Burgeoning Sooner Stars Getting Chance To Shine In Bedlam And Beyond
Going into the Bedlam game last week, there was major concern with how the offensive line would fare.
With good reason.
So far, besides injuries, the big guy's up front have struggled.
It was a known fact that Ben Habern, OU's starting center, was a no-go for the contest with Okie state.
What was not known is how Brian Lepack, a 6-4 275lbs transfer from Colorado State, would fill in for him. Brian wasn't so hot at guard when he performed spot duty for then injured Stephen Good.
Then news came of yet one more to offensive player to fall to injury, pre-season all-american and future high draft pick Trent Williams, who suffered a concussion during practice earlier in the week.
Trent has had his share of struggles this year, but had started to come on strong.
Without the 6-5 318 pounder anchoring Landry's blind side, and Lepack snapping the ball for the first time at Oklahoma, it looked as though the magical streak of home wins (29) may end to the 'little brother' Cowboys due to a patch-worked O-line.
Miraculously, that was not the case, well atleast for the last three quarters.
After a first quarter that was marred by fumbles, questionable calls, and just flat out ugly football, something looked different.
None of the offensive linemen were getting 'blown up'. Which if you have watched any OU game this year you have seen happen too often against lesser defenses than OSU.
More than that, they even started to push the Poke defensive line back at times.
As the game played out, they started to move the pile more and more. Each snap seemed to breed more confidence.
Confidence new found center Brian Lepack needed.
After an early miscue, with a high snap that botched a slant run play to halfback DeMarco Murray, which may have caused Landry to cough up the pigskin as he helplessly scrambled to nowhere it appeared, Brian settled in.
He really got after his blocks, sometimes even reaching the second level and covering up a Cowboy linebacker.
In the Sooners first touchdown scoring drive, Lepack picked up a blitzing Booker giving Jones the chance to find Broyles for a 47 yard grab.
The biggest surprise of the day had to be converted TE Eric Mensic.
Stepping on the field at just 265lbs, and switching from #88 to #69, the Texas native looked a little thin for the part, but Mensic appeared destined to play tackle.
Time and again he kept the OSU ends and backers alike at bay with his 6-6 frame. Eric looked wiry but used that quickness to keep defenders in his facemask, rather than the quarterback's.
He admitted that when realizing Trent wouldn't be able to play, that it was his time to step up," Who I block may shift a man, but the protection calls are about the same", said Mensic of his outlook on going into the game," I felt confident, but still a little nervous."
Stoops noticed Eric pacing the sideline before kick-off, not a common ritual for the big guy, so coach walked over and gave a few words of encouragement.
The pep talk worked.
His performance was pivotal to the outcome, springing Murray's 'Superman 09' play, which was the Sooners first touchdown, and with it setting the tone for the game.
Another bright spot on the field was freshman WR Jaz Reynolds.
In the snore-fest that was the first quarter coach Wilson pulled Dejuan Miller, who had played well up to that point, and plugged in the lightning quick Reynolds.
After only a few snaps, Jaz beat his man and caught a laser pass from Landry for a gain of 29.
He must have also caught Wilsons attention, because he stayed in the rest of the game, finishing with 3 snags for 59 yards, not bad.
"I need to get a 100-yard game for someone to say I've arrived," he conceded.
The freshman admitted it wasn't all good Saturday," We take pride in our blocking, and I missed a couple blocks...", That may be so, but a missed block or two can be forgotten if you can catch the ones your supposed to, especially after the one after the other drops that have plagued others.
Though this may not have been his 'break out' game, but it may be the confidence builder he needed to have one.
He will have his chances after an outing like that.
The defensive side of the ball was nowhere near as shaky as the offensive, but there were a few unproven players making their first Bedlam start.
In for injured defensive end Austin English, an underrated talent that will be missed, comes 6-4 259lbs Frank Alexander.
He looks like the real deal.
While his stats appear pedestrian, 2 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 fumble, his laying Zach Robinson(OSU QB) flat may have been 'the' play on the defensive side of the ball.
