NCF Nation: Big 12 South
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
As Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford surveyed his available offensive weapons last week , it was impossible for him to miss his large former target in sweats along the bench, propped up by a pair of crutches.
The loss of preseason All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham has altered how the Sooners have played and explain some of their offensive shortcomings during a disappointing 3-2 start.
Gresham was expected to be Bradford’s go-to target and the player who will help bridge the gap as a young but talented group of wide receivers developed confidence in the offense as the season progressed.
|J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI|
|The Oklahoma offense hasn’t been the same without tight end Jermaine Gresham.|
But Gresham’s preseason knee injury has ended all of that. It’s made the Sooners’ lack of productive receivers and tight ends their biggest liability as they prepare for Saturday’s game against Texas.
“Obviously, this is a different team,” Bradford said. “With Jermaine not in the lineup, it is a little bit of a different offense from last year.”
At this time last season, Oklahoma had scored 26 touchdowns on 27 trips inside the red zone. One of the biggest reasons was Gresham, a tall, productive receiver with the knack for getting into the end zone.
In Oklahoma’s first five games this season, the Sooners have converted only 15 touchdowns on 25 red zone trips. The Sooners' scoring average is down from a nation-leading 51.1 points last season to 35 points per game this season.
“Not having Jermaine impacts everything,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You’re talking about somebody who arguably is one of the top 10 to 15 players in the country. He’s a special player who was very important in the red zone. It’s tough because he’s a special player.”
And with Gresham gone, tight end has almost become a forgotten part of the Sooners’ offensive arsenal. The Sooners’ tight ends have combined for seven catches so far this season. Gresham had eight or more catches in each of his final three games of the 2008 season.
It’s caused the Sooners to look to their young group of wide receivers for production. And Ryan Broyles was one of the nation’s best early in the season before he sustained a fractured scapula early in the Sooners’ 21-20 loss to Miami.
That led to one of the youngest receiving corps in Stoops’ tenure playing last week against Baylor.
Brandon Caleb was Bradford’s primary target against the Bears, grabbing seven catches for 139 yards. And sophomore Dejuan Miller (five catches, 67 yards) and freshman Jaz Reynolds (three catches, 39 yards) both had their best games against Baylor.
“We’re getting better with more confidence,” Caleb said. “We’re getting a chance to play more and it’s coming a little easier for all of us.”
But the young receivers also had their struggles, combining for 11 dropped passes, including three in the Baylor end zone.
"I was disappointed in the drops, but again, I think a lot of that is just inexperience," Stoops said. "We've got all kinds of yardage and big plays if we'd just catch the ball better. I'm hopeful and I believe that the ability is there. It's just time, time on the field for those guys to make improvement and make those plays when they're there to make."
Broyles, who is tied for the national lead with seven TD grabs despite missing nearly two games, has returned to practice. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Broyles' shoulder blade has improved enough that there isn't a concern he could do more damage by playing Saturday against the Longhorns.
"I know there's not a sense that they feel like he's going to injure it worse," Wilson said. "It's range of motion and pain tolerance, how productive can he play."
Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is preparing like Broyles will be back for Saturday’s game.
“He’s an electric player who is really special with the ball in his hands,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy you have to account for when he’s on the field.”
His return is crucial, considering he is one of only two wide receivers, along with Caleb, with substantial experience in previous Texas-Oklahoma games.
But the young Sooners receivers say they are more comfortable after working with Bradford for another week.
“We’re just trying to get better,” Caleb said. “This is the kind of situation where guys are going to have to step up. One play builds on the next. It’s something we’re all going to try to do.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Jordan Shipley initially didn’t have much go right during his college career.
His first two years at Texas were marked by a horrifying series of setbacks that included a season-ending knee injury as a freshman and a hamstring injury that prematurely ended his sophomore season. It seemed like his career with the Longhorns was cursed before it even started.
|Brian Bahr/Getty Images|
|Jordan Shipley has recorded at least 10 receptions in three of Texas’ five games this season.|
“I didn’t have any idea what would happen,” Shipley said. “But I had faith that if I would work hard and handle myself the right way, that hopefully things would work out the way I wanted them to.”
After an excruciatingly long wait, Shipley is making up for lost time, developing into the Big 12’s most explosive player so far this season.
And he wouldn’t trade any of his travails to get to the point where he is at today.
“If I could go back and do it all over, I wouldn’t change anything,” Shipley said. “The injuries just made me stronger.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, Shipley leads the conference in receptions and receiving yards and ranks second in receiving yards per game. Additionally, he leads the Big 12 with an average of 18.9 yards per punt return and is tied for the national lead with two punt returns for touchdowns.
