NCF Nation: Dejuan Miller
The 26-6 final score over the Cyclones is convincing enough not to raise eyebrows. It should, though.
The Sooners suffocated Iowa State's offense, perhaps aided a bit by wind ,and quarterback Jared Barnett never consistently found receivers. The defensive miscues and poor safety play that plagued the Sooners against Baylor last week was gone, but Iowa State has nothing close to what Baylor has at its skill positions. Still, the defense was impressive.
But the offense?
It's clear this offense misses Ryan Broyles, and today, missed receiver Jaz Reynolds, too. Reynolds was suspended for a violation of team rules, and had a banged up shoulder from last week's loss to the Bears. Landry Jones' most reliable and most-often open target is gone, and against the Cyclones, it showed.
Jones finished 22-of-43 for 253 yards and no touchdown passes for the second consecutive game. His first interception? A ball thrown well enough to have been caught, but tipped up on a drop by Kameel Jackson and intercepted by ISU safety Ter'Ran Benton.
Why was Jackson playing? Because he had to. No Broyles and no Reynolds means the Sooners must dig deeper into the depth chart.
His second interception came on a pass intended for Trent Ratterree but CB Jeremy Reeves didn't clear out on an in route by Dejuan Miller and snatched an easy interception.
Who would have thought that missing the all-time FBS leader in receptions could leave a gaping hole in a passing offense. Oh, everyone? OK.
Backup quarterback Blake Bell's played well in short yardage situations and punched in eight touchdowns in three games for the Sooners.
It's clear Jones misses Broyles and against Oklahoma State next week, the Sooners will have to put up points. Iowa State's defense is improving, but Oklahoma State's defense is better. Make the same kinds of mistakes against Oklahoma State next week with a Big 12 title in the balance and the eight-year run of in-state dominance is over for the Sooners.
Reynolds will likely be back. That'll help.
But Oklahoma State has the offensive weapons to stretch the defense and force the offense to make plays. Turn the ball over three times in the second half next week like the Sooners did today and that's a near certainty. The defense forced four turnovers but the offense turned them into just nine points.
It was an ugly day. The defense might be capable of carrying the Sooners next week, but life would be easier if the Sooners offense made sure we all didn't find out.
If that's going to happen, there's plenty of work to do before next Saturday in Stillwater.
His talented protégé, Kenny Stills, walked inside, but there was nothing left to be said.
Stills shook his head.
"He knew. I knew. He teared up and my eyes got watery for him," Stills said.
They shook hands. Stills promised he'd pray for him and he'd be missed. A relationship that began when Stills, a California native, visited Oklahoma for the first time was deepened on an offseason mission trip to Haiti.
"You’re not able to change everything that you’re doing with three games left in the year," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "Other guys just have to step up and make plays and try and make the plays that he’s used to making."
Broyles' career ended fittingly -- on a huge reception. The 30-yard grab was the 349th of his career, more than any other receiver to ever play the game.
Stills was blocking ahead of Broyles and saw him go down, but Broyles had complained of pain in his opposite knee during the week. He caught the ball and landed awkwardly.
"I figured when he went down, it was just the same knee and it wasn’t a big deal," Stills said, "and he'd be back."
Stills, too, had gone down in a heap clutching his knee earlier in the season in a win over Kansas. Fans feared the worst. He was back shortly.
Four plays after Broyles went down, Oklahoma reached the end zone to take a 34-10 lead in the win over Texas A&M.
Receivers went to the sideline, and it was only a few minutes before trainers told Broyles and his teammates on the sideline that Broyles' injury was serious.
Three of the worst letters in football: a torn ACL.
Broyles was in tears before being helped into the locker room.
"As soon as he went in the locker room, you pretty much knew," Stills said.
The team followed later, beating a good Texas A&M team by 16 with a dominant second half.
"The whole team felt (the loss). I could tell in the locker room, everybody was just more quiet than usual, because it was on all our minds," Stoops said. "It definitely took a lot away from it."
The task now is clear: Oklahoma's final four games will be played without Broyles, and Stills must develop into quarterback Landry Jones' new favorite target.
"Ryan’s always been the guy I’ve always looked up to. I came here to study underneath him and one day maybe follow in his footsteps," Stills said, "and that time came a little earlier than I expected."
Broyles' on-field void is obvious, but Stills isn't the only player who'll be affected off the field.
"He’s such a spark in everything that he does, so in both places, but again, our team will respond, I believe," Stoops said. "We have to."
It's only the latest loss for an Oklahoma team now missing its top rusher. Broyles, a much higher-profile player than first-year starter and walk-on Dominique Whaley, makes it easy to forget just how big of a hit the Sooners have taken in recent weeks. This loss, though, Oklahoma is better prepared to handle.
Stills is the biggest reason why. Fellow receivers Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Dejuan Miller will have to help, too.
"Everybody just has to step their game up, from the offensive line to the running back to the quarterback and receivers. Just keep rolling and step our game up and pay attention to little details and we’ll be fine," Stills said. "We have a lot of playmakers. Ryan’s no scrub. We know we’re going to miss him, but other people have to step up and make plays for us now."
A dominant third quarter turned a tight game into a laugher.
Oklahoma rolled to a 41-25 win over Texas A&M. They restored some pride on their home turf in their first game at Owen Field since a loss to Texas Tech.
