OU football: Oklahoma's backup reps were anything but garbage time against South Dakota

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson dives into the end zone during the Sooners' game against South Dakota on Saturday at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Stadium. Stevenson made the most of his carries, scoring his second touchdown in as many weeks despite being third on the depth chart.

NORMAN, Okla. — Of all the results from Oklahoma’s predictable 70-14 victory over FCS South Dakota, none encouraged Lincoln Riley more than the opportunity to rotate numerous players.

The participation log read more like the team roster: According to OU, 81 of the 114 current Sooners played Saturday. Thirteen players made their season debuts.

“This game will pay dividends down the line,” Riley said. “You get a chance to play so many guys. You get a chance to see where they’re at. You get a feel for how they can help you. It helps them learn and grow to get that first that one out of the way.”

Many of them made the most of it.

Three different Sooners — freshman receivers Trejan Bridges, Theo Wease and Jadon Haselwood — recorded their first collegiate touchdowns. Junior running back Rhamondre Stevenson, a newcomer out of junior college, added his second score on just 12 carries this season.

For the receivers, specifically Wease and Bridges because they’ve played less than Haselwood, it was an opportunity to climb a logjam of depth at the position. Traffic has been so heavy in OU’s receiver room that Lee Morris, who scored 8 TDs last season, doesn’t have a catch through two games.

Wease’s resume received a jolt with his 37-yard reception, in which he broke a tackle and carried several Coyote defenders into the end zone. He didn’t play until the waning moments against Houston in the season opener.

“You saw aggression from all three. You saw in Theo’s run tonight, Jadon obviously, and Trejan’s got as much aggression as anybody on this team — they’re aggressive, they’re talented,” Riley said. "They’ve got to continue to be refined. They’re still very raw, but they’re doing some exciting things for us.”

Stevenson impressed on a 75-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Quality third-string running backs are critical, Riley noted, with the added potential for injury at the position. Sophomore back T.J. Pledger has already been sidelined with a hand injury this season.

“I knew in that running back room if I wouldn’t have made it they would’ve been on me for the rest of the season,” said Stevenson, who was a big junior-college target of OU’s last season.

He’s up to 145 yards through two games, recovering nicely from a fumble last week.

“You don't make big runs like that unless you're getting more comfortable in the offense,” running back Kennedy Brooks said. “ … [Now] know you can outrun people, so you're not even worried about people behind you. You're not worried about getting caught. You're just gonna rip it now. More touches and more confidence is gonna help him in the long run.”

OU’s three quarterbacks — Jalen Hurts, Tanner Mordecai and Spencer Rattler — combined for just six incompletions. Mordecai and Rattler were 10 of 14 total for 3 touchdowns in the second half, with Rattler completing all four throws.

The added production helped OU score 70 points for the first time since 2007.

But defensive reserves saw valuable time, too.

Jaden Davis may have been the most important. The freshman cornerback picked off a pass to give the Sooners their third takeaway of the night and later almost added another, but it was negated by a penalty.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida product is lurking on the depth chart. Freshman corners have made it to the forefront in recent years at OU. Tre Norwood and Tre Brown stabilized the spot, to a degree, in 2017 when Parnell Motley was struggling.

Davis made one tackle against Houston a week earlier.

“He was in that 20-play range [then],” OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “To see a young guy go out there and the stage isn’t too big for him and the lights aren’t too bright for him, to make a real competitive play on the football — that wasn’t an easy one by any stretch of the imagination.

“We’re looking for playmakers on every level of the defense and certainly the secondary. If you had to circle a spot, that’s one of them. What you will see is a lot more Jaden Davis.”

OU at UCLA

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

Place: Rose Bowl Stadium

TV: FOX

Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7

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