Combating Shipley already has caught the attention of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
"It's always a challenge," Stoops said. “He’s a guy you have to account for on every play.”
Last year’s Oklahoma game represented his coming out party. Because the Longhorns lacked a true tight end, he was moved inside to a flex end position where he produced 11 catches for 112 yards to spark Texas’ offensive attack. And his dramatic Red River Rivalry record 96-yard kickoff return pulled the Longhorns from an early deficit, helping to spark Texas’ 45-35 comeback victory.
Shipley played that slot position for most of the rest of the season, producing 89 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But with the graduation of Quan Cosby, Shipley has moved outside and has flourished so far this season at the new position.
He produced 11 catches for 147 yards -- his school-record third straight double-digit reception performance -- to spark the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado. And for good measure, he also produced a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that help blow open the closer-than-expected game with the Buffaloes.
“That was one of the greatest games in the history of the school,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
If Shipley continues at his current pace, he would smash every single-season receiving record in school history.
His multiplicity of talents was first showcased in high school in Burnet, Texas, where he was the prime receiver on a team quarterbacked by former Texas A&M star Stephen McGee. Shipley produced the second-most receiving yards in national high school history (5,424), notched 23 interceptions as a defensive back, returned 18 kicks for touchdowns and was his team’s kicker.
His knack for making big plays was apparent early in his career. As a freshman at Class A Rotan, Shipley produced 459 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns on punt returns in his first high school game.
That was only a start. He's continued in college, developing into the Longhorns’ prime receiver, punt returner and holder for kicks.
Colt McCoy, who finished second in the Heisman last season and is Shipley’s roommate, believes that Shipley deserves a trip to the Heisman presentation.
“Sure,'' McCoy said. "In our offense, Jordan will get the ball. He's playing the position that Quan played last year, and the thing that sets him up is that he can return kicks and punts.”
The move outside has come with some changes in coverage for Shipley. He’s facing more direct man-to-man coverage than when he played in the slot and was mostly matched with slower linebackers and safeties.
The new position and his recent notoriety also are changing how opponents try to combat him. More defenses are relying on press coverage as he tries to get off the line of scrimmage.
That’s a little more difficult for the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster to overcome. But he’s making the most of his opportunities when they come despite the change.
“It’s different being on the outside,” Shipley said. “You’ve got to be really physically to get off the press. I don’t know if it’s harder, but it has a different feel.”
His big season almost didn’t come about. He earned a sixth season of eligibility only after petitioning the NCAA following last season because of the earlier injuries.
Shipley will turn 24 in December, causing his teammates to kid him about his advanced age. When he arrived at Texas in 2004, Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson were still on the team’s roster, and Vince Young was in his first full season as the Longhorns’ starter.
But Shipley can't imagine being any place but playing for the Longhorns.
“It’s such a rush to be back here,” Shipley said. “I’m just thrilled to be back at Texas for one more year and having fun every week.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford's personal relationship goes beyond football.
But Saturday's game will decide their storied rivalry that stands at a game apiece after the last two seasons. Bradford won the Heisman Trophy last season with McCoy finishing second.
|Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
|Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy became friends while attending awards banquets last season.|
“The first one seems like it was a long time ago,” McCoy said, thinking back to his first start in the series in 2006. “But the last one I played in seems like it was forever ago, too. We’ve both changed since then.”
The annual rivalry is something that both quarterbacks relish.
Bradford remembers watching games with his father, Kent, a former Oklahoma offensive lineman. Roy Williams’ leap in 2001 that saved the Sooners’ 14-3 victory remains one of Bradford's most vivid memories of the series. He’s had even more fun playing in the games.
McCoy said that participating in the series is one of his most treasured college memories.
“These four games over the last four years are some of the most fun games I’ve played in,” McCoy said. “They are the games you remember because of the tradition, the rivalry and just how big a conference game it is.”
The duo developed a friendship while attending awards banquets last season. They had some fun during an ESPN shoot at the Cotton Bowl earlier this summer.
And after Bradford sustained a third-degree sprained shoulder earlier this year, McCoy immediately contacted him.
“Colt is a great guy,” Bradford said. “Him sending me a text message after I got hurt telling me he was praying for me and to keep my head up shows a lot about him. For him to keep encouraging me, it says a lot about him.”
Both have talked about maintaining their relationship after their college careers end.
"In the end, we’re both football players,” Bradford said. “Obviously, we are both trying to beat each other, but at the same time we can help each other in a lot of different ways. We play a lot of the same teams this year. Our offenses are fairly similar. Helping each other out, we can do that.”
Here’s a look at Bradford and McCoy’s statistics in previous Red River Rivalry games.
