, Muskogee, OK


October 29, 2013

Sooners having to replace more than fullback

NORMAN – It was not a typical Monday at the Switzer Center. Usually, Oklahoma coaches spend that day figuring out what it can do to get better. Instead, the Sooners’ offensive staff was trying to figure out how keep from getting much worse.

Losing fullback Trey Millard to a season-ending knee injury is that kind of blow, and OU did not downplay the predicament Monday.

“Obviously, Trey is the best in the country at what he does and all the things he can do. We’re just going to have to take the talents of a couple of guys. Hopefully combine them into something close to what Trey is capable of,” center Gabe Ikard said. “We’ll see how that goes but we’ll be ready to go. We’ve got good players. There’s not another Trey Millard out there but we can take a couple of guys and make it work.”

What Millard did isn’t easily illustrated. But this is as good as it gets: Millard got the ball 3.5 times per outing in 47 career games. Yet, the Big 12 Conference put him on the all-conference team three straight years and likely will make it four in December.

It wasn’t because of how well Millard caught the ball or ran with it. He was good at those things, but he was a great blocker.

OU is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and is on pace to be the best rushing team during Bob Stoops’ tenure as head coach. A really good offensive line is a huge factor in that success. Running back Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch are too.

“Look who’s in front of them all the time knocking somebody down, clearing somebody out of the way,” Stoops said. “Trey Millard is usually one of those guys out there in front of them clearing the path. He is consistently recognized as having a winning game, a great game with knockdowns, blocks, catching the ball, running the ball. He does so many things and plays so many positions.”

That will be the issue for OU going forward. You can’t replace Millard because he was so much more than fullback. He could bury a defensive end on one play to open a big run. Then follow it up by hurdling a safety on a 30-yard reception the next.

Tight end Brannon Green stepped into Millard’s spot after the injury against Texas Tech. The 6-foot-2, 256-pound did what he was asked to do it when he entered the game. He blocked well and OU was able to effectively run the ball after Millard limped off the field.

But he’s a blocker — that’s about it. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski, who had already been given a much bigger role prior to Millard’s injury, is cut from the same mold.

OU knows this better than anyone.

“We have to move on,” Clay said. “It’s rough but I think Brannon Green and Aaron Ripkowski are gonna do a great job and fill that void. They both have to work together to prepare for this upcoming opponent.”

Up next is No. 5 Baylor Nov. 7. A loss means any hopes of OU winning a conference championship or playing in a BCS bowl game are finished. Win it, and those become very real possibilities.

OU had already started thinking about the Bears Monday. But the first thing on agenda is figuring out what to do about the void Millard’s injury brings.

Stoops admitted Monday there isn’t an easy answer.

“It’ll just be offensive coaches sitting down and deciding personnel-wise, how much if any we want to change,” Stoops said. “It’s not like you go draft somebody. We have the guys we have.”

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