NORMAN — At some point, everyone has to grow up.
For Oklahoma, that day was Saturday.
The Sooners were forced to get experienced fast in their annual grudge match with Texas. Already down four defensive starters to begin the game, two more went down in the first quarter.
The sideline on the Cotton Bowl became the ER at General Hospital, and yet OU players kept making plays. It was a clinic in on-the-job training.
“I don’t recall that we had that many injuries at once and so many young guys going in there and playing,” Bob Stoops said Monday during his weekly press conference. “But, again, you can’t say enough about how well they did.
“What are you gonna do?”
Starting free safety Ahmad Thomas went down early with a concussion. His backup, Kahlil Haughton had gone down earlier on a kickoff.
“Heck, I looked out there and I saw Will Sunderland running out with our nickel package right away,” Stoops said. “I thought we practiced Kahlil Haughton (as the backup) all week and then he gets hurt on the very first kickoff. So now we’re down not only him and lose Ahmad. But Will goes in there and battled his butt off.”
Starting strong safety Steven Parker stepped in at nickel safety, “and then Chanse Sylvie goes in there,” Stoops said. “He played great.”
At cornerback, Michiah Quick seemed to be just settling in. Then he was lost to a knee injury. That brought Jordan Parker off the bench, and Parker played the rest of the way.
Jordan Parker “was in good position,” Stoops said. “He was intense. He was focused. I thought he did a nice job.”
Parker and Sylvie are true freshmen who really hadn’t played much this season. Parker’s only previous appearance was the TCU game the week before. Sylvie played against Louisiana-Monroe and TCU.
Sunderland is a sophomore who played in just his 10th career game against the Longhorns (his only previous appearance this year was against ULM). But Sunderland made the most of his opportunity with eight tackles (one for loss) and his first career interception.
“Huge interception right after we (fumbled) the ball to limit them to no points,” Stoops said.
After Tay Evans’ retirement from repeated concussions, junior college transfer Emmanuel Beal made his second career start at inside linebacker against Texas and recorded a career-high nine tackles. Beal is undersized at 215 pounds, but teammates call him “Headhunter” because of his fearless and aggressive style of play.
The revolving door continued up front, with Charles Walker and Matt Dimon missing the Texas game but redshirt freshman Neville Gallimore filling in nicely with six tackles.
Hey, these guys aren’t Gerald McCoy or Curtis Lofton or Quinton Carter — not yet, anyway — but even those all-stars needed time to mature.
“You may think you’re not playing a whole lot and here it is the first series and you’re starting the game. It happens just like that.”
— Bob Stoops
For now, Stoops only applauds their readiness in a tense situation.
“The guys had a good attitude about it,” Stoops said, “and those young guys, credit to them, they had their head in the game plan in practice and they were ready to play and for the most part played well.”
Things could get complex this week as the Sooners host Kansas State. The Wildcats operate a significantly different offense than TCU and Texas did the last two weeks. So it will be a quick week of teaching if the
Stoops tried to offer up which of the walking wounded might be unable to give it a go this week, got about six names thrown at him and changed his mind.
“It’d be easier to say who’s set to go,” he said.
If so much youth is to be served once more against K-State — or at any time the rest of his career, for that matter — Stoops will hold up last week’s Red River Rivalry as a shining example for always being prepared.
“Another teaching moment that I’ll bring up with the team,” Stoops said. “Just that, you may think you’re not playing a whole lot and here it is the first series and you’re starting the game. It happens just like that. There isn’t any warning when someone’s going to be injured. To help the team and support the team, you’ve got to be prepared to play because you don’t know when your time is going to come.”
The coaching staff gets credit for having them ready to go, too, Stoops said.
“It’s all part of it. Coaches, when we’re in our rooms we’re not coaching one guy. We’re coaching everybody at that position — if they want to listen,” Stoops said. “It’s up to the player to have the mental focus and the attention to detail to be prepared and also to come to the game emotionally ready to play. You don’t all of a sudden walk out on the field and compete for four hours if you’re not ready for it. That’s up to them, players’ willingness to be ready to play.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270, on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.