October, 13, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It will be a typical trip to Fair Park Saturday morning for Bob Stoops.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops’ Sooners have a lot riding on their tangle with Texas this Saturday.|
Stoops is familiar with these mid-October encounters with Mack Brown and Texas. Saturday’s will be his 11th -- six victories and four defeats over the years. It’s the longest continuous rivalry between two coaches in the nation.
The old familiar foes have staged some great battles over the years. And it can be argued that the upcoming Red River Rivalry is the biggest for Stoops in a long time.
After a 3-2 start, the Sooners are in need of a restorative boost that an upset victory over the No. 3 Longhorns would provide. A win on Saturday would put the Sooners in the driver’s seat for an unprecedented fourth-straight Big 12 title.
But a loss might send them spinning to some potentially ominous events that are unfamiliar in Stoops’ program. With tough upcoming road games against Kansas, Nebraska and Texas Tech the Sooners could skid to a four- or five-loss season that has occurred just twice since his arrival in 1999.
Stoops isn’t called “Big Game Bob” as much as he used to be when he claimed a national championship in his second season in 2000 and marked the early rivalry with five-straight victories over Brown and Texas from 2000-04.
The rivalry has turned a little bit in recent seasons as Brown has claimed three of the last four games in the series including last season's 45-35 comeback victory. Stoops’ recent BCS struggles have hurt as well as the Sooners BCS title game loss to Florida was his fifth BCS bowl game loss since 2004.
But his domination remains just as strong in the Big 12, where the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry has defined the recent history of the league. In his own playground, Stoops’ coaching record has made him the most significant figure in the Big 12’s history.
Since Stoops arrived in 1999, either Oklahoma or Texas has won the Big 12 South Division championship every year. In the Big 12 title game, the Sooners have won six to the Longhorns one during the 10-year period. During that same period, every Big 12 North team has claimed at least a share of the title. No other coach has won more than one Big 12 title.
That success is what Stoops focuses on rather than vagaries of what has been a streaky series with the Longhorns over the years.
Stoops discounts any “mojo” that Brown has over him because of the Longhorns’ recent success against the Sooners.
“To me, everybody makes a big deal of this game, but in the end, the objective is the championship,” Stoops said. “That’s what matters. If we win this game and don’t win the Big 12 title, nobody is patting us on the back. And I’m sure it’s the same way for them.”
Stoops prefers a larger view than merely one game and he has point.
“It’s part of it, but the rest of it matters more than just one game like this one,” Stoops said. “And that’s what the focus will be on as long as I’m here.”
It's not quite like it used to be for Stoops in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma radio talk shows have pointedly ripped the Sooners for a predictable run-oriented offensive attack. And despite the return of Sam Bradford, the Sooners’ struggles inside the red zone are a big concern. The Sooners were forced to rely on four field goals after their receivers dropped 11 passes against Baylor, including three in the end zone.
The defense has needed to make two critical stops that would have marked the season. Instead, the Sooners allowed a 16-play game-winning scoring drive to BYU. And the Sooners allowed Miami to kill the clock when they couldn’t get the ball away from the Hurricanes in a game where they were gashed for 140 yards rushing.
Because of those struggles, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy wants a close game on Saturday with the challenge on the Sooners’ defense at the end of the game to preserve the victory.
“If we had given the ball back to our offense, I think we would have been able to win,” McCoy said. “Our defense has a lot to prove after those games.”
That entire attitude infuses the Oklahoma program heading into the game.
In reality, the Sooners are only a pair of one-point losses removed from the national title race. Most observers agree that the presence of Bradford at full strength likely would have made a difference in both games.
But the Sooners have to pick up the pieces to finish the season strongly.
And the most important step in that rebound will come Saturday amongst the Ferris Wheels and corny dogs in a game that will be as important as any recent Red River Rivalry games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State was expected to have a difficult test today at Kyle Field against Texas A&M.
Kansas was presumed to have a cakewalk at home against Iowa State.
Both favorites are struggling in the Big 12's early games.
Texas A&M has rebounded from some early struggles to claim a 8-7 lead over Oklahoma State.
And Kansas has reclaimed a 13-12 lead over Iowa State.
Kansas desperately needs a victory to keep up with Nebraska in the Big 12 North. And they are doing it without Jake Sharp, who again missed a start with that nagging injury.
Oklahoma State is playing without Dez Bryant, who was left at home after he was indefinitely suspended by the NCAA.
Zac Robinson appears to have missed his top receiver as he's completed only 4 of 11 passes to start off.
Texas A&M produced only 21 yards on its first three possessions. But the Aggies have been more consistent, taking the lead when holder Ryan Tannehill bobbled the snap but still scrambled to make the end zone.
