OU's Perine bulldozes, closes out WVU

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
1:30
AM CT
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- The Oklahoma backfield is a full house, and Bob Stoops hardly seems concerned about putting his talented tailbacks in any order on a depth chart.

But if the Sooners don’t want to get too hung up on designating a pecking order, particularly when the nominal starter is hurt, that’s fine. No matter who takes the first carries for Oklahoma’s brutally efficient rushing attack, it’s pretty clear by now it knows who will handle the last few.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressSamaje Perine was a battering ram that West Virginia couldn't handle Saturday, especially in the fourth quarter.
In case there was any doubt, Samaje Perine bulldozed it out of existence on Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium, battering his way through the West Virginia defense until it couldn’t take any more and establishing himself as the ideal closer as the No. 4 Sooners rode him hard down the stretch in a 45-33 win.

“I wouldn’t say it’s best to be the closer,” Perine said. “But it sure is a good thing for a coach to have confidence in you like that at the end of the game.”

The Sooners had plenty of faith in the true freshman well before the end of the game, riding Perine almost from start to finish in a coming-out party that at least made it worth discussing whether Keith Ford had been unseated while sitting out with an ankle injury.

Perine rushed 34 times for 242 punishing yards, each one taking a toll on every Mountaineer who tried to bring him down. By the time he finished off his fourth touchdown run of the game, West Virginia seemed almost completely unwilling to take him on, and the Sooners definitely took notice as defenders continually lowered their sights on him after getting trucked repeatedly by the 243-pounder.

Regardless of whether or not the Sooners call on him that early or often again this season as they rely on the ground game to compensate for some inconsistency through the air, Perine clearly has carved out a role for himself. And if the Sooners can keep him fresh with a lighter load alongside Ford and Alex Ross, that might make him even more dangerous to tired defenders as they make a push for the College Football Playoff.

“Samaje was just outstanding,” Stoops said. “You know about how powerful and strong he is, but he also has great vision, great ability to cut and he just had a sensational night.

“You know what, these guys are all going to play. And we’re going to keep them fresh. But like tonight, you know, somebody gets hot -- he gets more. It’s really pretty simple.”

There was no need to complicate matters against the Mountaineers, though they made the Sooners’ road conference win a challenge.

They capitalized on a few misfires from Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight to get defensive stops, continued to cause some problems offensively with their explosive passing attack and had the score tied heading into halftime. But that was when Perine took over, toting the ball 20 times after intermission -- and grinding the game away with seven consecutive carries on the final scoring drive, which ended with a 19-yard trip to the end zone and a warm embrace from Stoops as he trotted back to the sideline.

“I didn’t know [his game] was that big until I looked down at the stat sheet,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s a great player, mature player -- he’s a load, you know what I mean?

“But before it’s all said and done, before this season is over, we’re going to need everybody who was in that locker room tonight on our side of the ball. Tonight was Samaje’s night. Hopefully he has more nights like that, but the rest of those guys have to be ready, too.”

Stoops has already proven he can find a way to use them all, and a huge outing by Perine isn’t going to change either his plans or interest in providing a clear-cut depth chart.

But even if Perine’s workload lightens up in the coming weeks, it’s a safe bet now that he’ll be on the field when it’s time for the Sooners to close the deal.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:46
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Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertThere was no stopping Samaje Perine on Saturday, as the Sooners freshman ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia.
1. Samaje Perine is a man-child: Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine just turned 19 years old this week. But he was a grown man among boys Saturday, as he bowled over West Virginia in Oklahoma’s 45-33 win in Morgantown. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. It was the 13th best rushing total in Sooners history, which is saying something at a school that has produced Greg Pruitt, Steve Owens and Billy Sims, among countless other standout rushers. It was also the second best rushing output ever in a game by a true freshman at Oklahoma, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 249-yard performance against Oklahoma State in 2004. After the opener, Perine naively declared this could be the best running back group ever to pass through Oklahoma. That’s way too bold, but Perine and sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross -- who returned a critical kick for a touchdown at the end of the first half to give the Sooners momentum for good -- figure to give Oklahoma one of the nation’s most formidable one-two-three punches at running back for the foreseeable future. Perine, a tank of a rusher, is heading that charge.

