Exactly eight months after a disappointing Sugar Bowl Game the Sooners finally had an opportunity to get that game out of their psyches with a 40 – 24 win over Bowling Green. Perhaps people were laughing about the Falcons chances a few months ago, but after just one week of college football the laughter on many campuses has turned into stark reality. And after mighty Missouri fell to Troy State this week, many AD's may be sobering up while taking a look at upcoming opponents from 'No-Where State.'
"It a simple game of numbers," said Sooner DC Brent Venables this week. "You think Omar Jacobs, (BG QB), would be at Bowling Green if we could all take 30 – 35 kids? All of these kids are talented, a lot of times you just have to go with the biggest, strongest - and that can change. All of the sudden some of these ‘second choice' guys grow up, bulk up and turn out to be stars."
The bottom line was that BG was ad good or better than most teams in the Big 12. Throw in the Big Ten and the Pac 10 as well. Adequate storm warnings had been posted. BG was 6 – 1 in their last seven games vs Big 10 and Big 12 opponents. So what did we learn from the Sooners first game, and where will it take us over the next four months?
Was there a Pass Rush?
There is a general misconception that there was no pass rush last week. Specifically, some fans may mean that there were no [u]QB sacks[/u], but the Sooners actually got pretty good pressure on Falcon quarterback Omar Jacobs. However OU coaches were pretty pleased with what they saw against an offense scheme that was designed to quickly get rid of the ball regardless.
"Yeah, it is a little different for our front guys and they have to have some patience," said coach Bob Stoops. "There are enough teams that play that way now that you find different ways to make plays. Our guys up front made plays in a lot of different ways. They tipped balls and put pressure on the quarterback. They ended up getting to him, and even if they didn't sack him they forced him to throw the ball early, or forced bad throws because we were already hitting him as he threw it. There are just different ways that they get involved."
Merv Johnson offered his impression: "Their system was designed to eliminate a lot of risk in the passing game, and it's predicated on getting the ball away before a pass rush can penetrate. They move the pocket, throw very quickly, ‘dink' and ‘dunk' you to death. Many times we were only rushing three and dropping eight. While that pretty well eliminates a pass rush, it also takes away the offense. A better way to look at it would be yards vs completions. When you study that you can really measure if your defense had a productive or just an average day. Those stats say we were effective, so the pass rush is really a non issue."
"Some offenses just want to dump the ball off very short instead of taking the sack, and we just decided to tackle them and keep them making first-downs that way," said Venables. "If teams are only going to try to average two to three yards a pass against us, then we will take that, cover them and then tackle them. Other teams will try to and be a little more aggressive down field, and that is where you will see our pass rush really get after them. We had a good pass rush on Saturday, but that is not going to show up in the stat department."
Co-Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini warns that we'll likely see more of this in 2004: "We're coming out this week against a very unusual offense. We haven't seen a conventional offense yet and we won't until we play Oregon. Oregon is pretty multiple, but they are the closest to a pro-style offense. They have a really nice scheme. Bowling Green is one thing, then you get into a totally different thing against Houston. Then you are back to a pro-style offense, and then you have Tech. It's going to take some time to settle in."
Brent Venables also knows that the first half of the season will give his defense many looks, but has a plan to counter the expected variety of offenses, including tonight's ‘spread – run' offense of Houston: "We will always prefer to be versatile and we like to have options. We've talked about that since the first day that we have been here, that ideally we want to have a system that offers the flexibility to match-up strength-on-strength and to be able to have answers for any team that is putting you into a lot of different personnel situations. We believe that we have that flexibility to stop the spread, whether they go with four-wides, or two backs and two tight ends."
Against Houston tonight, the Sooners should play their base defense more because Houston does line up in a two back set quite a bit and they actually try to run the ball more than they throw it. Venables has been saying all fall camp that he wants to run his base defense more against teams that can throw, because he has SLB's can cover in the passing game. We will see if that plays out tonight.
How did the secondary play against Bowling Green?
Pelini thought his troops played well, but expects improvement this week against the Cougars: "It was our first game and we missed a couple of things, but overall we played well. When we missed it was mainly technique. If we can continue to progress technique-wise, we will be much better. Sometimes when you don't have a lot of experience, you lose site of technique. You start going out there and slopping around, playing ball, looking at the quarterback and not paying attention to detail, which you have to do. That is the difference between guys that have experience and guys who don't. I expect to have a big amount of improvement from the first game to the second game because that is usually where it happens."
"But you don't want to give your guys too much. Against Bowling Green, we just let our guys go out there and play a lot. We didn't do a lot because we stayed pretty ‘vanilla.' They were spread out and we didn't know their offensive coordinator that well. We didn't know what they were going to do with their new quarterback, so we didn't feel like we needed to bring all kinds of stuff and ask our guys to do too much too soon."