The favored teams need to step up after the tougher-than-expected early challenges.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. The battle of young guns at Columbia: Missouri and Nebraska both will be bringing largely untested quarterbacks into Thursday night’s pivotal North Division showdown. Nebraska’s Zac Lee has a small edge because he’s played in a big game before -- losing by one point at Virginia Tech on Sept. 19. Blaine Gabbert will be facing his toughest test to date against the Cornhuskers. Whoever wins this battle likely will win the game.
2. Missouri’s running game: The Tigers are averaging only 3.8 yards per carry this season -- down significantly from last season’s average of 5.2 yards per carry. Missouri’s line needs some push against the talented Nebraska front, keeping Gabbert out of too many second-and-long and third-and-long situations. If Derrick Washington, De’Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence can be productive and keep the Tigers in productive yardage situations, it will go a long way toward a Missouri victory.
3. Oklahoma State’s reaction to the loss of Dez Bryant: The Cowboys already are facing serious injury woes. But now they’ll have to account -- perhaps for the rest of the season -- for the loss of their top offensive weapon and most explosive player after Bryant's suspension by the NCAA. His abilities as a receiver and punt returner made him a threat to score every time he touched the ball. Without him, the Cowboys won’t be nearly as explosive. It will place more pressure on receivers like Hubert Anyiam, DeMarcus Conner and Josh Cooper. They have a combined career total of 21 receptions.
4. The Aggies respond to a blowout: Texas A&M needs to blot out bad memories from a 47-19 loss to Arkansas last week in Arlington, Texas. The Aggies jumped to a quick 10-0 lead before Arkansas blew their doors off with 30 straight points. But their chances of stunning the Cowboys -- particularly with Bryant not playing -- might be better than you suspect. The first two or three possessions for the Aggies will be critical. A key will be whether the young A&M tackles can block better on the perimeter for Jerrod Johnson. And can they do a better job in sticking with the Oklahoma State offense that won’t be nearly as explosive as it typically is. Kyle Field will be rocking. Will the Aggies feed off that support?
5. Sam Bradford’s playing status: The returning Heisman Trophy winner has hinted he’d like to return to action this week, building confidence before the pivotal game with Texas next week. The Baylor game would give him an ideal game to get his feet wet. But whether he is ready physically remains a question. And also, will Bradford be willing to jump back into battle with an Oklahoma offense stripped of its most potent weapons with the loss of Ryan Broyles and Jermaine Gresham?
6. Who starts for Baylor at quarterback? The Bears have questions of their own as Blake Szymanski attempts to return to action after sustaining a bruised shoulder two weeks ago. Nick Florence had a strong debut last week in directing the victory over Kent State. But beating the Golden Flashes and Sooners is a completely different manner. Baylor coach Art Briles would feel more comfortable with an experienced player like Szymanski calling signals.
7. Will Colt McCoy’s first-half struggles continue? Texas’ Heisman Trophy contender is off to a slow start, having thrown four of his first five interceptions in the first half this season. He shouldn’t be challenged against a Colorado defense that has produced only two interceptions this season, tied for 10th in the conference.
8. Colorado's struggling defense against talented Texas: The Buffaloes have been gashed for 11 gains of 40 yards or more this season. Colorado defensive coordinator Ron Collins will face a huge challenge trying to curtail Texas’ big-play abilities, especially considering the Longhorns’ across-the-board edge in athleticism.
9. What do Grant Gregory and Steven Sheffield do for an encore? Kansas State backup quarterback Grant Gregory engineered a victory from the start of the game over Iowa State. Texas Tech backup Steven Sheffield directed a Tech triumph over New Mexico after starter Taylor Potts was dinged late in the first half, scoring touchdowns on his first four possessions in charge. With both backups set to likely start again, who will emerge from Saturday’s game in Lubbock better prepared to make it two straight triumphs?
10. Iowa State's attempts to account for Kansas’ playmakers in space. Kansas offensive coordinator Ed Warriner does a good job of getting his playmakers outside for big plays, with a talented array of standouts like running backs Toben Opurum and Jake Sharp and wide receivers Kerry Meier, Dezmon Briscoe, Johnathan Wilson and Bradley McDougald. Iowa State has been challenged to keep those kind of athletic players in check all season, particularly by an overachieving starting secondary that averages only 5-foot-9 in height. The Cyclones will be challenged to stick with Wilson, Briscoe, Meier (all 6-foot-3) and McDougald (6-foot-2). ISU will face its stiffest defensive test so far this season in terms of containing the Jayhawks' tall, talented and deep receiving crew.
October, 7, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State’s breakthrough season has suddenly become a nightmare.
