November 27, 2012

Distant transfers make splash in Oklahoma rivalry

Aaron Colen, Sports Editor,
The Express-Star

NORMAN, Okla. — In a rivalry that has a long history, and that has recently become more competitive, two players with no background in Bedlam made a huge impact for the Sooners in Saturday’s 51-48 overtime win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Brennan Clay scored the game-winning touchdown and Landry Jones threw the ball a record number of times, but OU may not have even been in the game without the contributions of wide receivers Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders.

“What can I say about Justin, what can I say about Jalen,” Jones said. “Both of them had huge catches all through the night. Those two guys add so much to our offense and so much to our team. It’s just been truly a pleasure to have those guys, and I’m really glad they decided to transfer here.”

Both Brown and Saunders came to Oklahoma under unique circumstances. Brown, who is from Delaware, played most of his college career at Penn State University, where he was the team’s leading receiver last season.

In the wake of severe sanctions placed on the football program by the NCAA as punishment for the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal, Penn State players were allowed to transfer to other FBS schools without having to sit out one year.

Brown came to OU, and has been productive all year, but never more than he was on Saturday, when he caught 15 passes for 146 yards.

Brown said he picked up quickly on what was important to the Oklahoma football program once he got on campus.

“It got to me as soon as I came over to the school,” Brown said. “Once I got the sense of how passionate the fans were and how passionate the teams were, that’s when I got a sense for how big of a deal this was.”

Saunders was a first-team All-WAC receiver at Fresno State last season, but decided to transfer to Oklahoma because playing in the region of Fresno State made him more susceptible to health problems that his father had nearly died from.

He received a special waiver from the NCAA to play this year for Oklahoma, although his request was initially denied. Saunders didn’t see the field for the Sooners until the Red River Rivalry game against Texas in October.

Now, Saunders has made his mark on another OU rivalry, having caught 10 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown, and returning three punts for 89 yards, including a game-changing 81-yard return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against OSU.

The Sooners were down 38-30 at the time, and Saunders stepped into the role that Brown usually played as punt returner. Brown caught the two-point conversion after the touchdown that tied the game.

“When I got around the corner, I was just like ‘man, put ‘em up, put ‘em down,’ just like dad used to tell me,” Saunders said. “Don’t let them catch you.”

Head coach Bob Stoops said the team had been discussing the idea of having Saunders return some punts for some time before actually doing it.

“Justin caught a bunch of balls and a bunch of yards and we had been talking about that the last couple of weeks,” Stoops said. “’Let’s get Jalen some catches back there because of how dynamic he is.’ It didn’t surprise us that he would squirt out there, and fortunately he did, and the guys I thought all blocked really well.”

With one game left in the regular season, the Sooners still have an outside shot at winning the Big 12. Both OU and Kansas State have one loss in conference play, but the Wildcats hold the tiebreaker after winning the head-to-head matchup.

If OU beats TCU on the road and Kansas State loses at home to Texas on Saturday, the Sooners could still be BCS bowl-bound.

The Sooners are scheduled to play at Texas Christian University at 11 a.m. Saturday.