For the Sooners, though, the focus from Saturday's game wasn't on the final score.
Ryan Broyles went down with what looked like a knee injury, and was visibly emotional on the sidelines before being taken into the locker room.
Earlier this season, Broyles grabbed the national record for receptions. The NCAA record for receiving yards still looked in reach. Now, Oklahoma must wait to learn about the status of one of their captains.
It looked serious, and Broyles is an obvious huge loss.
The Sooners have a deep, solid receiving corps with emerging stars Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, as well as Trey Franks and Dejuan Miller. But no Sooner does it like Broyles, one of the team's unquestioned leaders.
Freshman mistakes turned to senior leadership for Broyles, and he helped shepherd the young receivers on and off the field, wowing coaches with both efforts.
Losing him would be a huge mental and physical blow for the team, and speaking for college football fans everywhere, a loss for us to not be able to see him.
Broyles was one of the best at his craft, and entered Saturday's game as the nation's leader in receiving yards per game. He caught two passes for 87 yards on Saturday, suffering the injury on a 30-yard catch.
Broyles' injury feels a lot like Robert Griffin III's knee injury back in 2009, if it ends up being serious. Both guys do it the right way and are so much fun to watch. They're everything right about college football.
The sad truth though, is it's a dangerous game.
Broyles and the Sooners have been forced to revisit that lesson.
Remember that depth plays a big part of these rankings. We'll be ranking the top 10 individuals at each position later on before the season begins.
Other position rankings:
2. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys boast the returning Biletnikoff Award winner and 2011 favorite, Justin Blackmon, with a great group around him, too. Slot machine Josh Cooper returns for his senior year, and fellow senior Hubert Anyiam (the team's leading receiver in 2009) is hoping to return to form after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2010. Isaiah Anderson is a shifty speedster, while Michael Harrison and Tracy Moore offer a more aerial approach to receiving.
3. Texas A&M
The Aggies have the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, who is arguably one of the top-five in the college game. But they also have the Big 12's most experienced receiving unit, with guys who won't be surprised by anything they see in Big 12 play. Juniors Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are the team's second and third options, but fellow juniors Kenric McNeal and Brandal Jackson could be bigger pieces of the offense in 2011. Tight end Nehemiah Hicks should see his profile rise in his coming sophomore year.
Top target Kendall Wright will likely end his career as the Bears' leading receiver for all four of his seasons on the field, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior Josh Gordon looks like the new Jeff Fuller. Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Reese round out the Bears' top five, who all had at least 40 catches last season, and all return.
Missouri still lacks a proven big-play threat, but has two pass-catchers who have some of the best hands in the game. Receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew won't drop many passes, and combined to catch 182 for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson bring a lot of experience and both had at least 39 catches last season. If Marcus Lucas or Rolandis Woodland can become a consistent downfield threat, Missouri will rise up these rankings by season's end.
6. Texas Tech
Tech's top two receivers, Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, must be replaced, but the Red Raiders have a few solid candidates to do it. Junior Alex Torres will likely lead the group, but fellow junior Austin Zouzalik and seniors Jacoby Franks and Tramain Swindall will be counted on for more production. Dark horse/juco newcomer Marcus Kennard could blossom into a household name across the Big 12 by season's end.
Sophomore Mike Davis and redshirt freshman Darius White are loaded with potential, but two of the team's top three receivers (James Kirkendoll, John Chiles) are gone, and no Texas receiver caught more than two touchdowns last season. Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin are as different as two receivers could be, but both need to break out to help whoever becomes the Longhorns quarterback next fall.
8. Kansas State
Brodrick Smith will be back this season after breaking his leg in a loss to Nebraska. But two of the team's top three receivers are gone, leaving converted quarterback Chris Harper as the leading returner, though Smith might have held that title if he'd stayed healthy. Sophomore speedster Tramaine Thompson can make plays if he gets the ball with some space.
9. Iowa State
The Cyclones will be breaking in a new quarterback this season and they will need a playmaker to step up. Tight end Collin Franklin led team in receiving last season but he is now gone. Darius Reynolds looks like a possible candidate to fill the role, although incoming slot receiver Aaron Horne might rack up a few catches in space. Darius Darks and Josh Lenz should earn some more targets too.
Converted defensive back Daymond Patterson is the team's top receiver, but the team's No. 3 receiver junior Bradley McDougald, moved to safety in the middle of the season. Tight end Tim Biere is one of the Big 12's best and led the team with four touchdowns last season. Chris Omigie and D.J. Beshears have some potential, and converted quarterback Christian Matthews keeps showing up in spring games. But all three, along with the rest of the group, would benefit from some consistency at the quarterback spot.
Here are my votes, and I feel pretty good about all of them. Which would you pick?