The school’s announcement that All-Big 12 receiver Dez Bryant has been ruled ineligible because of failure to disclose his interaction with a former NFL player has rocked the No. 15 Cowboys.
|AP Photo/Brody Schmidt|
|Losing superstar wide receiver Dez Bryant is another huge blow to the Cowboys.|
It continues a string of misfortune that has dogged Mike Gundy’s program since it started the season with a 24-10 victory over Georgia and briefly soared to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll the week after.
The Cowboys fell in their next game and lost Big 12 leading rusher Kendall Hunter in the process. Bryant struggled with cramps in that game and wasn’t a presence after briefly boosting OSU back into the contest on a scintillating 82-yard punt return.
That play is precisely why Bryant was the most explosive player in the Big 12. His presence was something that opponents had to account for on every play. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder was capable of scoring every time he touched the ball.
Truthfully, Bryant’s junior season has been a little bit of a disappointment. He’s produced 17 receptions for 323 yards and four touchdowns so far this season. He was arguably -- along with Michael Crabtree -- the Big 12’s best receiver last season as a sophomore when he caught 87 passes for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns and also averaged 17.9 yards per punt return with two TDs.
His departure, along with injuries to players like Hunter and cornerback/punt returner Perrish Cox, robs the Cowboys of much of their explosiveness. And without Bryant, it’s hard to believe they can legitimately challenge for their first Big 12 South Division title.
It continues a season-long spiral of bad luck for the Big 12, which was expected to reenact the exciting South Division title race with most of the key players back this season.
But since the start of the season, an incredible string of misfortune has befallen the conference that has robbed it of much of that early promise and starpower.
Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham sustained a season-ending knee injury before the year started. Returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford injured his shoulder against BYU in the first half of the Sooners’ season opener and has missed all of the season since then. Those losses have helped account for Oklahoma losing a pair of one-point decisions against BYU and Miami that likely dropped them out of national title contention.
Additionally, Robert Griffin sustained a season-ending knee injury that places Baylor’s hopes of snapping a 14-season bowl streak in extreme jeopardy. Kansas’ football team was involved in a nasty rumble with the school’s basketball team that played out over a couple of days. Colorado has become a national punchline after three embarrassing nationally televised losses. And the Big 12 was 4-7 against opponents from BCS conferences, including an 0-3 finish against BCS opponents last week that concluded nonconference play with a thud.
If Bryant is out for an extended period of time, or the season, the biggest benefactors would appear to be the Texas Longhorns.
Mack Brown’s team has risen to No. 2 with four impressive triumphs to start the season. With Bradford’s uncertain condition, the Longhorns’ most difficult game left in the season appeared to be their Oct. 31 visit to Stillwater against the Cowboys.
Brown has tormented the Cowboys since arriving at Texas in 1998, winning all 11 games in the series.
And with Bryant’s status uncertain for the upcoming game, Texas’ chances of running the table in the Big 12 South looks that much brighter.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few things we learned about the Big 12 during Saturday’s games.
- A forgettable weekend stripped the conference of much national credibility. The Big 12’s nonconference record is a rather pedestrian 34-13 mark with only Texas-UCF remaining on Nov. 1. Against foes from BCS conferences, the Big 12 finishes with a 4-7 record that included a 0-3 finish on Saturday. That’s a disappointment with really no other way to spin it. But in reality, the conference is only three one-point losses removed from having three teams solidly in the national rankings. If Oklahoma had notched victories in one-point losses to Miami and BYU, and if Nebraska had beaten Virginia Tech in another one-point game, the Big 12 arguably would have three teams in the top 10 today.
- The best story of any Big 12 quarterback is Kansas State’s Grant Gregory. His effort in the Wildcats' 24-23 victory over Iowa State boosts them into an early lead in the North Division. The sixth-year senior transferred from South Florida to Kansas State after his father was fired as the Bulls’ offensive coordinator and Bill Snyder arrived at KSU. He didn’t win the starting job until Saturday. It came just in time, however, for the veteran KSU coach.
- Texas Tech's rare quarterback injury. Tech coach Mike Leach could be facing some unchartered territory this week after starting quarterback Taylor Potts was treated for what the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal confirmed was a concussion after his first-half sack against New Mexico. The performance of backup Steven “Sticks” Sheffield should provide some comfort if Leach has to prepare for Kansas State next week without his starting quarterback for the first time in his 10-season coaching tenure at Tech. No Tech backup quarterback in the Leach era has ever thrown more than 56 passes in a season. But Sheffield might be uniquely qualified for extended playing time if Leach needs him to be -- if his efforts Saturday were any indication.
