NEW ORLEANS – To say the Oklahoma offense sputtered at times during the 2013 season would be a pretty accurate statement.
The quarterback consistency Sooners fans had come to expect wasn't there as the season was full of uneven play from quarterbacks Blake Bell and Trevor Knight. A great play here, a head-scratcher there. Rollercoaster of emotions.
So the Sooners had to find other ways to put points on the board or at least put the team in position to put some more points on the board.
Enter Jalen Saunders. The senior gave OU fans a taste of what he brings to the table with a punt return touchdown in the 2012 Bedlam overtime win. It had fans salivating about what was to come in 2013.
Halfway through the season, though, the fans were still waiting. So, too, were his coaches. Co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell stepped in and delivered the message.
"Early in the season I remember bringing him aside and just really saying: ‘hey man, it's about time for you to really step up,' " Norvell said. "He's got so much talent and ability and he's capable of getting on a roll like that. He really delivered the last month of the season."
Saunders knows how to ignite the spark. He did so against Iowa State with a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown when the Sooners were struggling against the Cyclones.
He was up to the task again last month on the road against Oklahoma State with his second punt return touchdown of the season and second one against the Cowboys in his career. For the season, he has 18 returns for 302 yards with most of that coming in the final month of the season.
For OU, being discounted by most experts, to have a chance against Alabama in the AllState Sugar Bowl, Saunders will have to be on his game one more time.
"I feel like I have another good return in me," said Saunders with a smile. "I am very excited about the opportunity to come out and play against Alabama. They are a great team."
With the offense being more catered to a run-centered offense, it's easy for wide receivers to get discouraged. Nobody is saying that's what happened with Saunders during the early portion of the season, but it's clear something was off.
Ever since that talk with Norvell, he has been doing exactly what everybody thought he would do this season. It's something he remembers very vividly.
"I definitely remember the conversation," Saunders said. "I just wanted Jay to know that I would do everything in my power to have a great senior year. I started paying closer attention to the game, watching film by myself more often and getting in extra practice."
The offense has been stagnant at times, plodding at times. But there's a certain hold your breath moment for OU fans each occasion Saunders touches the ball. Norvell sums it up best.
"Anytime he gets the ball, he's a threat," he said.