Defense, Depth & Drake Stoops on Scholarship

NORMAN – Due to the COVID-19 outbreak last March, Saturday marked the first spring game for Oklahoma football since April 2019.

On a clear, picture-perfect afternoon, the offense (White) outlasted the defense (Red) for a 30-29 victory in 68-degree weather at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

“A really, really fun day,” Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley said of the 30-minute scrimmage (two 15-minute halves). “Don’t ever take it for granted, certainly after this game was taken away from us last year.”

The defense started the scrimmage with 21 points and earned an additional three points for turnovers, fourth-down stops and missed field goals. The defense also was rewarded six points for defensive touchdowns and two points for safeties. The offense was awarded the standard points for field goals and touchdowns.

In the end, it was a one-point victory for the offense.

Running back Jaden Knowles rushed for a two-yard touchdown to give the White team its first lead of the game, 30-27, with 4:06 remaining.

Two plays later, linebacker Bryan Mead tackled running back Mikey Henderson in the end zone for a 2-yard loss. The safety made the score 30-29, but behind freshman quarterback Caleb Williams, the White team gained three first downs on the next possession to run out the clock.

“We kind of took a shot in the dark a little bit with the (scoring) format,” Riley admitted. “Actually, it worked out to make it competitive and pretty interesting there at the end. There was some really clean football.”

Williams completed 10 of 11 passes on the afternoon for 99 yards, one of them to Jackson Sumlin for a touchdown that cut the Red team’s lead to 27-16. Williams also rushed six times for a game-high 61 yards.

Quarterback Spencer Rattler connected on 6 of his 14 throws for 116 yards. Mid-year enrollee Ben Harris completed all six of his passes and finished with 42 yards, while Penn State transfer Micah Bowens was 4 for 5 for 26 yards. Bowens also gained 25 yards on three carries.

Another freshman, wide receiver Mario Williams, caught five balls for 84 yards, one of them good for 50 yards from Rattler.

Freshman safety Jordan Mukes paced the defense with six tackles and was followed by Jamal Morris with five. Mead and Kori Roberson logged two tackles for loss apiece, and Josh Ellison recovered a Mario Williams fumble.

GRAY MATTER

Junior running back Eric Gray, a recent transfer from Tennessee, finished with 23 yards on four carries and found the end zone on a 19-yard second-half run to cut the Red team’s lead to 27-23.  

“He had the best day of the group,” Riley said of Gray. “I thought he ran the most aggressively, kept his footing, did some nice things. I thought he was real impressive, and that’s no surprise. He’s one of those guys who shows up and works every day. You know what you’re going to get out of him each and every day, so I’ve been impressed there.”

GETTING DEFENSIVE

After the game, Riley heaped praise on the defense at every level.

“The first thing has been our defensive line, the depth. I think that really has a chance to be a good group,” he explained. “I love the leadership, big-game experience and play-making ability we have in the linebacking corps. I think the secondary could turn out about a hundred different ways right now. I’m excited to see how that group grows and what we can be there. We certainly have more position battles going on in the secondary, we absolutely have more length than we’ve ever had in my time here at Oklahoma, which is exciting. It’s been a very competitive group.

“Yeah, a lot of things that you love. I feel like we have a chance to be good at all three levels of the defense. Now, having a chance to be good and (actually) being good are two different things. We’ve got a lot of work to be done.”

Riley admitted there were times during the spring it was frustrating playing the role of offensive coordinator against the Sooners’ defense. “During the actual moment when I’m calling a play, yes (it could be frustrating). But the second (the play is) over, I’m glad they’re on my team.”

DEEP IN DEPTH

Several newcomers made their presence known throughout the spring, which has made assembling a depth chart somewhat obsolete.

“One thing we’ve really made a point of this entire spring with the offensive line, and really at all positions, is we don’t have a starting group,” Riley said. “We don’t have an ‘A’ group. We’ve rotated guys all over the place. Just take a look at everybody. No pre-conceived notions based on what you’ve done before. Let’s see who’s performing in the moment right now. So we’ve worked with a lot of different combinations and I think some of those young guys have really grown and done some things and they’re certainly going to be pushing for playing time.”

POPULAR ANNOUNCEMENT

At the conclusion of the scrimmage, the team gathered at midfield and suddenly a huge roar echoed throughout the stadium. Riley revealed in his postgame presser that redshirt junior wide receiver Drake Stoops has officially been placed on scholarship.

“Which you could tell was obviously super popular with our guys,” Riley said. “It’s been a long time coming toward this. We knew about two weeks ago and thought the end of the spring game would be a fun way to do it, and you can see the respect our team has for Drake and the way he works every single day.”