Few players in Norman will have more impact on Landry Jones's (left) senior season than surprise center Gabe Ikard (right).
TCU's final opponent in the 2012 regular season is OU. When the schedule was announced, this looked like an easy pick for most difficult game of the year. And maybe it'll be that, but if Oklahoma is going to be the monster on the schedule, they're going to have to have some good luck. For a change.
Paul Myerberg points out that, "Statistically, [Landry Jones is] the greatest quarterback to ever walk into Norman." Does that surprise you, too? Flash ain't stats, I guess. Greatness aside, Jones is just about the only proven cog on that offense. Bill Connelly agrees—he notes that co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell are looking for an atypically high number of answers for a group that is talented but unproven. Connelly says it starts at receiver, where only one member of this receiving corps has ever caught a pass from Landry Jones in a game. He looks for a top five among
"Trey Metoyer, Stills, Justin Brown, (Jalen Saunders), Random Four-Star Freshman A (Durron Neal? Sterling Shepard? Derrick Woods? Tight end Taylor McNamara?), Random JUCO Transfer B (tight end Brannon Green?)"
That’s a mess, and it’s hard to disagree. Brown, a top-grade transfer from Penn State, immediately impressed in fall camp;Trey Metoyer has been on everyone’s lips in Norman since the spring. Beyond that, the many question marks do a good job of symbolizing all the question marks on the field.
Through one game, the top five were Kenny Stills (6 catches for 121 yards, 1 touchdown), Justin Brown (4 for 32 yards), Trey Metoyer (4 for 21), Dominique Whaley (3 for... exactly 1 yard) and Trey Millard (2 for 19 yards). The top three don’t surprise; maybe it’s enough for the Sooners’ air attack to meet its stratospheric potential.
The ground game is largely focused on Dominique Whaley and JUCO transfer Damien Williams. Williams led the ground charge against UTEP last week, with 10 carries for 104 yards (one of which went for 65 yards, skewing the totals a little). Whaley had 11 carries for 54 yards, and no average-skewing runs. The two will be a solid one-two punch.
But near the endzone, it’ll be lots more of Blake Bell, who scored 13 touchdowns on 43 carries (while throwing just four passes). Bell is expected to pass a little more as Jones’s backup this season. But Bell and Jones both will be avoiding sacks a little more assiduously than either expected. In front of them is a largely unproven line, with 43 returning starts. Before fall camp, the line featured four returners and 102 starts. New center Gabe Ikard was first-team all conference last season at guard, and will excel at center. Sophomores Adam Shead (a mean guard) and Daryl Williams (tackle) both have loads of potential. Lane Johnson and Bronson Irwin are the other tackle and guard. OU’s line was slightly out-performed by UTEP’s line in week 1. Should this trend continue, the Sooners’ prospects will suffer a significant decline. Myerberg highlights how tenuous the Sooners’ situation at o-line:
"O.U. is one injury along the interior from imploding. It’s that bad: Ikard is absolutely irreplaceable anyway, but if he, Shead or Irwin goes down then we’re looking at a worst-case scenario – we’re in a spot where O.U. has no bodies of consequence, even if the staff loves incoming freshman Ty Darlington, who could play all three spots inside."
The defense does not have the kind of depth issues that the offense does.
In comes Mike Stoops, and with him come new starting defensive ends. There were enough replacement options to free up senior David King (4.0 tackles for loss) to move inside to tackle, to fill the hole created by senior Stacy McGee’s suspension. The guys playing end are former five-star recruit R.J. Washington, four-star redshirt freshmen Marquis Anderson and Nathan Hughes. The starters in El Paso last week were R.J. Washington (13.0 tackles in 2011, 5.0 of which were sacks), and the fabulously-named Chuka Ndulue. Ndulue had two sacks against UTEP.
The ends should get plenty of help from a deep group of tackles, however. Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker (who’s still recovering from some hamstring trouble), "physical freak" Jordan Phillips, and David King are as solid a quartet as you’ll find in the Big 12. The backups: JUCO transfer Chaz Nelson (who isn’t yet on campus) and freshmen Charles Tapper and Mike Onuoha.
Corey Nelson (combined: 97.5 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss) Tom Wort and Joseph Ibiloye are the linebackers, who will miss Travis Lewis a little. Wort isn’t as consistent, although Paul Myerberg thinks he’ll be a star.
"Three reasons why Wort will have a big year: he’s motivated, he’s ready to assume a leadership role and, perhaps most of all, O.U. needs him to solidify the second level. With Lewis gone, Stoops and Kish will move junior Corey Nelson (59 tackles, 5.5 sacks) over to the weak side. It’s a move that’s been coming for Nelson, who has been groomed to be Lewis’ replacement since arriving on campus. And while it’ll be tough for the junior to match his predecessor’s production, Nelson’s experience as an edge rusher – he even spent some time down at end – will come in handy on third down. It’s hard to picture any defender other than senior Joseph Ibiloye holding down the strong side, though he’ll often step off the field when O.U. adds an extra defensive back."
Behind them, however, there is a great secondary. Cornerbacks Demontre Hurst (one interception, 11 passes broken up, 4.0 tackles for loss) and junior Aaron Colvin (4.5 tackles for loss, six passes broken up) are excellent, but playing in a different scheme. The boundary/field roles (like what TCU does) went to Clemson with Brent Venables; now Hurst and Colvin stay on the same side of the field regardless. In between them, safety Tony Jefferson (four interceptions, three passes broken up, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks) is versatile and dangerous; Javon Harris is a senior with about half a season’s worth of starts under his belt. Mike Stoops has as experienced and talented a secondary with which to change schemes as a coordinator could want.
Kicking and punting are in the capable hands of Michael Hunnicutt and Tress Wray. Wray averaged 46 yards across seven punts in week one.