To illustrate the importance, or lack thereof, of spring football games, I could roll through a list of Red-White Game superstars from years past who never really amounted to much when the score counted. I won’t patronize my imminently knowledgeable readership, though.
That doesn’t mean we can’t glean anything from them, though. Keying in on individual players and looking for flashes of brilliance, especially in “good-on-good” situations, can help. Likewise, we can pick up on clues about what to expect when the season starts based on things like alignments and personnel groupings.
The decision to even out the two teams will likely make for some choppy football from the Sooners on Saturday. Even so, I will have my eye on a few points of emphasis in OU’s first spring game under Lincoln Riley.
How do the defenses line up?
Mike Stoops has paid his customary lip service to the importance of OU being “multiple” on defense this fall. In recent years, the Sooners haven’t strayed far from their 3-4 base. Signs from spring camp suggest the D will incorporate more nickel personnel groupings this season.
How the defenses line up will depend primarily on what the offenses are doing. We’ll still get a fair sense of what’s coming on that side of the ball. In addition to sending out five DBs, watch how often they’re lining up in a four-man front.
If the Sooners are planning on playing more nickel in 2018, it probably has a lot to do with early enrollee Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles. The five-star cover man from IMG Academy has been the talk of spring camp.
It sounds as though Bookie is going to force his way onto the field from the jump. The best spot for Bookie in light of what OU has around him is probably playing nickel, which plays to his ability to take on receivers in the slot. Let’s see what he gets up to on Saturday.
OU struggled all last season to make disruptive plays in the opposing backfield. Adding to those concerns, players who accounted for 41 of the Sooners’ 75 tackles for loss in 2017 are now gone, including more than half of their 26 sacks. OU is counting on new faces such as sophomore edge rusher Addison Gumbs and freshman defensive end Ronnie Perkins to take the place of Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, the primary threat on D last season.
Generating more heat also could come from tweaks to the scheme, including Stoops putting his defensive linemen in one-gap techniques. How much of that will we see in the Red-White Game
The structure of the offense for the quarterbacks
Riley is talking the talk about Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall battling for starting quarterback, even though Murray is seen as a massive favorite to win the job. Maybe we’ll find out on Saturday that they’re closer than we think? (I doubt it.)
Watch to see how the offenses operate with each at the controls. Given that Kendall lacks Murray’s wheels, the play calling could differ greatly. Importantly, pay attention to which side is generating more explosive plays – and why.
Jockeying for position on the offensive line
With mainstay Orlando Brown off to the NFL, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh now has an opening to fill at left tackle. Fortunately for the Sooners, they have plenty of appealing candidates in the running.
Bobby Evans, who played well for the Sooners at right tackle last year, will get a look on the left side. He seems like the most logical candidate to take Brown's place. (Of course, that would mean filling a new hole at right tackle.) Talented guard Cody Ford could kick outside, rather than continuing to shift around on the interior. Young bucks such as Adrian Ealy will have their shots in the spring game, too.
Meanwhile, the competition to replace Erick Wren at center has come down to Creed Humphrey and Jonathan Alvarez. We’ll get a better sense of how the line is functioning with each in charge as well as how the two are holding up in their battles against interior defensive linemen.