Quarterbacks: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys return All-Big 12 first-teamer Brandon Weeden, and the senior will have his top target back, Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon. He threw for 4,277 yards last season and his quarterback rating of 154.11 was eight points higher than any passer in the Big 12.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma, Baylor
Running backs: Texas A&M
Cyrus Gray was the Big 12's best back late in the conference season, and his running mate re-joins him in the backfield this year after breaking his leg midway through 2010. Christine Michael and Gray form perhaps the best backfield duo in the nation, but by far the best in the Big 12.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma
This one's close, but Oklahoma's depth gives them the edge. Ryan Broyles is narrowly the Big 12's No. 2 receiver and a Biletnikoff finalist in his own right, but Kenny Stills could sneak up on a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore in 2011. Dejuan Miller and Trey Franks are two more solid options, and the Sooners could add a pair of talented freshmen to the rotation in Trey Metoyer and Justin McCay.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor
Offensive line: Oklahoma State
The line helped running back Kendall Hunter finish second in the Big 12 with 1,548 yards last season, and all five starters return from the unit that gave up the fewest sacks in the Big 12. That's aided by the quick-release approach in the Air Raid offense, but the line boasts the Big 12's best returning lineman, tackle Levy Adcock.
Honorable mention: Texas A&M
Defensive line: Missouri
The Tigers have the Big 12's returning leader in sacks, defensive end Brad Madison, but the unit is deep and talented and could get even more so next season. DT Terrell Resonno, DE Jacquies Smith and DT Dominique Hamilton are all experienced, and defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy should provide very little dropoff when they're on the field as part of the rotation. The Tigers also welcome a possible game-changer in Sheldon Richardson, a light-footed 6-foot-4, 296-pound defensive tackle and St. Louis native who is the nation's No. 3 juco recruit.
Honorable mention: Texas
The Sooners have one of the favorites for Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in senior linebacker Travis Lewis, who is likely to be joined by some combination of Tom Wort, Corey Nelson and Jaydan Bird. Nickel back Tony Jefferson could be poised for a break out year on a national scale after sharing Defensive Freshman of the Year honors last season.
Honorable mention: Iowa State
Cornerbacks: Texas A&M
The Aggies have two of the Big 12's best in Dustin Harris and Coryell Judie, who doubles as perhaps the Big 12's most dangerous return man. The pair combined for eight interceptions last season and 21 passes defended. Terrence Frederick defended 10 passes of his own. Health was a concern for this group in the spring, but they should be ready come fall.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma
Safeties: Oklahoma State
Markelle Martin is a future draft pick and one of the Big 12's hardest hitters, but Johnny Thomas played some of his best football late last season. They combined for 118 tackles last season, and 100 of those were solo stops.
Honorable mention: Kansas State
Punter: Oklahoma State
Quinn Sharp has been one of the Big 12's best punters for the past two seasons, and led the league in punting average at 46.2 yards in 2010.
Grant Ressel has made 43 of 46 field goals over the past two seasons, and the former walk-on should be a contender for the Lou Groza Award as a junior in 2011.
"I felt like we almost didn’t have a purpose," Broyles said of the nightmarish '09 campaign. "We set out with greatest quarterback in OU history, I feel, Sam Bradford. One of the greatest tight ends [Jermaine Gresham] and both of those guys got hurt early in the season, so we lost that first game against BYU and I felt like the season was just up in the air."
A return to the national title game, where Oklahoma has been denied by Florida months earlier, looked unlikely just 30 minutes into the 2009 season, when Bradford suffered a shoulder injury that cost him most of his junior season. Gresham never made it on the field after a knee injury just days before the opener. Two of the biggest pieces of the national runner-up were gone.
Freshman Kenny Stills burst on the scene in the spring of 2010 after enrolling early at Oklahoma, but few knew what to expect from the receivers come fall.
They did a great job, especially toward the second half of the year," Stoops said.
Most impressive, besides Broyles' nation-leading 131 receptions, was the unit's depth.
Stills was second on the team with 786 yards on 61 catches, including five touchdowns. A torn mensicus sidelined Dejuan Miller in mid-October after the junior had played two of his best games of the year against Texas and Cincinnati. But even with Miller out, Oklahoma had an answer.
Senior Cameron Kenney caught just 14 passes in Oklahoma's first 11 games, but finished with 19 in its final three -- the Sooners' three biggest of the season. He accounted for 264 yards and three scores, including a momentum-swinging, third-and-long, 86-yard touchdown against Oklahoma State in Stillwater to help the Sooners win a South title.
"That was a major spark," Stoops said. "There’s no question they became a strength and it became a big difference in the latter part of the year."
Freshman Trey Franks added 29 receptions, and although Kenney's eligibility is done, the Sooners' receiving corps looks like one of the Big 12's deepest heading into 2011.
"They worked," Stoops said. "[Receivers and co-offensive coordinator] coach [Jay] Norvell did a great job working with them and they gained a little maturity and confidence as they went and gained positive experience."
Stills, after another spring, looks to cement his place as one of the league's best receivers in 2011.
"He came in early in the spring, he learned the offense, and that helped. Guys come here in the summer and they’re a step behind. It’s not as easy. The faster you get out there, the easier it is to relax and be able to play the way you can play. He was able to get out and get in crunch time," Broyles said. "He’s going to be electrifying. People label me as a guy you can expect great things from every game. And he’s another one of those guys."
Broyles, a senior, is plugging what he's learned into young receivers like Franks. He's gearing up for what could be that big year the Sooners missed out on in 2009.
"To be honest, it took me three years to learn the offense and what the coaches expected," Broyles said. "But I feel like those guys are getting a grasp of that."
Sooners down another DB
Oklahoma announced safety Marcus Trice would be transferring, which usually wouldn't cause much of a ripple considering Trice played primarily special teams and didn't crack the depth chart last season, eventually being moved to receiver.
