Another scrimmage, another dominating performance by the defense.
For the second time this spring, Oklahoma's defense got the best of the Sooner offense in a 65-play scrimmage Saturday in Norman.
Oklahoma's defense picked off five passes, returning one for a touchdown, recorded five sacks and held the offense to just one scoring drive, which was capped by a field goal, in the full-scale portion of the scrimmage.
"It is pretty clear that the defense is so much further along from where we were it was at this time last year," said OU head coach Bob Stoops after the scrimmage.
"Offensively, we are still working hard," said Stoops. "All of those guys are improving. We still have a little ways to go there, but when it's all said and done I think they have a chance to be pretty solid.
"We're (receivers) tipping some balls, but we're not making the catch. I think in all areas we just have to continue to improve. For the most part, everybody's doing a good job."
The offense got off to a great start on the opening drive, picking up two third down conversions and taking the ball from the 30 to the 38, which set up a 52-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley. But after that drive, it was a struggle in full-scale portion of the scrimmage.
Rhett Bomar played well, completing 8-of-14 passes for 86 yards, but threw one costly interception forcing a pass that was tipped and intercepted, when he could've possibly scored had he chose to run.
"It went alright," Bomar said. "We had our ups and downs. We had some good drives but we just didn't finish them off. We had too many turnovers, bad plays and stuff like that. We are fighting out there, the guys up front are fighting.
Juco transfer Joey Halzle struggled, throwing four interceptions and completing only six of his 17 pass attempts for 58 yards.
"It's just really hard to evaluate," said Stoops on the quarterbacks' play. "We have guys getting open. I just thought some of the plays the secondary made were exceptional. How they broke and how they challenged on them. And in some of those cases, I think we need to be more careful where we try to squeeze the ball."
"They were just OK," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. "I think I got a little greedy a couple of times and I think they got a little greedy a couple of times. We had a couple of drives with some momentum where we made some plays and had some movement.
"I think I got a little too aggressive and put them in some bad situations, and then their decisions put them in some bad situations. We just keep trying to tell them to manage what they do. I think they're playmaking was OK, but not their management."
The other big question this spring was the offensive line, but with only seven healthy players they seemed to struggle as the scrimmage went on today.
"There s no doubt it's a factor," said OU quarterback Rhett Bomar. "We only have seven guys up front and each time they're switching in with the ones and twos. It's tough up there on the line, especially going against our defensive line. We are still running all our plays, but the defense does get adjusted to what you do every day in practice."
"The guys are working hard," said offensive line coach James Patton. "They are doing a good job. Their effort's good. Again, they're going 60 or 70 plays, but that's part of being a lineman though. Those guys take pride in that.
"Yes, we wish we had a few more numbers, which we will in the fall, but every rep these guys take is going to make them a lot better. I think, deep down, they know that. That's what I'm stressing to them as their coach."
Oklahoma's starters to begin the scrimmage today on the line were Chris Messner Branndon Braxton at tackle, Sherrone Moore and Duke Robinson at guard and Chad Roark at center.
Former defensive lineman Brian Simmons is making a push and now alternating with Sherrone Moore at guard. Duke Robinson also took reps at tackle and Cameron Schacht, who had one fumbled center exchange with Bomar today, is the backup center.
"Obviously, we have a lot of time left here this spring," said Patton when asked how the line was shaping up. "We have next week and the week after to make some strides. At right tackle, Braxton is doing a really nice job. At right guard, Brian Simmons and Sherrone Moore have been splitting time there. Chad Roark is doing a nice job at center, especially as a young freshman. He's really just a high school senior out there. And then Duke and Messner on the right side. Duke has a chance to play some tackle too. That's what it looks like right now.
So who is standing out so far this spring?
"I know that Duke Robinson has had a nice camp," Patton said. "He's lost a lot of weight, trimmed himself up and is putting himself in pretty good position. Branndon Braxton has a chance to be a really good player. Consistency is really important with him. I think Chris Messner is doing a nice job and taking every rep at tackle. I think those guys have done a pretty nice job."
