Expectations are high for Oklahoma sophomore wide receiver Sterling Shepard. He proved he belonged on the field last season as a freshman. The moment was never too big, and he made critical plays at critical times.
Because of that, it was almost head-scratching how little impact Shepard had during the first two games of this season.
It's not just that the numbers weren't scintillating. No doubt they weren't at three catches for 23 yards. But he looked lost at times.
With the offense more run-based the first two weeks, there were times when OU had two receivers out there. That meant putting splitting Shepard out wide in a position he's not comfortable in. And in a position, as we all learned, he cannot thrive in.
"It was getting underneath my skin a little bit," Shepard said. "But I knew I needed to just keep pushing and keep going and it will come for you."
It came for Shepard on Saturday. The move from redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight to junior Blake Bell changed the offense. The zone read option, which had been so prevalent during Knight's two games, was pushed aside some as the offense looked like what OU fans are used to with four wide receivers on numerous occasions.
Shepard delivered his best OU performance coming off the heels of arguably his worst game as a Sooner. In the 51-20 victory against Tulsa last week, Shepard had eight catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. All three of those categories are single-game career highs.
Shepard and his late father, Derrick Shepard, were featured on the OU game day program, giving him just a little bit more motivation.
"You can't help but understand what that means to the kid," wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said. "Obviously we knew he was highly motivated to play well. I think he would have played like that even if his dad wasn't on the cover.
"He responded. I think everybody felt good about that – his teammates, his coaches. It's pretty special to think that he's wearing his dad's number and honoring him that way."
Derrick Shepard died when Sterling Shepard was young and also was a star at OU before a brief career in the NFL. Sterling is wearing No. 3 just like his father.
Shepard had that motivation to play well to honor his father, but there was another source of motivation. Norvell sat down with the receivers and gave it to them straight. The way they played in the first two games simply wasn't going to get the job done.
The message was stern. The message was clear, and it was received by Shepard and the other receivers as they played their best game of the season.
"We had to come back out and the crowd and everybody that we can be a passing offense like we always have been," Shepard said. "I told myself that this is me and my dad's game.
"I tried to step it up. The talk that Coach Norvell had with us before the game also made me know that it was going to be a special day."