- Baylor has a deeper bench than we expected. Baylor coach Art Briles was supremely challenged Saturday night when he started third-string quarterback Nick Florence and used Jarred Salubi as his starting tailback with Jay Finley still injured. Those moves paid off handsomely as the Bears claimed a 31-15 victory over Kent State. And if nothing else, using those backups should help prepare the Bears if they face other injury woes later in the season during conference play.
- Oklahoma's sputtering, injury-ravaged offense could be a challenge the rest of the season. With injuries to Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma was stripped of its three biggest playmakers Saturday night against Miami. It was nowhere close to the offensive juggernaut that Bob Stoops expected coming into the season. The Sooners still have hopes of contending for an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. But it will be the biggest challenge of Stoops’ coaching career to get them there.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's a little easier to make a decision on helmet stickers when there are only seven games played in the Big 12 this weekend.
Here are my choices:
Baylor quarterback Nick Florence: How about this effort for Baylor’s third-stringer? In his first career start, Florence completed 20 of 27 passes for 216 yards and rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns to pace the Bears to a 31-15 victory over Kent State.
Baylor cornerback Clifton Odom: Produced eight tackles including a team-leading six solo stops, forced a fumble and broke up three passes in the Bears’ victory over Kent State.
Texas Tech quarterback Steven Sheffield: Completed 16 of 23 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ 48-28 victory over New Mexico. Sheffield came off the bench to throw TD passes of 25, 20 and 62 yards to spark Tech’s offensive binge after Taylor Potts went down with an injury late in the first half.
Kansas State defensive back Emmanuel Lamur: Blocked the game-tying extra point attempt with 32 seconds left to preserve the Wildcats’ 24-23 victory over Iowa State. Lamur also contributed one tackle and six assists in KSU’s victory in their conference opener.
Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal: Produced five tackles, including three for loss and three sacks and broke up two passes in the Sooners’ 21-20 loss to Miami. Beal has six sacks in his last two games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
There’s not much question that Oklahoma junior defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of the leaders of the Sooners.
|Boyd Ivey/Icon SMI|
|Gerald McCoy is on the watch list for the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Outland awards.|
But above his statistics and honors, McCoy’s consistency has helped the Sooners’ defense thrive and develop into one of the nation’s best.
We caught up with McCoy earlier this week and talked about the development of Oklahoma’s defense, his return to Land Shark Stadium for the first time since last year’s national title game and how he almost became a member of the Miami Hurricanes.
How would you classify the development of the Sooners’ defense so far this season?
Gerald McCoy: I think we’re improving. We played pretty decent and did what we had to do in Week 2 and Week 3. Our defense made significant improvements after that opener against BYU. But the season is still young and very early and we have a tough, tough task in front of us.
What have you seen in Miami when you’ve watched them earlier this season?
GM: I’ve seen them a lot this year. They always have the unique style with speed and try to run right at you. The way I see them, they are just getting back to be like the Miami teams of old. They had a little downturn for a couple of years, but I think they are getting back to where they used to be.
The big run of Miami’s success in the early part of the decade was when you were a kid growing up. Did you follow the Hurricanes when you were little?
GM: Yes, I did. Oklahoma and Miami were my two favorite teams. I played the Miami team in an old video game I had. Oklahoma was my favorite. But I also liked to play Miami a lot.
September, 30, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma’s defense already had supreme confidence long before the Sooners lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford and were forced to insert redshirt freshman Landry Jones into the starting lineup.
That quarterback switch didn’t prompt an attitude change from the Sooners’ single-minded defensive purpose. It was already there.
|Boyd Ivey/Icon SMI|
|Gerald McCoy and the Sooners are looking forward to facing Miami on Saturday.|
“Regardless of who is playing quarterback, we’ve wanted to be pretty good as a defense and we know our mindset,” Oklahoma sophomore linebacker Travis Lewis said. “If they can give us a field goal, we think we can win any game.”
That assurance would have been expected to be tested by Bradford’s injury. But it didn’t heighten an existing attitude from a group returning nine starters from last season.
“We believe in our offense and whoever plays, we think they will play well,” Oklahoma junior defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “But even though we believe that, we still have to hold our own and do what we have to do. And as of late, we’ve been able to do that.”
The Sooners come into Saturday’s game at No. 17 Miami (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) after notching back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1987. They have a current scoreless streak of 123 minutes, 3 seconds that ranks as the longest in the nation since allowing a late touchdown against BYU.
The defense’s recent surge coincided when Jones took over. They started it with a strong performance in a 64-0 conquest of Idaho State, as the Bengals did not advance inside the Oklahoma 49 and produced only 44 total yards.
The Sooners continued against Tulsa, which led the nation in total offense the past two seasons and was averaging 41 points a game before meeting Oklahoma. The Sooners notched six sacks and forced three turnovers in a 45-0 statement.