The Sooners had somewhat of a tough time running the ball today finishing with just 104 yards on 30 carries. Allen Patrick led the way with 54 yards on 10 carries, including one 10-yard touchdown run in the red zone. Adrian Peterson, who was not allowed to be tackled while wearing the blue jersey, finished with just 14 yards on eight carries.
Rhett Bomar had a nice day running the ball with 30 yards on eight carries. Bomar also looked his best getting outside on boot plays and throwing the ball.
"That's going to be a key weapon for us," Bomar said. "If we can get out and move we should have a chance. We had some success on the boots and we'll keep doing that. That's going to be a big part of our offense."
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson talked about the state of his offense after the scrimmage.
"I don't think anybody's doing particularly bad," Wilson said. "This spring we're just trying to look at players. I just told my guys that we're trying to be upbeat and force the tempo, but it's just like a basketball team. If we're going to force the ball and make mistakes, we can't faster. I don't want to be conservative, but the players will allow you to stay aggressive. But if they don't, you'll have to trust them that they'll let you back off."
Wilson was also asked if today's performance was because of the defense thriving or the offense struggling.
"Credit to the players on that side," Wilson said. "They either got their hands on a ball or we made a bad decision. They had a couple of tipped balls where the d-linemen made a nice play. I wouldn't say it was frustrating that they a hand got on the ball, but if a hand got on the ball because we didn't play smart or execute, then it gets frustrating.
"We're trying to play aggressive and attack, but we have to be smart in doing so. We have to learn to do that in the spring or we're just going to bring it back. Right now we have a great defense and we don't want to put them in a bad situation. The question is can we attack and be aggressive without making bad mistakes? That's what we we're trying to learn today."
One player that did continue to impress on the offensive side of the ball was tight end Joe Jon Finley. Finley caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Halzle in the red zone portion of the scrimmage, and had another nice 35-yard gain after catching an out route and turning it up field.
Fred Strong was also impressive, making one catch underneath and turning it up field for a big gain. He also beat the secondary deep twice, but passes from Bomar were overthrown. At fullback, Dane Zaslaw got the first with the No. 1 defense, but Matt Clapp also rotated in on several series.
What else can we say here? The defense was downright dominant today.
The defensive line got pressure and tipped passes that led to interceptions, two linebackers pursued the ball well and the secondary flat-out covered the receivers like a blanket.
Most impressive was sophomore safety turned cornerback Reggie Smith. Smith, in a nutshell, was awesome again today. It didn't seem to matter who he was covering, he was all over his man and close to interceptions on several occasions.
The Edmond, Okla. native finished the scrimmage third in tackles with five and recorded two pass breakups. He also picked off one pass, which he returned 31-yards for a touchdown.
Another new corner who continues to impress this spring is converted receiver Lendy Holmes. Holmes made three tackles and picked off one pass, which he returned for 35 yards.
"Our secondary guys are really making a lot of big plays," said Stoops. "Reggie (Smith) looked awesome out there and so did Lendy (Holmes). Lendy's making a lot of plays. Then our defensive front really has a chance to be really good. They did a great job creating some turnovers."
"Bob and Bobby Jack have commented a lot and it's been apparent these first two weeks they both have great ball awareness, ball-handling skills, feel for the game and anticipation. They're both pretty natural at it," said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables on Smith and Holmes.
Smith says the move from safety to corner hasn't been a difficult one.
"I think I'm a pretty instinctive player. Plus, coach has me watching a bunch of film. When I played free safety at high school, all I did was break on the ball so it's natural to do that here. As long as I stay up on my film study, I'm going to be able to play over there."
In all, the Sooner defense picked off five passes. Joining Smith and Holmes with interceptions today was Rufus Alexander, C.J. Ah You and Keenan Clayton.
