NORMAN — On Louisiana Tech’s third drive Saturday night vs. Oklahoma, the Sooners were forced to deal with their depth issues at linebacker.
With Frank Shannon held out as he fights a one-year suspension from the school in district court, his replacement — sophomore Jordan Evans — was ejected for targeting.
Evans moved to tackle Bulldogs’ quarterback Cody Sokol, diving at the quarterback as Sokol ducked and slid to avoid contact. It was a helmet-to-helmet hit.
After a lengthy discussion on the field, referee Dan Romeo announced the targeting call as Evans and Shannon both raised their arms in disgust.
The play was reviewed — and confirmed — and the Sooners were sent scrambling.
“The official that made the call felt that the quarterback was sliding, was giving himself up as a participant in the play which made him defenseless,” Romeo said after the game. “The defender lowered his head, he initiated forceful contact by leading with the helmet and contacting the quarterback’s helmet.”
Oklahoma went on to win the game 48-16 and Sooners coach Bob Stoops didn’t dispute the call, but he said he would talk to Big 12 officials coordinator Walt Anderson about the call.
“It’s a bang-bang thing and it’s sometimes how they happen,” Stoops said.
Teammates Dominique Alexander and Jordan Phillips said afterward that they thought the call was a bad one.
Shannon’s absence, the Sooners could handle. If Evans were to be lost, there was concern.
Evans had played solidly last year before an injury and his improvement through the spring and preseason camp had Oklahoma coaches comfortable with him at middle linebacker.
But with Evans out, OU’s depth become incredibly thin at the spot.
Walk-on Caleb Gastelum, whose collegiate experience at linebacker consisted of a series in last year’s Bedlam game, was Evans’ backup.
After him? Who knows.
“We didn’t really have a contingency plan after that,” Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “We would’ve probably had to move one of our Will linebackers to the strong side. We just adjust. We have some good young linebackers, so if we have to start developing those guys, we’ll see.”
The Sooners would rather not, though.
Aaron Franklin would be a likely candidate to slide over, but the senior is primarily a special-teams guy. Freshman Tay Evans is an inside linebacker but doesn’t appear to be close to ready for that leap quite yet.
Evans’ ejection put the Sooners in a tough spot were anything to happen to Gastelum.
But Gastelum played every snap the rest of the way and played respectably after some early jitters that included dropping an interception try after letting a receiver slip behind him in coverage on his second play in the ballgame.
Because the penalty occurred in the first half, Evans won’t have to miss any of next week’s game vs. Tulsa.
Shannon was dressed out for the game, but there was never any indication that he was ever likely to see the field.
His attorney, Aletia Timmons, said Friday that Shannon would “stand on the sideline in silent protest” of his treatment.
Shannon was suspended after he was found guilty of violating the university’s Title IX sexual misconduct policy after a female OU student alleged Shannon sexually assaulted her at Shannon’s off-campus apartment in January.
Criminal charges were never filed in the case.
Shannon remained on the sidelines for the game, often standing but sometimes sitting on the bench with his teammates, though he didn’t appear to have much interaction with either Evans or Gastelum during the game.
As he went to the locker room after the game, Gastelum talked at least briefly with Evans.
“As far as I know he’s doing good,” Gastelum said. “It’s a bad deal to have to sit and watch the game from inside but he told me when I can in he said, ‘Good job, just keep it up.’”