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Road notes: Jalen Saunders called ‘Hiccup’; David King praises ISU’s zone-read ability

by Jason Kersey Published: November 2, 2012
Oklahoma junior receiver Jalen Saunders transferred last spring from Fresno State. PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN
Oklahoma junior receiver Jalen Saunders transferred last spring from Fresno State. PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The journey from Oklahoma City to Des Moines, Iowa, required about a two-hour layover at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which left me briefly confused as to which city I am presently occupying.

The airport’s website, though, lists a St. Paul address for Terminal 1, so my conundrum over what this blog’s dateline should be was quickly resolved.

We — meaning myself, fellow OU beat writer Stephanie Kuzydym, columnist Berry Tramel and videographer Damon Fontenot — arrive in Des Moines in a few hours, and there won’t be much time between then and 11 a.m. Saturday, when the Sooners kick off inside Jack Trice Stadium against Iowa State.

Looking back through my notes and quotes from the week’s media availabilities and research, I found a few interesting items to share that didn’t make it into the newspaper.

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Sooners co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said it became apparently early in fall camp that junior receiver Jalen Saunders was special.

“He had experience, and I think that’s the biggest thing that you can’t measure,” Norvell said. “When a kid’s played a couple years of college ball and had a lot of success, you can really tell when he’s on the field by the way he carries himself.

“He understands concepts and coverages. He’s a very slippery guy. I call him ‘Hiccup,’ that’s my nickname for him. He’s just very slippery in traffic.”

Of course, it took a while before Saunders’ potential could be displayed on gameday. Saunders was initially denied a waiver for immediate eligibility after his transfer from Fresno State, and it was thought that he’d have to sit out a year. But just days before the Sooners’ fifth game of the season — the Red River Rivalry showdown against Texas — his appeal, and immediate eligibility, was granted.

(Side note: For more on the circumstances leading to Saunders’ successful appeal to the NCAA, check out this excellent story from Stephanie Kuzydym, my partner on the OU beat.)

Against Notre Dame, Saunders set an OU record with eight receptions in the first quarter. He went on to grab 15 passes for 181 yards.

“It was quite evident early on when we got him that he could make an impact for us,” Norvell said. “It was just more about getting him eligible at that point. He is what we thought he was, and we’re happy he’s here.”

Saunders’ emergence has allowed Kenny Stills to move back into an outside receiver position, where he’s more comfortable. When OU is in four-wide sets, it has been Saunders and freshman Sterling Shepard in the slot positions, and Stills and senior Justin Brown on the outside.

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Senior defensive lineman David King, who has switched between playing end and tackle through the season, described Iowa State as “one of the better zone read teams we’ve seen all year.”

The zone-read option — where the running back crosses in front of the quarterback, who puts the ball in the running back’s stomach and decides whether to hand it off or keep it by reading the defensive end — is a play that UTEP used successfully to gash the Sooner defense.

Miners running back Nathan Jeffery looked like an All-American in El Paso, Texas, against the Oklahoma defense on Sept. 1. He rushed for 177 yards before being injured in the third quarter.

“I think we’ll go back and play a little better than we did against UTEP,” King said. “A lot of that was, it was the first game of the year. Guys are on edge, just thinking too much. Eyes looking at the quarterback instead of the guy that’s about to smash you in the head and knock you out of the gap.

“This is the eighth game of the season. The zone read … we’ve seen it from just about every team, so we’ll play better than we did against UTEP.”

King said he was largely pleased with the Sooner defense’s performance in last weekend’s loss to Notre Dame. He attributed the Irish’s offensive success to their ability to make plays at key moments — especially in the third quarter — when OU couldn’t come up with stops.

“I thought we played at a high level Saturday,” King said. “I’m not disappointed in the way we played defensively.

“The two games where we needed to come up with plays most, in the most critical situations, we couldn’t do it. And credit the other team for executing and not letting us execute, but we’ve gotta find a way to make those plays.”

He added that he thinks defensive players are putting in the extra work success requires now, where maybe some of his teammates weren’t early on.

“Maybe at the beginning of the year … UTEP, FAMU, these are people everybody says we’re supposed to beat,” King said. “Kinda got in people’s heads.

“Everybody coming up to watch film for all the Big 12 games. Guys are attacking practice every day with a mentality, ‘I’ve got to get better every day.’ It’s working well. We’re continuing to get better week by week. That’s our goal this week.”

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by Jason Kersey
OU Sports Reporter
Jason Kersey became The Oklahoman's OU football beat writer in May 2012 after a year covering high school sports and OSU recruiting. Before joining the newspaper in November 2006 as a part-time results clerk, he covered high school football for...
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