Articles

Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

Offseason Intelligence: Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

Kolton Browning

(Editor's note: With the offseason in full gear, BH will be providing previews of OU's 2013 opponents. We'll go in chronological order, starting with the Sooners' season opener over Labor Day weekend, the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks.)

In their first three games of 2012, the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks stunned Arkansas, 34-31, in overtime, lost to Auburn, 31-28, in overtime and nearly toppled Baylor. ULM tied for second in the Sun Belt Conference and finished the season with a 9-4 mark. The Warhawks were blown out by Ohio, 45-14, in the New Orleans Bowl.

Todd Berry, coach of the year in the Sun Belt Conference last year, begins his fourth year at ULM carrying an 18-19 overall record into 2013.

Offense

Berry will have eight returnees on offense, needing to replace a wide receiver, tight end and right guard. Senior quarterback Kolton Browning (6-1, 203), the Sun Belt’s player of the year returns. He completed 63.8 percent of his passes last year for 3,049 yards with 29 TDs and 10 INTs. He will not have his leading receiver (Brent Leonard) next year, but the next four behind him will be back. They combined for 167 receptions for 2,092 yards and 14 TDs.

Jyruss Edwards (5-11, 198, Sr.) ULM's leading running back missed the final five games of the 2012 season with an injury. He carried the ball 99 times for 446 yards and 6 TDs. Senior Monterell Washington (5-10, 206) filled in and picked up 354 yards on 81 carries with 6 TDs.

Center Josh Allen (6-3, 315) returns to anchor the front line. He was named to the Sun Belt’s second team all-conference in ’12.

Louisiana-Monroe – 2012 Statistics

Offense (Nat'l. Rank)   Defense (Nat'l. Rank)
33.8 (32nd) Scoring (PPG) 29.2 (72nd)
142.1 (85th) Rushing (YPG) 142.2 (39th)
290.7 (27th) Passing (YPG) 276.5 (108th)
432.8 (42nd) Total (YPG) 418.8 (78th)

Defense

The Warhawks run a 3-3-5 defensive alignment and will return nine starters from a year ago. The front line will be anchored by senior nose tackle Kentarius Caldwell (6-2, 273), who missed the final eight games last year with a knee injury.

ULM will be looking to replace two linebackers who have graduated. Junior Ray Stovall (6-2, 232) of Tulsa Washington is the lone returnee. He was fifth on the team with 63 tackles last year, including 13.5 behind the line of scrimmage. He had 3 sacks and 4 quarterback hurries.

Safety Isaiah Newson (5-11, 191, Sr.) will lead a secondary that returns all of its players. Chosen to the Sun Belt’s second team in 2012, he made 57 tackles last year with 4 INTs and 9 passes broken up. Overall, the secondary made 205 tackles, intercepted 9 passes and broke up 43 more.

Special Teams

Special teams will see the return of junior kicker Justin Manton (6-2, 190), who will again punt and placekick. He averaged 39.8 yards per punt last year, made 57 of 58 PATs and 5 of 9 field goal attempts with the longest at 47 yards.

Sophomore Cortney Davis (5-9, 181), the top kickoff return specialist, will continue the duty this year. He averaged 22 yards on 34 returns but didn’t find the end zone. The Warhawks will seek a new punt return specialist as that job was Leonard’s also.

Dear Texas, Get better soon - Best wishes, OU

Mack Brown and Bob Stoops

Texas football has hit such a lull lately that it almost feels undignified taking jabs at the Sooners’ rivals to the south. Of course, DeLoss Dodds and Mack Brown start flapping their gums, and it gets awfully hard to resist.

These days, though, you don't even need an OU fan to beat up the straw men trotted out by Gasbag and Gassier -- not when Bevo backers are more than willing to do it themselves. Unless you’re talking to someone inside the well-heeled cabal of boosters who regularly play in Dodds’ foursomes and get their boots shined by Brown, I reckon plenty of UT fans share Scipio’s sentiments about marking time until the two bigwigs step down. Honestly, I can’t say that I blame them.

Brown may still have the charm reserves needed to woo high school recruits and their parents with the best of them, but he has devolved into a punchline as a coach. Meanwhile, Dodds continues to strengthen his bid for the title of “College Football’s Preeminent Producer of Intellectually Dishonest Bullshit.” (Watch out, Jim Delany.)

I’m definitely not shedding any tears, but I can imagine how frustrating it must be for the UT fans who don’t have the Dun & Bradstreet to merit scotch and cigars with the head coach. As Stewart Mandel noted in his recent look at the state of the Longhorns, even with all the underachievement of late, Brown’s job isn’t in jeopardy.

(Why? Conventional wisdom is that Dodds doesn’t feel like going through a coaching search.)

Corey Nelson

Of course, the natural inclination of Sooner Nation has been to pray that researchers devise some miraculous anti-aging treatment that ensures Brown will remain on the Longhorn sidelines in perpetuity. OU has won three consecutive Red River Shootouts, the last two victories coming by an average margin of 40 points. Even with the Sooners entering what looks like a rebuilding year, Texas is going through yet another offensive reboot in the classic “I-want-to-do-what-TEAM-X-does-I’ll-snap-my-fingers-and-it-will-happen” fashion we’ve come to expect from Brown. It all adds up to #KeepMackBrown.

But we all couldn’t be more wrong. For OU’s sake, Brown needs to get his gold watch soon.

The greatest lesson to be learned from the SEC’s string of seven consecutive national championships is that in today’s college football world, you’re only as good as the company you keep. The SEC has done a masterful job of marketing the league as the baddest dudes on the block. Those 14 teams comprise the sport’s marquee brand, which means more of everything that sustains success -- from eyeballs to dollars to talent.

OU has hitched the Sooner Schooner to the Big 12, a deep league with plenty of quality programs up and down the ladder. But one league is Barry Bonds, and the other is Tony Gwynn.

The SEC has a handful of programs with the raw materials to produce nationally elite teams every year -- LSU, Alabama, Florida, Georgia. Below the top layer is a smattering of teams like Auburn and Tennessee that have made national title runs in the BCS era. When all is said and done, it doesn’t really seem to matter in the eyes of the public and media if these heavyweights play each other in a season, so long as they’re all housed under the same conference roof.

The Big 12 consists of solid programs, but the Red River rivals are the only two that have the same type of built-in advantages as the SEC powers. Texas, which arguably should have an edge on every other school in the country, has stumbled and fumbled around for three years. Oklahoma fans have relished three wins over UT during that period, but, truth be told, the Sooners atrophied in that stretch, too. (Before you start arguing otherwise, pop in the tape of the 2013 Cotton Bowl.)

The Baylors and Oklahoma States of the league have capitalized on the opportunities of the last three seasons to reach the highest heights in program history. History also shows us how difficult it is for those schools to make the leap to perennial contender.

The truth is that as schadenfreude-tastic as it is to watch your mortal enemy meander aimlessly from year to year, the Sooners and Longhorns are joined at the hip from a competitive standpoint. Both benefit from the other’s strength, even if they don't want to admit it.

Iron sharpens iron in college football, and Texas has turned to rubber under Brown. The sooner he steps aside and Texas gets its act together, the better for the Sooners.

Oklahoma Spring Football: Special Teams

Michael Hunnicutt

New assistant coach Jay Boulware has taken over as special teams coordinator for the Sooners this spring in addition to coaching the tight ends. His most recent special teams tutelage was at Auburn. The Tigers’ punt coverage unit ranked second nationally, allowing four return yards on 70 punts. You read that right: F-O-U-R yards. Auburn’s opponents only returned 5 of those 70 kicks.

