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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #22 Oklahoma

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 17, 2015

#22 Oklahoma Sooners

2014 Recap:

Five loss seasons don’t sit well with the Sooners and their faithful. Oklahoma went 8-5 after an embarrassing showing in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The team was trounced 40-6 by Clemson. There may not have been a ranked team in the country with more inconsistent play then the Sooners, as pure individual elite talent exists at nearly every position.

Coaching:

It’s hard to believe that Bob Stoops has been at Oklahoma for 16 years. Stoops is another coach we have heard whispers about from time to time regarding making a jump to the pro ranks. Stoops is 168-44 in his Oklahoma career which means he averages more than 10 wins a season and slightly under 3 losses. Normally when you see those types of numbers it isn’t over a length of time that approaches 16 seasons. Oklahoma will have a new offensive coordinator in Lincoln Riley, as Oklahoma will be moving to a new spread offense like Riley ran in East Carolina last season with Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. The defense ranked a disappointing 51st overall in 2014 and gave up 25.9 PPG to come in 55th in scoring defense. The pass defense rank of 117th overall was a bit misleading due to the Sooners being so stout against the run, where they ranked as a top ten unit for most of the season and finished 8th. Mike Stoops continues to be the man leading the defense in Norman.

 

Offensive Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Quarterback is the big mystery for Oklahoma, as Trevor Knight has started since his freshman season. Knight is now a junior, but he is continually plagued by poor performances and uneven play. After throwing for 2,300 yards and rushing for an additional 339 with five touchdowns on the ground one may think his job would be safe. There are two factors working against Knight here. It starts with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The other being that with the new offense being installed, Oklahoma could turn to Baker Mayfield. Mayfield sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech, a school famous for running the wide open offense Oklahoma will now employ. Mayfield also has two years of eligibility, and his accuracy is not a question mark like it is with Knight. Mayfield may not have the arm strength or mobility of Knight but in this new system accuracy is paramount, and that is the strength of Mayfield and his game.

Quarterback should be an afterthought when you have a running back like Samaje Perine in your stable. Perine ran for over 1,700 yards as a true freshman, including a new FBS record 427-yard performance against Kansas. Perine enters this season as a strong Heisman candidate, but he may be hampered by his own backfield because he is far from being the only capable runner Oklahoma has on the roster. Joe Mixon is now back on the team, and he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Mixon will replace another five star recruit, Keith Ford, who decided to transfer to Texas A&M. Mixon was a higher ranked recruit than Perine, so this could be interesting. Throw in Alex Ross who averaged 6.7 YPC and gained nearly 600 yards on the ground, and you have the makings of maybe the best backfield in the nation.

Best Draft Prospect: Samaje Perine RB 1st Round 2017 (early declaration as he is part of the 2018 draft class).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

With Oklahoma moving to the new spread offense they are fortunate to return the top two receivers from last season’s team. Sterling Shephard looked like he was going to turn pro, but it seems like a wise decision to have him stay for his senior campaign. Shephard posted 51 catches for just under 1,000 yards and five touchdowns. Shephard seems to have a bright future as a slot receiver at the NFL level, and he is complemented well by fellow returning starter Durron Neal. Neal sports a 42-513-3 line from last season, and his blocking ability comes in handy with the running attack.

What intrigues most is redshirt freshman Mark Andrews who is penciled in as the third wide receiver for the Sooners. Now Andrews is built like a tight end at 6’6” 245 but the Sooners won’t use a true tight end often in this offensive set. Andrews size will obviously cause some mismatch issues. We expect Andrews to be brought along slowly but he looks like a big play waiting to happen. Michiah Quick started a few games for the Sooners a season ago and could split time with Mark Andrews as he acclimates himself with the offense.

Best Draft Prospect: Sterling Shephard WR 3rd Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line is always looked at as a position of strength or power for the Sooners. Oklahoma always displays tremendous depth, so the Sooners won’t be overly worried about losing three starting lineman to the last NFL Draft, including both starting tackles. While both tackles were taken rather high on the board they were drafted as much for potential as they were for their production and output. Center Ty Darlington is the lone returning starter at center, and he is a fringe prospect himself. We expect to see the Sooners juggle the line a bit as far as positions, but many of the starters seem to be in place with Derek Farniok and his massive 6’8” 340 pound frame manning one of the tackle positions while Josiah St. John will operate on the other side. Nila Kasitati and Jonathan Alverez look to be the guards, but again the starters are not set in stone along the line. You can expect Christian Daimler and Dylan Hartsook to be some of the top reserves we see along the offensive line.

Best Draft Prospect: Ty Darlington C UFA 2016.

