Cotton Bowl offensive notebook: Dec. 31

IRVING, Texas — Representatives from the Sooner offense met with the media Monday morning, and Sooners Illustrated has a complete update.

  • Everyone's been focused on the upcoming NFL decisions of wide receiver Kenny Stills and Tony Jefferson, both of whom might leave. But today, fullback Trey Millard indicated there's a chance he could leave, though he's made no such decision yet. He sent his information in to get where or not he would be a first or second day pick. It came back that he's projected as a second day pick, so that lends in favor of him possibly returning to OU for his senior season. Still, he's thinking about it hard: "Kinda just because since you can't really move up as far as into that first round, just knowing that your best grade isn't the same as what other people would get. I mean yeah you have to take that into account. I have been thinking about it, and it's gonna go from there."
  • Of course, it's the guaranteed last game for several guys offensively, including quarterback Landry Jones and wide receiver Justin Brown, who transferred from Penn State. Jones, though, said he still hasn't stopped to ponder it all that much: "I haven't really thought about that like too, too much. You know? But I'm sure after the game I'll think a lot more about it."
  • Brown said the same thing: that it hasn't crossed his mind too much: "Not so much. You know what I mean, I haven't thought about it too much, maybe here and there a little bit but not so much."
  • Getting into actual football conversations, the talk of the day was on Texas A&M's defense with the offense entering the press room. Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said he thinks their group might even be underappreciated under the limelight of Heisman quarterback Johnny Manziel: "They've got a very good defense, and they haven't won that game without that defense. So, you know, they do a good job of pressuring the quarterback. They do a good job of making you earn what you get. And you're gonna have to protect to be able to throw the football. You're gonna get some one-on-one matchups, but you're gonna have to get it out of your hand quickly. And so we're gonna have to do a great job of pass protection and protecting Landry and also we're gonna have to do a great job of converting on third down. That's one of their strengths as a defense is getting you off the field offensively, and we've done a good job of that this year but so have they. So, it's gonna be a challenge for us to continue to get first downs and move the football."
  • Co-offensive coordinator and play caller Josh Heupel said defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should get a lot of credit for all that: "They play extremely well on the defensive side of the ball. You know, I think they did a great job of adjusting when moving into that league. And, you know, they've been good against the run and they're sound against the pass, haven't given up a bunch of big plays. You know, and I think with as multiple as they are on the defensive side of the ball, it puts a lot of stress on offenses. It puts a lot of stress on the five guys up front, being in sync and identifying and being good in your run game and who you're attacking and also in your protection scheme. It's a huge test for us."
  • There's no doubt that the matchup of the game is the Aggies defensive ends, Damontre Moore and co., against OU's offensive tackles, including future pro Lane Johnson. As the team has been saying for quite some time, Heupel reiterated today that it will be the best D-line they'll have seen all season: "Yeah, you know, up front they're as good as we've seen. Damontre Moore is fast, explosive, long on the edge. A guy we played a year ago, our guys know him and have been in battle against him, so it's not like somebody we haven't seen either. But they've done a great job of being sound against the run and making it tough and then putting you in third-and-long situations."
  • And as good as the battle will be between A&M's front seven and OU's offensive line, the secondary is an intriguing one as well. This is probably the best wide receiving corps they will have seen all year in Kenny Stills and the rest of the group. Norvell broke that battle down: "It's always a challenge. One of the things they do is they do like to blitz and challenge you one-on-one. So, and they done a good job. They haven't given up a lot of big plays. They don't see the type of passing offenses that we have in our league either, so it'll be a challenge for us to see if we can make those types of big plays and really make them consistently. What they're saying is that over the course of a four-quarter game, you're not gonna make enough plays, score enough points to outscore them. And part of—it's very much like playing West Virginia or Oklahoma State where they have a very potent offense and you're gonna have to score to match them, and they've kinda put a system together to manage that. And so we're gonna have to be very efficient. We can't afford to have three-and-outs or have drives where we can't score, and over the course of the game we're gonna have to put more series together with touchdowns than they do. And that's very similar to West Virginia for us and Oklahoma State."