The Tigers averaged 8.9 yards per punt return last year, far less than OU’s 14.3 in 2012. Auburn was third nationally in kickoff coverage, yielding 16.6 per return. The Sooners gave up 18.8 per return last year, but had a better return average than the Tigers (25.8-22.4).

So, what does the new coach have to work with at OU this spring? He's breaking in a new punter. That’s it. Everybody with some experience returns.

Punter Tress Way has graduated. He was solid for the Sooners with averages the last four years of 45.7, 44.0, 42.0 and 44.2 yards per attempt. His career average was 44 yards even.

The odds-on favorite to replace Way is Jed Barnett (6-2, 215, Jr.), a JUCO transfer from Laney College in Oakland. He averaged 41.6 yards per kick in 2012. Dylan Seibert (6-3, 220, Soph.) and Jack Steed (6-5, 214, rFr.) will be Barnett’s challengers in the spring.

Michael Hunnicutt (6-1, 169, Jr.) returns as the placekicker. Hunnicutt has nailed 84 percent of his field goals and 97 percent of PATs over the past two years. He will vie for the kickoff duties, too, as Patrick O’Hara has graduated.

There has been no talk of changes in the return game. Running backs Brennan Clay (5-7, 197, Sr.) and Roy Finch (5-7, 167, Sr.) will again return kickoffs this year. Clay had 20 returns for a 25.4-yard average, but none was returned for a score. Finch returned 12 kickoffs for a 31-yard average ,and he had a 100-yarder against Kansas for his lone touchdown.

Fielding punts, wide receiver Jalen Saunders (5-9, 160, Sr.) split time with Justin Brown after sitting out the first four games of the season. Saunders returned just five punts for an average of 17.6 yards, but he electrified Sooner fans with an 81-yard return against OSU for his only TD as a returner.

Austin Woods (6-4, 310, Sr.) is back, and he has been the deep snapper for placements the past two years. Since Daniel Franklin has graduated, Woods may end up snapping on punts as well.

Sooners Recruiting Update: Unexpected RB

The spring has seen big changes in recruiting strategy by Oklahoma. The Sooners are moving towards a new strategy that I call “Total Recruiting.” The key changes include:

*Instead of hosting big recruiting weekends for juniors, OU seems to be focusing on events throughout spring practice whenever prospects can visit. The prospects are being told that OU has an open door policy for spring visits – come when you can come up. It requires greater effort on OU’s part, but it also allows for more focused attention for the recruits and greatly extends the chances that OU will get more 2014 kids on campus.

*OU is handing out more early offers to both Texas and national prospects. OU is aggressively pursuing the top prospects around the nation and regionally.

*There have been more early offers to 2015 kids. OU has offered more rising juniors than any time previously. In fact, the numbers are not even close.

*OU is offering JUCO targets far earlier than in any year previously. The staff is identifying targets way before the usual JUCO frenzy in November.

*In any number of recent media recruiting updates, OU is being called the most aggressive recruiting school by prospects when asked the trite “who is recruiting you the hardest?” question. That rarely happened before. It certainly never happened at offensive line or defensive line.

*While I cannot confirm it, it certainly appears that Bob Stoops is letting Jay Norvell, Mike Stoops, Bill Bedenbaugh, Bobby Jack Wright and Jerry Montgomery make in-person offers. The typical bottleneck formed by the requirement to get Bob’s sign-off does not appear to be there given the breakneck pace of offers going out. Bedenbaugh and Montgomery’s offer pace would certainly seem to indicate some change is happening.

Verbal Update: An unexpected running back commitment

OU received an early RB commitment, but not from the guy everyone expected (Nathan Starks). Instead, OU got a verbal from Samaje Perine right after he visited during spring practice.

Perine is more of a power back, but he does show excellent speed and moves. Comparisons go back to OU’s best power runner of the 1990s, Jerald Moore. He's also reminiscent of current NFL tailback Frank Gore.

Perine was recovering from an injury last fall and still posted great stats. He could have a massive senior year and blow up in the rankings in a similar manner to Keith Ford.

2014 Verbal Commitments: 3
(Class size: 22-24)

Armanti Foreman, WR
(5-11, 180, 4.45)

Vontre McQuinnie, DB
(6-1, 200, 4.6)

Samaje Perine, RB
(5-11, 225. 4.45)

Recruiting Baker’s Dozen

1. Justice Hansen – Top QB target

2. Nathan Starks – Top RB target

3. Solomon Thomas – Top DL target

4. Michiah Quick – Best cornerback target for OU

5. Tyler Whiley – Mike's top big CB target

6. Ty Barrett – Big offensive tackle whose rankings are about to explode

7. Jovan Pruitt – Other big Dallas-area OT

8. Orlando Brown – Is the Atlanta native Bedenbaugh’s top national target at OT?

9. Trey Lealaimatafao – Best DT in Texas?

10. Mark Andrews – Either a big wide receiver or an elite tight end in the future, OU doesn’t care

11. Dwight Williams – Arguably the best LB on the board for OU

12. Natrell Curtis – Might be a top five national guard, and OU needs OLs in the worst way

13. Jamal Adams – Best safety on the board for OU

Class Breakdown

Quarterback: 1

(*If Cody Thomas goes pro in baseball, OU might think about signing two QBs.)

Hansen still holds the only offer at QB. He’s very interested in Texas A&M, too. QB verbals always happen early as the top kids never choose the same place. Hansen probably has the only OU QB offer until May. If he has not decided by then, look for Heupel to extend additional offers.

Justice Hansen (6-3, 195, 4.6) – This name has been out there in Sooner recruiting circles for nearly two years. Hansen has been a factor at Sooner summer camps for the last two years and had a fantastic junior year, showing improvement over his excellent sophomore season Hansen has an OU offer, and his dad played baseball for OU in the 1990s.

David Cornwell (6-4, 205, 4.7) – Small-school QB has moved to Norman for his senior year. His film is excellent. It is just a shame that there are two great in-state QBs in the same year. He’s probably right behind Hansen in terms of an OU offer.

Running Back: 2

OU has one RB in the fold and will likely take the next big-time RB and call it a day. Starks or Mixon in addition to Perine would give OU probably the top RB class in the country.

Nathan Starks (6-0, 210, 4.45) – It’s about time that OU signed a great RB from Bishop Gorman again. Starks is that RB. He has been very clear that OU is one of his favorites and that Murray is one of his favorite RBs. A very possible five-star RB.

Joe Mixon (6-1, 190, 4.45) – Any RB who wears 28 and wants folks to call him "the next Adrian Peterson" is probably interested in hearing from OU. Mixon has an OU offer and is excellent RB with home run speed. Like Starks, he has a number of big-time offers.

Wide Receiver: 3?

Armanti Foreman has been visiting a bunch of schools this spring. That puts the durability of his commitment in doubt.

I’ve long maintained that OU will take Foreman or K.D. Cannon, but won’t take both. They are way too similar in stature and receiving game.

The biggest new names at WR are national prospects from Florida and California.  OU surprisingly took four WRs in 2013, so it’s hard to know what the number will be for 2014. Bester and Saunders graduate, so OU is looking for at least two.

Jeffrey Mead (6-7, 170, 4.6) – Is Mead a basketball player or a football player? His junior year showed a tall WR with great hands and excellent speed who was a consistent mismatch against smaller DBs. Seems like Mead is more interested in basketball, but offers from OU and OSU for football might make this more of a choice.

