After what was no doubt a very long week of getting yelled at by Mike Stoops and various position coaches, the Oklahoma defense stepped up and shut down the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday night. It was a game that rivaled the Louisiana-Monroe contest for this year’s least significant, but lots of young Sooners saw important playing time. The game is exactly what OU needed to work on its major problems before a difficult home stretch.
There was never much cause to be nervous in this one, but the Sooners did not get off to an encouraging start. OU started on defense for the first time all season, giving up a first down on a Ke’aun Kinner 12-yard rush and burning a defensive timeout before forcing the Jayhawks to punt.
OU’s offense struggled out of the gate, too, going three-and-out on its first possession. If not for a 71-yard punt return touchdown from (who else but) Dede Westbrook, the Sooners would have been shut out in the opening frame. Things got especially worrisome when the defense allowed a methodical drive all the way to its 6 yard line before forcing the KU field goal which narrowed the lead to 7-3.
That’s all the scoring KU would do in this one, however. Westbrook nearly broke away for a return touchdown on the ensuing kickoff, but the play was called back for holding on Ahmad Thomas. No matter—Westbrook ended up fumbling the ball on that drive, and OU had to punt on its next possession, but the defense held its ground until the floodgates opened.
Mike Stoops did mix things up a little in this one, though his scheme didn’t see any radical changes. In the early stages, especially, Stoops was subbing guys out four and five at a time, changing the defensive composition from play to play. He clearly had a message to send: no one had a job locked down.
Stoops stood up his outside linebackers at the line of scrimmage to generate a pass rush, and the Sooners did sack Montell Cozart three times. OU showed slightly more willingness to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage as well, but Oklahoma’s two interceptions had more to do with bad Cozart decisions than great defensive positioning. Ben Johnson was severely underthrown when Jordan Thomas snagged his first pick of the season in the first quarter, and Jordan Evans barely had to move when Cozart found him in the third. Still, Evans made something out of absolutely nothing during his pick-six return, stutter-stepping between waves of Jayhawks who couldn’t seem to bring him down. It was an exciting, athletic play that reminded Sooners fans what a talent Evans can be.
He also finished the day with a team-high ten tackles, mostly because he saw the field more than the young guns around him.
OU started Ricky DeBerry and Caleb Kelly for the first time today, giving fans a taste of the future. By the end of the night, however, OU had reached deep into its depth chart on both sides of the ball—Mark Jackson Jr., Arthur McGinnis, Chanse Sylvie, Curtis Bolton, Sam Iheke and Najee Bissoon all took snaps in this one. Heck, when Abdul Adams got shook up, walk-on freshman Devin Montgomery scored a third-quarter touchdown. It was truly all hands on deck when this one was locked up.
Austin Kendall looked fine in relief of Baker Mayfield, and Geno Lewis made his case for OU’s number two receiving option. Mostly, though, this contest was about seeing which defenders might be worthy of more playing time moving forward. I think Kelly, DeBerry, Jackson and Du’Vonta Lampkin all made a compelling case.
The Sooners will get one more tune-up in Ames on Thursday—then it’s time for the best 11 to take the field.