Sooners hope third time's a charm.
Although no one came out and said so today, it looks like there will be a third starting middle linebacker in the past three games for the OU Sooners when they line up on defense at Kansas State on Saturday in Manhattan.
Bob Stoops isn't required or expected to announce changes in his starting lineup at anytime. Maybe you and I would like to know it, but when the coaching staff believes it could be a disadvantage to announce changes-perfect example a week ago when no one expected safety Nic Harris to step in for injured starter Ryan Reynolds, which proved to be helpful against a Kansas team that would have attacked OU's defense differently, had it known of the surprising decision-it simply doesn't.
So the coach didn't drum-roll his press conference today to announce that Harris is returning to his more natural safety position, where he's been of all-league caliber the past two seasons. But he said enough that anyone who knows football understood that he was implying that Austin Box (and perhaps 250 pound Mike Balogun at times) would start in the all-important middle.
Harris was a good stop-gap guy to cause the least disruption on a defense that had very little practice time to replace their defensive "quarterback" before they went up against a potent offense in the 15th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
The thought-process between Stoops and DC Brent Venables was not as simple as moving Box to number one on the depth chart and saying, "Here we go." The facts are that Box would have had to make a position change...from practice reps exclusively at Will LB to the much different and mentally-taxing job of running the show in the middle.
Box is smart. He was a stud at Enid High School as a QB/safety where he led the Plainsmen to the 6A state title game. But, he's a redshirt freshman with virtually no experience. That's a tough transition to the position Stoops calls the "most technical" on a team. .
Harris is a well-oiled senior who was much more prepared to handle the stress and demands of the sudden switch. Handling live bullets flying left and right in front of you at 100 mph can be dizzying. In retrospect, the decision makes all the sense in the world.
As for the future.........Assuming OU wins at KSU, the schedule could give Box enough time to feel comfortable before the critical regular season toughies. Beating Nebraska is never a given and winning in College Station. But OU will be heavy favorites in both games.
Box needs all the experience, pointers, advice, savvy, and anything else he can find before lining up on November 22 against the TTech Fast-Breakers. Then he'll need that and more seven days later when he'll try to figure out what's going on in a hated environment in Stillwater matching wits and will with Mike Gundy's triple-threat offense.
Pardon me. I added wrong-a four-headed attack, now that future NFL tight end Brandon Pettigrew has returned to Zac Robinson's huddle.
Box has dreamed of this opportunity all his life. Here's his chance. And with the one-loss Sooners having zero room for error, frankly, everyone's watching.
Middle Linebackers are supposed to be bigger than safeties. However, Box is listed at 6-2, 221 while safety Nic Harris is listed at 6-3, 232....Too bad for the odd man out of this arrangement: 6-2 Safety Quinton Carter, who by all accounts was outstanding Saturday, and who insiders say is a headhunter that this defense could use. He may not start, but he's earned playing time and has two more years to blossom...Finally, how ‘bout that? An Auston and an Austin on the frontlines in Norman. A pair of Texas state capitols play key roles on a defense that will make or break a season still has much promise.