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The Drive: Gary Jennings smokin’ Sooners

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NCAA Football: Oklahoma at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Gary Jennings Jr. spent much of the first quarter doing this:

He’s 12 and he’s making himself available for a screen pass. I started to wonder whether Jennings’ route tree were a krummholz.

Jennings was only intermittently on the field. He seemed to be behind both David Sills and Marcus Simms on the depth chart. Sills was the Mountaineer’s clear number one receiver. Simms suffered a concussion partway through the first quarter. Yet Jennings continued to spend a lot of time on the sideline and when he did see the field, it was as a decoy.

Early in the second corner Will Grier targeted Jennings and Jennings scored a touchdown. But Sills committed offensive pass interference and the play was called back. Apart from seeing Jennings turn his krummholz into a flag tree—he ran a slurvey out-and-up—what little I could glean from this illegal play was not terribly heartening. This balletic move by Jennings was the culmination of an awful lot of rising action for a ten yard pass to a wide open receiver.

Easy receptions should be accomplished easily, I think. Feats of athleticism in service of what, thanks to a little cheating, was essentially pitch and catch, do not excite me. Now I may conclude my weekly column. Jennings was buried on the depth chart. Jennings turned a wide open reception into such a twisting, turning ordeal that he failed even to get two feet down. Jennings, on the next drive, ran a crossing route which lazily bobbed twice and intersected with an official.

Nothing else of interest happened this game. Boo-urns. Boo-urns. I was saying Boo-urns.

Oh wait.

Jennings received for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Right.

This play is simple and filthy and does not require a great deal of analysis.

Will Grier, who looks both like the fusion of Mac and Baker Mayfield

(

) and a promising quarterback prospect, was able to get a good pass off right before taking a hit. And Jennings shed Brendan Radley-Hiles with the very smallest of jukes—not even a euro step but a single false step diagonally in.

It’s hard to capture in a still. But to me it’s a testament to the value of deep speed. The threat that Jennings might plant and cut into a post, and thus run right past Radley-Hiles, is so dangerous that even a very subtle move stops Radley-Hiles from maintaining his deep cushion. The fact that Jennings can run past Radley-Hiles turned a single false step into totally blown defense.

Radley-Hiles was a five-star recruit and is listed as running anywhere between a 4.32 and a 4.55 40. Those are NFL-caliber numbers for a safety. The throw came in pretty flat, and Jennings had to wait for it to arrive. Luckily, between one second and another, he gave himself and his quarterback three yards of cushion.

He slows to not overrun the pass without breaking stride. He reaches behind his momentum without breaking stride. He turns back up field and his center of gravity shifts a bit too far over his feet, but he runs himself upright, barely losing speed.

It is good tape, I think. Let us see a bit more of that.

Outside linebacker Caleb Kelly should not be matched against Jennings.

Apart from the mismatched assignment, Kelly reacts slowly, and so this is more a busted coverage than an achievement by Jennings. That said, a couple fun things happen.

Jennings turns his go route into something of a post. Grier changed the play pre-snap, and Jennings was savvy to his quarterback’s read. That results in Jennings angling in toward the space created by the split safeties.

Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell (#32) works a good angle of intercept and begins to tackle Jennings at the 15-yard line.

Begins, mind you.

Jennings doesn’t score.

Three minutes later he would.

Free release.

Subtle plant out followed by skinny-post-like in cut.

And the kind of second gear which makes defensive backs trip over their own feet.

The Sooners fielded one of the worst defenses in FBS, but they were merely mediocre at defending “explosive” plays. Hakeem Butler nailed them for 5, 174 and 2 touchdowns. Jalen Hurd: 9, 104, and 1. Some secondaries were destined to appear on the mix tape of opposing wide receivers. It’s good to see Jennings do well. We won’t soon know what that means for his pro career.

Jennings worked mostly from the slot but he’s built like a flanker. It does not seem to me that he will have the necessary agility to be a slot receiver. He gets a lot of separation from relatively subtle moves, and I think that’s a good sign. It means he’s deceptive. It means at least the Sooners defensive backs were scared of his deep speed. He’s quick off the blocks and he has separation speed from a full stride. He seems to track the ball well, but there seems to be an occasional disconnect between his eyes and his hands. Passes eat him up, sometimes. Sometimes he suffers an unprovoked drop. Who doesn’t? But it’s something to watch.

Defenders will be closer; even in the preseason. How will Jennings react when he begins to catch the ball and the closing defender is not 0.2 seconds away, or whatever, but 0.1 seconds away? Can he continue to thrive depending on a route tree that is half krummholz and half lodgepole pine? Or maybe that was just a function of Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense.

Whatever the case, Jennings is not Doug Baldwin or anything like Doug Baldwin. His greatest talent is his deep speed. He’s not going to put anyone on skates with his crossover moves. If he is to succeed, he must amplify the impact of his subtle moves through the threat of his deep speed. I don’t foresee him carving up the middle. I don’t expect him to gut out a tough reception to move the sticks—at least not as a primary responsibility. Which is to say, guys don’t really ever replace other guys. No one will replace Baldwin, and if Seattle really did intend to replace Baldwin with Jennings, it would be a tremendous mis-evaluation, I think. But Jennings has his own game, his own set of dazzling tools and his own position to define. For now we wait and wonder which safety will be chasing Jennings this August, this September, if any.