Bob Stoops walked into the Kansas State visiting locker room after Oklahoma's 58-17 blowout victory and put his arm around starting running back Dominique Whaley.
Whaley, a walk-on from Lawton, had just seen his season come to a devastating halt after suffering a broken ankle on the first play of the game. But Stoops wanted to convey a special message to Whaley right then and there.
"I wanted you to know we've already made that decision, and this isn't going to change it," said Stoops to Whaley in regards to putting him on scholarship in December.
Even though Whaley was just a walk-on, without meal privileges or having any books and tuition paid for, his injury reverberated through the Sooner masses as if he was a five-star recruit on Saturday afternoon.
"I made sure when I walked in the locker room, after putting my arm around Dom and letting him know how much I appreciate him or any guy that gets hurt fighting for you," explained Stoops. "He's already earned that (scholarship) in our eyes."
Stoops said on Tuesday that he doesn't expect Whaley to return to full strength until next fall after having surgery to repair his broken ankle. So he'll have the piece of mind of all those things school-related expenses paid for as he's rehabilitating his ankle during spring practices.
But in the here and now, Stoops has to find a way to overcome the loss of his best, and most reliable tailback in 2011. That was a major point of discussion early this week.
"We're going to continue to get Roy (Finch) the ball and I think our offense has done a really good job of getting it to him in a lot of different ways and we'll continue to do that," said Stoops. "But Roy's not a guy that can play 50 snaps. The other guys are all going to have to step up and play 20-25 snaps in different ways and even Trey Millard once in a while in there. We'll see how that goes."
One of those guys who could be a big boost to the running back position is true freshmen Brandon Williams. Williams carried the ball eight times for 22 yards against Kansas State. It was his largest carries total of the season for a single game and OU coaches continue to push for more playing time out of their talented tailback.
"He's just more reliable and he's understanding his responsibilities a lot more consistently," said Stoops. "I feel too, as we move here through these games that he's going to get his opportunities more and more too."
Ben Habern is back in practices and Stoops feels confident he's close to being back on the field for Oklahoma. He was projected to return as a guard before he re-emerged as the starting center, but according to Stoops, he's working on snapping the ball this week in practice.
"He's got a forearm cast and he snapped some yesterday and it looked good," said Stoops. "I just don't want to say it's fine and through the week it isn't. It's only Tuesday. But right now, I feel fairly positive that he's going to be OK with it. But we'll see."
Jamell Fleming almost returned last week for Kansas State. Stoops said his starting cornerback just never felt comfortable enough to play, even though he'd been cleared medically.
"Jamell was awfully close the other day, just didn't quite feel with preparation and confidence you need to go out," Stoops said. "It's one thing to practice, another to compete at full go. He wasn't quite comfortable with it. But I believe he will this week.
"It's just the comfort thing, they would never clear him if he wasn't structurally fine. One thing for them to tell you you're fine and going 100 mph running out there competing making all the different cuts. You have to do it in practice to gain that confidence."
"I would expect both of those guys will be set to play," said Stoops.
- "He throws the ball well, you can tell he's a composed and tough competitor. He's an excellent athlete, so when he pulls the ball and runs with it, he looks good doing so. He can do a lot of things." - Stoops on A&M QB Ryan Tannehill
- "Probably the most balanced team we've played through the year. They do an excellent job running the ball. They're creative in how they run it. And they're good at running the football and they can run it on everyone. They take advantage of that when you're trying to stop the run with playaction passes and efficient passing as well. So it's a big challenge." - Stoops on A&M's ability to run and pass the football.
- "That's probably fair to say that he makes the transition because he has the ability to be a QB and the skill to be one. And then he gives you a little dimension in that he's a good athlete that when he pulls the ball he's going to hurt you more than some QBs that don't run it well. He has good size to him well, can absorb hits. He throws the ball very well also. " - Stoops on Tannehill when asked if he compares to former OU QB Paul Thompson.