The Oklahoma Sooners have been an offensive machine all season long, but the national narrative has primarily been about the defense. Last week’s Bedlam shootout did more than just raise some eyebrows, it left the Sooners’ secondary in shambles. Veteran cornerback Jordan Thomas and safety Kahlil Haughton both fell to injury, emerging cornerback Parnell Motley was benched, and by rule, safety Will Johnson was set to miss the first half of Saturday night’s contest after a second-half targeting call last week.
If the Sooners wanted to remain atop the Big 12 race and in the College Football Playoff discussion, their hopes were going to be in the hands of a few true freshmen. While they are largely inexperienced, playing only a handful of meaningful snaps all season, it was time for safety Robert Barnes and cornerbacks Tre Norwood and Tre Brown to show why they were recruited to play for the University of Oklahoma in their first starts of their careers.
Now TCU is not a team that normally gets mentioned in discussions about high-octane offenses, but the Horned Frogs definitely boast one of the better offensive attacks in the country. With big-play threats like wide receivers KaVontae Turpin and John Diarse, the green Sooner d-backs were in for a tremendous test.
Of course, as we all know by now, they were absolutely up for the challenge:
Tre Norwood, baggy sleeves and all, made this incredible play on a critical 3rd and long. On this particular play, Norwood also showed his awareness of the situation. With a 3rd and forever down and distance, Norwood knew TCU QB Kenny Hill would have to let a longer route develop before he could pass the ball. By keeping his eyes on the QB, Norwood was able to jump the route. The only thing Norwood could have done better was complete the interception — everything else he did was textbook.
And Norwood wasn’t the only freshman to make his presence felt in the Sooner secondary on Saturday night. Opposite Norwood was Brown — the other Tre. If Norwood’s game brings ball skills to the defense, Brown’s game brings the thump:
On 2nd and long, Brown comes from across the field to break up the would-be first down completion with a hard tackle. Brown immediately recognizes where Hill is going with the ball, wasting no time getting to his spot and making the play.
Last but not least, Robert Barnes, the highest rated recruit of OU’s 2017 class and most experienced of the three freshmen defensive backs, has now seen action in eight games on the season. An interesting development during the game was that the coaches kept Barnes on the field to start the second half even after senior Will Johnson was eligible to return. That speaks volumes for the freshman and is a testament to the trust the coaches have in him.
Coming into Saturday night’s contest, Kenny Hill’s completion percentage on the season was a whopping 68%. Against an Oklahoma secondary comprised of three freshmen defensive backs, Hill turned in his worst outing of the season with a lowly completion percentage of 46%. Not all of the credit should go to the play of the secondary, but it would’ve been a much different night if not for their valiant effort.
After making their first career starts as true freshman — Robert Barnes (@r0bertbarnes), Tre Norwood (@trenorwood_3) & Tre Brown (@T_Brown25) stopped to sign autographs for #Sooners fans. pic.twitter.com/GVaEjuqgHB— Nate Feken (@TheGreat_Nate) November 12, 2017
At the end of the night, the defensive trio combined for eight tackles and three pass breakups. With Jordan Thomas, Steven Parker and Will Johnson all in their final seasons, it will be crucial to develop more young guys into high caliber defenders. With Barnes, Norwood and Brown, the Sooner secondary looks primed and ready to take that next step.
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