Dean's Blog: Suspensions And Injuries Haunt Sooners
NORMAN, Oklahoma - I learned late, late Tuesday night a "bad story involving Damien Williams" was coming soon. I didn't expect ten hours later that the "bad story" could be the tip of the iceberg. Now, hours from that late night call there's a chance the wobbly Sooners could go into the game at K-State with as many as five starters out of the lineup.
Stoops responded this way after practice on Wednesday when asked about reports that LaColton Bester and Williams had been suspended because of violating team rules: "I don't know where those reports come from," Stoops said. "Those kind of things, I'll always leave up to game time to announce after the game." But that's simply the coach doing what a head coach does. There's no reason to confirm to Bill Snyder that his QB has changed, his best power back won't play, at least one – maybe two – of his receivers are out and that the offense will be altered.
Williams was OU's best bet on fourth-and-one (of course, the 6-6, 252-pound quarterback sneak is always my best bet, but despite the head coach agreeing a week ago Monday that he's a fan of the QB sneak, his play-caller is apparently saving that call for a later game). Knight's offense is option-first football. Zones, zone reads, quarterback runs, and play–action deep balls when circumstances allow. And losing their best power back — and yes, their best breakaway back, is a setback, regardless of what my cohorts exhort.
Love ‘em — take that back, I love some of them — but it's the sum of the parts that makes this day dreadful. As a quarterback, I was out of my comfort zone if I went into a huddle and before barking out orders saw new faces and bodies (especially if the guy replacing Joe Washington was not in Little Joe's class). Re-inserting Knight is a big enough change, but now you've got how many other faces in there? One? Two? Three? Four? Plus, doing it in enemy territory on a radically cold late-morning only adds to the unfamiliarity and different vibe. Football is really about repetition. There's nothing repetitious about OU's situation.
While I believe in what the Sooners are going back to on offense, today gives my enthusiasm pause. Throw into the mix the fact that Kansas State is improving, hungry, excited to get the big bad Sooners (who've smacked them four straight in the Little Apple), and still livid with Bobby Stoops for deserting Coach Snyder and taking half the coaching staff with him.
The fact that KSU sees the offense OU will run every day in practice will present additional challenges. No one outsmarts Bill Snyder. In this case, Josh Heupel will not out ‘X-and-O' Snyder and his defensive staff, especially when the OU coordinator is running an offense that, shall we say, is not his offense of choice. The Sooners got one break this week when it was learned star safety Ty Zimmerman is hurt and won't play. But I suspect that Knight will find it tough going for his Pistol run game. The dwindling corps of receivers and the inability of those available to consistently separate will likely make it very tough on Knight, who will already find throwing a cold, hard football in cold, windy weather to be problematic.
It's imperative that the O-Line has a great day and provides able-bodied Brennan Clay some room to run. Give a crack or two to ‘22.' Roy Finch will get hammered, I predict, on most of his runs. Unless Heupel and Knight put him in the right time and place/space to make plays – on the edge, simple screens and possibly bubble screens (although that is Knight's weakest throw and he'd be making it to the smallest player in a red helmet). I believe it will take Trevor Knight having a 150-yard rushing day for OU to be successful on offense. And he's darn sure capable. See August poll results for proof. There were no ‘hanging chads' when the votes of coaches were tabulated. The young man can run, read, lead and pass. But his wheels will need to be moving fast and furious to give him some second-and-shorts and maybe OU's third offensive touchdown of the year in the first quarter. What did I just say? Yep. Read it. And weep.
Saturday is a chance for Knight to shine and give Stoops a picture-perfect setting to break Barry Switzer's career wins record with number 158; in the place where he was groomed, against one of the best coaches in sports history and in front of some fans who'd prefer seeing Bobby sink than swim.
But the smart guys out west say the odds are better Stoops will be stuck. That Knight-Time will not come. Be honest about the downside. Even if he is ready for the moment, Knight may not have the hosses to allow him to succeed. If he and the team fail, it could get ugly. And with The Boone waiting, it's possible the Sooners could pull out of town with their tales stuck between their legs.
Before today, I liked OU's chances. Now I don't know. But trust me, injuries and shenanigans in a period of ‘no-shenanigans' has put the 2013 fellas behind the eight ball.
