Sources say OU junior college transfer Dionte Savage is expected to start at left guard in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Savage, who transferred from Arizona Western Community College, has played sparingly this season.
The Sooners will be without left tackle Tyrus Thompson, who started the first 11 games, and left guard Adam Shead, who started the first 10 games. Bronson Irwin, who started six games at right guard before moving to left guard in place of Shead, is expected to move to right tackle, with Daryl Williams moving from right tackle to left tackle. That would leave only center Gabe Ikard and right guard Nila Kasitati in the same spots from the Dec. 7 Bedlam game.
“The way I see it is you've got to be ready to play with what you've got,” Ikard said. “It's important for us to be ready to go either way. We've got talented guys up front that will be ready to play.”
QB STILL A MYSTERY
OU still isn't naming a starting quarterback. Sooner offensive players and coaches met with reporters Monday morning. Interestingly, OU made both junior Blake Bell and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight available for interviews.
“We've been this way throughout the entire year,” said OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. “It's to keep our kids to continue to push and find out who is going to practice the best, that typically tells you who is going to play the best. So when we get towards the end of the week, that's when we'll know who our guy's going to be.”
Bell started eight games this season, and Knight started four, including the regular-season finale at Oklahoma State. Knight left Bedlam, though, with a shoulder injury near the end of the first half, and after sophomore Kendal Thompson played for much of the third quarter, Bell entered the game permanently and led the Sooners on a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute.
BOURBON STREET WARNING
The day OU arrived in New Orleans, Ikard tweeted: “Best part of today: Sugar Bowl committee talking to us about the dangers of sleeping with NOLA prostitutes that may turn out to be men.”
Three days later, Ikard was asked if he had spotted any transvestites.
“I've seen about 10 too many,” Ikard said. “It was a great speech from the Sugar Bowl people. It was fantastic.”
Ikard said the warning came from a New Orleans police chief who “said he knew from personal experience.” The Sooners got a kick out of that. The chief responded that he had arrested people in such circumstances. “OK,” Ikard said. “Whatever you say.
“Bourbon Street. Great street. Aptly named.”
Senior running back Brennan Clay, on the SEC's reputation as the best college football conference: “It's kind of funny that (Texas) A&M has come into the SEC and been so dominant, and they left the Big 12 along with Mizzou. I think that says something about the Big 12, that we're SEC contenders. We can play against any of these powerhouses down here. It's exciting those former Big 12 teams do so well.”
ALEXANDER THE GREAT?
A common theme in the OU camp in recent days has been praise for freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander, who has started seven games and is projected as a future star.
“The kid's got insane instincts,” said defensive end Geneo Grissom. “Just a great football player. He's going to be a household name before it's all over.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops didn't pull back too much from that assessment.
“The sky's the limit for him as a player,” Stoops said. “He has all the movements. He has the vision. He has the awareness. He has the skill set. He'll be a great player. I don't think there's any question about that, if he stays on the path that he's on right now. He can go down as one of the great players of Oklahoma.”
SOONERS HAVE ‘LENGTH'
Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier used a basketball term when describing OU's defense. “I think they're extremely athletic,” Nussmeier said. “They've got great team speed, great length.”
Length is what the Thunder has. In football, that might be a euphemism for light. Alabama's girth is a recurring subject this week.
“We heard it all season,” OU defensive end Charles Tapper said. “Some players feeling like we couldn't play because we were light in the pants. We were a little team. Couldn't be good in the 3-4.”
But even Tapper admits Bama has a size advantage. And Nussmeier had high praise for the OU defense.
“They do a really good job of mixing up their scheme,” Nussmeier said. “They go from a 3-4 defense into some of the four-down looks, but they keep the same people in the game. Having known Coach (Mike) Stoops being out on the West Coast when he was at Arizona, he's always done an outstanding job on defense. They play physical, they play fast. We're going to have to play our best game.”
WALKER HELPS 3-4
OU quality control coach Chad Walker was on Nick Saban's staff with the Dolphins and Alabama. He's helped not so much with Bama preparation as with OU's offseason move to the 3-4, a defensive alignment favored by Saban.
In fact, Mike Stoops said the Sooners might have borrowed so much from Alabama, the Crimson Tide will recognize the nuances.
With Walker, “we had a lot of information,” Stoops said. “Just information we tried to curtail to our system and how we wanted to make it unique with our own system. But they'll recognize a lot of stuff that's going on when we play. So we're going to have to try to change some things a little bit to try to create some different illusions. But, again, it's stuff they'll be familiar with.”
NOT THE GREAT SATAN
Some have dubbed Saban “The Great Satan.” In the public eye, he's not exactly warm and fuzzy. But Crimson Tide players have sworn that Saban's personality is different from that perception.
“Coach may be one way in this room, in this seat, with the media, but with our players it's a whole lot different, especially day in, day out,” said Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
“He loves coaching kids. Whether he's in the meeting room with DBs or in the meeting room with special teams, he has a different personality. He has a passion for the game. The kids see that. So the kids see a different side than what maybe public perception is. They know how passionate he is for the game. They want to play well for him.”
SHORT-TERM MEMORY LOSS
Heupel explained the injury-induced quarterback rotation and noted that it caused the Sooners to scramble to some degree.
“For four years, we had Landry (Jones) that didn't get hurt in a single ballgame,” Heupel said. “And really we hadn't had a quarterback injured until you go back early in Coach Stoops' era in 2002, 2003.”
Uh, Josh. Aren't you forgetting someone? Sam Bradford?
“I guess Sam as well in 2009,” Heupel said. “Forgot about that one.”
OU GETS PHYSICAL
Ikard said Sugar Bowl practices have been long and hard, including starters vs. starters.
“We've really gone hard against ones and ones,” Ikard said. “It'll come down to winning the line of scrimmage. It's usually how it shakes out.
“We've had a lot of contract in practice. Been very physical. We realize how physical they are on defense. There's really not a way to simulate those guys they have on defense. You gotta do your best in practice to try to simulate that a little bit.”
SOONERS WATCH AUBURN
OU has watched a lot of Alabama tape from games against Auburn and Mississippi State, which both run the option extensively.
Auburn had success — 296 yards rushing. Mississippi State did not — 53 yards rushing.
“They run a lot of that zone read,” Clay said of Auburn and Mississippi State. “They were pretty effective. And we do a great job doing that. So I'm excited to see what's going to break. What's going to be that shatter point. Alabama's defense is just so top-notch. They get to the ball, they fly everywhere. We're excited. We're up to the challenge.”
MOSLEY A RAY LEWIS?
Several Sooners have heaped loads of praise on Alabama senior linebacker C.J. Mosley, the 2013 Butkus Award winner, and that continued Monday.
OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell, who spent time in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders, compared Mosley to former Baltimore Ravens great Ray Lewis.
“He's similar in his ability to communicate, his sense, his football senses, the way he sees the field, gets everybody lined up,” Norvell said. “He's a really good football player and as good a linebacker as we've seen this year, and we've gotta do a great job of understanding where he's at and making sure we block him.
“When we played Ray Lewis when I was in National Football League, I was just amazed where he always seemed to be in the right position all the time. That's the way Mosley is.”