No Weekend Wrap Up is without a least one mention of Chijioke Onyenegecha. We keep harping on this guy only because he's one of the most talented players in college football. OU Insiders that attended our second annual recruiting luncheon remember this question to Brent Venables. "Of all the players you recruited this year, who were you most impressed with?" Answer: "I would have to say Onyenegecha, when we lost him (to Arizona State), that really hurt."
Also remember last winter when several ‘radio hosts' were yelling into the microphone and saying that CO was ‘just a third string corner' and would not be a factor this year?
No so fast my friend!
According to Pelini, Chijioke has made massive improvement, in several areas; "If you look at where he was in the spring to where he is now it's an unbelievable difference. He's grown up and he is showing progress in a lot of different ways. As a football player, as a person with everything that Chijioke has to deal with here school-wise, he has just done a better job. You can only put guys back there that you have trust in and he is gaining that trust more and more everyday. That is fun to watch because we always knew that he had talent. It is has been a fun transition to watch."
And for confirmation, here's Bobby Jack Wright on CO: "Chijioke has a chance to be really outstanding. He had a great game the other day and really made plays in every phase he was in. He'll continue to get better in special teams and at cornerback, and you'll see more of him out there at corner. He's got a great work ethic, a great attitude and he enjoys playing the game. He loves it no matter what the situation is, no matter if it is special teams or third-and-ten on the defense. There's a guy there that is really going to make a name for himself before he is through here."
That should put the lid on the ‘third string - non factor' rumor.
Newcomers stepping up
We've warned that RS freshman TE Joe John Finley will be a factor this year and it took him about twenty minutes last week to prove us right, coming up with a huge ‘circus' catch on fourth down. QB Jason White predicts JJ will continue to shine; "I expect big things from Joe John. He's come a long way since he's got here. He's really worked hard in the off season to get better, not only physically but mentally, knowing the plays - he's found a role here to play on a regular basis and is doing a good job."
Several weeks ago the coaching staff was waiting for Larry Birdine to ‘catch the bus' and get on board, and perhaps show a little more desire and intensity.
Apparently, Birdine got the message – and a game ball is evidence. According to DE coach Bobby Jack Wright, Birdine had an exceptional opening game; "Larry really had a good ballgame, probably the best game of any of our defensive front. We awarded him a game ball. He is like a little kid in a candy store, because he loves to play and he plays so hard. He is fun to play alongside and he fun to coach and he will always play hard. Larry will give you everything that he has. We were happy for him and I think he will continue to get better and better."
A similar explosion sounded off in Clint Ingram's head several months ago. Sometimes we expect these kids to come in as freshmen and immediately win the Butkus.
Ingram will be an impact player this year, but the BG scheme unexpectedly allowed another young linebacker to shine last week, as Rufus Alexander showed more of what we saw just before he was injured a little over a year ago. He was physical, made some abrupt stops, and looked very confident and sure of himself for the first time since his ACL injury sixteen months ago.
Does Alexander like the spread offenses that afford him more playing time? "You could say that, but I really like a physical, smash mouth game too. I could be in there in smash mouth games as well, so it really doesn't matter. I really like them both. The Bowling Green spread offense got me on the field, so I guess I like it a little a little bit better, but I can play against a team that wants to run right at me as well."
He's not a newcomer, but another player who plays a little smash mouth is fullback J.D. Runnells. Merv Johnson summed it up pretty well in his assessment of Runnells. "J.D. is a very good, unselfish football player who takes pride in details and perfection - of course it doesn't hurt that he can literally knock someone senseless."
Speaking of dominating performances, where was Lance Mitchell's game last week? "I'm looking forward to playing somebody a little more my size this weekend. Last week I was in the middle chasing little wide receivers all the way down field, and that was like chasing flies. I was able to keep up with them, but I never got a chance to get a good lick on them. I'm looking forward to playing this so-called running offense this weekend. At least I am going to get some major contact and I can't wait for that."
Neither can we Lance.
Speaking of ‘running' - there was quite a buzz about the Sooner running backs after the initial outing as Kejuan Jones and Adrian Peterson both had great days.
Last week we said that D.J. Wolfe and Adrian Peterson were probably OU's best running backs, and that in time, Kejuan Jones could be the ‘odd man' out. But after rushing for a career high 148 yards last week it doesn't appear that Jones is panning on vacating a spot.
Jason White gave us his take on the ‘new' Kejuan Jones; "The offensive line did a great job with the run blocking and Kejuan ran extremely hard last week. I think he's determined this year more than ever. He knows he's got a lot of competition at running back and he's going to give it his best."
Some fairly knowledgeable people outside the OU program have said that Jason White's lack of mobility at the end of last season played a huge role in the two losses at the end of the year. White has worked hard to regain some mobility and to shed those dreaded knee braces.
