May 17, 2014

Big 12 Spring Wrap: Oklahoma

Now since spring football has concluded across the Big 12 Conference, takes the time catch up with the rest of the league. We spoke beat writers covering Big 12 teams to help fill us in on how the spring went and the future holds for the programs. Today, we talk with Editor Josh McCuistion about the Oklahoma Sooners.

Josh lets begin with this, what was the atmosphere like this spring in Norman with the Sooners coming off that sweet Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama? Was there a sense of confidence?

There really was, you know. You look back at last summer when Bob Stoops made some of his comments about the SEC, there were people even amongst Oklahoma fans that felt he was poking the bear. Then for Oklahoma to go out and have a chance to what Stoops said, it reaffirmed OU as a program that can compete for a title and is a favorite to get into the playoff. I think it was a big deal for Oklahoma fans. Now, it was a little strange this spring. Trevor Knight didn't exactly light the world on fire during the spring game and recruiting hasn't quite taken off the way some had expected it to. So there has definitely been a little conflict of confidence since about mid-March. Really there are still people excited about that win and what this team could be.

You just brought up Trevor Knight, I was going to ask how did the spring play out for him after his coming out party in that Sugar Bowl? What did Stoops want him to work on?

I don't think that there was any doubt that with Trevor Knight there is really just a consistency question. You brought up the Alabama game and obviously I talked about it earlier. There is just a thought with him nationally that he could be a Heisman Contender, but really has just had one great game. Other than that he's had moments, and shown you flashes of good play. This is from a guy that I thought shouldn't have been benched. I thought once he returned from injury that he suffered against West Virginia, he should have come back to be the starter. I never felt Blake Bell was capable of doing the things offensively to do some of the things that Oklahoma wanted to do. At the same time, it doesn't change that Trevor Knight was wildly inconsistent. He struggled to put the ball where it needed to be and even with Oklahoma trying to turn more to a run oriented game, the basis at Oklahoma will be that the quarterback has to be accurate, has to work the short passes and he really struggled with that last year with the exception of Kansas State and Alabama games. So for me it's been interesting to see how much one game has tipped the scales in Knight's favor as one of the better quarterbacks in the Big 12.

Speaking of Blake Bell, what's he up to these days?

Blake Bell has been moved to tight end. He's the son of a former NFL defensive linemen and nephew of one as well. I remember going to see him play in high school at about 215 pounds, I knew than he'd be over 240 pounds by the time he left college. This is a big, strong guy, who did some nice things in the spring. He didn't play in the spring game because he suffered an injury towards the end of spring, but he's very much in the competition to be the starting tight end this year.

I assume the Sooners have a pretty good plan to replace some of the talent their looking like Gabe Ikard, Bronson Irwin and Jalen Saunders?

Well you mention Gabe Ikard and he maybe the one guy they have some most readily available for. Oklahoma had some offensive line injuries so Ty Darlington had actually started a few games at center as a true freshman. He'll be in that center role now. He's very much like Gabe, as a very intelligent and athletic center. Plus he and Trevor Knight are roommates so there should be good chemistry there. Then receiver is one of the biggest question marks for Oklahoma. I don't know if people nationally appreciated what Jalen Saunders meant to the team last year especially down the stretch. He made plays against Alabama and was the entire offense against Oklahoma State. Sterling Shepard is now the number one receiver. He's a very good player.

Flipping sides of the ball, it seems like the defensive line is the strength of the defense, do you agree?

There's no question that Oklahoma feels the strength of the defense is on the defensive line. Jordan Phillips returns from back injury and he was performing at an all-conference level before that back injury. That's a question mark, but the thing that Oklahoma has to like is a guy like Jordan Wade who played every snap down the stretch. Then on the edge you have Charles Tapper who is already grabbing some early draft entry talk as a top defensive end next year. Geneo Grissom is a guy that had a great game against Alabama last year too.

What's the biggest hole for Oklahoma defensively?

The real question mark for me is who replaces Aaron Colvin. This guy got maybe overlooked in the Big 12 with several good corners like Jason Verrett from TCU, but Colvin is a guy that probably would have been a top three round pick. He could move from safety to corner for Oklahoma and he was an all around great player. They need Zack Sanchez to step up and be that guy next year. He showed flashes, made some big plays especially in that Alabama game. They also need to find out who will play opposite of him. Will it be Stanvon Taylor, who actually got a start last year or will it be Dakota Austin, who actually replaced Colvin when he got injured in the Alabama game. I think Oklahoam feels good about those guys, but it still is a matter of how those guys respond when the game becomes real.

Josh, I have to ask you now that you've seen Alabama live and of course have watched West Virginia the past two seasons, since WVU meets Alabama in the season opener, what do you think the Mountaineers have to do to keep pace with 'Bama?

What I think is interesting is how West Virginia chooses to attack Alabama. When you look at Trevor Knight, look at Johnny Manziel, guys that can move around can buy time and that Alabama defense can't pinpoint a spot in the pocket to go after the quarterback. I think that really seems to frustrate Nick Saban and what they do defensively. It's maybe the one kryptonite Alabama has. So I think you have to look at how West Virginia attacks, maybe they put some extra plays in, maybe some speed sweeps. They just have to add some things to make Alabama move sideline to sideline and maybe that seems counterintuitive but with all the size Alabama has upfront, they're just so used to playing in the physical SEC, that when they see a smaller more athletic team like they saw in Oklahoma, it gives them some problems.

Finally, we'll end with this how does Oklahoma handle the expectations when some are touting them as the preseason number one?

That's a really good question. If you look through the years, Bob Stoops' best teams almost invariably have always come from a little bit further back in the field. It's Oklahoma so expectations are always a little higher from them, but when you look back at the National Championship team (2000) they started the season at the number 19 team in the country. And in my opinion Oklahoma has had a little bit of trouble through the years being the frontrunner and being the guy everyone is looking at. It'll be interesting to see what they do to address that.

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!