But as a freshman, Trice worked as a backup safety and looked ready to become a major contributor again as a sophomore. He didn't, and rumors swirled that he turned in defensive backs coach Willie Martinez for asking in a voicemail for an explanation of why Trice missed a voluntary workout, which is a secondary violation of NCAA rules. The violation forced Oklahoma to sit out a week during this offseason.
Reached by the Tulsa World, however, Trice denied the rumors.
"It wasn't me," Trice told the paper, "but I don't and won't throw anyone else under the bus."
He cited a desire for playing time, something that didn't look like it was coming any time soon at Oklahoma, a school Trice said he grew up dreaming of playing for.
A source at Oklahoma also told the paper that Trice wasn't in bad graces with the coaches. Oklahoma won't be hurt much by his departure, with Javon Harris, Sam Proctor or perhaps nickel back Tony Jefferson looking well prepared to take over for the Sooners' departed safeties, Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson. But it's certainly an interesting case, more so than a routine transfer.
The Sooners did get some good news, however.
Receiver Dejuan Miller's career picked up steam with strong outings in wins over Cincinnati (3 rec., 66 yards) and Texas (5 rec., 61 yards) before a knee injury ended his season. He's been cleared for action this spring, but won't compete in contact drills or play full speed.
Oklahoma's receiving corps already has two outstanding options in Biletnikoff Award finalist Ryan Broyles and sophomore Kenny Stills, who broke Broyles' freshman receiving record with 786 yards last year. Trey Franks came on late, as did tight end James Hanna and the Sooners signed a top receiver in Trey Metoyer in their 2011 class, but Miller returning to form could make them even deeper.
Two Cyclones arrested
Iowa State defensive end Jacob Lattimer and reserve tight end Ricky Howard were arrested over the weekend and suspended indefinitely.
Lattimer, 22, faces charges of assault on a peace officer and interference with official acts. Howard, 20, is suspected of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Lattimer moved from linebacker to defensive end last season and appeared in all 12 games, making 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also forced two fumbles.
Howard did not play last season.
Cowboys get punter back
Oklahoma State had to play without Ray Guy semifinalist and All-Big 12 punter Quinn Sharp in the Alamo Bowl. The game carried on without incident thanks to a solid performance from Lou Groza Award winner Dan Bailey's fill-in duties as kickoff specialist and punter, but the Cowboys won't have to worry about any hiccups in 2011.
The academic issues surrounding Sharp have been cleared up, and he's been reinstated to the team, taking part in offseason conditioning and preparing for spring practice, which begins today in Stillwater.
Barring any further changes, he should be ready to go for the season this fall. That's great news for a team with legitimate Big 12 title aspirations. You never miss specialists like Sharp until something goes horribly wrong. The Cowboys won't have to worry about that moving forward.
The loss definitely hurts Oklahoma, but it's not a major blow. Miller has played well in his past three games, catching 10 passes for 137 yards, but like everyone in the Sooners' receiving corps not named Ryan Broyles, inconsistency has marked his career.
Miller's definitely capable of making big plays, but so is his replacement, Cameron Kenney, whose production and playing time in recent weeks has slowed with Miller's play, as Miller's did last year when Kenney played his best football early in the season.
Neither player has a 100-yard receiving game in their career, but in the toughest game Oklahoma played last year without Broyles, a road game at Miami, it was Kenney who emerged, catching six passes for 72 yards and a touchdown in the 21-20 loss.
The one thing Miller has that the Sooners can't replace is his size. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is a tough cover for any cornerback, but also has just one career touchdown catch.
The No. 1 Sooners would be better off with Miller on the team when it travels to face No. 11 Missouri, but now it's Kenney's opportunity to make a few plays behind Broyles and Oklahoma's No. 2 receiver, freshman Kenny Stills.
The Cowboys have a strong chance to qualify for their first BCS bowl in school history with an impressive win Saturday at Oklahoma.
We caught up with Cox earlier this week to talk about the development of his team’s defense, his strong recent play and how important it would be to Oklahoma State to make a trip to a BCS bowl during his senior season.
What’s this season been like? Could you have ever imagined your team going 9-2, considering you’ve lost Orie Lemon and Jamal Mosley for the entire season and Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter for large parts of it?
Perrish Cox: Truthfully, I don’t know if I could have imagined it. But it’s something you have to live with and improve as you go. We might have looked at this team a little differently at the start of the season. But we’ve tried to play hard to overcome everything that’s happened to us.
Where does the resiliency your team has shown this season come from?
PC: I can say that we have good leadership and leaders who know what to say and what to show to young players. We never quit and when you do that, anything can happen. We’ve had a lot of different people step up and make big plays for us. And our leadership from across the board has helped us out.
It’s kind of a little weird the role reversal in this week’s game against Oklahoma. You guys are the one needing a win to get to the BCS game and they are the one needing a win for bowl momentum. Is that a little unusual to you?
PC: It would be huge for us in a lot of ways. First of all, a lot of people look at Oklahoma State as stepbrothers to OU. It would be great for us to leave the seniors with a win over them and get bragging rights.
The Cowboys are going to face the huge challenge of Oklahoma’s nation-best 29-game home winning streak. How do you think you’ll be able to combat that?
