NORMAN — Ryan Broyles smiled a whole bunch Tuesday. That's the norm for the Oklahoma senior receiver, the NCAA's all-time leader in receptions.
But Broyles' words indicated recent events have been more difficult than his facial expressions would have you believe.
“It does suck not being able to finish the season,” Broyles said Tuesday, speaking publicly for the first time since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Nov. 5.
Broyles repeatedly said, though, he has no regrets about returning to school for his senior year.
“I played a lot of games here,” he said. “I gave it my all every time I went out there.”
Broyles, a Norman High School product, finished his senior season with 1,157 yards and 10 touchdowns.
His career numbers are staggering: 349 catches, 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns. Those are all Oklahoma records, and he holds seven others.
The Sooners have tried their best to pick up the slack without Broyles, but reality is they're 1-1 without him on the field. The offense has struggled to find its rhythm without Broyles making catches and plays.
“To say just another guy goes in and becomes Ryan Broyles, that's not that easy to do,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “The guy's the all-time reception leader in NCAA football. That's pretty good.”
The Broyles injury the biggest example, it's been a challenging season as far as injuries go. Disruptive defensive end Ronnell Lewis will miss his second straight game with a sprained knee. Dominique Whaley has been out since the Kansas State game with a broken ankle.
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Bob Stoops insists they're not excuses, but it's undeniable the impact injuries have had on the 2011 Oklahoma football team. It's not the 2009 season, which included the loss of Sam Bradford, but it's not far off, either. Here's a list of the top five most impactful injuries this season.
1. WR Ryan Broyles
Injury: Torn anterior cruciate ligament
Status: Out for season
Comment: Like Stoops said Tuesday, you don't just up and replace the NCAA's all-time receptions leader (who was also gunning for the yardage mark). Broyles is still a great leader and example, but he's missed on the field, without a doubt.
2. CB Jamell Fleming
Injury: Torn meniscus
Status: Missed two weeks, returned
Comment: Not as devastating an injury as the one to Broyles, or a couple of other Sooners, but the timing, as it turned out, could not have been worse. Texas Tech picked on OU's corners all night — especially Gabe Lynn, who was playing in Fleming's absence.
3. LB Tom Wort
Injury: Various (concussion, ankle)
Status: Healthy, currently
Comment: Wort plays with complete abandon, running on energy and emotion. Sometimes that seems to cause him to get a bit dinged-up. What's obvious is this: The defense is not nearly as fast and physical when Wort's not out there. Wort also missed the Texas Tech loss.
4. DE Ronnell Lewis
Injury: Sprained medial collateral ligament
Status: Out until bowl game
Comment: This loss is still being measured, and it will become clearer after Bedlam. Lewis and Frank Alexander had terrorized opposing offensive lines all season, and Lewis' impact was immediately clear in the second half of the loss at Baylor. The Sooners miss him, for sure. Why isn't this one higher on the list? The Sooners are loaded at the position, with David King and R.J. Washington emerging to complement Alexander.
5. RB Dominique Whaley
Injury: Fractured ankle
Status: Out for season
Comment: It was difficult to see the year come to an end for Whaley, the walk-on who had stepped in to become the team's No. 1 back and leading rusher. Good news for OU is it really hasn't missed a beat. Roy Finch has played great in Whaley's absence.
By Travis Haney