NORMAN – Caleb Kelly didn’t get nervous before Saturday, even when the coaching staff told him in the middle of the week that he’d be going into the game specifically on the fourth series. There was no special countdown for him or butterflies in his stomach. He just doesn’t get that nervous.
And it showed.
Oklahoma Sooners freshman quarterback Austin Kendall wanted to throw a touchdown on the first drive. He wanted to make a big play, and it showed. If there were jitters in his game, they were going to come early.
When they subsided, Kendall showed why he could serve immediately as Oklahoma’s back-up quarterback. He wasn’t the only one. Abdul Adams led Oklahoma in carries and finished with 91 rushing yards. Freshman receiver Mykel Jones, who had been the talk of preseason camp, had a team-high six receptions for 48 yards.
Defensive end Neville Gallimore saw extensive time and finished with eight tackles and three for a loss.
Oklahoma’s young core got a chance to play in the 59-17 victory against Louisiana-Monroe, and it didn’t disappoint.
“It sets it up for the future, but we’re all excited because we get to be a part of something right now,” Kelly said. “Nobody wants to get redshirted or anything like that. Just getting that chance, like I keep saying, it’s a dream come true. . . . We get to be a part of something that they’re doing. That’s like a dream come true.”
Kelly, Gallimore and defensive end Amani Bledsoe all saw action in the first half. Parrish Cobb made the first start of his career opposite Jordan Thomas and drew mixed reviews after busting coverage in the third quarter that led to a long touchdown.
It was the third quarter when Oklahoma’s young freshman group grew up a bit. Bob Stoops is never burdened by redshirts, and it was obvious after halftime, just a few minutes after Lincoln Riley approached Kendall about starting the second half.
Adams went out there with him for an all-freshman backfield, and he and Kendall clicked on the first drive – connecting on a dynamic catch down the sideline when Adams hauled a tough throw in thanks to late closing speed.
“You saw what we’ve been telling you about with him,” Riley said. “. . . He’s going to be a really, really good player. He’s incredibly eager. He’s got a great future, but he’s also going to be a big part of what we’re doing to.”
Kendall led a pair of touchdown drives after the offense sputtered midway through the third quarter. On a couple occasions he found Jones, who Riley once again compared to Sterling Shepard and who looked surprisingly like Shepard when he caught a screen pass and made a strong, agile move to avoid a tackler.
“If he can continue to handle it, we’ll continue to put more on him,” Riley said. “There’s no doubt that he has some fast twitch, but the thing that he brings to, again, is when he’s getting hit there’s some guys sliding off of him to. . . . That’s what we liked about him when we recruited him.”
Kendall threw the first touchdown of his career to AD Miller, who hauled in the first touchdown of his career. It was really a night of firsts.
Gallimore chased Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Garrett Smith all the way to the sideline before had record his first sack and first forced fumble in one motion. Bledsoe covered a running back out of the backfield on a wheel route almost 15 yards down field – even if his pass break-up appeared to be a little bit of an accident.
Parnell Motley even made a few big plays on special teams before jumping in at cornerback in the second half.
For all involved, it looked like a pretty good first impression.
“A lot of those guys looked good outside of a few plays,” Stoops said. “They’re capable. They have to grow up fast.”