2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.

3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.

4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.

5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.

Video: Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
7:24
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Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin got a look at some of his younger players as the No. 6 Aggies routed SMU, 58-6, on Saturday.

No. 6 Texas A&M 58, SMU 6

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
7:16
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Quarterback Kenny Hill had 322 yards of total offense in the first half as Texas A&M earned a 58-6 victory over SMU on Saturday.

Big 12 viewer’s guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
AM CT
In Week 4 of Big 12 action, most of the conference will have the day off to watch Oklahoma and West Virginia square off in a key early season clash; while Kansas will attempt to bounce back after getting steamrolled at Duke last week.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to follow today in the Big 12:

Central Michigan at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): The pressure is already on Kansas coach Charlie Weis, whose Jayhawks were overwhelmed in a 41-3 loss to Duke last week. Kansas desperately needs a better performance from sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart, who against the Blue Devils struggled mightily, completing just 41 percent of his passes while throwing a pair of interceptions. A bounce-back performance won’t come easy. Central Michigan returns 19 starters, and hammered Purdue by three touchdowns on the road two weeks ago. The Jayhawks, though, will catch a break, with Chippewas star running back Thomas Rawls, who rushed for 155 yards against the Boilermakers, still facing suspension after being accused of stealing a woman’s purse.

No. 4 Oklahoma at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox): The last time these two teams met in Morgantown, they staged a classic -- and this showdown has the makings of the same. The key matchup figures to be West Virginia’s big-play wide receivers against Oklahoma’s big-play defensive backs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Mountaineers are averaging 247 yards after the catch a game, which is third most of any Power 5 conference offense. The Sooners, however, are giving up just 4.4 yards after the catch per reception, which is tops among Big 12 defenses. The Oklahoma secondary also forced three turnovers last weekend against Tennessee, including Julian Wilson's 100-yard touchdown interception return. Both teams will be missing key players. Oklahoma running Keith Ford is out with a leg injury, while West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been suspended indefinitely after being accused of assaulting a female last weekend. The Sooners still have Samaje Perine (177 yards) and Alex Ross (132 yards) to shoulder the rushing load, while the Mountaineers will get back 2013 starting cornerback Ishmael Banks from an academic suspension, which should help ease the loss of Worley.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
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Noon ET

Troy at No. 13 Georgia, SEC Network: Georgia is coming off a 38-35 loss at South Carolina and is looking for a resounding victory here. The last time these teams met (2007), Georgia won 44-34. This Troy team, however, is 0-3 and allowing 40 points per game while averaging only 20.7. Look for the Bulldogs to jump out early in this one.

3:30 p.m. ET

No. 6 Texas A&M at SMU, ABC/ESPN2: The Aggies come in at 3-0 and they’ve been rolling so far this season. SMU has been a mess, 0-2 and with a new coach: June Jones resigned last week; Tom Mason is serving as the interim head coach and is making his debut. Perhaps the Mustangs are fired up and have a renewed energy, but even if they do, the Aggies are in position for a convincing victory. These teams' past three meetings, dating to 2011, have resulted in a 35.3-point average margin of victory for A&M.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp, Nick Saban
Gary W. Green/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama own a three-game winning streak over Florida. The teams haven't played since 2011, Will Muschamp's first season.
Florida at No. 3 Alabama, CBS: Few are likely giving the Gators much of a shot here because they were pushed to their limits by Kentucky. How well they operate their no-huddle, up-tempo offense will go a long way in determining how well they fare. Meanwhile, eyes continue to focus on the Alabama quarterback situation with Blake Sims and Jacob Coker, and it will be worth watching to see what develops. The Crimson Tide own a three-game winning streak over Florida.

4 p.m. ET

Indiana at No. 18 Missouri, SEC Network: The Tigers are quietly getting it done and look to close out their nonconference schedule 4-0. If they do, it would be the eighth 4-0 start under Gary Pinkel and seventh in nine seasons. Maty Mauk is coming off a four-touchdown-pass performance and Shane Ray is coming off a two-sack, four-tackles-for-loss performance.

