Jordan Kelley experienced a taste of being the player he hopes to become in Oklahoma’s defense last Saturday.
The sophomore defensive tackle accounted for three tackles and one for loss — his most productive day in an OU uniform — in a 33-14 victory over TCU.
His stop that resulted in negative yards for the Frogs flashed Kelley’s potential, which he hasn’t had much of a chance to display after redshirting in 2018 and recovering from a reported ACL injury most of last season.
OU defensive end Nik Bonitto always believed Kelley could contribute to the Sooner defense.
He just needed his opportunity.
"Jordan was a guy who came in after my class and from the beginning, you could always tell that was a kid whenever he did get his chance, you know he was going to show out," Bonitto said.
"I’m just happy for Jordan. He made a huge play for us on Saturday. I know he’s going to keep making big plays with the more opportunities that he gets. I’m really proud of Jordan and the way he’s playing right now."
Kelley's "huge play" provided OU's 2020 squad with one of its best defensive highlights so far.
The Frogs, trailing 17-7 at the time, ran a reverse during the second quarter, and Kelley was met by two offensive linemen as he pursued the ball carrier.
“I came into a double team, and I was like, ‘Man, I'm gonna get cussed out if I don't get upfield,’” he said.
Sure enough, Kelley pushed the linemen out of his path and brought TCU receiver Mikel Barkley down to the Amon G. Carter Stadium grass.
The Tulsa native pounded his chest in celebration. He’s waited far too long to get back on the field not to.
Kelley’s 2019 injury sidelined him for all but one of OU’s games a year ago — the Sooners’ Peach Bowl loss to LSU.
Through a difficult rehabilitation process, he began to feel more at ease ahead of OU’s Oct. 3 game at Iowa State when athletic trainer Chris Watson green-lighted his request to go without a knee brace.
“Having the support I had from Scott [Anderson, OU’s head athletic trainer], Jim [Hillis, OU’s director of rehabilitation] and Chris, they pushed me every day to just get past the injury, keep working and keep the end goal in sight,” Kelley said. “They made it a lot easier to get through that process. ... I feel like I finally just got over that hump [at Iowa State]. It felt good.”
Kelley’s emergence has been important to a defensive line that's been hampered by turnover, injuries, the COVID-19 pandemic and suspension.
OU came into 2020, forced to replace senior defensive linemen Neville Gallimore, Kenneth Mann, Marquise Overton and Dillon Faamatau. OU defensive end Ronnie Perkins hasn’t played in OU’s first five games due to a suspension stemming from 2019. Jalen Redmond opted out of the 2020 season, while another defensive end, Marcus Hicks, suffered an undisclosed injury during fall camp that required surgery.
Like Kelley, the Sooners have overcome their setbacks, becoming the Big 12's best rushing defense by allowing 101.8 yards per game, while ranking second in the conference in sacks (15).
“I've been pleased," OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. "I still think it’s one of those things where we haven’t seen our best yet in our defensive front. ... It’s something that is going to be critical to our success the last half of this year, specifically this weekend.”
Kelley agreed with Grinch’s assessment.
The defensive tackle remains active with his pursuit of improvement as OU enters its game against Texas Tech at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“I know I have a lot more stuff to do,” Kelley said. “I went back to film and I was just like, ‘There’s more plays to be made.’
"So it felt good [to be back], but now it’s just ... I’m more hungry.”
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