 

Defensive Analysis

Defensive Line:

The defensive line is by far the area on the defense that needs the most help and is razor thin when comparing the depth to Sooner teams of the past. The lineman that had the largest impact against opposing offenses a season ago was Jordan Phillips, and he was lost to early entry in the NFL Draft. Charles Tapper has a wealth of talent but seemed to underachieve and was one of the players Oklahoma expected more from in 2014. Tapper finished with seven tackles for loss and three sacks, but he is capable of bigger numbers.

With the loss of Phillips (a true nose guard type run defender) and the poor results, Oklahoma has switched back to a 4-3 alignment vice they 3-4 they employed. This also allows Eric Striker to move back to his natural linebacker position (we will talk about him soon). Tackle Jordan Wade only appeared in six games last season and made nine stops, but he looks to be the next force in the middle. Matt Romar will be the other defensive tackle, and neither of these players is a senior. Matt Dimon will likely be the other defensive end. It looks as if he has lost about 15 pounds and at 265 pounds is ready to provide some pressure from the other end position. Oklahoma can ill afford injuries along the front line, as there are numerous inexperienced underclassmen at every position.

Best Draft Prospect: Charles Tapper DE 5th Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

If the talent starting along the defensive line was in question the proportion of guaranteed talent at linebacker is far greater. Frank Shannon may not be the most promising pro prospect at the linebacker position, but he was sorely missed, as he sat out last season after being suspended by the team. With Shannon returning this should allow Dominique Alexander to move back outside, but he can play any of the three linebacker spots with ease. Alexander is the best prospect at the position as he has the most complete game of the trio, and all three should find a home in the NFL. Alexander had 6 of his 107 total tackles last season result in a loss, and the tackle count led the defense.

While Alexander is the most complete linebacker Eric Striker is the biggest playmaker and pass rusher at any position in the starting eleven. Striker posted 17 tackles for loss to go along with nine sacks. Striker can drop into coverage and deflect passes at the line of scrimmage, as he broke up five passes with his dominant display. Having Shannon back will cut down on the amount of double teams the linebackers see, as any of the three are capable of making big plays. The starting linebacker unit here is the best in the Big 12 on paper, and it isn’t even close.

Best Draft Prospect: Dominique Alexander LB 2nd/3rd Round 2016 (Early declaration candidate).

 

Secondary:

With Zack Sanchez the Sooners have a true star in the secondary, and if he declares the cornerback has a chance at being a first round selection despite being a little small at 175 pounds. Sanchez was in the running for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and was even in our top 10 for the Heisman for a couple of weeks during last season. Sanchez posted six interceptions with eight pass breakups and 14 passes defended. The problem was a couple of players were so inconsistent last season that if not for the play of Sanchez, things would have been catastrophic.

Julian Wilson has moved on while Ahmed Thomas is back at strong safety. While Thomas was credited with 75 tackles there were a number of stops he either didn’t make or did far to late to prevent big plays. There is another Thomas in the secondary this season, as Sanchez will be joined by Jordan Thomas as the other cornerback. Thomas made 32 stops and played in every Sooner game as a freshman, so he is far from being inexperienced. Steven Parker is another sophomore that should crack the starting lineup as the free safety. Parker received some votes for Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Big 12, but he may only share time with incoming freshman Prentice McKinney.

Best Draft Prospect: Zack Sanchez CB 1st/2nd Round 2016 (Early declaration candidate).

 

Special Teams

Michael Hunnicutt leaves Oklahoma as the all-time leading scorer and was the top ranked kicker heading into the 2014 season from a draft standpoint. Hunnicutt seemed to let nerves get the best of him, missing some chip shots and big kicks, especially against Kansas State where Oklahoma lost by a single point. Austin Seibert is one of the highest ranked kickers in the country and should step in and start from day one for Oklahoma. Seibert may end up pulling double duty, as he he seems poised to be the teams punter. The return game is in stellar shape with Sterling Shepard returning for punt return duty and reserve running back Alex Ross to return kickoffs. Ross took a pair of kickoffs for touchdown last season.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

2015 Schedule

The early season road game in Tennessee will prove to be an important measuring stick if Oklahoma wants to enter conference play without a blemish. TCU comes at the back end of the schedule this year as the final home game before squaring off with the Oklahoma State Cowboys on the road. Oklahoma will have a pair of road games before their fifth game of the season which is the storied Red River game with Texas.

 

Draft Prospects and Outlook

There are a bevy of draft picks that look like they will come from Oklahoma, but many of the top recruits will have to declare, as there are numerous underclassmen that are on the bubble. Zack Sanchez and the linebacker core look to be the cream of the crop this season, but receiver Sterling Shephard could fly up the boards if he adjusts well to the new offense that is being installed.

 

DJ Boyer