7 p.m. ET

Northern Illinois at Arkansas, ESPNU: A victory would give the Razorbacks as many wins this season (three) as they had in all of 2013. That would be a big step forward for Bret Bielema's crew. Northern Illinois is a quality road team, having won 17 in a row in opponents' home stadiums, including one at Northwestern on Sept. 6. Arkansas brings in a second-best-in-the-nation 362 rushing yards per game.

Mississippi State at No. 8 LSU, ESPN: Saturday nights in Death Valley are always fun -- typically for the Tigers. They're 43-2 under Les Miles in Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium. This is a big "prove-it" game for Mississippi State, a team that's 3-0 and trying to take a big step into SEC West contention. Last year's meeting between these two was competitive until a 28-point fourth quarter by LSU.

7:30 p.m. ET

No. 14 South Carolina at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: The Gamecocks got a huge win versus Georgia and are looking to go to 2-1 in league play with a victory here. South Carolina jumped out to a big lead over Vandy the last time these teams met and it's likely to happen again if the Commodores don't get on track quickly. They've struggled mightily out of the gate and had to rally to beat UMass last week. Patton Robinette will start at QB; will coach Derek Mason stick with him this time?

New Texas Tech DC must fix run defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:30
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Fourth-and-1 at Texas Tech's 39. Time for the Red Raiders, down seven points in the third quarter, to get a stop.

Arkansas lined up exactly how you would expect: A three-tight-end power set with a fullback. Nine blockers, one running back. No pass, no fakes, no funny stuff. Just a power run off right tackle. And Texas Tech played it right.

Safety J.J. Gaines met Arkansas back Jonathan Williams near the line of scrimmage. Collins juked left. Gaines whiffed. Then the Arkansas sophomore threw two stiff-arms at linebacker Sam Eguaoven and picked up 21 yards. Six plays later, the Hogs were back in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsOver the past nine games, this has been a familiar view of running backs for Texas Tech defenders.
This wasn't the turning-point play in Texas Tech's 49-28 loss. Just another landed punch in an eventual beatdown.

Williams ran for 80 yards in the second half, teammate Alex Collins added 167 yards, and Arkansas averaged a ridiculous 7.15 yards per carry and attempted just two passes. No need. Everything was working against a Red Raiders defense whose biggest flaw of 2013 re-emerged.

"You've got to give them credit," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the loss. "They lined up and pounded us, and we just didn't have an answer today."

Fixing a Texas Tech run defense that has been a sieve in its past nine games is Challenge No. 1 for newly elevated defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Though Matt Wallerstedt exited Thursday because of off-field issues, he leaves behind one real on-field problem that Big 12 foes will try to exploit.

Since Oct. 26, 2013, Tech's first loss of last season at Oklahoma, the Red Raiders have the second-worst run defense in the FBS at 293.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

During that nine-game stretch, of which Tech has lost six, no defense in the country has given up more first downs on rushes (142). Only Southern Miss has allowed more touchdowns and more rushes of 10-plus yards.

In fact, Tech gave up 36 rushing touchdowns during that period, eight more than any other FBS team.

Though Arkansas has one of the best run games in the country, a power-heavy attack the likes of which Tech probably will not face again in Big 12 play, the fact is no FBS defense has faced more rushing plays in those nine games than Tech. Opponents know they must hit this weak spot hard. The Red Raiders know it's coming. They can't stop it.

In the third quarter against Arkansas, the Collins fourth-down dash was deadly because it was another play that kept Texas Tech’s defense on the field. The Hogs ran 23 plays in the quarter and kept the ball for a total of 12:45. That is an easy way to get your opponent gassed.

Linebacker V.J. Fehoko said he saw too many communication issues, too many times when defenders tried to do too much and didn't stick to their assignment.

"In this conference," Fehoko said Saturday, "the smallest mistakes go the longest ways."

Though this is a generally young defense, the starters in the front seven are all juniors and seniors. How are they going to react to another letdown against the run?

