The Norman Transcript

April 13, 2014

Sooner faithful best barometer for progress

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The headline, already up at Oklahoma’s athletic website by 6 p.m. Saturday, read “White Team Prevails in Annual Spring Game,” and if there’s a more meaningless summary of Sooner fortunes, in any sport, before next year’s spring game, I can’t wait to see it.

Not until they announce fairly even rosters and play it straight, or make it, straight up, offensive vs. defense with a scoring system that makes sense, will a headline like that ever be meaningful.

In the end, it’s only a scrimmage, which is still just a practice and they only get 15 until preseason drills roll around. Not that we didn’t get some story lines.

Like who’s the back-up quarterback now and who, maybe, is the starting quarterback two seasons from now, when Baker Mayfield, who left Lubbock for Norman, becomes eligible, because that guy looked fantastic.

We learned that Norman’s own Jordan Evans is a little bigger and should play a lot more in 2014, even if Frank Shannon comes back from the purgatory of his personal issues. And we had it demonstrated, again, that Zack Sanchez can really play. 

And maybe what the running-back-by-committee might look like, and who might catch some passes we haven’t seen before and, holy cow, there’s a new position in the Sooner offense and it’s called “tight end.”

Yet, for all of that, the most important takeaway from the spring may well be that momentum need not have a shelf life. That the Sugar Bowl, and really the six weeks that preceded it, too, remains the gift that keeps on giving to the Sooners.

For starters, there were 43,500 fans, or thereabouts, at Owen Field Saturday afternoon, besting the previous Stoops era high. No, it’s not Nebraska, where 50,000 people will come out to watch walk-ons jump rope, but it’s another measure of positive mojo prevalent throughout the program.

The band was at the game. You know, The Pride. Also, for whatever reason, there was an actual band. Who knows who it was, but now it can say it’s played a stadium gig.

And — and this is really the thing — the energy surge surrounding the program that’s so clear, ever since the Sooners shocked the Crimson Tide at the Superdome, is at work within the program, too.

Bob Stoops tried to get on both sides of the question, yet managed to offer some truly meaningful stuff.

“Does it change anything that we’re doing? No. I mean, we’re pretty meticulous about the way we go through things during the year,” he said. “I can say that all through the winter, the positive energy carried over. According to (strength and conditioning) coach (Jerry) Schmidt, we had our best winter that he can remember, as far as the fewest misses, the energy and the way the players pushed each other.”

Most coaches have a saying about winning being a year-round thing that’s only proven on autumn Saturdays. Well, OU seems to be getting the rest of the year right.

Quarterback Trevor Knight feels something, too.

“We’ve done a great job at taking that energy and not taking steps back and not being satisfied,” he said, “but using that energy to work harder and come together as a unit.”

Good thing for Knight, because he wasn’t all that good Saturday. Of course, that’s another story and very possibly an irrelevant one. It’s still just a practice.

What’s important is the thread, going back to last season, remains unbroken. 

The Sooners were dead in the water, then beat Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Alabama. Then they turned their recruiting class around in the 11th hour, got Blake Bell to accept becoming a tight end, watched a big league quarterback like Mayfield land in their lap and it’s still going.

“The energy created after a (Sugar Bowl) win like that is a positive thing for this program,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “Both in recruiting and outside perception, but also within our walls, too. Our kids understand that we’re not that far away from being where we need to be. It’s hard to make up that ground, but they’re pushing for it every day.”

Not every program has a victory over the seemingly indomitable foe in their rear view mirror, but many have some version of the quotes Stoops, Knight and Heupel offered Saturday.

Confidence is always high, coaches always believe in their team, players always say they get along and are working hard.

The Sooners, though, offer a prologue. It began a long time ago and they’ve been rolling since.

They have some credibility about this stuff and there’s no reason not to believe them.

It doesn’t mean they’ll win them all, but it’s a pretty big reason to believe they might.

It’s all good for OU.

Saturday didn’t change that.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning

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