This week the Sooners are starting to put in their gameplan for Boise State, as coach Stoops will work the team through Thursday before giving them a couple of days off before reporting back on the 25th to leave for the Fiesta Bowl.
Up to this point, the coaching staff has been spending a great deal of time working with the young players who didn't play all that much this season or redshirted. The coaches love this time of year because they get to coach some great young talent, while at the same time recruit and put together the gameplan for a very tough bowl opponent.
OU Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson is certainly in his element as he talks to OUInsider.com about pre-bowl practice thus far and about the Sooners' Fiesta Bowl opponent.
JH: What has been your impression of the young players on your squad who you have been working with a great deal early in bowl prep?
KW: "We have thrown a lot at them. A lot of the guys have been on the scout team, and we even have a bunch of young players who have played. So we have had some guys back off like a Joe Jon Finley, Duke Robinson, Brody Eldridge, Brandon Walker and Jon Cooper, who have played a lot. Even thought they are all young guys, we have tried to throw in some of the younger guys who have not played as much so far.
"A guy like Chase Beeler is getting a lot of work in there, and big Curtis Bailey is looking a little bit better coming off his back (injury) and he is running around. Eric Mensik has looked pretty solid at tight end. Of course, everybody is making a big deal of the quarterback thing, but we are also working (Brandon) Caleb and (Pooh) Tennell at wide receiver.
When I look at it from an offensive side, we were throwing a lot of plays at them and saying these are the plays that we do and you need to know them. Sometimes, during the season, those kids don't get involved with our meetings. They actually go to scout team meetings. They watch the other teams' offense and sometimes our offense can look a little foreign to them. Now, we are trying to fast-tempo it and throw a lot at them.
"We will have eight fundamental days to work with them. A lot of guys have looked solid. I don't know if anybody has looked great, but nobody has been disappointing. Going back to what I said in two-a-days, this is a very talented, young offensive unit. Those young offensive players are very talented. They are going to be very good."
JH: What do you think of Boise State defensively?
KW: "They are rock solid and pretty good. You look at 'stat numbers' and they have given up slightly over 80 yards a game running the football and less than 16 points a game. They have held nine opponents to less than 21 points. That is three scores or less that they are holding people to. On third-down conversions, one out of three you get. They play great third down defense, especially third and long.
"They come after you with some things with some combination pressure. Their man looks have been pretty difficult for people to attack. They commit to stop the run and they are pretty solid. To me, some guys who stick out watching tape are a nice inside tackle by the name of (Andrew) Browning. He is pretty solid and they are pretty good up front. Everybody talks about size, but what is the difference between whether you are 6-3 or 6-1 when you are a D-tackle? They are strong, they play leverage, they are active and they are very solid up front.
"Their profile players are backers named (Korey) Hall and (Colt) Brooks. Both solid, active and make a boat load of tackles in the placement of their defense. They have a heck of a corner who is a great returner in (Quency) Jones, and they took a big corner last year and put him at safety named (Gerald) Alexander. He makes a lot of hits for them.
"It is the Oregon defense, the Virginia Tech defense, the 4-2-5 and the almost eight-man front, nine-man front where the safety reads the tight end to try to get an extra guy in the box. It gets the corners out there locked up in man. Their corners are big enough and strong enough. They were playing Oregon State like that. That is just the structure of that defense. They blitz when they want to blitz and they pick their spots.
"They play really good third down defense. If you watch their film and you watch the activity of their front, their backers and their secondary, you win a bunch of games because you have a bunch of solid players, and they are pretty salty and solid across the front. You don't see one point that jumps out at you as a glaring weakness or guys that you can attack. You don't see a group that you say, 'Wow, that is an unbelievable player that you can't block.' But you see 11 guys flying to the football and playing good defense a whole lot."
JH: How have the quarterbacks looked in early camp?
KW: "What we are trying to do is throw a whole lot at them. We are not out there going this is Day 1, Plan 1. But we went in like it was the 12th week. Paul was probably getting 80 percent of the reps at practice during the season and now those guys (Joey Halzle and Sam Bradford) are probably getting 40-40 and Paul is getting 20. We are just trying to keep him loosened up and force-feed those guys.
"They both have looked well. I think Joey has a greater grasp just because he has done it longer or been around. He feels a little more comfortable in the offense. You can see him processing things as the play develops, but we didn't downgrade our level of what was going on. We were throwing multiple formations and multiple looks where his ability to recognize blitz problems and get rid of the football were important. We were in just protections or in combination routes where on this coverage you are going to the right side, and on this coverage to the left side. We threw a lot at those guys and they both did well.
