Welcome back to another edition of our Countdown to Kickoff series! As of this fine Thursday, there are just 80 days left until the return of OU Football! For today’s countdown special, I’d like to revisit Jordan Evans’ 80-yard pick-six against West Virginia in 2016. It’s a record that currently stands as the longest interception return for a linebacker in program history.
On a cold and snowy night in Morgantown, the Sooners marched into Milan Puskar Stadium and put an absolute hurting on the Mountaineers. After Oklahoma led 34-7 at halftime, WVU would have a decent drive going to start the third. Near the red zone, senior MIKE LB Jordan Evans was having none of it.
West Virginia QB Skyler Howard made an ill-advised throw over the middle, and the opportunistic Evans saw it coming a mile away. He snuck underneath the pass, caught it on the 20, then found his lane down the sideline for the dramatic house call.
The 80-yard INT-return by the linebacker broke the previous school record of 72-yards set by Jerry Tubbs against Iowa State in 1956. During his final season, Evans recorded four interceptions and took two of them to the promised land. In the 2017 NFL Draft, he was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the sixth round.
Now let’s cover any days we missed since our last countdown post:
81 Days! - Sophomore H-back Brayden Willis
If you don’t remember seeing much production from Willis as a freshman, it’s because he only recorded one catch on the season. It was this 29-yard connection from Kyler Murray in the fourth quarter against Baylor. Even with this being his lone reception on the year, it’s a perfect example of the dimension he can add to Lincoln Riley’s offense as well as why he’s such a great fit for OU’s scheme.
Willis’ story is also quite unique because it was actually the coach of another high school who tipped the Sooners’ staff off on this under-the-radar prospect during a late recruiting visit in 2018.
The oral history of sophomore H-back Brayden Willis recruitment that led him to Norman. pic.twitter.com/i3CovxDuOt— SoonerScoop.com (@SoonerScoop) April 4, 2019
It’s telling that Willis felt he could contribute to the Sooners’ offense after watching the Rose Bowl game against Georgia. In that game, Dimitri Flowers caught three passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. In fact, the Arlington native fits that Flowers mold quite well, and may even add a bit more athleticism to the position than his predecessor.
In 2018, Willis saw most of his reps on special teams, and he certainly made an impact in the third phase of the game. Check out his blocked punt against Kansas that quickly turned into points.
He also recovered West Virginia’s on-side kick attempt that directly led to Oklahoma running out the clock and sealing the deal in Morgantown.
Following the end of spring ball, Allen Kenney projected Willis to start at the FB/HB position, and I tend to agree with him. Carson Meier has since graduated, and while Jeremiah Hall has been around the system longer and has a slight size advantage over Willis, it looks as though the true sophomore gives Riley more versatility from the position.
Keep an eye out for No. 81 this fall, folks, because you should be seeing a lot more of Brayden Willis on a much more regular basis.
82 Days! - OU has played as the AP’s No. 1 team in 82 games
In 82 games as the AP’s top ranked squad, the Oklahoma Sooners are 74-8. That amounts to an all-time win percentage of .902 while having the biggest of targets on their back. I’d say that’s not too shabby, especially considering most programs struggle with consistently being ranked within the top 25.
You have to go back 69 years to find the first instance of Oklahoma playing as the No. 1 team in the land. In a home game against arch-rival Nebraska in 1950, the Sooners beat the Cornhuskers, 49-35. That was Bud Wilkinson’s fourth season as head coach at OU, and his top-ranked squad featured a sophomore Billy Vessels two years before he brought home the school’s first Heisman Trophy.
Now the last time Oklahoma was No. 1 was in 2011. This contest was also in Norman, as former Big 12 member Missouri came to town and gave the Sooners an early scare. Fortunately for the Crimson & Cream crew, OU ultimately prevailed, 38-28.
If you’re a little fuzzy as to why the Sooners weren’t No. 1 after beating Mizzou, it’s because that year’s preseason No. 4 LSU had just convincingly taken care of three top 25 opponents away from Tiger Stadium within the first month. That loaded resume was enough to supplant an undefeated OU going into Week 5, and ever since then, Oklahoma has been climbing to get back to the top.
Since OU was last placed above all others by the Associated Press, only eight other teams have claimed the coveted poll position (Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Oregon and USC). In the last three seasons, only Alabama and Clemson have been the AP No. 1. So much for parity in college football.
Overall, Oklahoma has been ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll for 101 total weeks, which is third all-time behind Alabama’s 118 and Ohio State’s 105. The Sooners have finished the season as the AP’s top team on seven separate occasions (2000, 1985, 1975, 1974, 1956, 1955 and 1950).
83 Days! - WR Nick Basquine
If it seems like you’ve heard Nick Basquine’s name around the program for a long time, that’s because you have. In April, the Norman native was granted a sixth year of eligibility, making him the clearly defined veteran on the team by default. Even after suffering back-to-back Achilles injuries, the former walk-on has put in the work in both the classroom and in the training room in order to contribute for his team in his final year of playing college football.
In 2018, while still returning to physical form, Basquine hauled in seven catches for 134 yards. For more of his story, you can check out our countdown piece on him from last year.
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