Nick Alexander (6-3, 195, 4.5) – A superstar at the OU summer camp of 2012, Alexander had an uneven junior year from all reports.

K.D. Cannon (6-0, 170, 4.4) – Best WR in Texas? Cannon is a legit contender for that crown. Extremely fast and elusive, Cannon would make an awesome slot WR for the Sooners. Can OU sign both Armanti and KD with such similar receiving games?

Dorian Leonard (6-5, 190, 4.5) – Malcolm Kelly redux? Leonard looks great on film. He's a big, fluid athlete making those big down field catches that Kelly did so well in 2006/2007. Has an OU offer.

Mark Andrews (6-7, 226, 4.6) – Huge WR/TE who has been very public about his interest in OU. Andrews on film looks like an excellent big WR, but you have to wonder if a natural move to TE is in his future.

Dallis Todd (6-5, 204, 4.5) – Great looking big WR with excellent speed. He’s very interested in OU after getting his offer. Norvell has had success in California before.

Corey Holmes (6-3, 180, 4.4) - This Florida receiver just received his OU offer and again seems very interested in OU. Montgomery looks like the coach who pushed the OU offer to Holmes. Holmes has a nice blend of agility, top-end speed and height.

Offensive Line: 5 (at least)

Bedenbaugh is hitting the ground running big time, including scholarship offers in Texas and nationally. Offers have gone out to top JUCO OTs indicating how high a priority OU is making OL this year. JUCO offers in February provide yet another example of “Total Recruiting.”

Bedenbaugh is aggressively recruiting OL at a pace not seen in Norman in a long time.

Ty Barrett (6-5, 295, 5.2) – Athletic tackle prospect from Dallas Skyline. OU has numerous players from Skyline. Just visited for junior day and has an OU offer. His profile is on the rise and Bedenbaugh has made him a priority.

Braden Smith (6-6, 275, 5.0) – Nationally ranked OL prospect who starred last summer at the OU summer camp where he was probably the top prospect. OU will be in the hunt, but all the big powers have offered Smith. His recruiting is dead quiet.

Jovan Pruitt (6-6, 290, 5.2) – Recently offered by OU and Notre Dame. Huge-framed kid looks a little stiff in his stance, but he shows some power on film.

Blake Blackmar (6-5, 300) – Blackmar has some flexibility by playing center in HS, so he could play anywhere on the OL. Blake has expressed interest in OU previously.

Jacob Bragg (6-3, 290,5.2) – If OU wants to recruit a pure center, Bragg would be a great target. Bragg has previously expressed interest in OU and looks like an excellent center prospect.

Orlando Brown (6-7, 340, 5.4) – Might be a top five national OT after his camp performances. Huge frame and now that he has lost some bad weight his mobility is impressive. Bedenbaugh has OU in the top seven, and a visit is very likely.

Denzel Ward (6-9, 290, 5.2) – Has already committed to visiting Norman this fall. Huge frame with incredible agility. Has a sky high ceiiing.

Natrell Curtis (6-3, 285) – Teammate of UCLA signee Kenny Lacy. OU has offered along with host of Pac 12 schools. Just excelled at a recent all star camp. Might be the best OG prospect on the board.

Roderick Johnson (6-7, 300, 5.2) – If not for Andy Bauer (Ole Miss commit), Johnson would be getting more publicity as the best OL in Missouri.

Dontavius Blair (6-8, 300, 5.2) – Kansas JUCO already visited OU during a spring tour of schools. OU has already offered, and he looks like he will graduate by December.

Jermaine Eluemenor (6-5, 300, 5.1) – Penn JUCO might be the best JUCO OT prospect for 2014. Very athletic and powerful frame. Originally from England and is still learning football. OU has offered along with Ohio State and Florida State.

Tight End: 2

OU struck out at TE in 2013, so two tight ends would make a lot of sense for 2014. OU really needs to use the TE more in their offense. Hopefully, Taylor McNamara and Sam Grant return the TE position to relevance this fall. New TE coach Jay Boulware is just getting up to speed in terms of recruiting, so expect this list to change considerably over the next 30 days.

Koda Martin (6-6, 250, 4.8) – Looking for a big prototype blocking TE? Martin is it. Last year he started showing some receiving skills as well. The only question is: Like Eric Winston, does he grow into an elite mobile OT or stay at TE?

Dalton Schultz (6-5, 220, 4.7) – Top-ranked national TE who has received an OU offer. Not sure at this point where OU stands.

Nic Weishar (6-5, 220, 4.6) – Excellent pass-receiving TE from the Chicago area. Shows excellent speed with the ability to stretch the field down the seams.

Mike’Quan Deane (6-4,220, 4.6) – A possible Sooner from Tulsa Memorial! (Go Chargers.) Big WR/TE target. Shows excellent receiving skills and speed, but not much in the way of blocking footage/skills. No offer yet, but he was just at the OU junior day.

Defensive Tackle: 2

The Sooners are not quite in the desperate place for DTs that they were in with the 2013 class. Still, you’d like to see OU sign a top DT every year. No prospects in Oklahoma right now, and Texas does not look to have a deep pool of candidates.

OU lost out on Jaycoven Henderson to TCU with the DT coaching position change. Montgomery is working DT prospects already, but it’s not a great year overall in Texas or nationally. But some new names have appeared on the radar.

Trey Lealaimatafao (6-2, 290. 5.0) – OU has made him a priority after losing out on Henderson. He’s visited Norman this spring already.

Courtney Garnett (6-2, 285, 5.0) – A Louisiana prospect not locked into an SEC school. Garnett is set to visit OU and UT at some point this spring.

Peyton Newell (6-3, 275, 4.7) – Like Solomon Thomas, another big body that could be a 3-4 DE or bulk up to be a 4-3 DT. He’s received his OU offer, and OU visit is very likely.

Khairi Clark (6-3, 310, 5.0) – The entire world is recruiting Clark. His film is elite – massive frame, explosive burst, playmaking ability on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Travonte Valentine (6-3, 285, 4.9) – Valentine has verbaled to Louisville and now Florida, but he has an OU offer as well.

Defensive End: 2

OU signed an excellent three-player DE class in 2013, but I’m guessing Bobby Jack Wright still has the green light to add two top-flight DEs if he can find them. OU has offers out to national targets like DaShawn Hand, but I don’t see it going anywhere.

Solomon Thomas (6-3, 260, 4.8) – Probably the top overall DL prospect in Texas. Thomas could be a 3-4 DE or possibly grow into a DT. OU has offered, and he just visited for junior day. Very impressive film.

Myles Garrett (6-4, 230, 4.7) – After Thomas, Garrett is getting a lot of attention as the next best DE.

Deondre Clark (6-4, 240, 4.8) – After Justice Hansen, Clark is probably the top prospect in OK. Unfortunately, he has a brother at OSU playing basketball and seems very interested in LSU. OU is recruiting him and has offered, but he seems focused elsewhere.

Andrew Williams (6-4, 245, 4.6) – Your usual elite SEC type DE prospect. Williams has made a real connection with Montgomery. OU looks likely to receive a visit.

Linebacker: 4

Last year it was DTs, this year’s desperate recruiting position that has the message boards worried a year before signing day is LB. Tim Kish has already been labeled by some as a disaster.

Fortunately, it’s a great year for LBs from Texas (unlike last year), and Kish appears to have made some excellent connections with these prospects. In addition, two excellent LBs from Illinois have expressed serious interest in OU.

