Stills growing into role

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma swooned late in 2011 for many reasons. The defense surrendered big plays. The running game stalled out. Landry Jones kept throwing it to the wrong color jersey.

But just as damaging, Kenny Stills failed to step in as the No. 1 receiver after Ryan Broyles' season-ending injury.

"There's a picture that I have of the Baylor loss with my head down and my hands on my helmet after dropping a pass across the middle," Stills said. "That's the picture I see when I think of last year."

"I remember how I felt after last season, kinda feeling like I failed."

In no way is Stills failing the Sooners through two games this season. And after another sterling performance Saturday in a 69-13 rout of Florida A&M, Stills is finally establishing himself as Jones' go-to guy out of the slot.

"I can't say enough about what he's doing right now," Jones said. "He's wanting the ball, he's wanting to do big things.

"There's a new attitude about him."

A week after totaling 121 receiving yards, Stills filleted the Rattlers with 10 catches for 120 yards, most of which came in the first half before the game got out of hand.

After a dismal three-and-out possession to start the game, Stills got the OU offense rolling by showing no fear going across the middle. On a post pattern, he hauled in a pass downfield with one hand before taking a helmet-to-helmet shot from Florida A&M safety Devan Roberts. After the 23-yard catch and 15-yard penalty, the Sooners were in the end zone two plays later.

"Kenny is really making some special catches," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "The one-hander down the middle. Several times, he got open in man positions with some good route running. Kenny is playing really well."

Stills wasn't perfect. He dropped what would have been a 40-yard touchdown on OU's next possession. But he is giving the Sooners exactly what they've desperately craved since Broyles tore his ACL last November -- a No. 1 receiver, both in talk and walk.

"I felt like before with Ryan being the guy, I couldn't express myself as the guy to get the ball," Stills said. "Now, I'm telling Landry all the time, 'I'm open. I'm open every day that ends in 'y.' I want him to know that I'm going to work as hard as I can to get the ball every play."

Jones is finding Stills, too.

In the second quarter, he connected with Stills across the middle of the field for a 22-yard completion to set up OU's third touchdown a play later. Then on the Sooners' ensuing possession, Jones lofted a ball to the corner of the end zone for Stills, who brought down the pass in man coverage to put OU up 28-3 and ignite the onslaught.

"Kenny did a great job tonight working the middle of the field," said Jones, who hit Stills with a 68-yard improvised touchdown last week at UTEP. "He's playing physical, blocking well and finishing plays."

Even with the offseason suspensions to Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks, the OU receivers are emerging as one of the strengths of the entire team. Penn State transfer Justin Brown continues to make big plays as an outside threat, reeling in a 51-yard jump ball on third down to set up Stills' touchdown catch.

True freshman Trey Metoyer, who had a rough debut last week, rebounded with a sharp outing, snagging an 18-yard touchdown just before halftime. And fellow true freshman Sterling Shepard flashed his potential as well with 48 yards receiving out of the slot off the bench.
But Stills -- and the way he's playing -- is the foremost reason why the corps could be elite.

"The way I ended last season has definitely been a motivation for me all summer and through this season," he said. "I feel like we've needed somebody to establish themselves as a playmaker -- and that's what I'm trying to be."