  • There will be lots of keys here, but two in particular: the Sooners must provide ample time for Jones and overall adhere to their game plan: "Well, you got a game plan. You got an opportunity to go through maybe a mock week before you leave to the bowl site, get your guys comfortable with what you're doing. And [we'll] refine it this week and go out and play as hard and fast as you possibly can on Friday night and see where the chips fall."
  • The fast start, well Heupel broke that down: "I think bowl games you've seen them play out here that all the little things that come into a ball game are huge in a bowl game. We've had that time off. How are you gonna play fundamentally? Are you gonna take care of the football? Are you gonna stay out of third and long situations because you're not taking a bunch of penalties? You know, so those things are going to be huge in this game."
  • Additionally, with as much talk as there's been about the upcoming game, some guys who won't actually get in on the action have impressed. Stills addressed one of those, scout team player of the year Derrick Woods: "Yeah. Most improved player by far in the receiving corps. Just, you know, he's a pure athlete. He's a great athlete. But there's a lot of stuff that kids have to learn from high school to college as a receiver. Like I said, he's improved so much and he's having a great time and we're taking care of him and with the guys that I recruited, they knew that I was gonna be here and take care of them if they ever needed anything. So, we've spent a lot of time with tennis balls and catching balls after practice and he's continued to get better and he wants to make an impact next year on the field."
  • On a non-football related topic, Stills joked about how it's humbling to have kids adopting his haircut now: "I wouldn't say it's flattering, just more humbling than anything. You know, I've talked to Tony [Jefferson] about it. I've talked to the guys about it all the time, like you never dream of having somebody doing something like that. And the position I've been put in here and the games that I've had the opportunity to play in, just that's not something you ever really dreamed about as a kid. I wanted to come to college. I wanted to play well, and I feel like everything that's happened for me is better than I ever dreamed of."
  • And everyone wants to talk about Jones' legacy. Center Gabe Ikard reflected on what his signal caller has meant to him: "All-time Big 12 passing leader, all-time Big 12 record in total offense, 121 career passing touchdowns, I just pulled those out of the top of my head. But just got his stats memorized these days, but he's one of those guys that it seems like he's been here forever. I've played with him the entire time. It seems like he's been [here forever]. So, he's one of the—I don't know what it is. I think it's just his kinda low key personality, how he doesn't get too excited about stuff. He just for some reason he's been undervalued the entire time he's been here. You look at those numbers and you're like, ‘How are people so critical of this guy?' And it's after Bradford wins a Heisman, Bradford goes down and then it's been Landry ever since after the Texas game. So, it's just interesting. I think people will remember him for being a great quarterback, but I know most of all I'll remember him for the stuff he's done off the field and how he kinda touches guys in the locker room when it comes to relationships and stuff like that. He's just a guy with outstanding character that has represented the University of Oklahoma as well as he can, no off the field issues, trips to Haiti, a children's hospital, doing bible studies. He does all kinds of stuff. The guys on our team for the people and the community, so that's how I'm going to remember him is just how the face of Oklahoma football team should represent, you know, his teammates and his university. That's what Landry Jones has done."
  • For Jones, the focus is on winning against Texas A&M and finishing off an 11-2 season. But there's no question that would possibly raise his draft status as a quarterback that went a perfect 4-0 in bowl games throughout his career: "Hopefully it'll raise it. You always want to play games that will raise your draft stock, and you always want to get picked as high as you can. You know, and if you get picked high, you get picked high. But if you don't, it's kinda one of those things that you're gonna have to roll with. For me, I've always been really competitive. I want to be that first pick in the first round, but if it doesn't work out, then something else is going to work. So, for me in this type of game definitely raise my current stock a little bit if I can."
  • Finally, I stopped by Brown briefly to ask him about his short time at OU and what it's meant to him. It's safe to say he's enjoyed most of it after transferring from the tragic events at Penn State: "Yeah. Like I said from the beginning, you know, it's been an experience in itself and it's been hard at some times and it's been real good at some times. You know, but that's what you expect in the game of football transferring and whatnot. But I think at the end of the day it was a great decision, a great move. I'm just glad that everybody was so welcoming and handled it the right way."

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