Kish could very quickly dismiss the "problem coach" label with some early verbals at LB.

Otaro Alaka (6-3, 210, 4.5) – Wow. I love this film as an OLB to help OU deal with spread attacks. Alaka does a great job attacking the perimeter and also in coverage. Great range, power. OU is fading, however.

James David (6-3, 226, 4.6)  – Might be the best MLB in Texas. David tore his ACL last year, so there’s some question about when he will be back on the field. His junior year film is great. James is the younger brother of Derek David, whose career has been derailed by off-the-field legal issues.

Gyasi Akem (6-2, 215, 4.6) – Best-looking OLB prospect in state of OK. Very physical and excellent speed. Probably is leaning to OSU and will join his Broken Arrow teammate Devon Thomas.

Cameron Hampton (6-2, 210, 4.6) – Another great-looking OLB prospect.

Josh Mabin (6-2, 225) – With David hurt, Mabin might be the best MLB prospect in Texas. Very physical, does a great job in coverage and stopping the run with some power inside.

Niles Morgan (6-2, 215 4.5) – OU has already offered this speedy physical OLB. OU has a connection back to David Smith, so a visit is not out of the question. Has a lot of big-time offers.

Zach Whitley (6-2, 215, 4.6) – Have not heard a great deal about Whitley. He might be leaning to Texas.

Christian Sam (6-2, 205, 4.5) – Just visited for OU’s first junior day. No offer yet, but his film is excellent.

Clifton Garrett (6-2, 225, 4.6) – If Morgan is the speed LB from Illinois, then Garrett is the power LB. The entire Big Ten has offered him. OU has offered, and a visit would not be a surprise.

Dwight Williams (6-3, 215, 4.55) – Might be the best OLB in California. Shows excellent power, burst, and pursuit. Seems interested in his OU offer.

Tay Evans (6-3, 210, 4.55) – Teammate of Sam and son of former OU hoops player Bobby Joe Evans. Evans is recovering from an shoulder injury but on film with his frame might have a higher upside than Sam.

Defensive Back: 3-4

This might be the best and deepest talent pool of DBs from Texas in forever. There’s legitimately 15 to 16 four-star-type DBs in the state. It’s going to be nearly impossible to really rank the guys – the talent level is that high. The top 50 in Texas could easily be populated with 20 DBs.

OU has to take advantage of this group and sign three or four kids.

Darrion Johnson (5-10, 185, 4.5) – OU offer. Visited for the junior day. Very physical CB with excellent cover and open-field tackling skills.

Arrion Spring (5-11, 190, 4.5) – OU offer. Visited for junior day. Safety prospect who is excellent in coverage and very physical in run support. Excellent tackler.

Edwin Freeman (6-2, 190, 4.5) – OU offer at safety. Huge frame with excellent speed and range.

Dylan Sumner-Gardner (6-2, 190, 4.5) – OU offer at safety. Visited for first junior day. Was verbaled to Clemson.

Nick Watkins (6-1, 185, 4.5) – Best big CB in Texas? His offer list (OU included) sure lends credence to that statement.

Nick Harvey (5-11, 180, 4.5) – Might be the best CB in Texas. Verbaled to Texas A&M. OU will try to get him on campus for a junior day.

Tony Brown (6-1, 180, 4.5) – Okay, Brown might be the best DB in Texas. OU offer, but he is rumored to be a lean to LSU.

Steven Parker (6-2, 185, 4.5) – Best DB prospect in Oklahoma. Has an OU offer and was a star at the OU summer camp.

Michiah Quick (6-0, 175, 4.4) – Despite his HS having three big-time DBs just sign LOIs, Quick might be the best one overall. After signing Hatari Byrd and L.J. Moore, OU will be all over this California offer.

Jamal Adams (6-1, 190, 4.5) – Both OU and UT are after this big, talented safety. Might be the best safety in Texas.

John Bonney (6-0, 185, 4.5) – OU offer out of the Houston area. He has not visited yet for a junior day.

Tyler Whiley (6-1, 190, 4.5) – Big CB prospect that seems very interested in OU. Would be a huge pickup for Kish/Mike from their former recruiting territory.

Courtland Sutton (6-3, 200, 4.5) – Looks like he could be an elite center field free safety or bulk up to play OLB. His film is very good.

Podcast: March Madness Breakdown

Time for a break from football for March Madness. The Skinny joins Homerism for a podcast to talk about their picks for this year's NCAA basketball tournament and take a deeper look at the four regions.

Skinny and I touch on:

*Oklahoma's matchup with San Diego State on Friday night in the first round.

*The games we're most looking forward to.

*Players to watch.

*Sleeper and upset picks.

*Our Final Four predictions.

*And more.

(Subscribe to Blatant Homerism's Podcast through iTunes. Please rate and review the show if you get the chance, too. Thanks.)

Legendary Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis dies in plane crash

Steve Davis

Steve Davis wasn't the quickest wishbone quarterback to ever play at the University of Oklahoma, but he achieved something no other was ever able to accomplish—two national championships.

Davis, 60, died Sunday night while onboard on a jet that crashed into three homes in South Bend, Ind.

A product of Sallisaw, Okla., he came to OU in 1971 and was eighth among eight quarterbacks on the roster. Two years later he beat out four others to become the starting quarterback. Davis started 34 games for the Sooners from 1973-75 and helped Oklahoma to national championships in 1974 and 1975.

“Steve was one of those kids that no one wanted,” coach Barry Switzer told the Tulsa World. “He was one of the last guys that got recruited. He was last team (as a freshman at OU) and ended up winning two national championships and was a three-year starter. He believed in himself when no one else did.”

Davis won 32 games of those games during his career. Oklahoma tied USC in 1973 and didn’t lose until dropping a 23-3 decision to Kansas in 1975. He rushed for 2,124 yards and scored 34 touchdowns during his career. Eleven times he rushed for more than 100 yards in a game. He completed 86 of 215 passes for 2,036 yards with 21 TDs and 17 INTs in an offensive formation that wasn’t famous for airing out the football.

Davis also was good at reading defenses. For example, OU was tied with Texas in the fourth quarter in their 1975 matchup. The Sooners had marched to the UT 33. Steve noticed the Longhorns were loading up on the right side. So, he changed the play.

“I saw more people on the right side than on the left,” he said. On the snap Horace Ivory fired off from his fullback position, grabbed the handoff from Davis and bolted to the left side and down the sideline 33 yards to the end zone. OU won 24-17.

In his final game against Michigan in the 1976 Orange Bowl, Davis was delivering the pregame benediction when the announcer interrupted him with the announcement that UCLA had defeated Ohio State. This meant that the Sooners and Wolverines were now playing for the national title. Davis was named the game’s offensive most valuable player. He delivered a 40-yard pass to Tinker Owens to set up OU’s first touchdown, and he later scored on a 10-yard run for a 14-0 lead. OU went on to a 14-6 victory. Davis was inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame in 2007.

Davis was an ordained Baptist minister and active with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was working in real estate and radio broadcasting. He also was a motivational speaker. He had been analyst for ABC and CBS and hosted the Barry Switzer Show. After a hiatus from television, he resurfaced last fall as a pre-game analyst for Sooners Sports TV.

Don't screw with the Crimson and Cream

Baylor Bears

Ugly ass uniforms are turning up everywhere these days in sports arenas. Thursday night Baylor’s basketball team wore some ugly unis with black/gray shirts and shorts. It looked like they traded their traditional gold for highlighter yellow.

