OU's Bedlam success in hands of receivers who must live up to recent stratospheric standard
by Guerin Emig
Last August Oklahoma receivers coach Dennis Simmons took stock in the Sooners’ remarkable recent run at his position, and applied it to who might be next.
“We’ve had some guys here that have done some great things,” Simmons said in reference to players like CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown, Dede Westbrook and Sterling Shepard. “The guys that have been in that room, and that are currently in that room, they’ve kind of watched and studied some of the things they’ve done in order to achieve a lot of the success they’ve had.”
This is an optimal week for OU’s current receivers — Marvin Mims, Theo Wease, Charleston Rambo and Jadon Haselwood outside and Austin Stogner and Drake Stoops inside — to mimic the future pros that preceded them. The reasons for that also apply to the past and present.
Oklahoma State brings the nation’s No. 7-ranked pass defense to Bedlam Saturday night. Rodarius Williams is the stickiest cover cornerback in the Big 12 Conference. Fellow OSU cover men Jarrick Bernard-Converse and Christian Holmes are just as pesky.
It’s just as difficult to run routes down the middle of OSU’s secondary against safeties Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tre Sterling.
“Those two guys have been playing forever and they’ve really improved,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “They’re two tremendous players, no question about it.”
The Cowboys’ experience in back allows coordinator Jim Knowles to take chances up front. Knowles tends to pressure the quarterback, knowing his defensive backs are a good bet to man up in single coverage.
“Because both teams are aggressive, there will be some opportunities for big plays,” Riley said. “When you get those, you’ve got to cash in, especially against good defenses.”
It isn’t just OU quarterback Spencer Rattler who must cash in, but his receivers as well. They’re the players who must win their one-on-one matchups in open field.
Mims, Stogner and Wease must win the most matchups. They are OU’s best bets to make big plays, averaging 16.7, 16.4 and 13.9 yards per catch respectively.
They are OU’s best candidates to grow into the national-caliber receivers their predecessors were.
They are OU’s best candidates to have the impact in this game their predecessors did.
The Sooners own a 15-2 Bedlam record since 2003 mostly because they have averaged 42 points over those 17 games. That’s a tribute to the right arms of the likes of Jason White, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, and to the hands of those aforementioned pro receivers.
Brown torched OSU in 2017 and ’18. Westbrook got OU off and scoring with a highlight-reel touchdown in ’16. Shepard made 10 catches in ’15.
Before them, there were OU all-timers Ryan Broyles, who accounted for much of the Sooners’ hamstrung offense in ’09, and Jermaine Gresham, who rang up 158 yards in ’08.
Would Riley feel more secure about Saturday night with a receiver of that ridiculous caliber? Or even an established go-to guy to help Rattler manage OSU’s thorny defense?
“I feel good about the guys we have,” he asserted Tuesday. “They’ve made a lot of plays. I think we’re getting better quickly, those guys included.
“You’d like to line up with 11 Hall of Famers, but that’s the nature of the beast. Each year you have what you have. I like what we have.”
He should. OU’s receivers are obviously talented.
They’re just relatively unproven, with no All-American standout in the bunch. Yet.
“I think we’re in the process of turning a lot of that talent, and guys that are flashing and doing some really good things, into really consistent and potentially elite players,” Riley said. “I like the progression we’re on. I like the players we have. And I think they’ll be ready for their opportunities Saturday night.”
They must be. The Sooners need their help to move the ball and score points Saturday night. They need Mims, Stogner and Wease to win their share of battles against Williams, Harvell-Peel and Bernard-Converse.
For the Sooners to do right by their recent Bedlam dominance, they need their receivers to do right by their recent forerunners.
Watching and studying is one thing. Now’s the time for doing.