The Moore American

April 16, 2014

Defense shows up in spring game

By John Shinn
The Moore American

MOORE — Fans want to see offense in spring games, and there were a lot of devotees at Oklahoma’s Red-White Game on Saturday. If 43,500 in attendance were hoping for a big day from quarterback Trevor Knight, they walked out of Owen Field disappointed.

He was one of the reasons the Sooner fan base is so energized and the Sooners enter the 2014 season with such high expectations. Another rationale was on display Saturday, too.

“This is the most complete defense we’ve had since we’ve been here,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “When we get our players back and get our freshmen in here, we can be a very deep football team — at least deeper than we’ve been the last couple years for sure.”

OU’s starting defense — or at least the ones in uniform — were the dominant factor on Saturday. Knight was just 5 for 14 for 53 yards with an interception. Running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross, who are the Sooners’ top two on the depth chart, combined for just 35 yards on 12 attempts.

The defensive starters just didn’t give up much.

“I felt like we played really good — the ones (starters) especially,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “… The defensive line and linebackers did a good job stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterbacks, so it wasn’t that hard in the back end.”

In all due respect, Knight was without some key ingredients. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who will be the passing game’s focal point next season — sat out with a pulled hamstring. The offensive line was without three likely starters with left tackle Tyrus Thompson and guards Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati all in street clothes.

It makes a difference when a quarterback lacks an established primary receiver or the time to wait for him to get open. OU caused that kind of havoc in the first half on Saturday.

The play of the day was turned in on the game’s third series. Knight tried to hit K.J. Young on a quick screen. Middle linebacker Jordan Evans read it perfectly and blasted Young the moment the ball arrived. Defensive tackle Jordan Wade made a diving interception that set up the day’s first touchdown.

“It always feels good to have a nice big hit. That’s my boy K.J. though,” Evans said. “I didn’t want to mess him up.”

The defense OU believes it will put on the field in August has that ability. It can make a quarterback coming off a Sugar Bowl MVP performance look average.

It’s why OU coach Bob Stoops saw his starting quarterback’s lack of productivity through a different prism.

“It’s not easy throwing it on Zack Sanchez every day, especially when he sees you every day, goes against you every day in pass skeleton and every day in team. All of a sudden, those receivers are squeezed. It isn’t one guy. If they’re not open, no one’s gonna look good,” he said. “The disadvantage for the offense is always the case, with the defense so familiar with them. They know by formation what routes and over and over and over. It makes it harder. We’re very pleased with what Trevor has done overall. He needs all his linemen back out there for it to look different as well.”

Knight wished it looked different as well. He expected to move the ball and throw for some touchdowns and set up more. His backups did.

Cody Thomas threw for 52 yards, completing 5 of 9 attempts with a touchdown. Justice Hansen was 4 for 8 for 52 yards. He threw two interceptions but also had a touchdown pass. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield had the most productive day. He was 9 for 9 for 125 yards and two touchdown passes.

However, those three didn’t face the same obstacles as Knight. They didn’t spend the afternoon strictly against the Sooners’ No. 1 defense.

“After 14 practices you kind of get a feel for what the other side of the ball is doing. The name of the game is execution,” Knight said. “You can tell them what you’re doing, but you still have to execute.”

It’s getting harder for a starting quarterback to do that against the Sooners.