Throughout the first month of last year’s season, one thing Oklahoma defensive backs kept raving about was how good wide receiver Jalen Saunders was.
Saunders, who was a star at Fresno State, wasn’t ruled eligible to play for the Sooners yet but was practicing and making play after play.
He was ruled eligible the week of the Texas game and many were wondering if maybe OU should have just redshirt him for the season to give him two full years.
Obviously OU coach Bob Stoops and staff decided against doing that. Saunders was effective in the first couple of games, but he let the world know he had arrived in last year’s loss to Notre Dame.
Saunders had a ridiculous 15 catches for 181 yards. Message sent.
“It did help me feel like I belong on that level,” Saunders said. “It was a big confidence booster. I know a lot of people say that was my coming out party. It helped me because I learned to be comfortable and felt like things were coming together for me.”
It was a great night for Saunders. But he doesn’t remember the 15 catches. He remembers the one interception.
With OU trailing Notre Dame 20-13 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Saunders’ number was called again by quarterback Landry Jones.
It wasn’t another reception, though. Instead the ball was batted up and intercepted by linebacker Manti Te’o. No OU comeback as the Sooners would fall 30-13.
“I just think it was a real opportunity for us, and we let it get away,” wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “That’s something that you really remember. The ones that get away from you, you remember more than the ones you win.
“I think Jalen had a really productive day, but at the end of the day there is just a sense of lack of satisfaction because we didn’t win. It’s another chance, another opportunity against a good defense.”
Saunders said he has seen that clip numerous times, and it still eats at him. It’s one reason why he has had this game circled for a long time. He wants another chance.
Saunders played slot last season for OU but has been moved out wide at times this season. It hasn’t always led to the desired results, but Saunders is seeing the positive of the move.
“I feel really great in both positions,” Saunders said. “I think it keeps the defense on their toes, and it opens up the opportunity for a lot of other plays for other players so me flip-flopping allows a lot of plays for us.”
Those plays weren’t made in the first two games against ULM and West Virginia. Saunders knows he was part of the problem with some crucial drops. He said the time was an issue with Trevor Knight, but the last two weeks with Blake Bell have righted the ship.
Norvell had to hold his guys accountable.
“When we watch film on Mondays we call it ‘Tell the Truth Monday’ because the film is what you are,” Norvell said. “If you’re inconsistent, if you’re sloppy, if you’re not running clean routes, if you’re not getting open and making plays, if you’re not blocking your guy, that’s what it is.
“We just had to make it very clear that what we were shown on film is not what we’re used to around here.”
The offense, and especially the receivers, played their best game against Tulsa. Saunders and the rest of the group will need to do more of the same Saturday in South Bend.