The Norman Transcript

October 30, 2013

Sooners trying to cope with injuries to senior captains

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma has suffered three major season-ending injuries through seven games. Fullback Trey Millard’s knee injury left him out along with linebacker Corey Nelson (pectoral tear) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (back surgery).

There’s no doubt the injuries have hurt the Sooners. Millard and Nelson were senior captains and essential elements on their respective sides of the ball. Phillips was showing the potential to be OU’s best interior defensive lineman since Gerald McCoy.

Avoiding them is an essential for teams to get in and stay in the national championship race. But is there anything that can be truly done to avoid them?

OU coach Bob Stoops says no.

“Our trainers and doctors evaluate all our injuries. They’re always unusual in how they happen. Jordan has a back that’s genetic. I don’t know what kind of study would do anything there. Anterior cruciate ligaments are torn every week, from every team, including even Adrian Peterson, who probably trains better than anybody in the world,” he said. “So, they happen. That’s part of this game. I’m sure the NFL is as meticulous and detailed and trained as they can be, they seem to have a whole bunch of them. Can’t keep a quarterback in the game. It’s just part of playing football.”

But this season has been more crippling than others. Every season OU has to do without starters for certain stretches. Due to pulled muscles, ligament sprains and even concussions.

The impact of the injuries OU has dealt with can be seen before the opening kickoff. When the season began, it had six team captains. The injuries to Nelson and Millard have dropped it down to four.

The replacement for Nelson has been true freshman Dominique Alexander. Redshirt freshman Jordan Wade has taken over Phillips’ defensive tackle spot.

It isn’t ideal, but the Sooners have made it work.

“I think, like, Dominique and some of the guys on the d-line, Jordan Wade and Torrea (Peterson), I think they’re getting comfortable playing — especially Dominique,” OU safety Gabe Lynn said. “I’m pretty close with him, and I just see him growing up every game. He’s just getting more confidence in himself. Then, as far as the other guys around the team, we’re always going to miss Corey for his leadership and stuff like that, and his playmaking, but we’ve got faith in the young guys, and everybody is helping them out and looking after each other.”

It’s the only option. The Sooners know injuries are part of the game and are going to happen. How well they adjust defines the season.

Take a bow: OU coach Bob Stoops gave a plea for a loud crowd against Texas Tech. Despite a 75-minute weather delay and rain that left several thousand seats at Owen Field empty, he got one.

He didn’t forget it during Monday’s press conference.

“For the hour and a half rain delay, poor weather, they could have easily cashed it in and not come back or not participated in the game. I thought our fans and the atmosphere here was fantastic,” Stoops said. “It really made a difference to our team and our players, to feel that kind of energy and participation was a big part of the game. Stealing back the momentum, the fans had a great hand in that. We want to thank them.”

The oddity of this season’s schedule means there’s only one more chance to play in front of the home crowd. Three of the Sooners’ last four games are on the road, beginning Nov. 7 at Baylor.

Extra time: The extra time to prepare for the Baylor game has been embraced by Oklahoma. Just because a player is practicing doesn’t mean he’s fully healthy. A couple days off can mean everything to an aching body.

“We get a breather and guys get a chance to heal up and just freshen up on some things and get in a lot of film. So it’s definitely going to help us out for Baylor,” safety Gabe Lynn said.

The Sooners moved on to Baylor when they started watching film on Sunday.

“Need the extra time to prepare for clearly a top five team in the country, a team that's really, really been rolling and has really only played in one game that was really close. We need all the extra prep we can get,” center Gabe Ikard said. “We started getting to the Baylor tape yesterday. Looking at their defense they're very sound and have got a lot of talent. We need to be able to come up with a great game plan like we have the last couple of weeks and execute that.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com