Senior WR Johnson looks to fill void in Sooners' receiving corps

By John Helsley Modified: September 3, 2008 at 12:56 am •  Published: September 3, 2008
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NORMAN - Sam Bradford kept searching out open receivers Saturday.

He kept finding Manuel Johnson.

Among Bradford's 17 completions, seven went to Johnson, who finished with a career-high nine catches in all - two shy of the Oklahoma record for receptions in a game.

Quite a start for Johnson, who's seeking a big finish as a senior.

And quite a statement for the Sooners amid questions about who's next to fill the void left by Malcolm Kelly's departure to the NFL?

"This is my senior year," Johnson said. "The past couple of years, I didn't get many balls. But I know with Malcolm leaving, it's going to open up the door to me getting more balls.

"Coaches are telling me I'm going to get more opportunities to make plays. When they give me the opportunity, I'm going to try to make the best of it."

Coaches aren't asking Johnson - or anyone - to be the go-to receiver Kelly was in his final two seasons as a Sooner.

Instead, they'll rely on a varity of passing game weapons with Johnson among them, along with Juaquin Iglesias, Jermaine Gresham, Quentin Chaney, et al.

Still, for Johnson, who's been hampered at times by minor injuries in his career, his performance against Chattanooga cemented his status as a primary option in the offense. His nine catches went for 120 yards and a touchdown on a pinpoint throw-and-catch from Bradford on a fade route from the 7-yard line. Eight of those catches came in the first half, before the Sooners turned the game over to reserves early in the third quarter of a 52-7 rout of the Mocs.

"I just wanted to come out and start off a good year, not just me, but the offense as a whole," Johnson said. "A couple of times, I've been banged up at the beginning of the season. But I'm healthy and hopefully I can stay healthy.

"It was fun. I enjoyed it. It's a great way to start off the season. But it's just one game, so I'm trying to keep it up."

The Chattanooga game actually extended a stretch of strong outings for Johnson.

He managed just five catches through the first five games a year ago, then totaled 16 in four games late in the season against Iowa State, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech. Johnson closed the season with four grabs against West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.

"The last seven or eight games of his career, he's played at a high level," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.

Johnson has been a contributor since his first days on campus.

He, Iglesias and Kelly formed a trio of talented receivers thrust into action as freshmen in 2005.

"This isn't unusual for us," said Sooners coach Bob Stoops. "Manny has been a mainstay in everything we have done for four years now.

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Catching on

Manuel Johnson's big night against Chattanooga placed him in elite company among wide receivers at OU. The best games, by receptions, by Sooner wideouts:

11 Malcolm Kelly, Texas Tech, 2006

11 Josh Norman, Texas Tech, 2001

10 Malcolm Kelly, Nebraska, 2006

10 Brandon Jones, North Texas, 2003

10 Jarrail Jackson, Mississippi, 1999

10 Eddie Hinton, Oklahoma State, 1968

9 Manuel Johnson, Chattanooga, 2008

9 Travis Wilson, Nebraska, 2004

9 Brandon Daniels, Texas Tech, 1999

9 Corey Warren, Texas, 1992

By John Helsley

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