Norman, Okla. — Once again, all eyes were on the quarterbacks in the Sooners' final major scrimmage of the year, but it was the defense that stole the show.
In all, the Oklahoma defense picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and recorded 11 sacks while holding the offense to just one score in 14 drives during the full-field portion of the scrimmage.
"I was pleased," said OU head coach Bob Stoops after the scrimmage. "I was real satisfied and pleased, more so defensively with our positioning on the ball. Structurally, we were very sound on all the deep balls. We tackled well. We had very few, if any, busted assignments, and our alignments were what they ought to be.
"That doesn't mean, offensively, that I think we were in bad shape, because I think we were in good shape," Stoops continued. "The reason being is that we practice against each other, unlike a lot of teams. Every day we go good on good, so our players on defense are used to the formations, sets, and used to our plays and seeing them so much. If you work against anything that much you ought to be able to get out there and do well against it."
Stoops also noted that Oklahoma's offense would change with J.D. Runnels and Adrian Peterson in the line-up. Both were held out of the scrimmage for precautionary measures.
"We don't have J.D. Runnels, and we don't have AD in there," Stoops said. "We are a different team when they are in there. The plays we call, the way we play-action and run in the game is totally different, along with the fact that we had some of our better receivers out early in the scrimmage.
"In the end, we put a lot of strain on the quarterbacks just to operate without those situations. We are out there throwing it more than we normally would in formations we normally wouldn't be in all the time."
"It's hard to really judge where we're at there," Stoops continued. "But I feel confident when we get all those guys in there at one time we will be able to do what we need to do."
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables was pleased, but not surprised, with the play of his defense.
"I liked the attitude, I like how they were flying around," Venables said. "They were very confident. Again, a lot of it is that they are more than ever comfortable with routes and the formations that they see. They have an idea what's coming before it ever happens.
"We are not beating our chests by any stretch of the imagination, but we are continuing to make the kind of progress we had hoped to. We are getting an opportunity for young guys to get experience and reps under game-type adjustments and things of that nature. I am pleased with the effort, pursuing to the football. And for the most part, keeping the football inside and in front of them. I thought we did that all day."
Below is a position-by-position look at the highlights from Wednesday's scrimmage.
In a nutshell, Paul Thompson was the better quarterback today because he didn't make any mistakes. Now, he didn't lead the offense to any scoring drives either, until the red zone drills, but for the second straight scrimmage he avoided making a costly mistake.
Rhett Bomar, on the other hand, once again showed flashes of brilliance while other times threw into coverage, as he was picked off twice. However, Bomar did lead the only full-field scoring drive, which was aided by a 55-yard run by Donta Hickson, but the redshirt freshman directed it and capped it off with a 6-yard scramble for a touchdown.
Bomar finished the day 8-for-16 for 118 yards, while Thompson connected on 15-of-29 passes for 154 yards, including one short touchdown pass in the red zone drill.
"They are learning and they are growing in their experience," said Stoops. "I am not much for critiquing individuals in front of everybody. We will watch it, grade it with them. Again, I think they continue to learn and grow. That's why we're doing these scrimmages. Not just for them, but there are a number of guys gaining good game experience out there learning without it costing us."
Chuck Long likes to put his quarterbacks under fire in certain scrimmages, and today was that day as they threw the ball on just about every play, while the defense brought the heat on just about every play.
The result? OU's quarterbacks were sacked 11 times and sent scrambling because of pressure on several others.
"It did kind of throw us off a little, bit but we have seen those blitzes in practice, and we have to be able to pick those up. They were coming at us quite a bit," said Paul Thompson.
Thompson also talked about the offense's lack of production getting the ball inside the red zone.
"I think it was frustrating more than disappointing. As an offense, you want to move the ball into the red zone and then you want to score, or at least get into field goal range. They were bringing a whole bunch of blitzes and just rushing us, and we weren't able to be as successful as we wanted to be. The defense knows what's coming. They have seen us for a long time and they are going to make some plays."
Thompson was also frustrated with the quick whistles when he thought he could've scrambled and picked up extra yardage or first downs.
"Yeah, there's not much we can really do about that. We have these ugly blue jerseys on. A couple of times I could've scrambled and made the play, but they were calling us down. I would like to see if I could break that tackle."
Thompson also assessed his performance.
"I wasn't real flashy, but I was going through my reads, trying to minimize mistakes, and I felt I was able to do that," he said. "I'm not really ever too satisfied with what I do. I always want to do better. A couple of drives when we got stopped, I wanted to convert those and didn't' feel like I did well on those. What I wanted to do was to improve from the last scrimmage, and I think we've done that a little bit. We still have some things we need too improve on."
Bomar also talked about his play on Wednesday.
