Behind Enemy Lines: Sooners

In Part I of our Behind Enemy Lines series before Oklahoma vs. Florida State, John Crist from Nole Digest asks Joey Helmer from Sooners Illustrated for some insider scoop on No. 1 Oklahoma.


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Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones lit Florida State up for 380 yards passing in last season's matchup and never seemed to be under duress in the pocket.

John Crist: I have Landry Jones atop my Heisman Trophy ballot right now, but one criticism of his game is that he throws most of his passes within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. In your eyes, is he more Josh Heupel or Sam Bradford at this point of his Oklahoma career?

Joey Helmer: I think it's tough to compare him to either because every quarterback is so different, but he's more similar to Bradford for a number of reasons.

First off, he's a pro-style passer that likes to sit back in the pocket and pick defenses apart. Just because he throws short dink-and-dunk passes doesn't mean that's the only thing he can do. If you watch film, Jones also has a great deep ball and the ability to mix between those short passes and deep outs and posts.

Second, he has a more fluid throwing motion than Heupel did -- more like Bradford's. If you watch his mechanics, you'll be able to see that. And, of course, he's going to play professionally, so that's another similarity between he and Bradford.

JC: Replacing DeMarco Murray, who was a third-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, in the Sooners backfield is Dominique Whaley. From what I know, he was originally a walk-on. Describe his game so far, and what happened to all the scholarship ball carriers?

JH: Whaley is a very explosive back that has great vision to power through holes, but perhaps the reason he became one of two listed starters along with Brennan Clay on the depth chart to open up the season was because of his ability to block better than the others. With the amount of times Jones throws, protecting the passer is much more important for those in the backfield -- Whaley has that down. And then he maximizes his carries, which can be seen by the fact that he rushed for 7.3 yards per attempt en route to scoring four touchdowns and busting loose for 131 yards in his career debut.

The rest of the scholarship ball carriers just haven't shown the type of maturity that Whaley has, with the exception of Clay. But Roy Finch is not far behind, and freshman Brandon Williams is a great talent that just needs to grasp the system better before he can get on the field more.

JC: Ryan Broyles and the rest of the Oklahoma receiving corps murdered Florida State a season ago on that bubble screen time and time again. Has any recent opponent been able to stop that call consistently, and, if so, what is the key to taking it away from Broyles and Co.?

JH: I don't think any team has been able to stop it, so to say, but teams have contained it from time to time.

The biggest key to slowing that down is just playing good, solid assignment football and using team speed. Florida State has that defensive speed, but the problem is if you get so caught up in defending the bubble screens, that's when Jones has the ability to hit you over the top to Broyles, Kenny Stills or any of the other deep-threat receivers.

JC: Travis Lewis was threatening to come back in time for the Seminoles, but the linebacker isn't healthy enough to go. Who is charged with playing his position on the Sooners defense? Can all that slack be picked up, or does Lewis have some irreplaceable qualities?

JH: Sophomore Corey Nelson, who Lewis himself has even said will eventually end up as a better college linebacker, is his replacement. He had three tackles in the first game but was pretty sound. It's not really a step back, with the exception of from a leadership standpoint. Lewis brings leadership and experience that is hard to replace, but Mike linebacker Tom Wort has seemed to take up some of that role.

So, to sum it up, the Sooners obviously miss a pivotal player on their defense, but the others talent-wise are fully capable of picking up that slack.

JC: FSU believes it should have an advantage on special teams no matter the opponent, as its kicker, punter and returners are all terrific -- the coverage units have also been tremendous through two games. Give me a mini scouting report on OU from a special-teams perspective.

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JH: Any time you have an explosive player like Greg Reid in your special-teams arsenal it's dangerous for the opponent, and that's why it's even more important for OU's coverage units to come ready to play. Punter Tress Way has the ability to hang punts up, which will be crucial so that Reid can't bust loose any game-changing returns. Way averaged 44 yards net last season and even boomed one 85 yards, so if he can bring his A-game, that'll eliminate Reid's chances on punt returns and allow the coverage unit to get down there.

As far as OU's kick coverage is concerned, Patrick O'Hara and Michael Hunnicutt are good specialists but not great, as they collectively produced only one touchback in nine kickoffs during the first game but placed them well. Big hitters Ronnell Lewis and Trey Millard, among others, are out there.

The biggest question mark remains OU's place-kicking situation. Jimmy Stevens has been very inconsistent throughout his career, and although he converted a 27-yarder, he also badly missed a PAT in the first game. Hunnicutt has a bigger leg, so he'll likely see some of the longer duties.

Be on the lookout for Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answers five questions from Joey, on Friday.


John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com. Joey Helmer is the publisher of SoonersIllustrated.com.


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