NORMAN — On the bus ride following Oklahoma's season-opening win at UTEP, Jamarkus McFarland wanted to visit with David King, his partner inside the Sooners' defensive line.
“I went up to David on the bus and tried to talk to him, but he was asleep,” McFarland said. “I was like, ‘I don't blame you, brother. I feel the same way.'”
McFarland and King were in the game for every single one of UTEP's meaningful offensive snaps Saturday, until the Sooners scored with about three minutes remaining to finally squash the Miners' upset bid. Redshirt freshmen Marquis Anderson and Jordan Phillips entered the game at that point for their first-ever game action.
Those four pretty much represent the entirety of Oklahoma's depth at defensive tackle, the position Mike Stoops said is “critical” for any championship-caliber team. Defending national champion Alabama, for example, dominated the line of scrimmage in its 41-14 rout of No. 8 Michigan last week.
“The D-line can really control a game,” said Oklahoma's defensive coordinator. “It gives you a lot more flexibility, maybe in the back end, to do some things.
“It's very critical to any team's success, and certainly ours will be that way, too.”
At this point, the Sooners' lack of depth might leave McFarland and King — and any real shot at the Sooners' eighth national championship — in critical condition.
Senior Stacy McGee was suspended indefinitely for violating university policy in mid-August; King, then slated to start at defensive end, shifted inside to tackle to help ease the blow.
Then last week, just a few days before the Sooners left Norman for West Texas, OU coach Bob Stoops announced that senior tackle Casey Walker, a returning starter, was dealing with a personal issue. He didn't travel with the team and still wasn't practicing Monday.
Sophomore Torrea Peterson didn't travel to El Paso, either, because he's dealing with an academic issue. Bob Stoops said Monday that it was safe to assume Peterson wouldn't play in Saturday's home opener at Florida A&M.
So where does that leave the Sooners' defensive front — specifically its interior?
“We'll be fine,” King said. “Once we get these young guys accustomed to the game, we should be fine depth-wise.
“We should get Casey back here in a few weeks, and whenever Coach Stoops lifts Stacy's suspension, we'll be fine.”
But that's the problem. There's still no official word on when either player will return to the team. Until they do, Phillips and Anderson will have to develop enough to give McFarland and King some breaks.
McFarland said he and King knew going into UTEP how much they'd be relied upon, and he hopes they don't have to do it again.
“I sure pray so,” McFarland said.
King said: “We have to get those young guys to step up because (position coach Jackie) Shipp said he doesn't want to have to play me and J-Mac the whole game. So, hopefully those guys will step up this week and be able to give us a break.”
Nathan Jefferey rushed for 177 yards Saturday against Oklahoma's defense, and he left the game late in the third quarter with a hip injury. His last three carries before leaving were for 20, 71 and 12 yards.
Alabama, by comparison, surrendered 69 rushing yards to Michigan's entire team on the same day.
“Little stuff” that can be easily corrected, King said, allowed those big plays.
Bob Stoops said, “All things, we feel pretty confident we'll be able to handle moving forward.”
But adding depth back to the tackle spots, whether it's Anderson and Phillips or McGee and Walker, is just as important as correcting technical errors if Oklahoma is to be considered a serious title contender.
Both redshirt freshmen played in high school All-American games and are full of potential, but they hadn't touched a college-football game field until Saturday's mop-up duty.
“You've just got to get (Anderson and Phillips) playing time,” Mike Stoops said. “I wish that would've happened last week, but it didn't. Hopefully we can get them more reps this week.”