"I led that one touchdown drive, and of course that was hooked up by Donta's big run, then I had a little scramble for a touchdown. Overall, I think it was a good scrimmage.
"The two picks, a normal fan just looks at that and not everybody knows what goes on out there, so I'm not going to elaborate on that any further. The first, one I forced. That was my fault. The second one kind of got out of whack a little bit.
"There were a couple of bad throws, but overall it was pretty good," Bomar continued. "I had a couple of good throws and converted a couple of third downs. Coaches like that. We have to convert third downs. Last year, we were the best in the country converting third downs. We take great pride in that."
Bomar was also asked if he thought there was a lot of pressure to perform on Wednesday because it was the last major scrimmage and a decision on the starter could come at any time.
"No way," Bomar said. "I think, since back in the spring, I did really good in the scrimmages. The last scrimmage I had I was off a little bit, but I had a good first scrimmage. I've been doing pretty good at practices, so you don't base a decision on one scrimmage. People may look at it like it's the last scrimmage, so it's the last time people get to watch us practice, but the decision is not going to be based on one scrimmage. It's going to be based on everything."
Other than Donta Hickson's 55-yard run against the second team defense, it was slim pickens for the running backs.
Hickson led the group, who was without Adrian Peterson (precautionary) and Kejuan Jones (foot), with 68 yards on seven carries, including one 1-yard touchdown run in the red zone drill.
Jacob Gutierrez only rushed for 16 yards on nine carries, but had another shifty run carying the ball from inside the 10 during the red zone drill down to the one yard line, which set up a nice 1-yard run of his own when he cut outside and beat the corner to the pylon for a touchdown.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Oklahoma's second and third group of receivers got a lot of work on Wednesday, as Travis Wilson and Jejuan Rankins played just two series and then were held out.
Quentin Chaney led the group with four catches, including one 3-yard touchdown pass from Paul Thompson in the red zone drill, while Wilson led the team in yards with 47 on three catches.
Redshirt freshman Lendy Holmes had one nice catch and run on a crossing route, and freshmen Manuel Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias also made several nice plays each. Walk-on David Robinson also caught a nice slant over the middle from Bomar and turned it into a 35-yard gain almost splitting the safeties for a touchdown.
Iglesias, who caught three passes for 33 yards, also showed he has some wiggles when he flashed some Mark Clayton-type stutterstep moves after making one catch near the 10 and working his way down to the one-yard line.
Joe Jon Finley led the tight ends with two catches for 19 yards.
Redshirt freshman Fred Strong and true freshman Malcolm Kelly did not scrimmage.
"They are getting experience, all those guys," said Stoops. "Of course, we have Jejuan and Travis who have played for three years and have great experience out there. We are really evaluating those young guys. I think Juaquin Iglesias showed again today that he is doing an excellent job.
"Quentin Chaney and Lendy Holmes continue to improve. We still need to get Malcolm Kelly out there. He showed a lot of early signs of a guy that could really do it. Those guys are getting good experience and we have to keep playing them and getting them experience."
Overall, it wasn't a good day for the offensive line as they gave up 11 sacks. But in fairness to them, three to four of the 11 were coverage sacks, as the secondary locked up the receivers and the quarterbacks had nothing to do but stand and wait until the line couldn't hold the rush any longer.
What should also be pointed out is the fact that the offensive line doesn't cut block in scrimmages, nor did they really have the threat of a major running game with Adrian Peterson and J.D. Runnels watching from the sidelines.
"We are in a situation when we are doing a lot of passing right now for the quarterbacks," said senior tackle Davin Joseph. "Realistically, that's not a game-type situation. From the offensive line standpoint, we really have to sit back and sort out all the blitzes, and that is tough on an inexperienced line. But we'll get it, we'll be alright."
Actually, the most sign of life the offensive line showed on Wednesday was after one play, when freshman Branndon Braxton got into a wrestling match with freshman defensive tackle Brian Simmons and nearly pulled the jersey off his back. Braxton, however, was called for the penalty.
Give the defensive front seven an A+ for their effort on Wednesday, as they combined for 11 sacks. And other than Hickson's 55-yard run, they held the OU running game to just 58 yards on 26 attempts.
"It was good pressure," said Stoops on his defense. "I think it helps the defense a little bit knowing what the offense is doing to a certain extent. The offense doesn't have J.D, AD, and they don't have Kejuan in there. The D is a little more aggressive in their rush knowing there isn't a threat of running, but we did get good pressure.
Sophomore defensive end John Williams showed why he has shot to the top of the depth chart with two sacks, beating Davin Joseph on one. Rufus Alexander also recorded two sacks, and led the defense with a team-high eigh tackles.
First-team defensive end C.J. Ah You also recorded sack, along with LB Lamont Robinson, DT Steven Coleman, LB Zach Latimer, DT DeMarcus Granger, DT Carl Pendleton and DE Calvin Thibodeaux.
