Saturday afternoon we were treated to the annual Red/White game and while the fans were certainly done no favors in terms of what was presented, it was still Oklahoma football (kind of) and on a Saturday in April that's about as close to good as it gets.
Sorting through the vanilla and blandness of what we were given wasn't an easy task, but we here at CCM were up for the challenge.
Here are a number of things we were able to take away from Saturday's game and some things to keep an eye on for the coming season.
The Quarterback Battle. I couldn't help but laugh at the collection of people who proclaimed before, during, and after about how Saturday's Red/White game was in no way an event from which to make any grand proclamations. And yet almost all of those same people immediately jumped all over the narrative that Blake Bell, following a 14-23 213 yard 2 TD 0 INT performance, is now the clear cut favorite to win the starting quarterback job.
I'm not here to tell you that he will or that he won't, but I'm not entirely sure what all these people were watching that made them so confident in Bell's chances. I'd grant them that Bell was certainly the most decisive with his decisions when asked to drop back and pass, but that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone considering he's the only one of the three battling for the job who has any experience playing under the lights.
I'm not quite as ready as others to proclaim the battle over, there is still something about Thompson for me that is hard for me to really put into words. If Bell does eventually win the job, I think there has to be some kind of package for Thompson.
The Mobile Quarterback(s). It's not as though we were unaware that all three candidates for the job were guys who could make plays with their legs, but there was still something pretty surreal about watching an Oklahoma quarterback making plays outside the pocket. We've just become so accustomed to the stationary quarterback even with as little as the coaches showed us what they could do with it, there was something incredibly refreshing about the new addition to the offense.
Part of what lead to the 'Bell is the starter' talk we discussed above was his ability to hang in the pocket whereas it appeared both Thompson and Knight were much quicker to pull the ball down and take off running.
What we saw from all three pretty much reinforced what we knew going in. With his size, Bell is the more deliberate runner who will look to run a defender over rather than run around them. Thompson is the most elusive of the three, the most capable of turning nothing into something. Knight excels at getting outside the pocket and immediately getting up the field with exceptional straight line speed.
Free Roy Finch. The diminutive scatback had one of the more exciting plays in the game taking a short pass out of the backfield and scampered 49 yards into the end zone. He showed once again that he is easily the most explosive player on this offense. To this point, we've been led to believe that his lack of presence in the offense was a result of his failures to handle his responsibilities. Hopefully the light has finally come on in his final season as a Sooner and he'll prove to the coaches he can be trusted.
Because that little crossing route so many teams have torched the Oklahoma defense with over the years will be open and available with Finch whenever needed. And he showed Saturday just what he can do with it once he gets into open space.
This point isn't Finch related, but it since we're talking about running backs I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention redshirt freshman David Smith. He'd go on to finish as the leading rusher in the game (16 rushes, 65 yards, 1 TD), but it wasn't so much about his stats as it was how hard he ran the ball. I came away very impressed and while he probably won't get much action this year, he is definitely a guy to keep an eye on moving forward.
The Tight Ends Do Exist. Sure enough, there were bona fide tight ends on the field Saturday in Norman. They had some ups (Sam Grant, both as a blocker and receiver) and downs (Taylor McNamara dropping a perfect pass from Bell for what would have been a big gain), but the point is they were out there. And that's progress for Josh Heupel.
McNamara certainly looks the part and while the aforementioned drop was certainly disappointing just the fact he was open, behind the defense, on a seam route down the middle (something we haven't seen in this offense since Jermaine Gresham left) was a positive sign.
Grant was a guy many of us assumed, because of his size (6'7" 250 lbs), would eventually be converted into an offensive lineman. However, he showed some real athleticism for a guy his size and looks like he could be a valuable asset in the run game with his blocking ability and even a viable receiving threat when called upon.
Receivers, Receivers, Receivers. Once again Jay Norvell will have a plethora quality options at his disposal. In what has to clearly be Oklahoma's deepest position, the wide receivers are overflowing with talent. Even without Jalen Saunders, who played the first series then spent his afternoon fielding the shockingly poor punt attempts of those attempting to replace Tress Way, the receivers stood out on Saturday.
