NORMAN, Okla. -- It’s been a season full of uncertainty at the quarterback position throughout the Big 12. New starters have been the norm as the league has tried to replace some of the most productive quarterbacks in the history of the conference.
“There is a lot of change,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Every quarterback, probably 90 percent of the quarterbacks changed."
When Oklahoma faces Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Sooners defense will take the field with an extra bit of confidence knowing they have faced, and beaten, Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf, who has terrorized Big 12 defenses while leading the Cowboys to wins over Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas. It will be just the second time this season that the Sooners will face a starting quarterback who started against them in 2012 (TCU’s Trevone Boykin is the other).
Chelf is playing as well as any quarterback in the nation during the past four weeks but the Sooners handed the senior his first loss as a starter with OU’s 51-48 victory in Bedlam last season. And that experience might be just what OU’s defense needs to slow OSU’s quarterback.
“Not only do we have film on him but a lot of the guys actually played against him last year,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said. “So we have a good idea of what he’s capable of.”
In a lot of ways, last year’s Bedlam outing was an early sign that Chelf could step up in big games. He passed for 253 yards with one touchdown and one interception while finishing with an 82.8 adjusted QBR in his first-ever start against the Sooners. This season, he’s continued to play well in big games, recording a 92.7 adjusted QBR in a 52-34 win against Texas Tech, a 97.7 adjusted QBR in a 38-13 win over Texas and a 97.6 adjusted QBR in a 49-17 win over Baylor during the month of November. All three opponents were ranked heading into their battle with OSU.
“I played Clint in high school as well,” said Sooners cornerback Aaron Colvin, who played against Chelf when he was at Owasso (Okla.) High School and Chelf was at Enid (Okla.) High School.
“So I’ve always known the type of player he was, he’s always been that type of player, he can run, he can throw, he can do it all. Guys are just now starting to see it.”
Chelf’s versatility makes him extremely hard to defend. He ran for more than 80 yards and key scores against both the Red Raiders and Longhorns. Yet his passing ability, particularly his accuracy, has allowed Chelf to take advantage of defenses.
“He’s a pocket thrower that they keep you off-balance with his ability to run,” Stoops said. “We saw that a year ago in their second series, a quarterback draw hurt us early in the game a year ago, so that’s something you have to be prepared for from a defensive [standpoint]. You know, we have to account for him in certain situations.”
The Sooners won’t be caught off guard by anything Chelf brings to the table on Saturday, they’ve seen it before. Yet, that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop it. After all, the senior led OSU to 48 points in Norman last season.
“We’re going to have our hands full with him,” Grissom said. “He’s having a great season, he’s been able to run the ball and throw a little bit.”
And even though several members of OU’s defense have played against Chelf, they haven’t seen this version of the Cowboys quarterback. He’s improved, his confidence is soaring and he’s emerged as the clear foundation of his team’s success.
“It does help [we’ve played him before] because we have seen what kind of game he does have, what he does like to do,” Colvin said. “But you can’t go off last year because guys’ games change, their skill sets change. For him, I think he’s a very confident player and when you have a confident player, it can be hard to stop sometimes.”