It was another great scrimmage for Brent Venables' young linebacker crew, as true freshmen Ryan Reynolds and Curtis Lofton finished third and fourth in tackles with seven and six respectively.
"It's an athletic group," said Venables after the scrimmage. "We are two-deep there. Some of the younger guys haven' t played as much, but you can see their confidence on the field. Their ability is one thing, but knowing what they are supposed to do and understanding the schemes is a real key.
"It's obvious how physical and aggressive they. A lot of it is instincts, they just have a feel for it. Reynolds and Lofton just seem to have a real good feel for the game. They were active from sideline-to-sideline at the scrimmage."
DE Larry Birdine and LB Demarrio Pleasant did not scrimmage.
Hey Bob, give a game ball to the secondary for their play. They have been improved for the most part this fall, but they were exceptional Wednesday night.
"I thought guys played a lot better. We had no deep balls, we had no busts," said secondary coach Bobby Jack Wright. "We had people in their proper spots, got good positioning and had very few missed tackles. I guess we had a few, but there were very few. All in all, it was pretty clean and good. I thought we were much better. I was pleased with everything."
Jason Carter picked off an overthrown pass by Rhett Bomar and probably would've returned it for a 40-yard touchdown, and true freshman Brian Jackson picked off a pass in the end zone.
In fact, when asked who stood out after the scrimmage, Wright immediately pointed to Jackson.
"The guy who really stood out to me was the freshman corner — Brian Jackson," Wright said. "I thought he had a heck of a scrimmage, and he has had a heck of a camp. Those other corners better start picking up their business.
"D.J. and Chijioke are really playing well, and now you have a true freshman that's pushing. So everybody else that is standing around looking better get moving because that guy had a heck of a day today."
Starting at corner today with Marcus Walker still nursing his shoulder were Chijioke Onyenegecha and D.J. Wolfe. And once again, both responded. Wolfe led the team with three pass break-ups, while Chijioke was solid in coverage and also very good at stopping screen passes.
As for the safeties, it was a great day for Lewis Baker and Darien Williams. They were solid in coverage and also stepped up near the goal line making several nice stops. Baker was second on the team in tackles with seven.
Nevertheless, Wright says the competition is still ongoing despite tonight's stellar play.
"There's no question that the competition is still wide open, especially at the safety positions. I haven't really seen anybody step to the front. Now, down on the goal line in the short-yardage situations, Darien Williams and Lewis Baker really stood out down there. They were penetrating, attacking and making nice tackles down around that goal line.
"They really showed that they were committed to keeping them out of the end zone. I was really pleased with that aspect of it. Those safeties have a lot of work ahead of them and we are getting down to about a week left. Hopefully, somebody back there will make a push."
"As far as Nic (Harris) and those guys (Reggie Smith and Keenan Clayton), I'm giving them as many reps as I can give them to show or see if they can jump in and be a part of that fray also.
Cody Freeby had a good day pinning the ball inside the 10-yard line from the 50 and boomed several other 50-yarders during the punting portion of the scrimmage.
"It was pleasing to see Cody Freeby step up and hit the ball really well. I think he keeps improving."
Garrett Hartley was called on unexpectedly to kick a 43-yarder early in the scrimmage and missed to the left, but Stoops has still been impressed with his kicking this fall.
"Garrett has been very good. I thought it was unfair that I through in him there in the overtime drill when he hadn't been out there in an hour and a half.
"He was cold and he didn't know he was going in. Anyway, what we saw in the kicking game, I felt good about."
Wednesday's scrimmage was the last scheduled scrimmage and last open practice to the public, or was it?
"We might do something next week," Stoops Wednesday night. "Not as long as this, but maybe 50 or 60 plays at some point early next week, maybe on Wednesday, just to get these guys a little more experience. If we do that, I would open that practice because I think it helps them to learn how to play in front of crowds.
"Even though the stadium isn't full, there's a little more excitement when there's a crowd in here and the players get some adrenaline playing in front of a crowd, and that sometimes changes how guys play. So we may do something next week. We'll let you know."
Defense dominates scrimmage
Sooners Illustrated Top Stories
Five questions: Texas TechRaiderPower.com publisher Jarret Johnson stops by for five questions about Texas Tech.
Sooners Illustrated9:50 AM
OU mid-season report: Special teamsSpecial teams at midway point for OU features some good and some, well, still waiting.
Sooners Illustrated8:03 AM
Union-Southmoore 'must-win' for bothThursday night is a must-win game for both Union and Southmoore.
Sooners Illustrated7:07 AM
OU mid-season report: DefenseQuestions still swirl around OU's defense at the halfway point of season.
Sooners IllustratedYesterday at 9:56 AM