It looked to me like they were trying to win the game by freaking out their opponents, which happened to be Oklahoma State in the second round of the Big 12 basketball tournament. It nearly worked as OSU blew a huge lead, but held on to win by two points.

When watching some of these teams in their throwback uniforms, it makes me thank God that the Sooners don’t whore themselves for a buck when it comes to major uniform changes.

Landry Jones

Oklahoma wore throwbacks twice—in the 2003 home opener against North Texas, and in 2009 at Texas Tech. The Sooners’ unis were nothing out of the ordinary—no gaudy look like the Pittsburgh Steelers have worn a couple of times this year.

Pittsburgh SteelersThe Steelers donned black and gold alternating stripes last Sunday. I didn’t know if I was watching a bunch of bees work their honeycomb or the prisoners versus the guards in “The Longest Yard.”

OU doesn’t use a color that’s not a part of their university pride, a la Oklahoma State, which has included gray in its color scheme.

Last I looked, gray is not on OSU’s list of official team colors. Orange and black are on the list, you know, the colors of Halloween.

The Cowboys footballers wore hideous gray jerseys and pants against West Virginia last year.

It looked like they’d been rolling around in an ash pit before heading out to Boone Pickens Stadium to meet the Mountaineers.

Let’s hope the Sooners don’t roll around with non-traditional colors or goofy looking designs.

Oklahoma Spring Football Preview: These questions need answers

Since Oklahoma's disastrous blowout loss in the Cotton Bowl to Texas A&M, the program has lost:

  • Three fired assistant coaches, which is pretty much unheard of since Bob Stoops became head coach 15 years ago;
  • A four-year starter at quarterback;
  • Its two leading receivers;
  • Both starting safeties, including the leading tackler from a year ago;
  • A left tackle who might be among the first 10 picks in April's NFL draft;
  • Three defensive linemen with starting experience;
  • A three-year starting cornerback;
  • A three-year starting linebacker;
  • And, for good measure, an elite punter.

That massive turnover provides the backdrop against which the Sooners will start spring practice on Saturday. The sentimental types among Sooner Nation may lament the loss of a number of accomplished stars. The more demanding among us could view it as a chance to inject some new blood into a program that has been good-but-not-quite-good-enough for four years, an eternity in Norman time.

Naturally, though, that kind of upheaval leaves plenty of questions to be answered as the young bucks assemble for spring ball. Chief among them:

3-4 or 4-3?

During OU's media availability on Thursday, Mike Stoops indicated that he's looking for more adaptability from the Sooner D. Apparently, that will include tinkering with a 3-4 look. Just how much OU goes with the three-man front will depend in part on how well the personnel takes to it in the course of the next 15 practices.

Is Bell dozing?

OK, I admit – that's a terrible pun. As the clubhouse leader for the starting job this fall, I doubt the junior quarterback has been slacking since the end of the year.

However, the buzz around redshirt freshman Trevor Knight grows louder almost daily. Bell has precious little margin for error this spring and into the fall camp.

How safe is the safety position?

Tony Jefferson was the clear-cut best defender on Oklahoma's roster a year ago. Javon Harris took more than his fair share or criticism, but he frequently made big plays in the secondary. Now, both are gone, and OU is essentially starting over.

As of now, senior Gabe Lynn and junior Quentin Hayes occupy the first lines on the depth chart. With exciting newcomers like Hatari Byrd joining the fold in August, Lynn and Hayes would be well-advised to stake their claims to their starting positions now.

Is Corey Nelson?

With Travis Lewis gone to the NFL, 2012 was thought to be the year that Nelson would come into his own at linebacker. By the end of the season, he was rarely stepping onto the field.

Will Nelson snap out of the funk that appeared to consumer him throughout lat season? He is the most talented defender on the roster, and his continued deveopment will be pivotal to OU's defensive performance this fall.

Defensive Line

I feel like I've hammered this point so far this offseason, but the play of the Sooners' defensive line last season simply con't cut it. Hopefully, new DL coach Jerry Montgomery is ready to light a fire under some asses this spring.

Oklahoma Spring Football Preview: Secondary

Aaron Colvin

The Sooners’ secondary was the strength of the defense last year, but only one starter, Aaron Colvin, will be around for 2013. As such, secondary coaches Mike Stoops and Bobby Jack Wright have some work to do this spring figuring out who's going to be in the mix this fall.

Colvin (6-0, 181), who opted to stay for his senior year, will be one of the leaders of the defense this year. He finished third on the team in 2012 with 61 tackles, 4 interceptions and 11 passes broken up.

The defensive backfield would have been stronger if safety Tony Jefferson had hung around for his senior year, but he opted for greener pastures in hopes of getting drafted by the NFL. Mike stated in OU’s spring football press conference Thursday that Gabe Lynn (6-0, 199, Sr.) would be the starting free safety going into spring camp. Lynn hasn't exactly lit it up in his OU career, but he has made some improvement since 2011. He appeared to make some strides as the full-time nickelback last year.

Mike also said Quentin Hayes (6-0, 181, Jr.) would start at strong safety this spring. Hayes was suspended prior to last season for violating team rules, but since has been reinstated.

Last year's sixth DB, Julian Wilson (6-2, 191, Jr.), may be the starting nickelback this spring. He'll also get a look at corner during camp. “He's a guy who can play any position in the secondary,” Mike said. “It all depends on who is playing well, and we'll give everyone an opportunity. Who plays at the other corner will be our biggest challenge. We have a great group of young secondary players coming in and we will lean on them in the fall. If we can solidify the one cornerback position then we will have a group very comparable to a year ago.”

Others currently on the roster looking to make some headway in the next 15 practices include safety Kass Everett (5-10, 180, Sr.),  and Cortez Johnson (6-2, 191, Jr.). Everett is a junior college transfer who played sparingly as the third team nickelback last year, but was a regular on special teams. Johnson sat out one year after transferring from Arizona, but also was suspended for possession of marijuana. His status is unclear as of now, and in what may be an ominous sign, he was not mentioned in the press conference.

Another name to listen out for this spring: Ahmad Thomas. The 6-1, 205 freshman out of Sunshine State powerhouse Miami Central High School enrolled early and clearly has Mike's eye. Thomas has the kind of size that OU will be looking for in its safeties going forward, especially if the 3-4 move gains traction. Mike could determine that Thomas' future at safety is now.

Oklahoma Spring Football Preview: Linebacker

Corey Nelson

The Sooners’ defense will be a huge question mark this season, just as it was last year when the “D” had many folks scratching their heads. As is the case with the defensive line this spring, uncertainty is the dominant theme at linebacker.

There’s talk that defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is going to switch from the 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. Whatever he does, he will need to get some consistency from his second line of defense. It got so bad with his 'backers a year ago that Mike was throwing out seven-man secondaries that proved useless against mobile quarterbacks.

One of the bigger developments this offseason at the position actually involves someone who won't be there this spring. Middle linebacker Tom Wort seemed lost in adjusting to Mike’s defensive scheme, prompting Wort to leave early for a possible stint in the NFL.

Frank Shannon (6-1, 230, Soph.) showed promise as Wort’s backup and should be a starter when Louisiana-Monroe comes to town Labor Day weekend. He had 40 tackles last season, with 3.5 coming behind the line and 2 sacks. He started twice last year—once on the outside against West Virginia (2 tackles) and the next week in the middle against OSU (7 tackles).

