CINCINNATI — Before the season, Bob Stoops said this Oklahoma freshman class had the chance to be the best he'd ever coached.
Saturday night, OU's freshmen sure lived up to that, spearheading the Sooners' 31-29 victory over Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium.
"They're really good players. We keep saying it," Stoops said. "You feel good with them out there. That for me says a lot. That doesn't happen to me a lot with young freshmen."
Especially on the road, where true freshmen often wilt.
Instead, in their first test away from Norman, OU's true freshmen performed like savvy upperclassmen.
Wideout Kenny Stills made a couple of replay-worthy catches to keep drives alive, including one along the sidelines where he somehow kept his feet inbounds while going horizontal to make the grab. Stills finished with four catches for 72 yards, and had a 27-yard reception wiped out by an illegal shift.
"It was our first away game," Stills said. "We felt like we needed to go out there and prove we can play well away from home."
Stills was hardly alone.
Fellow freshman wideout Trey Franks played most of the night as OU's third receiver, and showed his top-end speed on a 9-yard reverse and a 19-yard reception, which set up a first-half touchdown.
But the biggest Sooner score went to freshman fullback Trey Millard, who popped open in the flat on a play-action pass from Landry Jones, a touchdown that put the Sooners up 31-22 with under 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
"This was a tough win, a tough game," said Millard, who finished with three catches for 30 yards, and delivered several devastating blocks in the run game. "It was a great experience. The more experience you have the more confidence you have."
As good as OU's offensive freshmen were, none outplayed nickelback/man-child Tony Jefferson, who continues to remind everyone of a former Sooner safety that now plays his home games at Paul Brown for the Cincinnati Bengals — Roy Williams. Jefferson was all over the field, finishing with a game-high 11 solo tackles, including two that went for losses.
The Sooners also got a clutch outing from Owasso native Aaron Colvin, who stepped on the field at cornerback in the second quarter after Jamell Fleming was knocked out of the game with an ankle sprain. UC quarterback Zach Collaros picked on Colvin immediately for a 9-yard completion, then a defensive pass interference.
But when Collaros went after a Colvin a third time, Colvin responded by blanketing Bearcat receiver Armon Binns in the end zone, allowing safety Jonathan Nelson to come over and make a pivotal interception.
The rest of the way Colvin was solid in coverage, and added seven tackles.
Throw in defensive tackle Daniel Noble, who had to play more when Casey Walker suffered a sprained knee, and linebacker Corey Nelson, who filled in when Travis Lewis suffered cramps, and this freshmen class had a road debut to remember.
Said Stoops: "They're just getting better and better the more they're out there."
That will be huge going forward, as the season doesn't get any easier with Texas and Big 12 play looming.
But the Sooners should feel good about these freshmen, who are performing like seasoned veterans on the field.
"Coach Stoops has had a lot of great classes before, but we've got a great class, and hopefully we can continue to grow," Millard said. "We came in ready to work and ready to play.
"And that's what we're doing."