"You know, it's tough. It's tough when the ball's not going your way and the momentum's not going your way," Fehoko said. "But I think we've got to just persevere and fight through it. As a team we've got a lot of young guys, but that's no excuse. I think energy and fire comes from within."

So does Texas Tech's new leadership on defense. Smith was already the co-coordinator, so it's not a drastic change. He is expected to bring more of an NFL mindset to assignment and alignment than Wallerstedt. And no doubt he's already hard at work to address his defense's most obvious defect.

It's not that complicated. Next up is Oklahoma State. They and every other opponent are going to pound the rock. They will keep doing it, and the reputation will continue, until Texas Tech starts finding answers to stop it.

Big 12 true freshman power rankings

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:30
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Going into the fourth weekend of the season, we’ve updated our Big 12 true freshman power rankings again, which we’ll be revising occasionally throughout the year. Again, this list combines both opportunity and impact.

The rankings:

1. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor (previous rank: 2): Cannon has been nothing short of spectacular while temporarily taking over the role as Baylor’s No. 1 receiver with Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller, Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley all out with injuries. In three games, Cannon leads the nation with 471 receiving yards, while averaging 33.6 yards per catch. No other Big 12 receiver is averaging more than 25 yards per catch. This is a future star in the making.

2. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (3): Perine has been stout as Oklahoma’s power back, but will only see his role expand after the leg injury to Keith Ford. While splitting carries with Ford and Alex Ross, Perine has still rushed for 177 yards while averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Ross is expected to get the start at West Virginia, but don’t be surprised if Perine gets the most work.

3. Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia (1): Henry has kept his starting job, though has been rather quiet since shining in West Virginia’s opener against Alabama. He’ll face another huge challenge this weekend against the balanced Sooners.

4. Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma (5): Flowers continues to be an instrumental part of Oklahoma’s powerful rushing attack. He hasn’t seen the ball much. But he has paved the way with his lead blocks for Ford, Perine and Ross and an Oklahoma ground game that averaging 5.6 yards per rushing attempt.

5. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (7): Lazard led the Cyclones in receiving in their 20-17 victory over the Hawkeyes. He also hauled in a key pass on Iowa State’s game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. With Quenton Bundrage out for the season, Lazard has taken over as Iowa State’s go-to receiver on the outside.

6. Davion Hall, WR, Baylor (4): Like Cannon, Hall has made the most of his opportunities as the rest of the Baylor receiving corps recovers from injuries. He’s currently 10th in the league with 192 receiving yards.

7. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State (9): Lee didn't have much of an impact Thursday night against Auburn, but he still ranks fifth in the league with 2.5 sacks. Bill Snyder leans against playing true freshmen, but Lee has earned his trust.

8. Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech (10): Along with the rest of the Red Raiders, Stockton struggled against Arkansas with only seven yards rushing on six carries. But the week before against UTEP, he was outstanding with 135 yards rushing, including a 75-yard touchdown dash.

9. Corey Avery, RB, Kansas (8): While the rest of the Kansas offense did little, Avery was the lone bright spot in the loss at Duke. He led the Jayhawks with 87 yards rushing, after rushing for 91 the week before in his debut.

10. Jason Hall, S, Texas (NR): Hall had a sack and a couple of big hits against UCLA after entering the game in the second quarter. His aggression figures to warrant him more playing time after Texas returns from the open weekend.

On the radar: Tevin Madison, CB, Texas Tech; Colin Downing, P, Iowa State; Cameron Batson, PR/WR, Texas Tech; Matthew Boateng, CB, Kansas; Steven Parker II, Oklahoma

A detailed look at Oklahoma's 3-4 shift

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
1:45
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Oklahoma's defense will face a stern test when the Sooners take on West Virginia on Saturday.

Oklahoma's coaching staff likes its 3-4 defense because of the versatility it provides and our colleague at Grantland, Matt Hinton, took a closer look at the Sooners' reasons for a shift from 4-3 to 3-4 and how it helped create problems for Tennessee last weekend. Here's are a short glimpse at the piece, which you can read in its entirety here.

Bob Stoops on the change after the 2012 season:
“None of the reasons [for the transition] had to do with what we did the year before. The reasons were personnel-driven.”

