The first two games of the season for Oklahoma just didn’t feel right. Despite the Sooners earning a couple of victories, something felt off with the offense.
In recent years, the wide receivers have been an integral part of the offense and performed at the highest level of their abilities.
That wasn’t the case in the first two games. The group didn’t develop a strong chemistry with redshirt freshman Trevor Knight. And when opportunities were there with Knight, they didn’t always cash in.
OU receivers coach Jay Norvell knew it and had a meeting with the guys before the Tulsa came. Since then, everything has been smooth sailing, especially against Notre Dame.
“We’re always striving to be well-rounded in everything we do,” Norvell said. “Sterling (Shepard) did play, probably, his best game since he’s been here. He blocked really hard on the perimeter, really all of them did.
“We basically played four guys in the game and they all blocked extremely hard and played well with the ball not in their hands.”
That’s key, said Norvell, blocking as a receiver. OU’s guys haven’t put up jaw-dropping numbers. Even though they’ve become more of a presence with Blake Bell at quarterback, the balanced attack OU is employing is not going to lead to any eye-popping stats.
That’s OK as long as it results in victories. Shepard and Jalen Saunders are two of the smaller receivers on the team, but they’re not afraid to get dirty.
“Those are our chicken fighters out there, Sterling and Jalen,” Norvell said. “They’re not very big, but when they lock in and play hard, they can get the job done.
“That was a big difference in the game from a year ago. We were more physical on the perimeter.”
It’s not like receivers have disappeared, either. One of the biggest plays of the game was the 54-yard touchdown to Shepard in the fourth quarter.
And senior LaColtan Bester is starting to step up. Not many people realistically thought Bester would be a part of this wide receiver rotation, but he has earned the spot.
Bester came in last season from junior college known for his physicality and his love of blocking, but against the Irish, it was his time to shine with a 26-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
The play certainly wasn’t designed the way it ended, but Norvell said that’s a credit to both Bell and Bester.
“If the ball doesn’t come out on time, we scramble,” Norvell said. “Quarterbacks are looking for receivers down field and the receivers are working a scrambling drill.
“It’s hard for the coverage to hold on that long. I thought Blake did a great job and LaColtan did a great job of not giving up on the play. Coming back the ball was a little bit short, and he came back and made a nice adjustment on it.”