After a cracking hit like that, the Cowboy line knew they had to account for #84 on every down.
While Jeremy Beal (OU DE) and Gerald McCoy (OU DT) bask in the glory of yet another goose egg, Alexander may have been the key to holding Robinson and crew to the worst outing by an OSU offense in a decade.
He chased Zach around all day, having the job of trying to contain the speedy signal caller, and plugged up would-be lanes to help stonewall the Pokes run game.
Which relies heavily on the qb's ability to run.
With McCoy likely gone to the NFL, English graduating, and talk of Beal leaving early starting to bubble, we may need a respected proven commodity up front.
Frank Alexander can be that guy.
In 06, Austin Box played in the 6a high school state championship in Oklahoma, for his hometown Enid Plainsmen.
They were pitted against the perrenial powerhouse Jenks Trojans, who play this week a Chapmann stadium (Tulsa) for another state title.
I recall listening to the game on the radio, and marvelling at Austin's performance at safety, then again when he took the field as the quarterback. He had already commited to OU at the time, and I wondered how he would do in Crimson and Cream.
Though The game ended in favor of the Trojans 28-7, it would have been 50-0 without Box on the field.
With yet another injury to Ryan Reynolds (MLB), pulled hamstring, Box got the call over fellow Oklahoman, Ronnell Lewis, Racking up 6 tackles with 5 TFL.
Good, but stats have less meaning for this position in this defense.
The middle linebacker spot is a crucial role in Venables (OU D-coordinator) scheme, and can make or break the defenses integrity if not grasped completely. It takes a special player to be able to cover a TE crossing route, then the next play blow up a guard on a blitz.
After some growing pains, and a few minor injuries, Box looks ready to command that role.
Making his second start of the season, #3 safety Jonathan Nelson (featured in article picture with corner Dom Franks ) has played at a high level consistently since taking the role away from hard hitter Sam Proctor.
He has 3 picks in OU's last three games, and with his exeptional cover skills, can open up the play book for a defense.
Stoops glowed after the game at his safety's performance," It gave us some breathing room. It gave us momentum."
Nelsons third quarter interception of Robinson set up a Murray 12-yard touchdown run that all but sealed a Sooner win.
Thanks to the junior's late bloom, the secondary looks to be set and ready for a showdown.
The play of the day, maybe the season, was an all-out hustle play by TE Trent Ratterree.
As time ticked down to the last minute of the fourth quarter, with a Cowboy shutout seemingly in the bag, the Sooner defense was celebrating on the sideline.
Then RB Jeremy Calhoun fumbled at the Pokes 20-yard line, the ball skipped around and then OSU LB Justin Gent scooped it up and took off at full speed for paydirt.
You could hear the collective gasp.
Then from around the OU 40-yard line, Ratterree appeared to be able to catch him.
Gent ran out of steam.
As he closed in on him at the 30 it looked like he had a chance at a strip," I noticed he was swinging(his arms)," the walk-on admitted," I decided to strip him and see what happens."
It proved a genious calculation, Oklahoma State would have kicked a field goal to just put something up on the board if they got possesion.
Trent finally made contact around the 25-yard line, and that's where he struck.
The hustle paid off.
The ball shot to the ground as he clubbed it from behind, and almost bounced into OSU safety Johnny Thomas' hands as Trent fell face down.
"I thought the other guy from OSU (Thomas) had it and was still running with it," he added," I was kind of ticked."
As Ratterree layed flat, pounding his fist on the grass, the ball hit Thomas' hip and somehow bounced back right in front of him, as if rewarding the OU tight end for his hard work.
He looked up to see the pigskin dancing in his face and greedily snatched it up.
Perserving the shut-out and earning himself a game-ball," By way of the defense." Stoops shouted out in the locker room after the game.
"I hustled to get down there, but it was alot of luck after that." Said Ratterree.
No Trent, it wasn't luck.
It was magic.
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