The Oklahoman

Simmons, Sarkisian go back to BYU days

- OU Insider Ryan Aber The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

NORMAN — OU outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons and Texas coach Steve Sarkisian didn’t play on the same side of the ball back in the mid-1990s when they were teammates at BYU.

Simmons was a starting outside linebacker for the Cougars and Sarkisian the quarterbac­k. But the pair developed a strong bond.

“Not being LDS (Members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the church affiliated with BYU) is a different deal within itself,” Simmons said earlier this year. “Both of us being there and not being a part of the religious affiliation, you tend to gravitate towards each other, which is why he and I became such good friends there. We tend to hang out with each other to kind of help each other.”

Saturday, when the Sooners and Longhorns face off in Dallas, they’ll coach on opposite sides for the fourth time in their careers.

When Simmons was at Washington State, the Cougars played Sarkisian’s squads three times. Sarkisian’s Washington squad split a pair of Apple Cup games against the Cougars, with Sarkisian’s Huskies winning in 2013 after Washington State won the year before. In 2014, Sarkisian’s USC team beat Washington State handily.

“We’ve always rooted for one another,” Simmons said. “I was happy when he got the job with Washington. I was happy when he got the job at USC. I was elated when he got the job at Texas. I hope he does well all but one game a year. I’m a Sark fan. I wanna see him do well.”

Limited possession­s ‘kind of crazy’

Now in his seventh season running OU’s offense, Sooners coach Lincoln Riley hasn’t seen anything like the last three games.

In the first 82 games since Riley’s arrival, OU had two games with fewer than 10 possession­s in regulation — Bedlam 2019 and the 2018 Army game where Army had four drives lasting 8:54 or more.

Over the last three, though, the Sooners have had just nine possession­s each time out.

“We’ve had one game in my career like that in all the years and now we’ve had three in a row, which is still — it’s kind of crazy,” Riley said. “It’s a weird streak. It won’t happen forever, probably won’t happen on Saturday.”

In Riley’s first six seasons, the Sooners averaged 12.9 possession­s per game. This season, they’re averaging more than two possession­s per game fewer.

A big part of that has been the OU defense’s inability to cut drives short, even when they’ve kept the other team from scoring.

The Sooners are No. 47 in third-down conversion defense at 34.7% conversion­s allowed and all the way down at No. 100 in fourth-down conversion defense at 63.2% of opponents’ chances being converted. OU’s opponents are 12 of 19 on fourth down through five games.

No team has faced as many fourthdown opportunit­ies defensivel­y as the Sooners and only Texas Tech (13) and Michigan State (15) have allowed more fourth-down conversion­s.

After those successful conversion­s, opponents have run an additional combined 56 plays on those drives, not only affecting the Sooners’ defense but also keeping its offense off the field longer.

“We’ve got to have the mentality like, ‘OK, we got to play the next play, we can’t cry about it,’” Sooners’ rush linebacker Nik Bonitto said. “We just got to play the next play, get them off the field, get the ball back to our offense. It’s definitely a mentality thing, especially on defense. We should feel disrespect­ed if a team goes for it on fourth down, but coach (Alex) Grinch does a good job preparing us for moments like that and having the mindset to go out there and get a stop.”

Redshirt rule’s impact shifts

When the four-game redshirt rule was implemente­d in 2018, it was a major focus week to week — who had played how many games, who hadn’t and who would cross the four-game threshold.

But with the transfer portal becoming a bigger tool in recruiting and with the COVID-19 pandemic and the NCAA relief rules which made last year not count against anyone’s eligibilit­y, the redshirt rule has been pushed to the backburner.

“I think it would have been a bigger impact and maybe more of a conversati­on right now had Covid not happened,” Riley said. “I think it has changed a little bit. Yeah, we’ll continue to watch it, but kind of like we’ve always been, if we feel like there’s a player that can help this team, then we’re going to play him.”

Of the scholarshi­p true freshmen on the team, four have crossed the fourgame mark — Ethan Downs, Latrell McCutchin, Jordan Mukes and Mario Williams. Billy Bowman has played four while Kelvin Gilliam and Caleb Williams have played three each. The only two of that group who haven’t seen action are defensive lineman Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, a project player who didn’t start playing football until the last few years, and offensive lineman Cullen Montgomery, another project type who also missed time early in the season.

 ?? BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN ?? OU assistant coach Dennis Simmons and Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian were college teammates at BYU and developed a close friendship despite playing on opposite sides of the football.
BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN OU assistant coach Dennis Simmons and Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian were college teammates at BYU and developed a close friendship despite playing on opposite sides of the football.
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States