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Blevins: OU blue-shirt policy factor in QB transfer

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Keith Nichol (Photo: OU Sports Information) Keith Nichol (Photo: OU Sports Information)

By Dean Blevins
NEWS 9 Sports Director

It was no surprise when the Keith Nichol story broke Friday. It was coming -- sooner or Later.

Nichol doesn't regret choosing Oklahoma. The Lowell, Mich., native joined Bill Simonson Friday on ''The Huge Show'' to talk about his decision to transfer from the University of Oklahoma.

Nichol originally committed to Michigan State while he was in high school, but changed after John L. Smith was fired as the Spartans' coach.

''I'm just trying to get home, clear my head, talk with my parents, talk with (Lowell coach Noel) Dean,'' Nichol said. ''I know they'll support me in whatever I want to do. I'm just looking for the best opportunity.

''I don't regret going to OU at all. I grew up a Michigan State fan and it was the hardest decision I ever had to make switching from there.''

The first time I saw Nichol wearing that darn blue jersey -- the one that tells defensive players they'd better not touch the QBs or else -- during spring practice I knew this headline would sooner or later appear.

The former two-time Michigan high school player of the year was, is and always will be a duel threat QB. He's not ever going to throw the football as well as Sam Bradford. He's never going to run as well as Jack Mildren. But he's good enough at both that if he'd had the opportunity to scrimmage with a crimson or cream jersey instead of that "hands off or else" blue thing he'd at least had a fighting chance to see playing time. You see, QBs don't wear blue jerseys in the Cotton Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl.

I get the feeling that mobility is what Nichol is all about. It's like the point guard who can shoot well enough to make his defender pick his poison: Give him the 20-footer or take away the possible three-pointer with in-your-face defense, which then gives the duel-threat man with the ball in his hand the option of driving to the hoop and shoot. Or, drive toward the bucket and create opportunities to distribute the ball to teammates are lickin'-their-chops open for easy buckets.

I played in Canada and saw the hands-off policy first-hand. I despised it so much that the coach thought I was crazy when I asked him something no QB had ever asked him: "Would you please let me take off the sissy hands-off jersey?" Similar to Nichol, I'd be in the pocket looking down field when a blitzing end, linebacker or a lineman would slip through protection and force a quick ad-lib decision to throw it down field in a risky fashion -- throw it away, or take the sack.

Being somewhat a duel threat and coming from a wishbone philosophy that dictated the man-under have running back type escapability skills, I faced the frustrating disadvantage of being forced to take one of those three options, instead of tucking it and scooting past the oncoming rush.

Early whistles made it third and eighteen instead of a chance to create big play opportunities by making plays with your feet.

The biggest nightmare for a defense is a run-pass QB getting past the first wave of defenders and gaining a numbers advantage that puts the defense on its heels.

Nichol would have loved the chance to go from a quick-whistle third and 18 to slipping through the rush and like the point guard, forcing the defense to come up to attempt to stop the open-field run which leaves the scattered secondary vulnerable to huge plays.

Of course, the option for the defense chasing a guy with the speed and elusiveness of Nichol would be to stick with their receiver and resulting in an easy 5-, 10- and 15-yard QB gallop. Demoralizing for the defense. A spark for an offense that gives a play-calling coordinator in the booth to pick and choose how he wants to attack the defense.

You don't have to be Johnny Unitas to complete balls when your feet have left receivers open like ducks on a pond. Those skinny post seams are turned into loose coverage defenses where a guy like an athletic, quick-release, strong arm guy like Nichol can show how good he is.

Don't cage a tiger. Let him roam and scare the dickens out of anyone within a country mile of him. Tigers become claustrophobic caged up. The populace is out of harm's way. But open the cage door and it's game on. Uncaged tigers a lot slower than the quick Nichol have disabled many a defense.

Think how frustrating it is when "your" team gets a rush on a frisky QB-see West Virginia....ugh....only to see him move the defenders and move the chains with his duel-threat feet and arm.

It's hard to argue OU's philosophy of blue-shirting redshirts and the other triggermen. But trust me on this one. Quick whistles with caged tigers leads to the bottom depth charters. And transfers.

Good luck, Keith Nichol. I commend you for shooting for the stars and leaving the comfort of your home state and competing for a chance to be "the man" for four years and playing for championship after championship.

Just make sure when you pack for your drive back home, you trash any shirts remotely blue. And make the head coach of your next team promise to let his defense come at you full speed. Sort of like real football.

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