You could argue that Shannon needs to use the spring to solidify his grasp on a starting job, but who would we be kidding? Shannon already has a spot in the middle locked up essentially by default. Here's hoping he uses this camp to develop his skills and increase his comfortability in Mike's scheme.

Veteran Corey Nelson (6-1, 219, Sr.) should be one of the leaders of the 2013 defense. However, he hasn’t exactly shined on the outside. After flashing some major potential in his first two seasons, Nelson regressed as a junior. He recorded 47 tackles that included 3.5 for loss and 1 sack.

The best outcome for Nelson this spring might just be him getting back in the game mentally. Given how Mike has been talking up Nelson the past few weeks, he may realize that.

Aaron Franklin also (6-1, 213, Jr.) played behind Nelson last season and could see a lot of action this year, especially if the Sooners need another ‘backer in the 3-4 alignment. He needs to make a case this spring that he should be on the field if OU converts exclusively to a three-man front.

Eric Striker (6-0, 198, Soph.) falls into the same bucket as Franklin. Striker saw very little action as an outside linebacker in his first year on campus, but he occasionally turned heads on special teams.

Mike Onuoha (6-5, 235), an athletically gifted sophomore who saw limited action as a defensive end last year, offers up an intriguing case study this spring. He is moving from DE to outside linebacker, providing the strongest indication yet of the potential transition in defensive scheme. Onuoha's athleticism could help him grow into a disruptive force coming from the outside in a 3-4.

Others who will get looks at linebacker this spring include P.L. Lindley (6-2, 240, Soph.) and Caleb Gastelum (6-1, 196, Jr.). DE Rashod Favors (6-1, 250, Jr.) played LB in high school and he might be tested at the same position.

Everything you need to know about Jay Boulware

Just who is Jay Boulware, the latest hire by Bob Stoops to coach the tight ends and special teams?

For starters, he is a Longhorn. He was an offensive tackle for Texas in 1991-95. Can’t find any information if he was a starter or not, but he’s definitely a Longhorn. I guess we shouldn’t chastise him for that now that he has come over to the good guys. The Burnt Orange fans probably see things differently.

After he got a degree in Austin, he hung around and coached tight ends as a graduate assistant for the Steers from 1994-96. Pat Fitzgerald was one of his pupils. (No, not the one who coaches Northwestern.) Fitzgerald was an AP All-American in 1996, so there's that.

Boulware went on to Northern Illinois to coach tight ends and offensive line from 1997-2000, but none of his players received any accolades. Arizona hired him away in 2001 to coach tight ends, running backs and special teams for three seasons. None of his players received any honors there, either.

He spent the next year as Stanford’s running backs coach and then moved on to coach TEs and special teams at Utah for two years (2005-06). Nope, no studs at either of these schools, either.

Boulware coached running backs and special teams the next two years at Iowa State. Nothing to crow about here, either.

From 2009-12, Boulware tutored the TEs and special teams at Auburn. The Tigers won the national championship in 2010. The only honor among Boulware's charges those four years went to Auburn’s punter – Pro Football Weekly named Steven Clark to its All-American team in 2011. (Why a pro football publication gets involved in college football’s business is beyond me.)

Last year, the Tigers' Philip Lutzenkirchen was a first-team All-SEC selection at tight end. Maybe that’s a start.

Boulware’s longest tenure: those four years at Auburn. He was hired in January as an assistant at Wisconsin before jumping ship and heading to Norman. Makes you wonder how long will he stay a Sooner.

Podcast: OU Spring Football Preview With Jake Trotter

The Oklahoma Sooners are preparing to open up spring practice on Mar. 9 facing arguably more questions than any OU squad in recent memory. Jake Trotter of ESPN's SoonerNation joins Homerism for a podcast to preview all the latest news leading up to spring camp, including the addition of three new faces to the coaching staff.

Jake and I cover:

*What ultimately motivated Bob Stoops to make significant changes on the sidelines.

*What Bill Bedenbaugh, Jerry Montgomery and Jay Boulware bring to the program.

*The potential move to a 3-4 defense.

*Corey Nelson's disappearance in 2012 and how he can get back on the field.

*Assessing the odds in the quarterback derby.

*And more.

(Subscribe to Blatant Homerism's Podcast through iTunes. Please rate and review the show if you get the chance, too. Thanks.)

Oklahoma Spring Football Preview: Defensive Line

Chuka Ndulue

Other than quarterback, no other position this spring will face the same level of fan and media scrutiny as Oklahoma's defensive line. Everything we previously knew about the DL position has changed in the last three months.

Jackie Shipp is gone, replaced by Jerry Montgomery. Plus, no more waiting for multi-year contributors Stacey McGee or Jamarkus McFarland or Casey Walker to reach their potential.

The biggest question, though: What defensive scheme is OU going to run, 4-3 or 3-4?

Defensive Tackle

With graduation losses and attrition, OU has two returning players with any playing time, Torrea Peterson, who was suspended or hurt for most of 2012, and Jordan Phillips. There's only one other DT on campus this spring, redshirt freshman Jordan Wade. OU suffered a blow in DT department when Quincy Russell did not graduate from junior college in time to enroll for spring ball.

So, the young DTs will get lots of reps this spring. From an athletic standpoint, Phillips has the potential to be an elite DT, a true difference maker. He made some plays last year in limited action, but he was not a dominating force by any means.

With Peterson, you really have to wonder if he will ever produce on the field. Like Phillips, the potential is very high.

Wade started getting some buzz during bowl preparation. Some offensive linemen talked about him being a difference maker at DT.

If OU changes its scheme, the D might only play one of them at a time. Ideally, Mike Stoops would probably prefer
to stick with a four-man DL, but two DTs are going to have to prove that they belong on the field every down and against every offensive scheme.

Defensive End

The dropoff at defensive end last year was significant and could no longer mask the underwhelming play at DT. This spring, OU needs to find new DEs who can play against the shotgun/spread running game and get pressure on passing QBs. Simply put, OU needs DEs making plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Geneo GrissomGeneo Grissom and Chuka Ndulue return, but neither player is sure-fire lock to start this fall. Ndulue has the best stats of the returnees, but he did the least with the most playing time last year. Once he moved back to DE late in the year, Grissom seemed at times to be the best DE on the field. During winter workouts Grissom posted a 4.65 40-yard dash at 6-4 255, putting him in that elite athlete category.

If not Grissom or Ndulue, then watch out for Charles Tapper, Michael Onouha and D.J. Ward. Tapper and Onouha received limited playing time last fall, but athletically are in a different league than most of the guys on the roster. Tapper (6-5, 265) could be a 3-4 DE – he has been likened to a faster version of Frank Alexander. Meanwhile, Onouha (6-5, 240) could end up playing outside linebacker in that same scheme.

D.J. Ward missed his senior year as a result of changing schools. Having enrolled early at OU, Ward, who's now up to 6-4, 255, will get a chance to enter the race in the spring for PT in the fall.

Oklahoma Spring Football Preview: Running Backs

Trey Millard

The Sooners have a stacked backfield that is two-deep solid at both fullback and running back. Goals for this spring should include developing an expanded role for fullback Trey Millard and figuring out how OU's ball carriers will mesh with the planned involvement of the quarterback in the running game.

Fullback

Millard (6-2, 256, Sr.) and Aaron Ripkowski (6-1, 260, Jr.) are punishing blockers. Millard also has impressed running (33 carries, 198 yards) and catching the ball (30 receptions, 337 yards, 4 touchdowns). He’s not easy to bring down.