"That is a long way off for that battle to be won. Just like this year, we took a guy that people didn't think highly of and he played pretty good ball. I think both of those kids, whoever it will be, or to be announced guy, there are enough pieces around them that our future will be OK. I don't know if it is going to be the Heisman Trophy winner coming back like it was a couple of years ago with Jason (White). Whoever that guy is, he has a lot of surrounding pieces coming back that are going to be good players for him."
We give you part of our Two Minute Drill with the Offensive Coordinator of the Oklahoma Sooners Kevin Wilson
JH: What has it been like to work with a guy like Adrian Peterson more closely as an OC than you did when you were the offensive line coach?
KW: "I was always around him a lot anyway because I was involved with the offensive line and the run game. I just told him this the other day — that I just appreciate the fact that to be so talented and how hard he always worked, how hard he practiced and how level-headed he is. He wasn't the 'I' guy in the media or the 'me' guy. I challenged him to come back, knowing that his peers would be watching, and I challenged him to be a great practice player like he has always been.
"I worry, as much as anything, that people will make this such a big deal that now 'Adrian Peterson is back'. When in reality it is not about Adrian coming back. It is about Adrian coming back to a good team. Everybody always talked about him and him, but there have been a lot of good players around him. That team played pretty good without him. For him to embrace the value of his teammates and make that is a positive. I think it would be a great selling point for him and his future, and for our current players. He has never been a selfish-type player and I would not expect him to be that kind of deal now.
"My goal in this game is not 'to get him any yards or any stats'. Our goal is to try to do what we need to do to win this game. We have never gone into any game wanting to get a player stats. There were games we went into that I thought we would throw it more than we did. And there were some games I thought we would have ran it a lot more and better than we did. You just kind of get into a flow and some things start working and some things don't.
"We have never had a master plan going into a game on what is going to happen and we won't have a master plan in this game, except for trying to do the things that we need to do to give us an opportunity to try to win this game. If that gives him the opportunity 'to try to incorporate these records' then OK. I don't think it is such a big deal to him. I don't think he is coming back to break the record. I just think he loves to play and wants to get back and play with his team again."
JH: Do you sense that his teammates are glad that he is back because they care for him so much as a teammate? Or is it more that he is an exceptional talent and he is back? I sense they have been rooting for him to get back because he is a great teammate.
KW: "I go back and you Tivo games and we go home and watch them. You can see some things on TV that you can't see on our tape, like on some of those close-up shots. So it is always nice to watch for some things like body language and demeanor. I remember some great sideline shots of him talking to Allen Patrick and coaching him. Or Adrian running down the sideline on that long run at A&M that he got called back, and AD was high-stepping stride-for-stride with Allen on the sideline as Allen had this great run.
"I just think he embraced our teammates and, because of that it, allowed them to embrace him. I think our guys know that he feels it is not always about him. Nobody in our program is as talented, but no one has worked as hard. That is a unique combination in today's society and I think that is why our players respect him. I know they respect his talent, and I think they really respect how he has always prepared.
"That will be interesting these next few weeks as he gets back into the flow. Can he put that throttle down like he always has and prepare at a high level? He has been one of our best practice players since he has been here."
JH: Do you think there is much of a size and speed difference between a WAC and Big 12 team?
KW: "They are active and quick. Playing TCU a couple of years ago was like that. I spent nine years of my career at Miami of Ohio and we were as quick as a lot of those teams that we went to play. They have good speed. The problem with a lot of smaller or mid-size programs is they try to recruit the big guy and they lose the speed.
"This program is as active, when I look defensively, as the majority of teams that we play within our conference. Their ability to get off blocks up front, run to the ball, their backers and again — they put a lot of stress on their secondary, but they hold up. That is a passing league, so they are getting challenged out there with some quality receivers. I think people always talk about playing in that West Coast deal you would think the pass game is where they would emphasize certain things.
"You watch the corners and their secondary play this is not of a sluggish or slow team. If we had some 40 races maybe we might have some guys who would be a tenth or so faster, but when you watch them play they are a very active, quick, physical solid team, and that is why they are good. People talk about size. But I think when you look over the long haul, teams like that (big) couldn't last week-in and week-out against top teams.
"However, in a one-shot deal they are plenty fast, strong, and physical enough to contend with any team in the country. They will do things that will definitely give them a chance to win the game or any game. That is why they have only lost 13 games this decade. There is a reason why."
JH: Jermaine Gresham catches the big play against Nebraska, so how far as he come with his development this year?
KW: "He doesn't lack courage or confidence in his ability. He does lack confidence in knowing what to do or in knowledge in all of the assignments. As a big receiver, he understood the passing game as a high school kid. As a blocking guy, if you said, 'Hey, block down.' It is just repetition. And as defenses move where the guy is outside of you and then on the next play he is inside, now it is this look, then a blitz look and then it is not. It is just identifying those blocking things.