Hinton on Eric Striker's influence:
In their only test to date in 2014, the Sooners registered five sacks last Saturday in a 34-10 win over Tennessee, only one of which was credited to Striker, as a half-sack. While his influence went well beyond that, that sack is an ideal example of how the Sooners use the threat of multiple stand-up rushers — “multiple” is Stoops’s favorite word to describe the current scheme — to get their best player free.

Hinton on the difference between Oklahoma's defense from 2013 to 2014:
The 3-4 experiment in 2013 was arguably a more radical shift for the coaches than for the players, most of whom had barely seen the field in any alignment: Of Oklahoma’s top 20 tacklers at the end of the season, only four had significant starting experience at the beginning of the year, and one of those four (linebacker Corey Nelson) was sidelined by a season-ending pectoral injury in the fifth game. The 2014 defense, by contrast, features 10 players who started at least four games in 2013, for whom the revamped scheme is the status quo.

Check it out. It's an interesting read if you want a better understanding of what makes Oklahoma's defense a nightmare for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.

Examining SMU candidates: Spavital, Beaty

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
12:00
PM CT
Texas A&M travels to SMU for a nonconference clash on Saturday, which will be the Mustangs’ first game under interim head coach Tom Mason after June Jones resigned from the post on Sept. 8.

Last week, Chris Low took a look at possible candidates that SMU might consider as it searches for its next head coach. Two potential candidates are on the Aggies’ staff: offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and receivers coach/recruiting coordinator David Beaty.

While it’s unclear if either Beaty or Spavital would have interest in the job (or how much interest SMU has in either of them) and there's a long way to go in the coaching search, let’s look at each of their coaching backgrounds and what kind of fit they could potentially be.

David Beaty

Experience: Beaty is in his third year as the Aggies’ receivers coach and second as their recruiting coordinator. He also spent time at Rice as an offensive coordinator (under Todd Graham) and receivers coach and at Kansas as a co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach. His roots are in Dallas high schools, though -- he got his coaching start in Garland, Texas, at Naaman Forest High School and coached at four different high schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Pros/cons: Beaty has a reputation as a stellar recruiter. Ask the high school coaches in the Dallas area and they’ll tell you he’s one of the most respected around and he’s a big reason the Aggies have had significant success getting top-flight players out of that fertile area. Having experience at Rice, a private school that plays in a Group of 5 conference, would help at a place like SMU, which falls in that category. The one thing Beaty doesn’t have is extensive experience as a coordinator, though he does have some.

Analysis: SMU hasn’t recruited its own area well and Beaty would fix that in a hurry. He would be a good fit and would be able to utilize his strong relationships with the local coaches.

Jake Spavital

Experience: Spavital is in his second year as the quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M and his first as the sole offensive coordinator for the Aggies. He’s young (29) but has stops at Tulsa (2008), Houston (2009), Oklahoma State (2010) and West Virginia (2011-12), though the first three were as a graduate assistant or quality control coach. He was the quarterbacks coach at West Virginia.

Pros/cons: He has worked with great college quarterbacks (Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel) and has worked under highly-regarded offensive minds (Gus Malzahn, Dana Holgorsen, Kevin Sumlin) and has worked with and maintains a strong relationship with Kliff Kingsbury. He’s highly thought of and the early returns on the job he’s doing as A&M’s offensive coordinator are good. The primary drawback is his youth and inexperience -- he has only been A&M’s offensive coordinator for four games.

Analysis: Sumlin himself said Spavital “no doubt” has qualities of a future head coach but it might serve him best to gain more experience. Texas A&M is on the rise and if the offense continues to roll like it has, other opportunities will come. If Spavital were to end up at SMU, he would likely be able to get the offense on track quickly. He doesn’t have the recruiting reputation that Beaty does but Spavital is considered a good recruiter.

Grissom's versatility key for OU's defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:00
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An imposing figure at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, Geneo Grissom lined up in a blitzing position before the snap. Seconds later, the Oklahoma linebacker stepped back, re-aligning over Tulsa’s slot receiver. After the snap, Grissom dropped into his zone, passed off the inside route to a teammate before leaping into the passing lane to intercept a pass from Golden Hurricane quarterback Dane Evans and gallop 38 yards into the end zone.

