NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma’s spring game offered insight into a team trying to build on last season’s College Football Playoff appearance.
The 2019 Sooners looked much different on both sides of the ball with Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray no longer commanding the offense and a major shift in defensive leadership.
Here are five observations from the public’s first glimpse at the Sooners on Friday.
1: Don’t sleep on Lee: OU’s offense is crowded with talented receivers, but redshirt senior Lee Morris still managed to stand out in the spring game. Morris posted a game-high 79 receiving yards and scored the game’s first touchdown.
Morris regularly makes use of his 6-foot-2 frame and speed, but his reaching-back-with-his-right-arm, one-handed snag on a shallow crossing route that turned into a 56-yard touchdown was impressive. The winner of OU’s ongoing quarterback derby may not require pinpoint accuracy if guys like Morris and others can turn big gains out of short passes.
2: Waiting on the defense: It’s hard to gauge where a defense stands during a spring game. And to make matters worse, OU was forced to fit its scrimmage into an hour and a half television window, so the sample size for learning about this 2019 unit was small.
The defense appeared to the ball well and contested many throws. OU’s offense still made plays, which is to be expected. Sophomore defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles showed promise with three tackles and a sack, as did junior linebacker Bryan Mead, who had a team-high 4 1/2 tackles.
There’s a clear emphasis on creating turnovers, which OU did twice. And the Sooner defense appeared energetic, as well as optimistic about their progress following the game.
3: Newcomers as good as advertised: OU’s early enrollees looked the part of the top-10 recruiting class the Sooners signed this last recruiting cycle. The freshmen wide receiver trio of Trejan Bridges, Theo Wease, Jadon Haselwood plus tight end Austin Stogner looked physically ready to play major roles. The four combined for 203 yards on 11 receptions. Wease also added two touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M transfer LaRon Stokes seems to have the size and ability to make a difference in the trenches, which the Sooners are in desperate need of with their thin depth along the defensive line. Stokes finished with two tackles and assisted on a tackle for loss.
4: Rushing attack can only improve: Trey Sermon was sidelined Friday, leaving T.J. Pledger, Kennedy Brooks and Jeremiah Hall to shoulder most of the carries. OU coach Lincoln Riley didn’t seem ecstatic about the running backs’ overall performance, but the OU rushing attack can only go up from Friday.
The biggest positive for the Sooners is Hall looking like he might evolve into a bruising-type rusher to help lessen the physical toll on Sermon. Hall might not be the next Dimitri Flowers, but he didn’t look bad breaking off a big run in the second half. The Sooners won’t have as elusive of a runner at quarterback as last season, but Riley still might have a gunslinger who can improvise on the run if it’s Jalen Hurts who secures the starting job.
Hurts used his feet often in the contest and scored one of OU’s three rushing touchdowns.
5: OU’s night-game gamble pays off: Riley admitted his staff considered making the spring game a night-time event in the first place, and maybe it should be a permanent primetime affair after Friday. Despite the last-minute change of schedule, the spring game felt less like a spring game and more like the actual thing.
Following the exhibition, junior cornerback Tre Brown pointed out he’s been a part of few night games in his career, so this spring game meant something to him, especially with more than 50,000 watching.
It might be wise for OU to take advantage of one of the few start times it can control with the number of 11 a.m, kickoffs thrown its way.