NORMAN — Oklahoma wraps up spring practice Tuesday afternoon, three days after performing before an OU spring-game record 43,500 fans Saturday afternoon on Owen Field.
The crowd alone is evidence of the tremendous buzz surrounding the Sooners following their stunning Sugar Bowl upset of two-time defending national champion Alabama.
“My thanks and compliments to the fans coming out on a great afternoon, making it an excellent day,” OU coach Bob Stoops said after the game. “Hopefully everybody had fun.”
There’s no reason to believe they didn’t, even with a disappointing showing from quarterback Trevor Knight and the first-team offense which, of course, was missing lots of key pieces that will be back by the team the season opens Aug. 30 against Louisiana Tech.
Here’s a look at three things we learned Saturday during the spring game.
1. Joe Mixon will have every opportunity to be the Sooners’ top running back immediately.
Mixon said before the spring game that he was ready to compete for carries, and based on what we saw Saturday, there’s no reason to believe he won’t get that chance right off the bat. Neither Keith Ford nor Alex Ross looked like the feature back Saturday, although they were running behind an offensive line missing starters Tyrus Thompson and Adam Shead.
Mixon, a five-star prospect from Oakley, Calif., was Mr. Popular during the spring game, with countless fans approaching him for pictures and autographs. He’s one of the most highly anticipated recruits for Oklahoma in a long time, and if he’s as good as advertised, there’s no reason to believe he can’t emerge as the starter from a young, inexperienced group of running backs.
2. The defensive front 7 is loaded with young talent.
At this time last year, there were legitimate questions about the Sooners’ defensive linemen and linebackers moving forward. While there might be some inexperience with the groups entering 2014, there is no lack of talent.
The linebacker group could be a bit thin, especially with Saturday’s announcement that junior Frank Shannon — the team’s leading tackler last year — is dealing with “personal issues.” Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops didn’t sound confident at all that Shannon will be back, meaning sophomore Jordan Evans likely enters the starting lineup. The former Norman North standout looked good Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo picked off a pass and returned it 39 yards to set up a touchdown. Even sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Wade intercepted a pass.
While lots of questions persist regarding the Sooners’ defensive backfield, the guys up front appear to be in good shape for 2014, even without Shannon.
3. Dimitri Flowers is going to be special.
All spring, coaches and teammates have praised the freshman fullback as the next Trey Millard, leaving Flowers with big shoes to fill and facing sky-high expectations.
If there’s any doubt, though, that the Sooners are sincere with that praise, it was squashed almost immediately Saturday. Knight looked for Flowers on his first three pass attempts, and he finished with four receptions for 40 yards.
“It is what we have seen from him all spring,” Stoops said. “He is a natural player out there, and he fits in right away right out of high school. He is only going to get stronger and bigger, which will help him. Has a natural feel for the game and is a very bright young man, picking up on schemes and everything.
“As you can see, a player very similar to Trey in how versatile he is.”