For the second year in a row, the standout was Trey Metoyer who finished with 122 yards on six receptions. As impressive as his day was, it could have been even more so were it not for the multiple drops he had in addition to those he did manage to haul in. Once again it remains to be seen if he can carry over the momentum into the regular season, but there are reasons for optimism. There weren't any instances where he appeared to lose track of where he was on the field, so that's a form of progress. It was never a case of Metoyer lacking the talent to be successful, so hopefully with a year under his belt he'll emerge as the five star talent so many expected him to be last year.
Durron Neal and Derrick Woods also played well in the game. With Neal making a nice catch on a 30-yard gain then later finding himself on the receiving end of a Bell touchdown pass. Woods did most of his work underneath, but looked good getting separation from his defender.
It was good to see Jaz Reynolds again who has obviously had his share of issues, but deserves credit for sticking it out and earning his way back onto the field. Hopefully, for his sake, he can continue to do what he needs to do while also providing that outside threat this offense is looking for in the coming season.
The Line Of Scrimmage. Mike Stoops scooped up the most vanilla defensive game plan humanly possible, so attempting to draw any conclusions from what they did up front, outside of individual battles, would be pointless. The defensive line did not get much of a push outside of a handful of plays.
From an individual perspective, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was one of the bright spots. He has the size and strength to be a dominant presence on the inside, but he's still working to do so on a consistent basis. Right now it really only comes in flashes and that will have to change once the games start counting.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Wade showed potential and at 6'4" 306 lbs he certainly has what you're looking for in a defensive tackle. He has as high of a ceiling as any other tackle on the team, including Phillips, but he has a ways to go before reaching that potential.
At defensive end, Charles Tapper looks like the most promising of the bunch. He started with the first team defense and played with the ones for a majority of the game. Paired with Geneo Grissom, the two of them have the ability to provide that pressure off the edge. Michael Onuoha looked pretty good and it was nice to see D.J. Ward get some action after recently having been cleared by the NCAA.
As a whole, the defensive line remains a unit with an abundance of potential while obviously short on experience. A lot is going to be asked of them this coming season and while they did not stand out on Saturday there were some positive signs. The schematic change alone, moving into the gaps inside instead of heads up on the center/guards, should help their ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Plus, if they had been incredibly disruptive on Saturday it would have only precipitated panic as to what was wrong with the offensive line. Thus the dilemma of the scrimmage setting.
Hey, We Have Linebackers Again! Sticking almost entirely with a 4-2-5, Mike Stoops and Tim Kish did as they've promised and actually utilized their linebackers Saturday. So much so that Aaron Franklin tied for the team lead with ten tackles.
Used properly, there is absolutely no reason Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon cannot be playmakers for this defense. Both have the ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline and now that they're not going to be asked to read and react like last year, they can use their instincts and athletic ability to be more active.
According to Mike Stoops, Eric Striker still has a lot to learn and isn't always where he needs to be, but it was clear Saturday that he's a player that can be very disruptive. The play that will probably stick out for most was the final snap of the game where Stoops brought him on a blitz to sack Bell, but Striker stood out several times before that one play.
Colvin-less Secondary. Without their leader Aaron Colvin, the secondary was chock full of new names and fresh faces. Perhaps none more so than converted wide receiver Trey Franks whose play at safety had to be easily one of the most surprising aspects of the scrimmage. Naturally, Mike Stoops was quick to temper expectations following the game stating Franks still has a long way to go in his eyes. But the fact that Franks appeared competent and wasn't tripping over his own feet, often a criticism of his on the part of OU fans, was enough to impress many an Oklahoma fan.
True freshman Ahmad Thomas looked like the player we've been hearing so much about this spring. He's a physical presence at safety and found himself in the right place at the right time falling on a fumble near the goal line. Don't be at all surprised if come late August he's running with the first team.
Another player we've heard a lot about was Cortez Johnson, who also played well showing up in tight coverage down the field on multiple occasions.
And with that, we won't see Oklahoma football again until later this summer (although, technically they do have one more practice on Tuesday). It's a bitter pill to swallow every year, but in some ways it helps us to appreciate them even more when they do finally return.
So consider this your official welcome to the offseason.