OU's backup safeties, Nic Harris and Keenan Clayton, also were impressive today. Harris had two pass breakups, one of which was eventually picked off by Clayton. Another backup to stand out was corner Brett Bowers, who drew a couple of 'who is that guy' comments from the crowd with terrific coverage.
At linebacker, the Sooners were led by Curtis Lofton, who filled in nicely for the injured Zach Latimer with a game-high seven tackles. Rufus Alexander was second with six tackles, including one interception and one pass breakup.
"Rufus played well," Venables said. "This week was better than last week. He was pretty good last week at the scrimmage. He cleaned up a few things that he wasn't doing during the week and I thought he was a good leader today. A guy like Rufus, once you get to a certain point, needs to become a leader for your team and he's doing that."
But not to be overshadowed by the playmakers in the secondary and linebacker unit were the big guys up front, who did a nice job of putting pressure on the quarterback.
Alan Davis sacked Bomar on two straight plays, and Alonzo Dotson also recorded a sack. Larry Birdine broke up one pass that was picked off by Ah You, and DeMarcus Granger, Steven Coleman and Cory Bennett were impressive clogging up the middle.
"Man, those guys are good," said running back Allen Patrick. "Nobody else is going to run on them either."
Stoops was also impressed with the play of the defensive line.
"Yes, all those guys have a chance to be really good. They can spell each other and we can rotate people. At defensive end, we're really, really good. Calvin Thibodeaux, C.J. Ah You, Larry Birdine, all of them are just really really good. They're hard to block."
Overall, Venables was pleased with how his defense played.
"The guys played hard today. You always want to create turnovers. Some of it was ours and some of it was them. But it's good. It was an infectious attitude out there as the scrimmage went along. They continued to compete and that's what you want to see.
"I think if anything, our big plays are because of awareness. Our coverage was good, which led to several sacks. And they're getting better and better with their positioning. The linebackers and the secondary just have a great awareness right now. And that's infectious with the attitude they bring up front. I just thought they were solid today."
But Venables also pointed out that his defense was going up against a slowed-down offensive line.
"They're working with a very tired offensive line. Our linebackers are playing pretty well right now, but they're going against guys who are gassed out a little bit so you have to keep things in perspective."
Garrett Hartley hit 8 of his 11 attempts on the day, with a long of 55 yards early in the scrimmage. Mike Knall filled in for the suspended Cody Freeby at punter and did a nice job.
Reggie Smith handled all of the punt return duties and looked good.
Stoops says Smith can be a good one, but he's got to catch the ball first.
"We believe if Reggie gains experience and if he catches a million balls between now the start of the season, he's got a chance to be really good back there. Reggie's got good speed and the ability to make you miss."
The Sooners will return to the practice field on Monday.
Bomar 8-14-86, 1 INT
Halzle 6-17-58, 4 INT, 1 TD
Finley 2-46, TD (11)
Lofton 7 tackles
Alexander 6 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Smith 5 tackles, 1 INT (31-yard TD), 2 PBU
D. Williams 5 tackles, 1 sack (-6 yards)
J. Carter 5 tackles
I. Pleasant 4 tackles
Holmes 3 tackles, 1 INT (35 yards)
Harris 3 tackles, 2 PBU
Davis 3 tackles, 2 sacks (-10 yards)
Clayton 2 tackles, 1 INT
Wolfe 2 tackles
Bowers 2 tackles, 1 sack (-5 yards)
Birdine 2 tackles, 1 PBU
Dotson 1 tackle, 1 sack (-7 yards)
Granger 1 tackle
Bennett 1 tackle
Coleman 1 tackle
Ah You 1 INT
Baker 1 PBU
Hartley (made in parenthesis) 8-11 FG; (52), (52), (54), (55), 41, 43, (22), (27), 32, (32), (37)
Defense, Smith dominate second scrimmage
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