Oklahoma Football: What to Make of the 2016 Spring Game

Nov 7, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) catches a touchdown pass against the Iowa State Cyclones during the first quarter at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) catches a touchdown pass against the Iowa State Cyclones during the first quarter at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /
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If you just went by the scoreboard that after the fact read Red 17, White 16, it would appear that the traditional Oklahoma football rite of spring known as the Spring Game lacked a lot to be desired for a program projected again for next fall as a top-five team.

Nov 7, 2015; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kyler Murray (1) carries the ball against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kyler Murray (1) carries the ball against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

In reality, though, the final score was not indicative of the numerable positives that came out of the controlled scrimmage that culminated the Oklahoma month-long spring practice period.

While not a true gauge of what we will see from the 2016 edition of Sooner football come this fall, it nevertheless provided a good feeling that this team has the parts and the depth at key positions to be really good next season.

Many of the starters were either held out of action or saw limited action in Saturday’s annual Red-White spring scrimmage, and tackling was held to a minimum, with the quarterbacks being totally off limits insofar as tackling and quarterback hits were concerned.

As has become a standard part of Oklahoma’s annual spring game while Bob Stoops has been head coach, a special scoring system is used with points being awarded to both the offenses and defenses of the Red and White squads for scores and other specific accomplishments. Offensive points are awarded for standard scoring plays, while the defense receives points for defensive scoring plays and other things, such as fourth-down stops, turnovers and missed offensive field-goal attempts.

The winning points in the game came on a dramatic 52-yard touchdown pass from quarterback transfer Kyler Murray to wide receiver Michiah Quick that gave the Red squad a come-from-behind 17-16 victory over the White team.

One of the prime expectations coming into the game was to see how the soon-to-be sophomore Murray, who announced after last season that he was transferring from Texas A&M to OU, in action. The former Aggie, who saw action in eight games his freshman season a year ago at A&M, did not disappoint with an impressive performance in the Red-White game.

Murray completed 6 of 10 passes for 136 yards, an average of over 20 yards per completion, and two touchdowns in the game. That was two more than the Sooners’ starting quarterback and team leader Baker Mayfield. Unfortunately, Sooner fans will have to wait a year to see Murray, who will sit out the 2016 season because of NCAA transfer rules.

“I was more concerned about keeping guys on the field right now than I was about how many yards somebody got,” —Bob Stoops, OU head coach

With former OU backup quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas no longer with the program, one of the big questions that must be addressed before the fall is who will be Mayfield’s backup to start the 2016 season. The answer might have come on Saturday following the performance of freshman Austin Kendall.

Kendall, a highly touted four-star prospect out of North Carolina, committed to Oklahoma a year ago this week, completed 8 of 17 passes for 52 yards on Saturday.

Stoops liked what he observed on the field on Saturday, and he wasn’t the least bit concerned by the low-scoring outcome.

“I’m more concerned with keeping guys on the field right now than I was about how many yards somebody got or didn’t get,” the OU head coach said. “I also wanted to see guys excited correct and doing the right things…and executing. I thought overall it was really positive in all parts of the game.”

And there were quite a few of those positive things to take away from the 2016 Spring Game. Here are a few we felt were most compelling:

  • The structure of the game was highly controlled, limiting tackling of key offensive players and big hits. Nevertheless, there were no turnovers in the game for either side, which is truly impressive.
  • A big concern for next season is the depth of playmakers at the wide-receiver position. The performance by the receiving corps on Saturday may help dispel some of that concern. Thirteen different receivers caught at least one pass in the game, led by senior Dede Westbrook, Michiah Quick and A.D. Miller, each of whom caught four passes in the game. Five other Sooners hauled in two catches each.
  • Daniel Brooks led all rushers in the game with 53 yards on the ground on six carries, an average of 8.8 yards per rush. Kyler Murray added 34 rushing yards at quarterback.
  • There were virtually no blitzes because of the rules of the scrimmage, but the defenses were able to apply good pressure on the quarterbacks, which is a very good sign for a defense that will be without linebackers Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker and defensive end Charles Tapper next season.
  • With All-Big 12 defensive back Zack Sanchez declaring for the NFL Draft, his cornerback spot is up for grabs. The two prime candidates to replace Sanchez are Austin Dakota, who started several games last season when Sanchez was sidelined with an injury, and P.J. Mbanasor. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said after the game that he was pleased with the way both players performed on Saturday.
  • Attendance for the game, which amounted to nothing more than a controlled scrimmage on the final day of spring practice, was in excess of 40,000, which is highly reflective of the high interest in Oklahoma football.