It was just like Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops envisioned.

[+] EnlargeGeneo Grissom
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesGeneo Grissom's versatility was on full display with his 38-yard interception-return touchdown against Tulsa.
After making several position changes during his first four seasons at OU, Grissom has finally found a home as a linebacker in the Sooners’ 3-4 system. In doing so the senior joins Eric Striker to give the Sooners arguably the nation’s top pass-rushing linebacker duo while also providing the versatility to handle the various offensive attacks of the Big 12.

“He’s a great athlete,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Geneo’s a big guy, he has great range, he can run, he’s got great hands. If our 120 players on our team had a pickup basketball game, he’d be one of the first couple picked. That’s the kind of athlete he is, even with that size.”

Cornerback Zack Sanchez probably puts it best.

“He’s a freak of nature, the way he can get to the ball and make plays,” Sanchez said. “Geneo is a freak athlete, he’s a ball player.”

In many ways, Grissom is too good an athlete for his own good as the Sooners kept tinkering to find the best way to put his skills to use. His athletic prowess resulted in stops at defensive end as a freshman, tight end as a sophomore and defensive end again as a junior before finally finding a home at linebacker this fall.

In Saturday’s Big 12 opener against West Virginia, Grissom’s versatility and talent will be in the spotlight. WVU coach Dana Holgorsen excels at finding ways to create mismatches and exploit defenses with the run or pass, but that task gets harder with Grissom on the field.

Last time these two teams met in 2012, the versatility of Tavon Austin gave the Sooners fits. This time around it could be the versatility of Grissom that creates chaos for WVU’s offense. He has the size and strength to handle the run and the athleticism to be comfortable in coverage against the pass. No matter what approach the Mountaineers’ offense takes, run or pass, Grissom can remain on the field and impact the game.

“For me personally, this is going to be a good game for me to test where I’m at and where I need to get better,” Grissom said. “I’ll measure myself and the things I need to work on.”

Don’t be surprised if Grissom and Striker excel against the Mountaineers, as their ability to rush the passer or drop in coverage is one of the reasons the Sooners made the change to a 3-4 defense after the 2012 season.

“Every game is like that with those two guys, they give us a lot of versatility,” Mike Stoops said. “That’s what we like about this defense, and it will be put to the test again.”

Grissom has started all three games for the Sooners, contributing 12 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, along with his interception.

“If he hasn’t shown it already, this [game] will add on to what he’s capable of doing,” Sanchez said. “Playing tight end a couple years ago helps him go up and get the ball and make crazy plays like that. He’s so athletic, he’s smart, he knows where to be, he just flies around the field.”

While Striker creates havoc all over the field from his position as “field” linebacker, Grissom has more than held his own as the “boundary” linebacker. He finally got comfortable at his new position near the end of two-a-days in August and has performed like a veteran during nonconference action.

“He’s one of those guys who’s always watching film,” Sanchez said. “He’s always watching film and if he makes a mistake, he’s fixing it. He’s not one of those guys that makes the same mistake twice. He’s real tenacious in everything he does.”

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
9:00
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It's a super-slow week of football for the Big 12.

How slow? Only three games were on tap this week, and one of those -- Kansas State hosting Auburn -- was played on Thursday.

Weeks like these are rare, but it gives both West Virginia and Kansas the opportunity to put on a show -- for the recruits in attendance and for those who will be watching on TV. West Virginia gets a huge test in a home game and conference opener against Oklahoma. Additionally, Kansas will look to improve to 2-1 as it hosts Central Michigan.

SEC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
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Week 3 brought some serious action in the SEC, including Florida surviving triple overtime against Kentucky and Vanderbilt escaping against UMass. (And to think, Alex, everyone laughed when you picked the Minutemen.) With three high-profile games on the docket this week, let's get on with the picks.