We asked Merv Johnson if he thinks Jason has more mobility; "Like everything he does when he sets his mind to, he seems to have achieved his goal. He did play without the braces and he does look quicker. It will give us a better chance to be successful this season if he can play more under center. Last year our opponents pretty well knew that we were going to run the ball when Jason was lined up under center and most likely pass when we were in the shotgun. And the ‘gun with a ‘one back' is a lot more effective if your quarterback is a good runner. It's just one more detail that opponents now have to contend with."
Is White more comfortable under center this season? "Yeah, definitely. It's a lot easier this year to actually push off and hand the ball off, or even push off to throw from underneath center. Last year I struggled. I was kind of slow getting back to hand the ball off and to throw. I'm a lot more comfortable this year doing it. I got a little experience doing it last year and got a lot in the spring. And now that I don't have to wear the braces anymore and my knees are healthy, so yes, I'm a lot more comfortable."
And White agrees that being under center some provides more options; "It opens up a lot more of the run game. Things are going downhill, instead of sideways, from underneath center. The run plays happen a lot quicker. You can have ‘boots' and play-actions from under center. Also, you can have a straight drop back from under center. So, it opens up a lot of options, not only for the quarterback but for the team."
Latest in Recruiting
Las Vegas linebacker Ryan Reynolds, (6-2 220 4.6), visited last weekend and continues to give the Sooners hope that they lead for his services. Upon returning home Reynolds said; "I loved it. It was great. I loved everything about it. I have gone to Oklahoma four times now and I feel so comfortable there. It is beginning to feel like a second home. Oklahoma just feels right to me. I already know my way around and the team already treats me like a teammate. I love Coach Venables."
Reynolds will take two visits (LSU, Florida), before deciding on his school choice later this fall.
We've said for at least a month now that Nic Harris, (6-3, 210, 4.6, Alexandria, Louisiana), who is scheduled to visit OU this weekend, is very high on Oklahoma's linebacker board. OK, so why is Harris a ‘no-show' in the national rankings? Probably because he plays WR and DB – and has little chance to show his skills at ‘backer.
Regardless of what the recruiting gurus think, the OU coaches believe Harris is a potential all star and if the Sooners can show a family atmosphere they have a strong chance over local favorite LSU, (11-20). Harris is also looking at Texas A&M (9-18 ); Nebraska (11-26) and Michigan (10-20).
Last week we mentioned that OU is in on five to offensive linemen nationally. Ditto for the defensive linemen and three, in addition to commit Roy Miller stand out. Ekom Udofia (6-1, 290, 5.0), Scottsdale, Arizona; DeMarcus Granger, (6-3, 325, 5.2, Dallas, Texas); and the nation's top rated DT Callahan Bright, (6-2, 315, 4.9), of Bryn Mawr, PA.
Udofia has Oklahoma among his top five and will visit on October 23 (Kansas). Others are Stanford (9-25); USC (10-9); OSU (10-30) and Miami (12-4). Granger is unsure of his top five, but has Oklahoma firmly in there. He is trying to visit today for the Houston game.
Bright, from Pennsylvania, is a long distance long shot, but still has Oklahoma in his top six, and also is considering LSU, Miami, Florida State and Miami. Credit Jackie Shipp for his work with the nation's elite defensive tackles.
Miller gave Sooner coaches a scare last weekend when he visited Austin for a UT football game, but explained his trip. "I live near Austin, so it is nothing to go to a Texas game. I went to their game against North Texas just to go and I happened to talk to some Texas coaches. I am still very firm on my commitment to OU and I feel very solid in my decision. All that I am doing is making sure that I am making the right decision. I am just going to another campus to compare it to OU just to make sure the OU campus feels right to me. Plus, this is a good experience for all my friends to make these trips with me and to enjoy what I am enjoying."
The scare can work both ways as Texas A&M commit Vincent Williams, (DT, 6'5, 280, 4.78, Dallas, Carter), continues to have contact with Oklahoma. Like Miller, Williams claims his loyalty to A&M is solid, but you do have to wonder.
Also visiting this weekend will be Antonio Clay, (DE/OLB, 6-1, 207, 4.6), from Jeffersonville, Georgia. It's a Miami – OU battle here that has gone back and forth for several months. Clay was close to committing early this summer but was told by coaches at both schools to hold off until he was 100% sure. Now that the pressure to commit is off, Clay seems more relaxed and level headed about his choice and the entire process. In addition to OU and Miami, Georgia, LSU and Maryland are in the hunt.
Not visiting this week, but still expressing interest is New Jersey standout Michael Ray Garvin, (CB, Ramsey, Don Bosco Prep). Some say that Garvin is among the nation's top five CB's and the Sooner staff would probably agree. Regardless, Garvin may be the fastest, running a 4.38 forty at the Stanford camp earlier this summer. He also finished sixth in the nation in the 100-meters with a time of 10.73 (electronic). Garvin's top five: Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida State, Colorado and Rutgers.
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