Early Preview: Oklahoma

Getting our info Internet first-hand, here's a look at the ballyhooed Oklahoma Sooners -- how they fared in spring practice and how they shape up heading into fall practice. Can the Bruins play with what many consider the #1 team in the land?

Call the Secretary of Defense: the Weapons of Mass Destruction have been found. BROs, meet the Oklahoma Sooners…

But it's not the O that the Sooners destroy teams with. It's with the D, and the Sooners are stellar at each unit and had a great spring. Like Bob Stoops says, "You have to destroy the run game. From there, try and pressure the quarterback. Try and pressure them into turnovers. Be great on third down and in the red zone." By and large, the Sooners accomplish those objectives like few other teams.

In their spring Red/White game, the D intercepted six passes, returning two for TDs. OU QBs completed less than 50% of their passes, and the O only scored one TD in the 90 play-from-scrimmage game.

That's the half-full perspective.

On the other hand…

The O did collectively rack up 336 yards on 27 of 57 passing.

(As the OU D has evolved over time away from the "man/free" scheme to the "cover 2, 5 under" zone defense, the trade-off has been clear: OU gets lots of turnovers with its great DBs and LBs, but they can give up some big plays and big yards if they guess wrong or don't pull off the gamble. The Texas A&M and the Oklahoma St. games last year [Sooner losses] are evidence of that. aTm ran for 185 yards v. the great Sooner D last year, for example. And OSU totaled 500+ yards of O on OU…a team UCLA beat going away 34-24.)

One thing that helped the D in the Red/White game was the butter fingers exhibited by the O: two of the INTs were the result of botched catches that ended up in enemy hands. So if you don't self-destruct, maybe you stand a chance…

First, starting WR Mark Clayton failed to catch a "perfect pass that went through [his] hands" and into the hands of CB Antonio Perkins, who returned it for a 39-yard TD. Then starting RB Kejuan Jones bobbled a screen pass from White that was picked. (Jones had two drops on the day.)

The Sooners' O mustered 96 rushing yards on 23 carries v. the Sooner D, an average of a little over 4 yards per carry, which is respectable.

HC Bob Stoops has publicly stated he wants a more balanced offense than OU has had in recent years. It is an indication of how much of a passing team OU is that 57 passes to 23 rushes is considered balanced…

OTOH, why bang your head against a rock like Tommie Harris during a Spring Game and try to run up the middle?

The questions about OU aren't on D. Hard core CFB followers know about Tommie Harris from his performance in the National All-Star game that also included Tyler Ebell, Junior Taylor and Marvin Simmons (back when he was still a UCLA verbal): Harris dominated that day, and hasn't stopped since, even though he was 75% for much of last year with a groin injury (and still has trouble with side-to-side movement).

They know that Teddy Lehman is cat-quick at 4.45 and 230+. They know that Lance Mitchell is a huge upgrade over the weak and slow but Musburger favorite Rocky Calmus. (They also know that starting LB Pasha Jackson missed all of spring ball after undergoing reconstructive shoulder surgery, and that other LBs are dinged: Rufus Alexander tore an ACL during the spring game, Wayne Chambers broke a finger and missed two weeks of practice, and Clint Ingram missed the entire spring with a torn MSL in his knee.) Don't worry, Demario Pleasant (6-3, 220, 4.49), a four star LB ranked 10th in the nation is on the way in…

They know that the secondary is extraordinary, with newcomer Donte Nicholson proof that the rich just get richer: he has size (6'2, 210), can cover a lot of ground, and is considered OU's best tackler in the secondary…perfect for strong safety. The CBs are outstanding in Derrick Strait, a three year starter, and Antonio Perkins at the wide-side corner. Mike Stoops considers him the best pure athlete on the team. They know that the Brandon Everage situation isn't fully resolved.

They probably also know that Chijioke Onyenegecha, the insanely fast CB and subject of a bizarre recruiting battle involving ASU, OU and the NCAA, tore his hamstring running in the finals of the 100-meter dash at the Northern California Junior College Championships. He had surgery, is only jogging at this point, and probably won't play against UCLA, barring a miracle.

A solid picture of the OU D is located here. All things considered, this is supposed to be the best D OU has had in the Stoops era. They're definitely good, but not invincible. Who is?

The questions about OU are on O. QB Jason White, who beat out Nate Hybl last year for the job, has now blown out his ACLs so often that, frankly, I've lost count. Thank goodness he carries around spares. Freddie Kruger-like, he's back like a bad dream…for OU fans, that is. Reading between the lines, JDub was JGimp this spring and is nowhere close to being 100%. But Stoops has tabbed him as #1 heading into the season.

The guy who made the most noise during spring ball was Brent Rawls. Accounts suggest that Rawls outplayed White in each of the last three scrimmages. This blurb from the spring game wrap-up said it best:

"Despite throwing one interception, sophomore quarterback Brent Rawls was clearly the best of the Oklahoma quarterbacks for the third straight scrimmage. Rawls completed 11-of-17 passes for 138 yards, and was the only OU quarterback to lead a scoring drive against the first team defense when he threw the game's only touchdown pass to sophomore J.D. Runells."