RB Damien Williams
Sources indicate a probable third strike violation will not only have him miss the KSU game, but the season finale in Stillwater and the ‘Fill-In-The-Blank' Bowl. "He's been in the doghouse all year; A disappointing season, not good when it's your last," a source told me over a Panera Cinnamon Crust bagel and Walnut flavored coffee. Williams has rushed for 553 yards and seven touchdowns with a team-high 114 carries. When your team plays three backs and there's only two available, it's not good (particularly when your standout frosh Ford is not playing with an ankle injury). Redshirt frosh Alex Ross sounds like he's got big-time talent, but eight totes and a doghouse penalty is not the kind of experience OU will want to throw to the wolves come Brunch Time in Manhattan. So, others can dismiss the loss of Williams. But think before you talk or type. The guy has been a game-changer and this might be a game where change might be very much needed.
WR LaColton Bester
By his lonesome, the loss of the senior wide receiver wouldn't be too bad. He's missed a game before and some didn't even notice. But I noticed. Something about seeing a playmaker with an abundance of athletic grace, who goes 6-3, 212 and looks to me like a million dollars when I see him run (especially running for that touchdown on the reverse). Or, on another reverse, passing on the move and hitting in stride a receiver streaking to pay dirt. Some guys just look pretty in a uniform – as in, like an NFL athlete – and Bester's one of them. It's simply not good to lose a proven starter opponents respect. It makes it harder on OU's remaining receivers and easier on defensive coordinators. Perhaps the biggest negative is that the Sooners go from the big, strong, fast and proven Bester to others that, shall we say, just aren't as good. And not even close. Five-star Trey Metoyer would be good to put in now. Oh, I forgot, little problem there! They've got to go on to the next guy.
Three sources provided input that was essentially the same. The skinny on what happened: Bester screwed up, but not nearly to Williams' degree. I believe OU hoped he'd be able to play Saturday—and Stoops didn't rule it out today—but rules are rules and the penalty part says "sit."
QB Blake Bell
Three sources gave two stories. Two said Bell would not play. The concussion was keeping him out of uniform, but Trevor Knight was keeping him out of the lineup. A source inside the program said, "be careful, nothing official; he has not been ruled out, premature at best." Then Stoops cleared it up after practice saying his fate will be determined in a visit with a doctor Thursday. The remaining question is: Can a player be cleared on a Thursday and less than 48 hours later be getting his noggin' rattled in a game? And, am I right to assume that if Knight went down, coaches prefer to go to a guy in that situation who has been in big games over Kendal Thompson, who might have all the ability in the world, but not the OU track record. If Bell suits and is cleared to play, I'd have a hard time believing he'd have gone from the top quarterback to the third team.
Sources tell me Bell was dressed out and went through part of practice this week, but Knight and Thompson got all the first-team reps. And by now you know all about those darn reps.
WR Sterling Shepard
Multiple sources tell me he's expected to play and was suited up this week in practices, but was protected and not involved in any contact work. I guess I'd lean to what they're saying, but an OU coach told me Shepard has had a couple of concussions early in his Heritage Hall days. And we all know how vicious that blow was that took him out of the Texas Tech game. My question: Do you risk further damage by clearing him at the earliest possible date? Bob Stoops tells me that Shepard's ability to take a short, simple pass and turn it into first downs (and potentially big plays) is desperately needed. Clearly stated, this particular University of Oklahoma football team is lacking right now in big-play talent. You put Knight in a position of having only Jalen Saunders as your only proven, big-play receiver, capable of separating from defenders with consistency, you are asking for trouble. Of the four players discussed, the return of Sterling Shepard might be the most important. Fortunately for Oklahoma, of that foursome, Shep has the best chance of playing. That might not be saying much because it's pretty darn likely the first trio won't be breaking a sweat Saturday (or, if they do break a sweat, it won't be in Bill Snyder's Stadium).
Drum Roll Please…..
With a change of opinion before kickoff a possibility, despite all of Wednesday's turmoil, I'm sticking with the Sooners to pull the upset. Maybe after doing a head count tomorrow of available defensive players, I'll come to my senses, but till then fairway and greens. And pick it up if it's a strapper, you slow-playin' dog!