But we already know plenty about Millard. His understudy is still something of an unknown.

Ripkowski didn’t touch the ball a year ago, as he was used mostly to block in the “Belldozer.” He is such a powerful blocker that he knocked out a couple of UTEP players in the season opener last year. Will this spring offer a chance for him to make a bid for some time outside of a gimmick package?

Running Back

Damien WilliamsDamien Williams (6-0, 208, Sr.) transferred from an Arizona junior college last year and made an impression right off the bat at running back with his 65-yard TD run against UTEP. He got his first start in the fourth game against Texas Tech, and Williams set a Red River Shootout record with a 95-yard touchdown run the next week in Dallas. Damien collected 946 yards on 176 carries and scored 11 times. He also caught 34 passes for 320 yards and a score.

Brennan Clay (5-11, 201, Sr.) was waiting in the wings for his chance to impress, but Williams’ performance kept him mostly riding the bench. That was until Iowa State. With Williams hobbled by an ankle injury, Clay took over and ran all over the Cyclones (24 carries, 154 yards, 1 TD). Williams returned to the starter slot, but Clay also became the leading rusher and hero of the Bedlam battle with Oklahoma State. Clay’s 18-yard TD beat the Cowboys in overtime. Clay finished the year with 555 yards in 93 totes and 6 TDs. He also caught 15 balls for 100 yards and 1 TD.

Clay and Williams have the top of the RB rotation all but locked up. What about Roy Finch (5-7, 175, Sr.)?

The dimunitive senior has dazzled on occasion when he has gotten his hands on the ball. His lack of effort in practices apparently kept him riding the bench last season, though.

“Roy is going to have to work harder,” said co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell after the UTEP game, where Finch didn’t get to touch the ball once. Finch ended up with 7 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown in 2012, and he caught 2 passes for 6 yards. He was mostly used to return kickoffs. In the two previous years, he racked up 196 carries for 1,003 yards and 5 TDs. He caught 44 passes for 345 yards.

With all that past production, it feels like such a waste to see Finch whiling away on the bench. Spring would make as good a time as any to make his case to get back in action.

The next 15 practices will also give redshirt freshmen Alex Ross (6-1, 204) and David Smith (5-10, 193) a chance to get some more seasoning and impress the coaches.

Oklahoma Spring Football Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Jalen Saunders

There may not be two position groups for Oklahoma on more diametric ends of the certainty spectrum this spring than wide receiver and tight end.

Mystery men at tight end

The TE position seemed almost non-existent in 2012, and there won't be any new signees coming to the rescue. If you're looking for a silver lining, we'll get a chance to see what new tight ends coach Jay Boulware can do.

Brannon Green (6-2, 250, Sr.) ended up with 3 receptions for 45 yards and a TD for the season. Statistically, he was actually the best of the bunch.

However, so long as he's ready to roll following shoulder surgery, Taylor McNamara (6-5, 238, rFr.) has the most to gain this spring. McNamara got an early start against Florida A&M in 2012, but he ended up putting in for a medical redshirt and missed the second half of the season. Frankly, if OU's going to get anything of note out of the tight end position this fall, it will have to come from McNamara. He needs to catch some eyes during spring drills.

Receivers aplenty

For the second straight year, Oklahoma enters the spring needing to fill the shoes of its leading receiver. A year ago, the Sooners looked to Kenny Stills to be their main target in the passing game after Ryan Broyles graduated. With Stills opting to check out on his senior year and check into the NFL draft, it's time for a new go-to receiver to emerge.

In fact, OU may have already found that go-to guy in Jalen Saunders (5-9, 160, Sr.), who looks to be the bread and butter of this year’s offense. The slot receiver who transferred in from Fresno State didn't get his grant of eligibility from the NCAA until the week before the Texas game. He grabbed a couple passes for 54 yards in the rout over the Longhorns and went on to catch 60 more passes for 775 yards and 3 TDs in the next eight games.

Sterling Shepard (5-10, 188, Soph.) also developed into a reliable receiver last year. He finished with 45 receptions for 621 yards and 3 TDs. In the spring it will be interesting to see how receivers coach Jay Norvell utilizes both Shepard and Saunders together in personnel groupings, if at all, given their overlapping skill sets.

Trey Metoyer (6-1, 190, Soph.) was touted as the next big thing with impressive spring practices a year ago, but he fell short of expectations during the year. Norvell's other big challenge this spring will be developing Metoyer into a more consistent and polished threat as an outside receiver. With Stills and Justin Brown now gone, OU needs a reliable Metoyer to step in for them.

Of course, if Jaz Reynolds (6-2, 198, Sr.) can get back into good graces of the coaches, he could ease some of the pressure on Metoyer to produce on the outside. Reynolds has twice been suspended from the team—once in 2011 for a derogatory remark about a University of Texas shooting and again in 2012 for violating team rules. Yet, he has proved to be a major threat in the passing game when he did find his way on to the field – Reynolds started six games in 2011 and snared 41 passes for 715 yards and 5 TDs on the year. Bob Stoops generally plays it pretty coy with disciplinary matters, so we'll all have to read the smoke signals this spring to figure out if Reynolds will contribute in the fall.

Other names to listen for at receiver in the spring include Lacolton Bester (6-3, 205, Sr.) and Durron Neal (5-11, 201, Soph.). Both have been backups on the depth chart. Bester, a JUCO transfer from East Mississippi Community College a year ago, caught 3 passes for 29 yards in 2012. Neal, a four-star recruit from St. Louis in 2011, pulled in 5 passes for 75 yards.

Derrick Woods (6-1, 185-pound, rFr.), a four-star recruit from Inglewood, Calif., and early enrollee Dannon Cavil (6-5, 205, Fr.) out of San Antonio will also have a chance to make their way into the mix with a strong spring camp.

Fixing the Sooners: Momentum killers

Landry Jones
In the last edition of "Fixing the Sooners," we dissected Oklahoma's offense from an efficiency standpoint. All in all, even though it "felt" like the O sputtered some a year ago, the results were pretty much in line with the team's performance in recent years.

So why the disconnect between what the eyes and numbers have to say? I chalk it up to what I consider offensive momentum. More appropriately, I chalk it up to offensive momentum killers.

Momentum Killers

I think of momentum killers as plays that prematurely end an offensive drive. They include:

  • any turnover;
  • failure to convert on third down in short-yardage situations (3 yards or fewer); and
  • dropped passes on third down.

I fully admit that these are somewhat crude measures. For example, if a quarterback throws a long interception on third down, does that really constitute a premature end to the drive? Yet, I do think they provide a general picture of an offense's propensity to shoot itself in the foot.

Turnovers

Turnovers: 2007-2011
Year INTs Fumbles Total Average/Gm
2007 9 11 20 1.4
2008 9 2 11 0.8
2009 15 11 26 2.0
2010 12 6 18 1.3
2011 16 13 29 2.2

This one should be pretty clear. The Sooners had more turnovers in 2011 than any of the previous four seasons. Given that they only played 13 games, they hit a per-game high in 2011 for the five-year period as well.

3rd and Short

3rd Down Conversions, 3 Yards or Fewer
Year Rush Att. Rush Conv. Pass At. Pass Conv. Total Conv. %
2007 34 24 31 16 61.5%
2008 39 25 22 11 59.0%
2009 33 22 16 7 59.2%
2010 58 39 23 11 61.7%
2011 37 20 29 16 54.5%

*Data courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Again, OU's performance in this metric declined in 2011 to its lowest point in the five-year period. The Sooners' ability to convert when running the ball in 3rd-and-short situations was particularly poor.