Unfortunately, Stoops just isn't ready to put his NC-caliber team in the hands of a guy who missed last season because he fell out of the back of a pick-up truck and sustained a concussion. Friday night in Norman! YEEEEE-HAAAAAAA! Who needs to ride the mechanical bull when you have a Ford F-150???? Seems that Stoops is big on decision-making, taking care of the ball, avoiding wild risks, making the safe play…see where I'm going with this?

But let's hear what Brent has to say: "First of all, I am not the hellraiser that everybody makes me out to be. I wasn't drinking or anything when I fell out of that pickup truck." Well, maybe Brent should quit while he's ahead…if he's not careful, he could end up an elected official. Or $4 million lighter…

However, if White struggles the least bit in the early games, don't be surprised if Stoops goes to the pen faster than you can say, "Tie score, top of the 9th…Gagne! Get in there!" I expect Rawls to be the QB that faces UCLA, for what it's worth.

And there's Tommy Grady to consider. The FR phenom has un-worldly accuracy to go with 6-7 height. John Barnes of LosAl knows QBs when he sees them, and he considers Grady the best he's seen to date after coaching him in the Shrine Game. He's a quick study, and could be the guy before it's all over…but probably not for the UCLA game. [Editor's note: Grady has yet to qualify academically, and might not be able to enroll at Oklahoma this year].

After a terrible season running the ball in ‘01, OU bounced back big-time last year. But they don't have a back this year as talented as Q was last year. Jones isn't a lock to catch the ball, and he's not the most agile of backs, which is crucial because OU operates out of the shotgun so much. OU was shut down a few times last year, like when ‘bama held them to -23 yards. But the desire is to have a balanced attack, and that means being able to run the ball.

And that means that the OL has to come through. And in Stoops' opinion, "We are going to be much better this year than we were a year ago because we are bigger, stronger and more athletic." One-time UCLA recruit Jamal Brown is the big hoss who sets the tone for the trenchmen.

According to this comprehensive report on the OU O, the OL is looking good:

"For the first time during the Stoops era the offensive line actually won some battles against the Sooners highly-regarded defensive front, but they are by no means a finished product. Run Game Coordinator and offensive line coach Kevin Wilson is in his second full season at OU. Coach Wilson deserves a lot of credit for the resurgence in the offensive line. He took over a group that was down, had no confidence in itself and has developed that line into what appears to be the strength of the team."

At WR, the key guy is Mark Clayton. OU had trouble catching the ball at times last year, so we'll see if that bugaboo rears its head this year.

For UCLA to win this game, it seems clear that the Bruins will have to win the turnover battle. When OSU rolled up 38 points and over 500 yards of O, they had zero turnovers. aTm had two INTs, but ran the ball 39 times for 185 yards.

They'll have to avoid being intimidated by OU's reputation and start the game strong by expecting to win. Settling down in the second quarter and realizing that the Sooners are human, too, won't cut it.

They'll have to avoid predictable play-calling. Run-run-pass will get one or two QBs killed…

And they'll need some big plays to score points. Don't expect long, time-consuming drives against OU. They're too athletic, fast and ball-hawking. The longer the opponent's O is on the field, the more opportunities there are for the OU D to make a back-breaking play. Stoops can scheme like a mother and he'll use his D to attack, so there better be hot options with almost every passing play.

My sense is that UCLA can play with OU. The Sooners face a few items that make them vulnerable: They are just nicked up enough with non-trivial injuries to key guys to be less than 100%. They are probably not as hungry as they were pre-Stoops. UCLA knows that OSU drummed OU (twice), and UCLA drummed OSU. OU, for a passing team, has a nasty habit of dropping passes. If everything falls into place, UCLA can definitely win. But on paper, the Sooners look like the highly popular choice because of their suffocating and opportunity-creating D…

(By the way, ever wonder where the "Sooner" thing came from? Me, too! Well, curiosity never killed anything. It seems that before becoming a state, what is Oklahoma today was known as "Indian Territory." Once all the surrounding territories became states, settlers starting placing claims on spots of land in Indian Territory in advance of US government-sponsored "land rushes." Settlers that jumped the gun on the land grab were called "Sooners." So don't sleep late if you're going to Norman…the early bird gets the worm.

What happened to the Indians, you ask? Well, Oklahoma has the largest American Indian population of any state, 8% of the state population, according to this site: Boomer Sooner!. The Commanche and Osage tribes were indigenous, but then the U.S. government "relocated" five other tribes from the southeast U.S. via the "Trail of Tears" in the early to mid-1800s. Those tribes were the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole. So when OU plays FSU, the Seminole nation is probably cheering for OU, if they care at all…)


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