It was the phrase the Oklahoma players and coaches used all season. One man goes down, it’s time for the next man up.
Unfortunately, that next man up phrase was uttered way too many times for OU and its fans’ liking throughout the year.
Temporary pains during the season could pay dividends for the Sooners in the future with several young guys getting a chance to show what they could do.
Defensive tackle Jordan Wade replaces Jordan Phillips. Question all season was which Jordan would step up. Answer was both of them. Phillips was sensational in the first month of the season. Stats don’t tell the story of a defensive tackle, but he was force until a genetic back issue sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Wade has done everything that has been asked of him so far. He’s only credited with 14 tackles and one tackle for loss, but he has made his presence known. He has also blocked two kicks and has certainly helped OU build depth at the position.
Linebacker Dominique Alexander replaces Corey Nelson. OK, you can live without one big-time starter. But try doing it with two and one of them being your senior team captain at linebacker. Nelson was on his way to an All-Big 12 season before a pectoral injury ended his season in October. He still finished with 27 tackles, three for loss, a sack, five pass breakups and one memorable interception returned for a touchdown at Notre Dame.
Enter true freshman Alexander, who has gotten better with each game. The future is incredibly bright with Alexander but the present isn’t too shabby, either. He is second on the team with 75 tackles and forced a safety in OU’s loss to Baylor. Alexander was named the Big 12’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year by the Associated Press on Monday.
Fullback Aaron Ripkowski replaces Trey Millard. Nobody replaces Millard, but Ripkowski has done everything he possibly can to fill in and do his best. Millard’s numbers have never told the whole story as team captain and heart and soul of the team.
Ripkowski has been a great blocker for the Sooners and caught a touchdown pass against Iowa State. Ripkowski doesn’t mind not touching the ball and has a tremendous understanding of the offense.
Linebacker Jordan Evans replaces Frank Shannon. This wasn’t a full season deal but illustrated the lack of depth for OU at linebacker. Shannon has battled numerous injuries this season but still leads the team with 85 tackles with seven for loss.
Evans himself got hurt later in the season. But when his name was called, he responded. He had 12 tackles this season and is expected to be back for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Running back Brennan Clay replaces Damien Williams. This isn’t fair to say as Clay and Williams were 1a. and 1b. throughout the season. But following Williams’ dismissal from the team, it became all Clay.
And he has taken advantage. Clay has rushed for 913 yards on 158 attempts, averaging a solid 5.8 yards per carry. His goal going into the season was 1,000 yards. He’ll need 87 against Alabama to reach that mark. He has six rushing touchdowns this season.
Offensive tackle Derek Farniok replaces Tyrus Thompson. One reason the Sooners have had so much success on the ground this season was because of the durability of the offensive line. OU had the same offensive tackle starters through the first 11 games.
But an ankle injury has sidelined Thompson, who missed time against Kansas State and was inactive last week against Oklahoma State. Farniok struggled in the first half against the Cowboys but seemingly started to find his footing in the second half.
Blake Bell replaces Trevor Knight. Knight replaces Bell. Bell replaces Knight. The quarterback saga. The only reason this worked was because of how supportive each guy was for the other’s success. When it was Bell tearing it, it was Knight the first to congratulate him. When Knight was rolling, Bell was there to pat him on the back.
They both obviously wanted to start but never let it impact the team chemistry. They practiced each day as if they were the starter. That helped immensely as when their name was called, they were ready to get to work.
Knight’s numbers – 62 carries for 438 yards with two touchdowns. He is 47-of-90 passing for 471 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Bell’s numbers – 75 carries for 255 yards. He is 140-of-233 passing for 1,648 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Next man up has been the mantra, and the Sooners have found a way to do the job each and every single time.