PC: I guess their home-field advantage is pretty big and they have a different mind frame and thought to everything when they play there. You battle a little harder when you’re trying to protect your home field. But getting a victory would be pretty big to all of us. It’s something that would really help this program.
You’ve had a strong season, leading the nation in passes broken up. But it seems that some teams have been unwilling to test you in recent weeks. Is that a little disappointing?
PC: It’s kind of hard to stay focused sometimes. I get a laugh sometimes when I don’t get much action. You just play your game, keep trying to do what you have to do. Sometimes, I get a chance to go against the best receiver. I just try to stay focused and stay ready when my time comes around.
Oklahoma will test you with some pretty good receivers in Ryan Broyles, Adron Tennell and Dejuan Miller. Is your secondary ready for them?
PC: It will be a big challenge to go against them because they will have some pretty good receivers. We just have to stay focused on doing what we can to stop them. I think we’ll be ready.
Are you surprised that Oklahoma has struggled so much this season?
PC: It’s shocking to see how their season is going for them and for them to be 6-5. That doesn’t usually happen to them. But our goal was to go out with a bang and get to a BCS bowl. That was one of our bigger goals this season. And we have the chance to do that on Saturday.
You’ve become one of the most accomplished special-teams players in the league. Why have you become so proficient running back kicks?
PC: Special teams are a big part of winning games and I want to be a part of it. You just have to think you can do it. It’s always been a big thing around Oklahoma State and was something they talked to me about before I even got here. That’s been my focus going forward.
Saturday’s game will be your last regular-season game. Does it feel like the time has gone by quickly during your career?
PC: Actually, it does. When I first got here, the seniors all told me it would go by very quickly. As you have your career, you don’t think much about it until it’s about time to leave. I’m about time to leave. It’s kind of sad because it went so quick.
Your new defensive coordinator, Bill Young, has come in and helped transform this defense. What has his presence meant to your team and your defensive unit?
PC: He means a lot and he’s a little different from our old defensive coordinator, Tim Beckman. He was the kind of guy you didn’t want to mess up because there was all that yelling and cursing he would bring. But Coach Young is a little different. He lets us do what we do and play straight. He’ll get on you, but it’s a little more measured. I think we’ve responded to it.
Another big improvement you’ve seen this season has been the work of your defensive line. How has that helped your secondary's play?
PC: Our defensive linemen have never gotten to the quarterback like they have this season. The numbers overall are better for defense across the board and that’s a big reason. We can play comfortable in the back end. In the years before this one, we would have to stay in our coverage from five to eight seconds. That’s tough to play good defense for so long and to stick with the receivers while they are scrambling around. This year our defensive line has stepped up and really taken the pressure off of us.
There’s been a lot of speculation that your team could end up in the Fiesta Bowl if you can win Saturday. What would it be like for you and the seniors to finish your career playing in a game like that?
PC: I would feel like I’ve accomplished almost every goal we’ve set. The main thing we wanted to do is go to the national championship game, or at least a BCS bowl. We had talked about making it to the Big 12 championship, but if we can’t do that, we’d rather go to a BCS game. For my class to be the ones to be able to help accomplish that would really give us something to leave school very proud about.
There’s a natural tendency to overlook Dejuan Miller when considering Oklahoma’s speediest wide receivers.
|Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images|
|Oklahoma receiver Dejuan Miller scored his first touchdown against Kansas State.|
That is, until Miller lines up and actually runs a few routes.
“When people look at me, they automatically think I’m some kind of possession receiver,” Miller said. “But I ran track in high school. I can get out and run when I have to.”
That speed might be a stunner to some defenders. But it’s a natural advantage that Miller likes to spring on unsuspecting opponents.
“It’s fun and I love it,” Miller said. “When they see somebody 6-4 and 224 pounds they think I can just catch the ball. But it’s nice to surprise and shock them sometimes when I run.”
Earlier this season, teammates were mesmerized by his combination of size and speed. Several Oklahoma defensive backs compared him to NFL superstar Larry Fitzgerald because of his bountiful natural gifts.
But despite those tools and a strong effort in fall camp, Miller has had to wait his turn to work his way into Oklahoma’s receiving rotation.
“There was a frustrating point,” Miller said. “It was kind of like climbing a mountain and trying to stay positive every day and have positive outlook. I knew things would fall into place. I just needed my chance to shine and get a chance to play.”
That opportunity finally arrived last week when he produced a career-best nine receptions for 93 yards to help spark the Sooners’ victory over Kansas State.
His first catch was a 23-yard touchdown grab in which he broke several tackles. It was the first touchdown of his career.
Miller also produced three key third-down receptions on drives that led to Oklahoma touchdowns against the Wildcats.
“I feel like this was kind of my coming-out party, a chance to show what I could do,” Miller said. "It was huge because I’ve been waiting for a breakout game like that. I just wanted to showcase what I could do and be a playmaker for us.”
That development provides a capable No. 2 threat behind the speedy Ryan Broyles, who leads the nation with 10 touchdown receptions. The sophomore duo has Oklahoma fans excited about the future.
“Me and Ryan bring something different to the table,” Miller said. “He’s a natural playmaker and I think I bring more of a physical standpoint. I bring the physical and he brings flair and finesse. We kind of feed off each other.”
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones' connection with Miller in Oklahoma’s offense also appears to have grown in the last several weeks. Miller is listed as a first-string receiver on the Sooners' depth chart heading into Saturday's game at Nebraska.
