The Sooners will stage their annual spring football game Saturday afternoon at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
This year's edition isn't actually a game. The opposing sidelines will feature the offense versus the defense, using a unique scoring system.
Five areas to watch:
Revamped secondary under the microscope
The most intriguing matchup Saturday is a secondary coming off a subpar season, confident in a less complicated system under returning defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
Defensive backs will be matched against talented wide receivers. Zoom in this afternoon on one-on-one matchups, especially intermediate routes and deep balls.
“It was tough coming off last year,” said Tony Jefferson, moved to free safety. “I feel we've handled the pressure coming into the spring. We've had a lot of guys making plays.”
Javon Harris, who lost his starting free safety job after a nightmare game at Baylor, is now the starting strong safety. Dependable veteran Demontre Hurst mans one cornerback slot. Lamar Harris currently is the other starting corner. Aaron Colvin might be inserted there when he returns to full health.
The other top two corners in camp have been former wideout Joe Powell and junior college transfer Kass Everett.
Backup strong safety Quentin Hayes has played well this spring. Coaches feel strong safety is a better fit for Gabe Lynn, who struggled at times last year at cornerback.
The secondary reportedly has played well this spring. Saturday's game is its version of a spring semester final exam.
“I like our secondary,” Stoops said. “The second group has shown up. If you implement one or two of those guys with the first group, they can play. Our 2's aren't where they need to be, but there are certain guys on the 2's, when I mix them in with the 1's, I feel confident in them.”
Wide receivers under the microscope
The other half of the best matchup of the day is a group of wide receivers that also feels it has something to prove.
After Ryan Broyles suffered a season-ending knee injury, wide receiver production dipped noticeably.
“We're disappointed at the way we ended last season, I don't think there's any question,” said receivers coach Jay Norvell. “That's motivation for our guys to prove themselves and step their game up.”
Junior Kenny Stills set freshman receiving records and already has 1,635 career receiving yards and 13 TDs. But his production slipped after Broyles' injury.
The big story this spring has been incoming freshman Trey Metoyer, projected to be an immediate impact player.
Jaz Reynolds emerged as a big-play threat last season. Reynolds has played well this spring despite suffering a kidney injury during Bedlam that required a lengthy hospital stay.
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel raves about slot receiver Trey Franks' all-around play this spring. Kameel Jackson gained limited experience last year. Junior college addition Courtney Gardner is the projected backup slot receiver, but he doesn't arrive until this summer.
Saturday's matchup also is a final exam for the receivers.
“We know what we want to do,” Norvell said. “All the guys that have played before feel real responsibility to get better. We've tried to make them all accountable offensively to each other.”
Veteran running backs need to step up
Junior running backs Brennan Clay and Roy Finch and fullback Trey Millard should get a ton of carries today along with redshirt freshman Danzel Williams.
Clay broke a long touchdown run last week in a scrimmage that offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said was the San Diego product's best of his career.
“It was as decisive, as explosive a run as I've seen him make, making someone miss and getting up the field,” Heupel said. “Brennan Clay has been really steady. He's competed at a high level, productive.”
Finch and Clay have a combined 307 career carries. Dominique Whaley will get a lot of carries if he proves during two-a-days he's fully recovered from a broken ankle.
Saturday afternoon is Clay's and Finch's opportunity to make an impression.
“They should know everything we're doing,” said running backs coach Cale Gundy. “There's not anything we could call that they wouldn't know what to do. That gives them a chance to play fast. Now it's time for them to be great players.”
Running back depth was an issue late last season when injuries/transfers mounted.
Not this year.
The competition will heat up during fall camp two-a-days after freshmen Alex Ross (Jenks) and Arizona Western juco transfer Damien Williams (San Diego) arrive this summer.
“We feel a lot of those guys are talented,” Gundy said. “How quickly can they adapt? Talent-wise, they're as talented as anyone we have here.”
Backup quarterback competition
When Landry Jones announced he was returning for his senior season, it gave Heupel another year to evaluate the play of junior Drew Allen and sophomore Blake Bell before naming Jones' successor.
Allen has been the No. 2 quarterback the past two seasons, but Bell received more playing time in the Belldozer short-yardage, power package. The ongoing battle for the backup job gets more intriguing as Bell gains more experience in the system.
Heupel on Allen: “Drew has a good grasp of what we're doing. He's becoming more and more accurate with the football and is doing a better job of taking care of the football.”
Heupel on Bell: “Blake really is in only his second year of getting a lot of time within our offense this spring and last fall camp. He's gotten better every five-day period.”
Reports are Allen is more consistent and has a better grasp of the offense. But Bell has a cannon arm and continues to improve.
“Blake is known for running but probably has the strongest arm of all the quarterbacks,” said receiver Jaz Reynolds. “He can fit it into tight holes. Drew has a nice deep ball.
“They watch plenty of film. Even if they're not playing, they're maturing mentally. You see it show up on the field. They're making their reads faster and getting guys the ball and letting them run.”
How much will the Belldozer be used today?
Not much, if at all.
Coach Bob Stoops said early in the week he keeps game plans simple for the spring game.
The Belldozer power set ran by Bell was installed at mid-season. No need to reveal any new wrinkles in a package that was highly effective last season but opponents are sure to game plan during the offseason.
“I don't think we're going to tip our hand much,” Bob Stoops said. “It will be fairly simple, both sides what we do.”
Amid speculation how much the Belldozer might be used, center Gabe Ikard said: “I don't think it will be abandoned. It was too successful.”
OU's defense claims to have played well against the Belldozer in limited action this spring.
“We've been stopping it,” Jefferson said. “When they can't get any yards, they scramble to try to find something. They try the Belldozer and that still doesn't work.”