Coming into the season, most of the questions surrounding the Oklahoma Sooners dealt with younger players stepping up in the void left by players that had graduated from last year's team.
Against Louisiana Tech, the Sooners were able to showcase a lot of young talent and depth, particularly on defense where there weren't a lot of holes to fill. Oklahoma rotated through three separate three-man defensive lines and played an impressive 28 players on defense throughout the game.
Yes, it was Louisiana Tech and rotations are still being ironed out for the season ahead, but the fact there were 28 players ready to see the field in some capacity doesn't bode well for future OU opponents. Seven of those 28 were making their debut for the Sooners.
The biggest hole to fill on defense was at safety. Sophomore Ahmad Thomas started for the Sooners, but fellow sophomore Hatari Byrd and freshman Steven Parker also played and did well in their time on the field. Thomas and Byrd each broke up a pass while Parker had three tackles.
“Ahmad played really well, just as I expected,” OU cornerback Zach Sanchez said. “And then Hatari came in and made some plays, which is really good for his confidence. So, and then Steven came in and played a little and got his feet wet.
“You know, I'm proud of those guys. They've still got things they've got to work on as well as myself and the rest of the defense. But yeah, for the first time going out there I'm proud of Ahmad and Hatari and Steven.”
The trio played like veterans and while they weren't all over the field making 10 tackles or picking off three passes, OU coach Bob Stoops was most pleased by the fact they didn't make any mental errors.
“They were in position to tackle people,” Stoops said. “They made some open field tackles. Again, that position has more to think about than some others and they handled it really well.”
One of the young players that captured the attention of coaches and teammates during preseason practice was cornerback Jordan Thomas. A three-star recruit out of Klein, Texas, Thomas impressed coaches with his on-field intelligence as well as his ball skills. Thomas got his first action against Louisiana Tech on Saturday and his debut was met with similar praise.
“He had a few tackles,” Stoops said. “It was his first taste of it out there, but again, we have loved what he has done against our guys all summer. He will only get better. He has great size, he has track speed and he's a great player.”
Sanchez said Thomas asked him for advice and said he told the freshman to play relaxed and have fun, putting worry for getting beat on assignments.
“I think as a freshman you kind of get uptight,” Sanchez said. “I was the same way last year when I stepped in, and I just told him to relax and have fun and don't be worried about getting beat. It's going to happen. And be aggressive and just make plays.”
There weren't a lot of surprises on offense with young players, but what was a little surprising is that Tulsa Union product Jeffery Mead was the second of a very talented freshman wide receiver group to see the field. Michiah Quick was expected to play almost immediately, but it was unclear how much, if at all, the giant group of Mead, Dallis Todd and Mark Andrews would see the field.
“You're always putting pressure on the DB if you're a tall guy,” OU receiver Sterling Shepard said. “And he uses his speed well, gets off the line well so when I had seen that over the summer, I knew that he was capable of playing. We need to beef him up and get him looking like Dorial a little bit, but he's a great guy. He's got incredible hands so, you know, it's hard to match up with that kind of guy.”
Quarterback Trevor Knight said Mead was raw when he came to Norman in the summer, but that through lots of hard work, he has progressed to where he deserves some playing time.
“He's a guy that's continued to get better each and every day and (I'm) looking for him to make some plays down the stretch,” Knight said. “A tall guy obviously with good speed and goes up and attacks the ball. So, [he's] definitely a guy you want on the outside that can go up and make those plays downfield.”
Those are just a few examples of how young players showcased themselves against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, but there are plenty more. This week's game against Tulsa is another opportunity for the Sooners to give young players some game action, solidify rotations and showcase the bright future of the program.