"I always had confidence in him," Jones told the Tulsa World. "I've seen what he does in practice and what he's done since spring. He's a hard-working kid. He's going to make every play for you."
Miller was one of the three top wide receivers who chose the Sooners in the 2008 recruiting class along with Josh Jarboe and Jameel Owens. But Jarboe was dismissed from the Oklahoma squad two days before practice began last season when an expletive-laced rap video he had crafted ended up on the Internet.
And neither Miller nor Owens got much playing time last season as the Sooners preferred to use senior receivers like Manny Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney.
“I was in kind of a rough situation last year because there were a lot of older guys in front of me,” Miller said. “I had to wait on my turn and be patient. I learned patience is a virtue.”
Family members in the Oklahoma City area were the major reason why Miller chose to leave his hometown of Metuchen, N.J., for the Oklahoma program. Among the other schools he considered included Penn State, Florida, Michigan, Boston College and Cincinnati.
But after the first big game of his career, Miller is happy he chose to come to Oklahoma -- even if he had to wait for his chance to play.
"I knew things eventually would get better,” Miller said. “It might be a rocky road, but I wanted to stick with it. I always had a good attitude because I knew it was just a matter of time before my chance would come along.”
1. Texas (8-0, 5-0 in South): The Longhorns’ movement in the BCS standings and the national polls Sunday was largely superficial. All they have to do is keep winning and they’ll be playing in the BCS title game. The Longhorns’ secondary is playing at levels reminiscent of the 2005 title team with Earl Thomas developing into a legitimate Thorpe Award candidate. The running game is a concern, but the Longhorns have a few weeks to work on that before it will really become a worry.
2. Oklahoma State (6-2, 3-1 in South): We saw how much Dez Bryant and a healthy Kendall Hunter really were needed against Texas. The Cowboys had a strong defensive plan and shut down the Longhorns for much of the game, but struggled offensively with mistakes that were returned for touchdowns and a bad case of the dropsies by Hubert Anyiam. The loss assuredly dims their divisional hopes. But the Cowboys can play in a New Year’s Day bowl game and still have a slim hope at a BCS bowl if there’s a lot of implosion in front of them during November.
3. Oklahoma (5-3, 3-1 in South): The Sooners have won two straight since the Texas loss and are heading into Nebraska with some momentum. Landry Jones appears to have found another productive receiver with the emergence of Dejuan Miller, who adds another weapon for the Sooners. The Sooners showed some uncharacteristic struggles against Kansas State in the second half, but still had enough offense left to enable them to claim the victory. It will be more of a challenge this week in Lincoln -- even with the Cornhuskers’ recent struggles.
4. Texas Tech (6-3, 3-2 in South): Mike Leach’s trip to the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., Monday and his team’s bye week will be much happier after the Red Raiders’ comeback against Kansas on Saturday. The victory enabled Leach to tie Spike Dykes as the winningest coach in school history with 82 triumphs. Taylor Potts’ heroics off the bench throw the quarterback situation back into a quandary. But the biggest story was the comeback of the Tech defense, which bounced back from its struggles against Texas A&M to limit Kansas to 258 yards while recording six sacks and recovering four fumbles.
5. Kansas State (5-4, 3-2 in North): The gutsy Wildcats might have shown more in their loss to Oklahoma than in any of their previous victories. Despite spotting the Sooners an early 21-0 lead, they came storming back to make it a competitive game in the second half. That game should provide Bill Snyder’s team with a shot of momentum heading into the Kansas game that will be pivotal in their improbable trip to the Big 12 North title. The biggest reason for their recent success has been Brandon Banks, who had a career game with 351 all-purpose yards against Oklahoma, equaling the school single-game record set by Darren Sproles.
6. Texas A&M (5-3, 2-2 in South): The Aggies took another step to a bowl berth by manhandling Iowa State. The developing running game keyed by Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael has helped them soar to No. 23 in rushing offense. A&M now is the nation’s only team to rank in the top 25 in the four major offensive categories of rushing offense, scoring offense, passing offense and total offense. Jerrod Johnson’s offensive statistics are as good as any quarterback in the league. The Aggies’ recent surge has enabled them to win back-to-back Big 12 victories by more than 20 points for the first time since beating Baylor and Kansas in 2002.
7. Nebraska (5-3, 2-2 in North): Cody Green was the first freshman quarterback to start for Nebraska since Tommie Frazier in 1992, and his magic worked in the first half to spark the Cornhuskers’ victory at Baylor. Whether it will pass muster against Oklahoma is an entirely different story. The Cornhuskers’ inconsistency in the second half won’t give Bo Pelini much confidence as he prepares for the Sooners. But the defense, which has held the last seven opponents to 280 yards or less, will give them a chance to be competitive.
8. Kansas (5-4, 1-3 in North): Are the Jayhawks heading into meltdown mode? With the stunning benching of Todd Reesing, it appears that coach Mark Mangino is looking for some kind of spark to get them back on track. And it won’t be easy Saturday at Kansas State, in a stadium where Bill Snyder has defeated the Jayhawks the last eight times he coached against his archrivals. With the recent slump in production and all of the offensive turnovers, it will be a big change to turn that around.