Why Auburn wins big: Kansas State isn't going to be scared by Auburn's breakneck tempo -- the Wildcats see it against Baylor annually. The difference will come in that tempo combined with the strength and athleticism in Auburn's offensive line that powers the Tigers' running game. Look for the game to be close and competitive initially before the Tigers pull away in the fourth quarter as they wear down the Wildcats up front. Auburn 45, Kansas State 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Kansas State keeps it close: When was the last time the SEC ventured into the Midwest to play a Power 5 opponent? Exactly. It's just not done, and with good reason. Expect Kansas State to load the box and dare Auburn to pass. Nick Marshall hasn't thrown the ball all that well thus far, completing 56 percent of his passes for just 151 yards. Auburn 31, Kansas State 24 -- Alex Scarborough


Why LSU wins: LSU has won 14 in a row in this series, but that won’t matter on Saturday. The Tigers will beat Mississippi State again on Saturday because they are the better team -- and it doesn’t hurt that they’re playing at night at Tiger Stadium, a scenario in which they’re 43-3 under Les Miles. LSU 28, Mississippi State 14 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: How good is LSU? I watched the first half against Wisconsin and was less than impressed. I still don’t trust Anthony Jennings at quarterback. Meanwhile, Mississippi State comes in with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder, having not won in Death Valley since 1991, and Dak Prescott, a Louisiana native, gave the LSU defense fits in last year’s game. Mississippi State 24, LSU 21 -- Greg Ostendorf


Why Alabama wins big: After scoring just three points in the first half and needing triple overtime to beat Kentucky last week, there are some serious concerns for Florida heading into a tough environment at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama's defensive line should create a miserable afternoon for Florida's offense, specifically quarterback Jeff Driskel. Alabama 36, Florida 16 -- Jeff Barlis

Why Florida keeps it close: After a triple-overtime win against Kentucky, people are down on the Gators. But despite last week's scare, Florida is better than it was last year. I can already hear the silly homer chants, and I'm sure Jeff is snickering at me, but if Florida's communication and pass protection hadn't been so bad last week, I'd be tempted to pick Florida in the upset. Notice that I said "tempted." I think you'll see a defensive struggle, but Alabama's running game will be too much and the Crimson Tide will pull away late. Alabama 24, Florida 13 -- Edward Aschoff

More unanimous picks:

Georgia over Troy: Now you can show off that passing game, Georgia. The Bulldogs won't need much of Todd Gurley, as the coaches look to get more out of Hutson Mason's arm. Georgia 51, Troy 10

Texas A&M over SMU: Kenny Trill adds to his flashy numbers and the defense continues to look better in a road rout that will leave Eric Dickerson looking to take a blowtorch to his former program. Texas A&M 65, SMU 13

Missouri over Indiana: These Tigers don't need -- or want -- respect, and they'll continue to quietly go about their business with another convincing victory that will just lead to more Mizzou fans yelling at that @AschoffESPN Twitter account. Missouri 45, Indiana 20

Arkansas over Northern Illinois: Northern Illinois actually has had a respectable run defense through three games, so maybe the Hogs won't rush for 400 yards on Saturday. Maybe. Arkansas 48, Northern Illinois 21

South Carolina over Vanderbilt: After a thrilling 38-35 victory over SEC East favorite Georgia, the Gamecocks must get back on the field. Expect a slow start, but no fourth-quarter visor-throwing from the HBC. South Carolina 34, Vanderbilt 14

Unanimous summaries and scores by Edward Aschoff.

Big 12 Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
AM CT
Why Auburn will win: The Tigers' ground game will prove to be too much for Kansas State. Auburn is averaging 6.7 yards per carry and quarterback Nick Marshall is a proven game-changer. The Wildcats will be up for the challenge but Auburn’s overall athleticism will help it overcome a rowdy road environment. Auburn 30, Kansas State 24 --Chatmon

Why Kansas State will win: When Auburn agreed to a home-and-home with the Wildcats, Bill Snyder wasn’t the K-State coach. The Tigers also didn't know Snyder would have an extra week to prepare for this game. Manhattan, Kansas, will be rocking, Jake Waters is playing almost as well as any quarterback in the country and Tyler Lockett will be the best player on the field. The Wildcats have now won eight of their past nine games. Snyder's bunch will find a way to keep Marshall & Co. off the field, while finding a way to win this one, too. Kansas State 35, Auburn 31 --Trotter