Those efforts have enabled the Sooners to lead the nation in rushing defense (40.7 yards per game), scoring defense (4.7 points per game) and tackles for losses (11.3 per game).
It’s a big turnaround from last year's struggling Oklahoma defense. The Sooners finished 68th in total defense and 58th in scoring defense, which were the worst ratings in Bob Stoops’ coaching tenure. Particularly galling were late collapses in the Sooners’ two losses against Florida and Texas that marked bitter disappointment that carried into this season.
“We didn’t come up with key stops against Texas and Florida when we needed them,” Lewis said. “After last year, we decided we’ve got to be more consistent. Last year we were content to hold them to a couple of touchdowns. That’s totally changed now. We don’t want to give anything up.”
Miami’s athleticism will be the biggest test for the Sooners. And the Hurricanes' struggles at Virginia Tech were an anomaly caused by the wet conditions that helped negate their speed edge.
“It’s going to be a major challenge to go up against a team that in the first couple of games was very explosive and productive,” Stoops said. “I think it’s fair to say that their situation and the circumstances in the Virginia Tech game were difficult to handle. They played in a monsoon, basically, and that changes things.”
The wet conditions caused Miami quarterback Jacory Harris to have trouble with Virginia Tech coordinator Bud Foster’s defensive packages. Harris was sacked three times last week by the Hokies after he was sacked only once in Miami’s first two games.
They will face similar pressure from a balanced Oklahoma defense that has featured eight different players responsible for its 12 sacks so far this season.
"Our goal every week as a defensive line is to be disruptive, get in the backfield, and make quarterbacks feel uncomfortable,” senior defensive end Auston English said. “Those goals won't change this week. We need to continue to build on what we've started this year and hopefully do the same thing this week."
And while Stoops has hinted this season that his current group can become special, the Sooners are focused on more immediate task.
“We want to be a physical defense,” junior free safety Quinton Carter said. “But as far as being compared to defenses from in the past, I guess we have to wait until we get to the end of the season and see what our final legacy is going to be."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
One of the early mysteries in college football finally will be solved Saturday.
Texas A&M is one of the nation’s biggest unknowns. The Aggies are undefeated, which seemed improbable before the season. But even more unlikely, they are a team at the top of several notable NCAA statistical lists after a surprising 3-0 start.
|Patrick Green/Icon SMI|
|Von Miller leads the country in sacks and tackles for loss.|
Obviously, the team’s weak schedule of nonconference opponents have played a big part in its early success. But the early spurt has transpired in a relative media vacuum without much public knowledge except for those fans who attended the three games at Kyle Field.
The Aggies have beaten New Mexico, Utah State and UAB -- teams with a combined 2-9 record that will never be considered as juggernauts. That’s made judging this Aggies team a little problematic so far, considering the crumbs still around their mouths after devouring those three scheduling cream puffs.
“You know, I kind of focus on the things we didn't do more so than what we did do," A&M head coach Mike Sherman said last week when asked about his team’s fast statistical start. "I'm very realistic when it comes to statistics. I don't spend a whole lot of time looking at them.”
But no matter if the Aggies were playing the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers or Slippery Rock, their early success shouldn’t be discounted.
“I think we’re a good team,” A&M senior free safety Jordan Pugh said. “This will be our biggest challenge so far and how we handle the challenge, we’ll find out on Saturday.”
The early statistical binge hasn’t been surprising to quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who ranks third nationally in total offense and 11th in passing efficiency. He’s coming off a game where he accounted for a school-record six touchdowns -- three rushing and three passing -- to spark the Aggies’ 56-19 victory over UAB.
Johnson showed mercurial talents last season but struggled late in the season with turnovers. Despite those late struggles, Johnson’s confidence in the offense never flagged.
“I think I progressed pretty well from last year,” said Johnson, who has thrown nine touchdown passes with no interceptions this season. “We struggled to find our identity at times. But now, it’s not a first-year offense or team working together. We’re all on the same page this year and you can see the results.”
The Aggies converted 14 of 17 third-down plays last week against UAB, including 12 straight at one stretch.
“That’s something we are very proud of,” Johnson said. “We put a lot of work into staying on the field. The coaches really emphasize winning third-down plays. And that’s what I’ve tried to do so far this year.”
The Aggies also made a schematic change to their defense, incorporating the “jack” position, occupied by speedy pass-rushing specialist Von Miller. The result has been that Miller leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss.
“Last year when we looked at our personnel, we thought Von had an OK year, not a great year,” Sherman said. “I didn’t feel like we highlighted him enough to showcase his talents. We felt like there were a lot of things we could do with him as a linebacker and a blitzer. The ‘Jack’ position gives us some flexibility to highlight some things, which it has.”