"His learning curve only started in August and that is just a foreign world to him. When you talk about the passing game, routes, spacing and where to go, then he understands because that is what he always did. His ability to not be totally up to speed as a complete, true blocker is not due to a lack of strength, lack of fundamentals, or lack of ability to do it. He is actually much more physical and stronger than Joe Jon Finley as a blocker right now. It is the ability to know all the adjustments that happen. You are checking plays and you think you got this, but wait a minute is it this?
"He has been just a little fish out of water understanding the blocking things. He has gotten better and better every week and he will push the returning starter to be the starter next year."
JH: So he is just touching the surface of what he can do?
KW: "Yeah. And again, there are going to be some great battles in the spring. This is a tremendously talented young team. Branndon Braxton was playing well, but you look at the way those guys played without him and he will be fighting to get his job back. That is a good deal, but here is a guy that y'all said was playing the best of any linemen. Allen Patrick is a good running back and Chris Brown has shown that he is as well, but those two young guys will be very competitive.
"You have the receivers coming back and then throw (Pooh) Tennell and (Brandon) Caleb into the mix. There will be veteran quality players who will be fighting to play and that hopefully will be the competition that you need to give yourself a chance to be an upward type of team.
"Everybody is going to be talking about the quarterback situation, but there are going to be some heck of good players who have played competing to keep their jobs. Joe Jon Finley will be competing so the other guy is not taking his snaps away from him. That is a heck of a good situation for a coach to be in."
JH: What has been the biggest change in the offense from the beginning of the year to what it is now?
KW: "We started early in the year struggling with third downs. At the end of the year, I think we finished 40, 42 or 43 with our percentage rate. We probably started the year at 25. I think our ability to convert on some third downs, being a little bit better on protection, or just throwing the ball in our plan. Our third down game was better.
"I didn't think the line was bad early, but I think the more they played together the more cohesive they got. Our ability to work together to block blitzers or twist, or come off in the running game, and probably just a lot of those young guys who got confidence. It is a maturity to say OK it doesn't matter who the running back is on that play, because we can block it and whoever is back there will do it. Don't worry about this pass situation because Paul understands what we are trying to do. He will make the proper throw, he is not going to force the football.
"I think those young receivers, Manuel Johnson and the tight ends, kept emerging. I think it was the confidence that they had in themselves and we had in them. We saw those young guys continue to play down the stretch we were just calling plays and weren't concerned if that guy was ready for that or this, or is that something we can block or something that we can handle like it was early in the season."
JH: You appear to have a number of talented offensive linemen, so could you see yourself rotating a lot next year?
KW: "I don't know if we will have two lines, but I think you will see some competition that will force guys to get better or give us the ability to play multiple guys. I think Chase (Beeler) can definitely push Jon, and he is playing some at guard. I think Brian Simmons showed in spring that he is a talented player. He is back playing now but he missed a couple of months with that knee deal, and he missed June and July which is important of an O-linemen.
"When you look at the three tight ends coming back, our fullbacks are back, those two running backs that have played are good and those two young guys are good. We will still be young and there will not be a lot of seniors on next year's team, but you will see some talented players that have been proven and will be pushed by other talented guys. This is going to be a lot of fun."
JH: Have you been able to get Arron Cummings back? And is Matt Clapp healthy?
KW: "We got Aaron back for about three weeks and he was looking good and getting back into playing again, and then just the other day he twisted that ankle again or something. I am not sure what happened, but he was going along pretty good and then dinged that ankle again. So that slowed him down a little bit, but we are slowly getting him back on the field.
"Matt is healthy now and trying to work his way back on the field. His problem is that Brody (Eldridge) has emerged as the guy we play the most at fullback and we kind of like all the ways we can hide how we use him. We break the huddle with him on the field and he lines up at tight end, as an H-back, so to speak, and then at fullback and the opposing defense isn't really sure what we are going to do. They have a lot to prepare for with Brody on the field.
"Also, Dane Zaslaw has played well and he has played most of the time this year. Matt is a talented player and he will be in the mix next year, but it is going to take some work for him to work his way back onto the field."
Two Minute Drill: Kevin Wilson
Sooners Illustrated Top Stories
Broiles, Brown shining in spotlightPart I of a two-part series looking at the top performances seen in person so far this season.
Sooners Illustrated10:19 AM
Welcome to the stage, Joe MixonAnother answered question with OU running back Joe Mixon, who thrived at his opportunity to be No. 1 back.
Sooners Illustrated9:05 AM
OU 11: Texas TechAn offensive flavor to the OU 11 this week after the record-setting night at Texas Tech.
Sooners Illustrated7:41 AM
Video: Bob Stoops after Tech, heading to KUWatch OU coach Bob Stoops' full opening statement trying to reconcile what happened vs. Tech and looking ahead to Kansas.
Sooners IllustratedYesterday at 11:33 AM