King got the start at defensive end alongside defensive tackles Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland. Senior defensive end R.J. Washington was the odd man out as the Sooners looked to start an defensive front that could hold up well against the run.

McFarland was the most active Sooner on the defensive front with five tackles including one tackle for loss. King and Ndulue finished with four tackles apiece while Washington and Walker added two tackles.

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Sooners on upset alert vs. K-State?

September, 22, 2012
When Oklahoma hosts Kansas State on Saturday, the Sooners are coming off a bye week which saw them surrender their No. 5 ranking in the AP poll, falling to No. 6 this week. It’s not outside of the realm of discussion to think the Sooners could be put on upset alert when they face the No. 15-ranked Wildcats.

Sooners defensive end R.J. Washington isn’t worried about OU’s national perception heading into this game, he just wants to win.

“We know how good Kansas State is,” the senior said. “I feel like people outside the conference really don’t know how good K-State is, they’re a great team. I’ll take a ugly win over a pretty loss.”

OU could send a loud message to the rest of the Big 12 and the nation with a eye-popping performance on Saturday. And yet any victory should boost OU’s national reputation since the Wildcats are ranked among the top 15 and already have an impressive blowout win over Miami (Fla.).
Oklahoma defensive end R.J. Washington thinks there’s a reason why the Sooners have lost only one home game during his five years in Norman. They’re more comfortable, playing in front of friends and family and, most importantly, they take it personal when an opponent steps on Owen Field with disrespectful intentions.

“You have to take it personal,” Washington said. “You see them run down, they’re talking, you might see someone spitting on your logo or you’re see them do something where you’re like, ‘For real? That’s how you want to treat my house?’”

“It would be like if someone walked in your house, snatched up your remote, took a drink from you and was changing the channels.”

The Sooners are 24-1 during Washington’s time in crimson and cream with the lone loss coming against Texas Tech last season, which snapped the Sooners’ 39-game home winning streak.
Oklahoma free safety Tony Jefferson took every snap of Monday’s practice and is expected to play Saturday against Kansas State, head coach Bob Stoops said.

“No more questions about Tony, OK?” Stoops said.

[+] EnlargeCollin Klein
Scott Sewell/US PresswireKansas State quarterback Collin Klein ran for 92 yards last year against the Sooners, but he has improved his accuracy throwing the ball this season.
Jefferson suffered a sprained ankle on Sept. 8 against Florida A&M, and sat out practice last week during the Sooners’ open date. His return is a huge boost for an OU defense facing its first true test of the season. The Wildcats are 13th in the country in scoring offense, averaging 46 points per game.

Jefferson was instrumental in the Sooners’ 58-17 dismantling of K-State last season, finishing with a team-high six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

Joseph Ibiloye and Aaron Franklin are likely to see more playing time this week with the power-running Wildcats in town.

“I think both of them will get the opportunity to play at little bit at the SAM linebacker position,” linebackers coach Tim Kish said.

The Sooners won’t alter their defense but the Wildcats personnel decisions are likely to put Ibiloye and Franklin on the field more often then they have been in OU’s first two games.

“In their two-back sets, we’ll use a SAM linebacker so we’ll be in our traditional 4-3 look,” linebackers coach Tim Kish said. “When they go to one-back, it’ll be a nickel package, similar to what we’ve done in the past.”

Ibiloye or Franklin will join Tom Wort and Corey Nelson as the Sooners linebackers in the 4-3 defense while nickelback Gabe Lynn will replace the duo in one-back situations.

Rotating Ibiloye and Franklin early in the contest might be the ideal scenario for the OU defense since neither player played extensive snaps against Florida A&M or UTEP. It would allow both players to get comfortable early in the game and keep both players fresh for the fourth quarter when the Wildcats running game could begin to take its toll if it’s a close contest.

• OU tends to play extremely well against ranked teams at Owen Field, often blowing them out, and has never lost to a ranked team at home under Bob Stoops. The Sooners have won 13 of those 14 games by double digits.

Linebacker Corey Nelson believes it is because the Sooners take their game to another level when a nationally-ranked squad visits Norman.

“It’s just a different mindset when you go against ranked teams,” Nelson said. “We just have a hunger to be better than a ranked team because we know they’re going to give us the best they’ve got, so we have to give them the best we’ve got.

“It creates a higher intensity level.”

The Sooners will have to be intense and physical against the Wildcats but they’ll also have to be focused. K-State is detailed and sound with its offensive execution, so one step in the wrong direction can be fatal.

• With Casey Walker’s return, the Sooners are feeling the best they have about their defensive line rotation this season. OU is expected to still be without suspended defensive tackle Stacy McGee. But with Walker back, David King has been able to return to his natural position, defensive end.

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