The chance to play old Southwest Conference rival Arkansas at the shiny new stadium in Arlington is big for the A&M program. They will face a tough challenge from the 1-2 Razorbacks, who feature a potent offense keyed by 6-foot-7, 238-pound quarterback Ryan Mallett.
The Razorbacks will test the Aggies unlike any other opponent so far this season. But Miller is excited about what a big performance on Saturday could do for A&M’s national profile.
“We knew it would be like this,” Miller said. “All the guys have a chip on our shoulder and still a lot of stuff to prove. It’s kind of good they look at us underdogs. Now, we have to go out and show people something.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
So much for freedom of expression around Texas Tech.
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has banned his players from using Twitter after several unflattering things about him and his program seeped out from players’ comments after the Red Raiders’ 29-28 loss to Houston Saturday night.
The self-styled “Pirate of the High Plains” might be facing a mutiny unless he can right his ship very quickly. Squelching their comments on social networks appears to be his first step.
The most surprising move came Sunday when senior offensive guard, Brandon Carter, a team captain and frequent team spokesman, was indefinitely suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Leach left the door open -- barely -- for the return of Carter, a preseason All-America selection who didn’t allow a sack last season. Carter’s attitude was infectious with his tough playing disposition, tattoos, and spiked hair.
“Anything he needs to do to get back is pretty much between him and me,” Leach said.
The discord continued after the Red Raiders returned to Lubbock and Leach apparently was late for a meeting with his team Sunday afternoon. Senior linebacker Marlon Williams was especially vociferous about Leach's leadership on his Twitter account.
"Wondering why I'm still in this meeting room when the head coach can't even be on time to his on [sic] meeting," Williams wrote on his "Kos 39" Twitter account. The tweet has been taken down as silence has spread over the Red Raiders’ program.
Leach fired back at the disgruntled players Monday on the Big 12’s weekly coaches’ teleconference.
“Anyone who is a malcontent doesn’t stay around here long,” Leach said. “We’ve got a full group of players who are ready to take (his) place. And interestingly enough, he doesn’t have a Twitter page anymore.”
The sniping across Cyberspace is the last thing the Red Raiders needed after the disappointing losses to Texas and Houston -- their first back-to-back losses since midway through the 2007 season.
“That game left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth,” senior cornerback Jamar Wall said. “We’ve got to come back ready to go.”
The turnaround and the late loss came after Tech appeared to have dominated the early parts of the game. The Red Raiders’ seldom used rushing game kicked in and gave them a chance to mash the Cougars at the point of attack as they claimed an early 21-10 lead.
But the Red Raiders struggled moving the ball later in the game and were turned away on downs inside the Houston 5 early in the fourth quarter, including a pivotal fourth-down stop of quarterback Taylor Potts from inside the Houston 1.
“That series was extremely disappointing,” Tech center Shawn Byrnes said. “We had the ball four times inside their 5. We wanted to put on our shoulders and punch it in. And the fact we weren’t able to do was frustrating.”
Leach said Monday he probably would have elected to have kicked a field goal that would have given his team an eight-point lead if he had it to do over again.
“We only needed half a yard and we had been moving them around pretty good down there,” Leach said. “If I had to do it over again, I probably would do it different.”
It makes the Red Raiders 3-4 since a 10-0 start to start last season that pushed them to No. 3 in the country after victories over Texas and Oklahoma State late last season. Their victories during that period came over North Dakota, Rice and Baylor last season.
Their challenge to turn the season around will be daunting in a South Division that appears more competitive than ever this season. Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all are among the nation’s top 14 teams nationally in the most recent Associated Press poll. Texas A&M appears to have a recharged offense and defense. Baylor has its strongest recent collection of talent, although the loss of Robert Griffin will be a tough one to overcome.
And any comments from the Red Raiders’ BlackBerries have been suppressed, Wall said his team has vowed to put aside the recent controversy as it tries to complete with their upcoming scheduling gauntlet.
“We need to forget about it, let it go,” he said. “What happened Saturday and yesterday, we’ve got to put it aside. We’ve got to pull tighter. We just need to put it behind us, play the next team and keep going from there.”
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TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
8:00 PM ET 20 Duke 1 Florida State 8:17 PM ET 2 Ohio State 10 Michigan State 4:00 PM ET 5 Missouri 3 Auburn 12:00 PM ET 17 Oklahoma 6 Oklahoma State 7:45 PM ET 7 Stanford 11 Arizona State 3:30 PM ET 25 Texas 9 Baylor 12:00 PM ET 16 UCF Southern Methodist 10:00 PM ET Utah State 23 Fresno State