NORMAN — The list is long and ugly. The number of walking wounded Oklahoma has accumulated on its offensive line since before training camp started includes Ben Habern, Tyler Evans, Nila Kasitati and Lance Johnson. All have missed games, if not the entire season.
So when Gabe Ikard joined the pack Saturday with concussion symptoms and was unable to play, it wasn’t a huge surprise. But the Sooners’ offensive line has preached a next-man-up type of attitude. And the next man up was Ty Darlington, a true freshman out of Apopka, Fla.
Darlington got the start against Baylor and was a key reason the Sooners came out with a 42-34 victory at Owen Field.
“I think I played pretty well overall,” Darlington said. “Overcoming the start was big. I had just a little butterflies. I thought I got out there and played well.”
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones said he wasn’t worried. Even though his offensive line had already been decimated by injuries, the fact that OU was going to start a true freshman at center did not concern the veteran signal caller.
“You can’t say enough about the job that Ty did and the offensive line,” Jones said. “He did a great job of calling everything out, directing traffic up there. They did a great jog of keeping me clean. Not one sack. I really didn’t have any concerns. Ty is a smart kid and he’s extremely gifted in what he does at the center position.”
Darlington said he found out Thursday that he would be starting this week when he got a text message on his cell phone from Ikard.
“On Thursday in the middle of the day, Gabe let me know he wasn’t going to be able to play,” Darlington said. “The doctors told him that he wouldn’t be able to play. So I knew from then on and told my family and got ready. ... I was completely ready to be out on that field.”
The 6-3, 266-pound Darlington showed he was more than ready for the occasion. In front of more than 80,000 fans. He made only a couple of snapping mistakes early. After that, he controlled the front and caught the eye of his head coach.
“I thought Ty Darlington, in at center, did an awesome job,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “From what I could tell, I thought he was clean in there. The overall line play was really good, so he must have had a good game. We’ll have to watch film specifically, but we’re proud of him to handle the situation like he did as a true freshman.”
Not only did Darlington know he had to play well, but he had to make sure he stayed upright. When guard Adam Shead had to be helped off the field, the last backup for either the guard or center position, Austin Woods, had to enter the game.
Despite that, Darlington found a way to control his nerves on the biggest stage he’s every played.
“I was a little bit nervous and excited,” Darlington said. “I mean, this is what I dreamed of doing. I’ve wanted to come here and be an Oklahoma Sooner for a long time. I’ve gotten to play in other games, but not meaningful time and definitely not starting. I was a little bit nervous, but I think it was more just being excited to play.”
Michael KinneyFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org