ARLINGTON, Texas — Jalen Saunders went back to California last week and honestly didn’t know when he was going to see his teammates again.
The reason for the uncertainty was hardly a mystery. The junior slot receiver was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in Norman earlier this month. He has a court date set for Jan. 8 in Cleveland County to face the charge.
However, it was OU coach Bob Stoops’ punishment that was the conundrum. OU practiced throughout the month, but there was no word on whether Saunders would play against Texas A&M in Friday’s AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
“Honestly, I don’t know, to be honest. It was kind of a messed up deal, but I honestly didn’t know if I was gonna play or not,” Saunders said Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.
The uncertainty ended on Friday — the day before the Sooners left for Texas and the day Saunders was scheduled to fly to Dallas from his Elk Grove, Calif., home.
Stoops decided he will play.
The coach won’t comment beyond the statement he released on Friday. Receivers coach Jay Norvell deferred any questions about Saunders’ status to Stoops.
The rationale for why Saunders will be on the field can be debated. The fact OU’s offense will be much more explosive because of Saunders’ inclusion in the game plan cannot.
Saunders has only played in eight games this season. During that span, he’s been OU’s best receiver and, arguably, its best player.
It’s doubtful the Sooners would be playing in a major bowl game if Saunders didn’t close the regular season with three straight 100-yard games. Where would it be without Saunders’ 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oklahoma State?
No one knows for sure, but it’s become very obvious over the five years that OU’s offense goes from fast to furious when it has dangerous slot receivers. The productivity before and after former All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles was injured last season illustrated the point.