9. Iowa State (5-4, 2-3 in North): Even after the loss at Texas A&M, the Cyclones' bowl hopes look pretty good. All they need to do is win one of their last three games of the season in a gauntlet that starts Saturday against Oklahoma State. Alexander Robinson was back against the Aggies, although Austen Arnaud was missing. His return will be vital for any upset bowl hopes they might have, even with Jerome Tiller’s strong recent play.
10. Missouri (5-3, 1-3 in North): The Tigers still have a shot at the North championship if they can run the table. Their offense perked up with the use of a two-back alignment that boosted their running game against Colorado. And Blaine Gabbert didn’t look like his ankle was bothering him nearly as bad against the Buffaloes. Dave Steckel’s defense produced eight sacks against Tyler Hansen, the most since 2006 and a good sign heading into the Baylor game on Saturday.
11. Colorado (2-6, 1-3 in North): There’s no doubt that Colorado doesn’t like to play Missouri. After the Buffaloes fell into an early 33-0 hole against the Tigers, it marked a streak of 139 consecutive points scored by the Tigers against Colorado’s defense over two-plus seasons. And it won’t get any easier against Texas A&M. Colorado fans are becoming more vocal about a coaching change after the end of the season. And it won’t be a picnic for the struggling Colorado offensive line, which will try to contain the nation's sack leader, Von Miller, a week after allowing eight sacks against Missouri -- the most by a Colorado team since 1984.
12. Baylor (3-5, 0-4 in South): Bowl hopes aren’t officially dead, but they have been on life support since Robert Griffin’s injury. The Bears’ woes on offense continue as the conference losses in the tough South Division keep mounting. Baylor’s only TD against Nebraska came on an interception return. In four conference games, the Bears have averaged 8.5 points per game and have scored no more than 10 points in any single game. Missouri’s improving defense will provide a huge challenge to surpass those numbers.
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
It was a time of unbridled happiness and joy for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- a moment he described as the “best recruiting day” he could have ever imagined earlier this year.
|AP Photo/Jeff Roberson|
|Oklahoma's Bob Stoops is going to have to coach through injuries if he’s going to save the Sooners' season.|
The return of standout players like quarterback Sam Bradford, tight end Jermaine Gresham, tackle Trent Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for another college season was hailed as one of the top moments of Stoops’ coaching career. Those four key players would serve as the cornerstones of the Sooners’ charge to another Big 12 title and perhaps provide a chance at that elusive BCS title that has been the program’s albatross in recent years.
But as injuries have wracked the Oklahoma program, that group of standout players that Stoops expected to have at his disposal have never all been available at the same time. Gresham suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season started and Bradford sprained a shoulder joint in the first game. It’s been a cruel reminder for Stoops on how football fortunes can change quickly.
And it got worse this past weekend in the Sooners’ 21-20 loss to Miami. Top playmaking receiver Ryan Broyles, the nation’s leader in touchdown receptions, went out with a fractured shoulder that could keep him sidelined until early November. His departure robs the 2-2 Sooners of their top deep threat and one of their few receivers who can stretch the field vertically.
That departure was evident on Oklahoma’s final drive against Miami. With no real deep threats to test a Miami defense that was missing a couple of key players in the secondary, the Sooners weren’t nearly as potent. On a pivotal drive late in the fourth quarter where the Sooners could have reclaimed the lead, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson went conservative. Oklahoma ran on six straight plays before throwing a safe swing pass to DeMarco Murray for no yards on third down.
The Sooners then settled for a field goal and then never got the ball back as the Hurricanes closed out the one-point victory against a tiring Oklahoma defense.
It was a far cry from the Sooners’ offensive juggernaut of 2008. That group rolled up 60 or more points during a five-game stretch late last season to boost Oklahoma to an unprecedented third-straight Big 12 title.
It’s expected that Bradford will return to the lineup sooner than later -- perhaps even this week against Baylor. But the symptoms that have befallen the Sooners in the Miami game won’t be magically removed as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner returns.
The young offensive line has been a disappointment in pass protection and susceptibility to penalties. Those mistakes have kept the Sooners struggling in troublesome down-and-distance situations in their losses to BYU and Miami.
The loss of Broyles underscores the Sooners lack of depth at wide receiver. Top recruits Dejuan Miller and Jameel Owens haven’t fulfilled their promise. Adron “Pooh” Tennell has been a bust with three catches this season. Cameron Kenney produced six receptions against Miami, but now will be relied on as the Sooners’ primary offensive receiving threat. And tight end has all but disappeared out of Wilson’s offensive arsenal after Gresham’s injury.
The problems at wide receiver could be traced to last season, when highly-regarded recruit Josh Jarboe never joined the team after his scholarship was rescinded when he made a controversial rap video. His talent would fit this receiving corps nicely, even as channeling his behavior would have been challenging for Stoops and his staff.
Even with all of these problems building on top of another, the Sooners’ real season starts in Saturday's conference opener.
The Sooners won’t be playing for the BCS championship, but they can still make it to a BCS bowl game with a strong rebound. Their huge game against Texas approaches next week. They will be a heavy underdog in that game, but weird upsets always have a way of happening in the history of that bitter rivalry.
Stoops has always been his most effective over the years when he’s had to coach with a shortened roster. Remember his 2006 team claimed the Big 12 title after Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team before fall practice started and Adrian Peterson was hurt for most of the second half of the season?
