Oklahoma has been here before. It’s now the month of October and the Sooners do not have one commitment at linebacker.
Time to panic? Not really. There are a number of top targets out there that have OU in their final cut, it’s just a waiting game.
And the last time OU was heading into the Red River Showdown without a linebacker commit, things turned out OK.
Now the two in-state stars are the starting middle linebackers ready to take on Texas once again. It will be the first time for Evans to start at linebacker in this game although he got a taste of the rivalry last year that his father warned him about.
“He definitely told me that it’s an experience you can’t really describe unless you’re in it,” Evans said. “And I remember I kind of got smacked on a kickoff, and he texted me after the game, ‘welcome to OU and Texas.’”
The rivalry game means a lot to OU players for different reasons. For Alexander and Evans, it does mean a little more coming from the state of Oklahoma.
Alexander is from Tulsa Booker T. Washington, while Evans was a late bloomer from Norman North. Neither was recruited heavily. Neither really even played the position in high school.
They’re both making it work.
“It does mean something to us,” Alexander said. “We weren’t the guys that were really talked about and we were overlooked. None of that matters now because of what we’re doing. He pushes me to be better. I push him to be better. We have a great chemistry.”
Nobody expected the two three-star prospects to be the starting middle linebackers for OU-Texas in their sophomore seasons, but that’s the way it has worked out.
Evans got his initial taste on special teams. For Alexander, it was more of a baptism by fire. He made his first career start in this game last season, totaling 19 tackles as he had to replace senior leader Corey Nelson, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
OU coach Bob Stoops didn’t sugarcoat it this week. He had no idea what to expect from Alexander last season. Now he knows.
“I thought a year ago as a true freshman, to play as he did throughout the year and from the first game, was pretty remarkable,” Stoops said. “Linebackers and safeties, to me, have the most to know, and he couldn’t have handled it better.
“You are anxious. You have a true freshman. But what can you do? You prepare them and practice them and get them in meetings and prepare them the best you can, and then you go let them play. He handled it really well.”
This season both linebackers have met lofty expectations. OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said Evans is 10 times better this season than he was last season.
It shows. Evans is second on the team with 35 tackles, has forced two fumbles and recorded his first career interception last week. But it’s not just the numbers, it’s the way he has looked in space and seemingly has a knack for the football.
Evans is second on the team in tackles because his counterpart, Alexander, is first with 38 tackles, including two for loss.
“Dominique has come a long way,” senior defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said. “With repetition, you get good at your craft. He has been trying to learn the game as much as he can, and he has become a leader for the linebackers.”
Alexander had 19 tackles in last year’s meeting, but he’ll never believe he played well in that game. One thing he said he noticed was how many times he was on his back when making a tackle. He said that was a big point of emphasis for him this season.
So far it has worked as Alexander said he can only recall one time where he was on his back making the tackle.
“I’m never really pleased,” Alexander said. “I’m never satisfied, but I feel like I’m a way better player than I was last year. I see the improvement from last year to this year.”
OU fans, just like Stoops, had no idea what to expect from Alexander at this time last year. They also had no idea what to expect from Evans last season when he had to start against Texas Tech because of an injury to Frank Shannon.
That game was a sign of things to come as the two freshmen led the team in tackles in a thrilling 38-30 win against the previously undefeated Red Raiders.
Maybe they weren’t the first choice for OU, but Alexander and Evans are making their statement now. They belong with the Sooners.