Drops on 3rd Down

I'd grant that this may seem a little arbitrary. I count these as momentum killers because unless Greg Davis is calling your plays, chances are good that your receivers are running routes past the sticks on 3rd down.

Maybe OU's 2011 season is coloring my judgment on this one. If you witnessed how many times a Sooner receiver dropped a catch that would have yielded a 1st down, though, you definitely get why I consider these momentum killers.

Unfortunately, I don't have the motivation at the moment to go back and tally these up for the entire year. However, I did get off my duff long enough to look back at OU's upset loss to Texas Tech, where drops seemed to play a large part in the Sooners' stumble. The results were eye-catching: Of OU's 17 offensive drives in the game, a total of six ended with dropped passes on 3rd down. Four such sequences occurred in the first half as Tech was racing out to a 24-7 halftime lead.

For all the bitching about how poorly OU's D handled Tech's vertical passing game that night, I'd contend the Sooners' stone hands likely did them in.

Conclusion

Given OU's propensity to kill its offensive momentum a season ago, how did the Sooners manage to keep up their level of offensive efficiency for the year?

The answer is big plays. Looking back at OU's Offensive FEI in 2011, the Sooners ranked 11th in the country in Explosive Drives, with 19.5 percent of their offensive drives averaging at least 10 yards per play. Meanwhile, OU was 87th in the nation in Methodical Drives – drives that span at least 10 plays – at 11.6 percent. Those numbers are essentially flipped from the year before (51st overall in Explosive, 11th in Methodical).

The ability to stretch the field and create big plays clearly benefits any offense. However, relying too heavily on explosive plays for your production runs the risk of games where teams get not nearly enough boom and way too much bust. Without the ability to competently manage extended drives, teams become susceptible to ending up on the wrong side of the big play curve. And you can't sustain offensive drives if you keep sabotaging them on your own.

Last season, OU learned the hard way the cost of tripping over its own feet.

Sooners' Spring Questions: Who replaces Ryan Broyles?

Ryan Broyles

It's almost an insult to Ryan Broyles to even ask the question.

Can he be replaced?

You just don't snap your fingers and find an adequate fill-in for one of the greatest pass catchers in college football history. Broyles could beat defenses in so many ways - deep routes, screens, catch-and-runs. He was the perfect receiver for oklahoma's uptempo Air Raid offense, an explosive weapon and security blanket rolled into one.

The magnitude of the void left by Broyles became painfully obvious in the Sooners' final four games of the season. The offense sputtered, limping to a 2-2 finish that included a blowout loss to in-state rival Oklahoma St.

The ugly finish illustrated the importance of identifying a new alpha dog among the receivers this spring.

The obvious candidate to step in as the centerpiece of the OU receiving corps is rising junior Kenny stills. Few would question that Stills is now the leader of the receivers and certainly one of the most visible members of the entire squad. The flamboyant Californian gutted out an injury-plagued season in which he missed two games and struggled with his consistency, yet still managed to best his production from a year earlier.

Kenny Stills, Receiving (2010-11)
Year G Receptions Yards TDs
2010 14 61 786 5
2011 11 61 849 8

Bob Stoops and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell are even using some not-so-subtle motivational tactics to push Stills, taking to the press to try to motivate him this spring. Do they kid because they care?

Highly touted freshman Trey Metoyer looks like the only other receiver with the potential to at least approach what Broyles brought to the field. After spending the fall at Hargrave Military Academy getting his academic affairs in order, Metoyer is already drawing rave reviews for his aerial acrobatics. Provided he can get a handle on the offense this spring, Metoyer sounds like a lock to earn a starting nod in the fall.

Fortunately for Norvell, after Stills and Metoyer, he has experienced back-ups competing for reps as the offense's third receiver. Assuming Jaz Reynolds has overcome the kidney issues that sidelined him late in the 2011, he almost certainly has a spot in the starting lineup, even if he has to take it slow this spring.

In contrast, rising sophomore Kameel Jackson has an opportunity to build on a solid finish to last season after being pressed into service. He could push for an even bigger role in the offense in 2012. A shifty runner with the ball in his hands, Jackson has a chance to possibly lock down the slot receiver spot with a strong spring. The fact that he saw action as a true freshman last year when the Sooners had a deep group of receivers suggests the coaching staff has high hopes for him.

Finally, given how many snaps he has seen in the last two year, it's too soon to write off Trey Franks. The speedster appears to have taken up residence in Stoops' doghouse. In other words, for Franks, his chief goal this spring has to be simply earning his way back into the coaching staff's good graces. Do that, and he may find his way into the lineup come fall.

At the end of the day, counting on just one receiver to replace Broyles' presence in the offense probably amounts to an exercise in futility. It would be asking a lot of any program to find the next Broyles, just like Oklahoma St. will undoubtedly struggle to find the next Justin Blackmon.

However, the Sooners do have a bevy of talented pass catchers with experience. Although one of them alone likely won't emerge from spring drills as Broyles' heir apparent, they absolutely have the potential as a group to position themselves to meet, or even exceed, the production of last season's unit.

Podcast: Spring has sprung

The Oklahoma Sooners opened spring camp this week with some new faces in key places. The Skinny joins Homerism for a podcast to talk about some of the key issues facing the Sooners on both side of the balls over the new few weeks.

Homerism and Skinny hit on:

  • Bob Stoops's demeanor following the disappointment of 2011.
  • Whether or not Mike Stoops can give OU's defense a jolt.
  • Who's stepping in at pass rusher.
  • Replacing Ryan Broyles.
  • The pressure on Landry Jones.
  • And more.

(Subscribe to Blatant Homerism's Podcast through iTunes. Please rate and review the show if you get the chance, too. Thanks.)

Linking Up: Kellen not Jones-ing for Oklahoma

Mike Stoops
News and notes from the first week of the Sooners' spring practices:

*Farewell, Kellen Jones, we hardly knew ye. The linebacker, who saw some action at linebacker as a true freshman late in 2011. Although the Sooners are well stocked at the position, Jones definitely had an opportunity to compete for significant snaps this season. That makes his disappearance all the more surprising.

You might recall that Jones spurned the Michigan Wolverines on the eve of fall practices, making this his second transfer. Best of luck to him.

*While I certainly fear Sooner Nation might be expecting just a little too much from new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, he does sound legitimately excited to be back in Norman running the D. Hopefully, he's coaching with a chip on his shoulder after how things ended at Arizona. 

(Is "coaching with a chip on your shoulder" even possible? Guess we'll find out.)


*After breaking through with their first commitment of the 2013 class in Houston-area running back Keith Ford ($), the Sooners' recruiting is picking up steam. Max Browne, the top-rated quarterback in the country, will be spending three days in Norman this weekend for what should serve as a de facto official visit.

With Browne thought to be choosing between Oklahoma, USC, Alabama and Washington sooner than later, an early commitment from the five-star signal caller could give the Sooners' recruiting a major spark. A high-profile QB tends to be the kind of commitment that has a trickle-down effect on all positions.

*In far less sunny news, 2012 signee Daniel Brooks recently tore his ACL at a high school track meet. If there's any upside, Brooks can get a head start on rehabbing the knee, which should put him back on the field come spring in '13.

*Touted receiver Trey Metoyer is already making his presense felt on the practice field.