That team overcame all of those problems and even a loss to Texas and still rebounded to win the fourth of Stoops’ Big 12 titles. He’s never said so, but I’ve always thought that had to be the most satisfying of his titles that he’s won considering all of the obstacles en route to the championship.
He’ll have another chance this season to duplicate that success with a similarly depleted roster. And if Bradford returns healthy, Stoops will have one big advantage that he’s lacked before.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops thinks that Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford has come back noticeably improved for his junior season.
Bradford broke Oklahoma single-season records with 50 touchdown passes and 4,720 passing yards last season, but he appears to have more confidence and a better deep arm after the first week of Oklahoma's practices.
|AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki|
|Sam Bradford has added 10 pounds on his frame since last season.|
"He's strong, he's quicker and the ball comes out that much faster," Stoops said. "With another year of experience out on the field, he'll think much quicker, too."
Bradford appears noticeably bigger after adding 10 pounds of muscle since the end of last year.
"Sam is getting better each and every day," senior wide receiver Adron Tennell said. "Throwing the ball, rolling out of the pocket, he's done it all. You can tell he's better than before."Stoops said there's little separation between his backups who are playing behind Bradford at quarterback.
"Those guys are still splitting their reps," Stoops said. "We keep snapping the ball and giving them experience. They are working well together and doing a nice job."
- Sophomore defensive back Jamell Fleming has been hobbled by a back injury and sophomore defensive back Desmond Jackson "has an issue with academic misconduct" that he's working through, Stoops said.
- Oklahoma's special teams have looked strong in recent practices. Kicker Jimmy Stevens showed improved range at Thursday's open practice with field goals of 50 and 53 yards.
Stevens' length is a big development for the Sooners. His longest kick last season was 42 yards and he shanked five extra points.
Stoops playfully chided about 300 fans who attended the Sooners' open workout Thursday night that they weren't cheering loud enough for Stevens' big kicks.
"They only cheer when there's an offensive play," Stoops said. "When the defense intercepts the ball they are quiet over there or when the kicker gets a nice 53-yard field goal."
- One of the early revelations of fall practice has been wide receiver/punter Cameron Kenney, a transfer from Garden City Community College.
Kenney has jumped into the mix at wide receiver and also is challenging for the punting position against Tress Way. It's a weird combination of a speedy wide receiver who also is a strong punter.
"He's pretty good," Stoops said. "He's shows a lot of signs (as a receiver), but he needs to be more consistent, but he's doing a lot of good things.
"He's punted well, too. It's very rare because you don't see a lot of wide receivers who can punt the ball 40 yards like he can."
Oklahoma receivers coach Jay Norvell said that Kenney reminds him of former Oklahoma wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias because of his combination of size and strength.
"It's because of his quickness, his way of getting in and out of plays and the fact he's very strong to the ball," Norvell said. "Cameron can also run well after the catch. He's a hard worker and the guys who work the hardest get better faster."
- Despite the loss of key playmakers like Iglesias, Manny Johnson and Quentin Chaney from last season, Norvell thinks his current group has the chance to be better than last year's productive group.
"I think we're more athletic and explosive than we were last year," Norvell said. "Whether that will correlate into productiveness, I'm not sure. But we have athletes and in that respect we probably have more deep threats than we did last year."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
NORMAN, Okla. -- Considering all of the key receivers that left Oklahoma's team after last season, it's understandable why some aren't sold on the Sooners' returning talent at the position.
Leading returning receiver Ryan Broyles doesn't mind that at all. In fact, Broyles actually likes that many are considering his receiving corps as one of the Sooners' biggest positional question marks.
|Stephen Brashear/Icon SMI|
|Ryan Broyles will be one of quarterback Sam Bradford's go-to guys in 2009.|
"We've all been doubted around here before," Broyles said. "We just want to rise to the occasion and show what we can do when we get the chance."
The Sooners must replace playmakers Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney from last season. That trio combined to produce 145 receptions, 2,368 yards and 21 touchdowns to spark an explosive passing game that catapulted Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy.
Their departure is expected to hamstring the Sooners' vertical passing game in Bradford's third season as a starter. But it's also bolstered the confidence of several players who are figuring that it's now their time to shine.
No player has been more vociferous this spring as 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver Adron Tennell, a senior who is poised to emerge as one of the Sooners' likely deep threats.
"I feel like I'm back in high school. I'm unstoppable and nobody can touch me," said Tennell, who has produced only 16 catches in the first three seasons at Oklahoma after struggling with a knee injury and talented teammates in front of him.
Tennell, known as "Pooh" by his relatives since childhood, arrived at Oklahoma as the most-heralded receiving recruit in recent history. One scouting service had him ranked as the third-highest recruit in the 2006 recruiting class, behind only Florida's Percy Harvin and USC's Vidal Hazelton.
But Tennell's development was stunted after he injured his knee on special teams late in his sophomore season against Texas Tech. The injury caused him to miss all of winter conditioning and spring practice before last season.
As the other players developed, Tennell's playing time diminished. He produced only nine catches for 68 yards last season.
"Being behind all of those guys who were here before me, I was hoping I'd get to play," Tennell said. "But when I didn't, I got anxious about having to sit and watch. Now, I'm trying to shine when I get my chance."