NORMAN — Days before the Red River Rivalry showdown with Texas, Oklahoma’s offense added another big-time playmaker when the NCAA ruled Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders immediately eligible Wednesday.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops was told about Saunders’ eligibility in the middle of Wednesday’s practice, and quickly switched the junior wide receiver — who was an All-WAC selection last season — from scout-team duty to working with the first- and second-team offenses.
“He’s played a lot of football and played it well,” Stoops said. “We’re hopeful that he will be able to play (on Saturday). He’s quick, got a great sense of space and the ability to get open.”
Saunders led Fresno State in receiving last season as a sophomore with 50 catches, 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns. He chose to leave Fresno after coach Pat Hill was fired and replaced by Tim DeRuyter.
Saunders shined during Oklahoma’s preseason workouts, and coaches were hopeful that his waiver request for immediate eligibility would be approved before the season opener at UTEP.
But Saunders didn’t make the trip to El Paso, Texas, and it was presumed that he’d redshirt and have two seasons of eligibility at OU, beginning in 2013.
“There’s been a lot of information exchanged back and forth so finally they got it all cleared and cleared up,” Stoops said.
Saunders adds another threat to the Sooners’ strong receiving corps. Junior Kenny Stills has been quarterback Landry Jones’ top target, senior Justin Brown seems to have gotten more acclimated to OU’s offense since transferring from Penn State and true freshman Sterling Shepard has played well early in his career.
“I think now that we’re gaining more confidence with some of these other guys and doing the right things, it allows them to play harder and rotate out and rotate in and I think it will, I just believe it will help,” Stoops said of his receivers.
Saunders was a big-play machine as a sophomore for the Bulldogs in 2011; half of his 12 touchdown receptions went for 50 or more yards. His per-catch average of 21.4 yards was the second-highest in the country.
He’s also got the skills to be a special teams contributor in the return game. Though he didn’t return any kicks or punts as a sophomore, he averaged 11.5 yards on punt returns and 23.2 yards per kick returns during his true freshman season in 2010.