Why Oklahoma will win: What are the Sooners' flaws? I'm hard-pressed to find many, even with Keith Ford sidelined. Their defense will be the difference, and Sterling Shepard is in for a big night with Daryl Worley suspended. WVU will score early, but Oklahoma can wear the Mountaineers out in the second half. Really wouldn't be surprised if OU plays them much tougher than Alabama did. Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 31 -- Olson

Why West Virginia will keep it close: I was tempted to pick the Mountaineers in this game. They are playing extremely well and Morgantown, West Virginia, is a tough place to play. But then the Mountaineers' best defensive player got suspended indefinitely for an altercation last week. Oklahoma will more easily replace Ford with its deep backfield than West Virginia will Worley. Even still, this won’t be an easy game for the Sooners, who barely survived a night game in Morgantown two years ago, and should consider themselves fortunate, should they survive again. Oklahoma 31, West Virginia 30 --Trotter

Why Kansas will win: The Jayhawks can’t play much worse than they played against Duke. Can they? KU knows a win over Central Michigan is a must or else things could start to get really bad in Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas 28, Central Michigan 20 --Chatmon

Why Central Michigan will keep it close: I thought I could talk myself into taking CMU in this game, but top running back Thomas Rawls, a Michigan transfer, is suspended indefinitely. Without him, the Chippewas have one brutal offense. Still think this will be close, though, because Duke exposed a bunch of issues and I'm just not sure how KU will respond. Kansas 17, Central Michigan 13 -- Olson

Big 12 morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM CT
It's a big night in the "Little Apple."
  • Texas quarterback David Ash elected to give up football after struggling with concussion-related symptoms for the past year. Given the seriousness of head injuries, this was not a surprising decision. Max will have more on this later in the morning, but the move makes you wonder what could have been with Ash. He had moments of brilliance, notably in the 2012 Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. That game seemed to be the turning point in Ash's career. As it turned out, Ash's career would basically be over not long into the following season.
  • Ash's retirement wasn't the only major Big 12 story of the day. West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley turned himself into police after a warrant was issued for his arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge. Worley is accused of choking a woman and shoving her to the floor during a nightclub altercation hours after West Virginia's win over Maryland last weekend. This is a huge blow for the Mountaineers on and off the field. Worley was arguably West Virginia's best defensive player, and would have been matched up against Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard this weekend. But Worley, who was one of the three players coach Dana Holgorsen took to Big 12 media days, was also viewed as one of the leaders of the team. Whenever a player of that stature is suspended indefinitely, the ripple effect in the locker room can be significant.
  • In case you forgot, there's also a pretty big game being played tonight. Auburn will be the highest-ranked nonconference team to visit Manhattan since second-ranked Penn State came to town 45 years ago. There are a bunch of good reads setting up this showdown. Coach Bill Snyder has a message for his fans, according to the Kansas City Star's Kellis Robinett. AL.com's Brandon Marcello has the scoop on Auburn QB Nick Marshall reuniting with Snyder. And the Chicago Sun-Times' Steve Greenberg has more on the intriguing coaching matchup between Gus Malzahn and Snyder. I arrived in Manhattan last night for this one, and can't wait for kickoff.
  • Oklahoma will debut its alternate uniforms this weekend at West Virginia, Bob Stoops revealed. As I detailed in this Take Two over the summer, I wasn't a fan of the Sooners going in this direction. It was my opinion that Oklahoma's iconic brand was above the uniform craze. But I have to admit, I'm curious to see what they'll look like in an actual game.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson is doing everything he can to get his team's attention in an open week before the Horned Frogs play winless SMU next weekend. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez, Patterson demoted both of his starting cornerbacks, senior Kevin White and redshirt freshman Ranthony Texada, for not playing up to Patterson's standard. It's understandable why Patterson is getting after his team. It's also understandable, with the open week and hapless SMU up next, why the Horned Frogs might be a bit sluggish in practice this week.

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