The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 13, 2014

OU still building off Sugar Bowl

By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

NORMAN, Okla. — A record crowd of 43,500 for Oklahoma’s spring football game is a sign of even higher expectations for the Sooners’ program.

The 45-31 shocker over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl has created momentum, which has carried over into both the winter and the spring.

That was seen in strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt’s demanding off-season program.

“I can say that through the winter, probably the positive energy that carried over according to coach Schmidt, we had our best winter that we can remember as far as fewest misses and the energy and the way the players pushed each other,’’ OU head coach Bob Stoops said after the spring game.

“Whether it’s because of that, or whether we have one of those teams that is really high character and likes to work. Then, you continue to build on that.’’

OU quarterback Trevor Knight, the star of the Sugar Bowl, is trying to build on that, even though he struggled Saturday (5 of 14 for 53 yards and one interception).

Knight has gone from being the youngest of three quarterback candidates last spring (with then fourth-year junior Blake Bell and third-year sophomore Kendal Thompson) to being the veteran.

“I expect to be more of a leader,’’ he said. “I have to step into that leadership role, not just in our meeting room, but as a whole team ... just getting the guys rallied around me and carrying that momentum from last season and working it into this season.’’

As the established starter, Knight said he expects to be more vocal and more of a take-charge guy.

“I’m not looking over my shoulder as much,’’ he said. “I’m stepping into that role and getting reps with the A-team guys, and we’re building chemistry.

“It’s going to be a lot easier vocally, just knowing that I’m the vocal leader now, and I need to step into that role a little more. I just want to be the same guy every day, just working as hard as I can and being that guy that’s not messing up in the weight room, and then going into practice working hard.’’

Knight is excited for the future of the program as the team builds what he called “positive energy.’’

The Sooners built that momentum as the underdog with upset wins over Oklahoma State and Alabama when few gave them a chance to win. They played with a chip on their shoulder.

Now, they are projected as a top five team. Knight said the Sooners must work now to avoid complacency and work hard to improve every day.

“We still have a long way to go,’’ he said.

He credited “confidence’’ as the key in his breakout game against Alabama (32 of 44 passing for 348 yards and four touchdowns).

“I was ready,’’ he said.

A spring game is not always the best measuring stick for future success. Several key players, including three projected starting offensive lineman, sat out.

The offense knows the defense and vice versa.

“I don’t know that you ever get anything answered in 15 practices,’’ Stoops said. “What I feel like is there has been improvement. Players that haven’t had a ton of experience have more now. We’ll build on it. There’s such a long time from now to September that they still have a lot of opportunity to improve and for growth here in the summer and two-a-days.’’

And don’t forget incoming freshman such as Joe Mixon of Oakley, Calif., who was rated as the nation’s top running back in some circles.

But Saturday was a chance to rejoice. Put the crowd number in perspective — it was larger than the crowd that saw the Sooners beat Kansas (41,113) on the road last season.

“Hopefully, everybody had fun,’’ Stoops said.

The secret will be having the same kind of fun in the fall when OU starts the season Aug. 30 at home against Louisiana Tech.

Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.