NORMAN — The OU’s spring football game on Saturday was the first opportunity for fans to see the team’s revamped roster take to the field.
But Brent Venables watched how his players exited the pitch.
The freshman head coach was looking for a “Johnny Jack around” – someone who didn’t sprint completely off the field. The plan was to make an example of this poor soul, but the opportunity never arose.
“I couldn’t find anyone,” Venables said. “When we showed up today our spirit was good. Our focus and intensity was good. That’s what got me excited.”
OU’s efforts were also evident on the ground.
In a contest where the two teams were separated by a repechage, the red team took a 21-17 victory over the white team.
Here are five takeaways from the Sooners’ spring game:
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Ethan Downs is coming in big
It’s not uncommon for coaches to get creative with motivational speeches.
Some say OU defensive ends coach Miguel Chavis took the cake, though he got a different dessert choice.
“(Chavis) said it was so easy to get a little waffle cone and go into a soft serve machine and give you a little soft serve ice cream right on top,” the winger said. second-year defensive Ethan Downs on April 4. takes a little courage to get in there, get that scoop, get in that bucket of ice cream and get that mint chocolate chip or whatever.
While odd, the metaphor resonated with Downs, who walked out with a chip on his shoulder on Saturday.
Dillon Gabriel completed a screen pass to Drake Stoops with 3:40 left in the first quarter when Downs came on to steal for a tackle. The sound of shoulder pads clashing echoed throughout Owen Field as Stoops spat out the football and Josh Eaten collected it.
Downs found himself in the middle of another takeaway in the second quarter. White’s Tawee Walker tried to hit him in the end zone at 10:09, but Justin Harrington forced a fumble which Downs recovered for a touchdown.
The takeout was a focus last season for the Sooners, and Downs’ performance on Saturday is a good sign of what’s to come in 2022.
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Jovantae Barn Burner
Jovantae Barnes welcomed the contact.
Red held a 7-3 lead at White’s 3-yard line with 1:17 left in the first quarter when Gabriel handed the ball to Barnes. The freshman broke a tackle before running straight into a scrum at the 2-yard line.
Barnes would not be denied. He kept his feet moving and worked his way into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day.
Barnes established himself as a red zone threat in his OU debut.
The 6-foot, 203-pound fullback finished with 60 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Both of his scores came from inside the 5-yard line.
Roles are up for grabs in the backfield following the departure of veteran workhorse Kennedy Brooks, who rushed for career highs of 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns last season before declaring for the NFL Draft.
Eric Gray and Marcus Major are a pair of returners expected to take the bulk of the runs this season, but Barnes pleaded for some playing time on Saturday.
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New quarterback, same primary goal
Whether it was Spencer Rattler or Caleb Williams throwing the ball last season, Marvin Mims has always been OU’s best receiving option.
The then-sophomore had 32 catches for 705 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games. Rattler and Williams then moved to South Carolina and USC, respectively, this offseason, and Gabriel moved to OU after three seasons at UCF.
Despite having a new quarterback under center, it didn’t take long for Mims to establish himself as a receiving threat on Saturday.
The Reds held a 14-3 lead in the dying seconds of the first quarter when Mims lost their defender with a burst of speed before moving back into midfield. Gabriel hit him in stride for an easy 33-yard touchdown.
Mims finished with two catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. He’s tied with Cody Jackson for a team record five targets.
With former OU wide receivers Michael Woods preparing for the draft and Jadon Haselwood now playing at Arkansas, Mims should shine this season.
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Marcus Stripling shines in trench coats
A wave of players entered the transfer portal this offseason following then-head coach Lincoln Riley’s decision to flee to USC, but senior defensive end Marcus Stripling stayed. on the spot.
“I just have to focus on myself and my game and take my game to the next level,” Stripling said on April 11. “I didn’t really want to move and go to another school, I just wanted to make this situation here work.
Stripling’s dedication paid off on Saturday. The veteran defensive lineman finished with game highs of five tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks.
Roles are up for grabs in the trenches following decisions by Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto and Perrion Winfrey to declare themselves for the draft. Stripling appears to be ready for the upgrade.
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Dillon Gabriel makes his OU debut
All eyes were on Gabriel in Saturday’s spring game.
The UCF transfer made his OU debut under center in a contest where he played for both teams. Gabriel went 19 for 28 through the air to finish with 250 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The highlight of Gabriel’s debut came in the first quarter when he connected with Mims for a 33-yard touchdown, but he also had a few misses.
The biggest mistake came with 1:01 left in the first quarter when Gabriel threw a pass to Jalil Farooq to see Kendall Dennis go down with the interception.
OU featured their entire quarterback room on Saturday.
Second redshirt student Micah Bowens went 1 for 3 for 95 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt rookie Ralph Rucker went 5-for-9 for 62 yards. Redshirt rookie Ben Harris went 2-for-4 for 20 yards. Freshman Nick Evers went 0 for 1 for zero yards.