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OU notebook: Sooners LB DaShaun White thinks Jaren Kanak can ‘win the Butkus before he leaves this place’

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Nebraska vs Oklahoma (copy)

Oklahoma linebacker Jaren Kanak (7) and defensive back Kendall Dennis (21) tackle Nebraska running back Jaquez Yant during Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

Sept. 19, 2022 video. Sooners DC Ted Roof said they will be challenged by the Wildcats at home. Video courtesy/OU Athletics

NORMAN — Fifth-year linebacker DaShaun White was ejected for targeting in the second quarter of Saturday’s 49-14 win over Nebraska following his helmet-to-helmet hit on Huskers quarterback Casey Thompson.

“Originally when they called it, I thought it was going to be roughing,” White said. “As soon as they said targeting, I kind of had a thought of did I or did I not? As soon as I didn’t know if I did or didn’t, I kind of knew that I probably did.”

White told reporters Monday that sound tackling has been a particular point of focus of his in the early weeks of the season as he settles into a new role at the cheetah position. But that special attention and a pregame reminder weren't enough to avoid the targeting penalty that disqualified him for the final 34-plus minutes in Week 3.

“I have to keep my head up,” White said. “It’s funny — last week during practice, coach kept emphasizing to me specifically ‘pad level, pad level, pad level’ and even before the game he said it once to me. It came and got me. It’s an easy fix.”

White, who ranks sixth among OU defenders with 16 total tackles on the year, will be fully available in Week 4.

And while White’s ejection marked a temporary loss, his absence gave way to one of OU's standout performances in the early season courtesy of Jaren Kanak. Stepping in for White, the freshman linebacker tallied a career-high and team-best 10 total tackles and produced a tone-setting forced fumble on the Huskers’ opening drive of the second half.

White has lofty expectations for the young linebacker from Kansas.

“I told Jaren he needs to win the Butkus (Award) before he leaves this place,” he said. “I think Coach V hit it on the nose. He’s made that many plays and he really doesn’t understand what he’s doing yet.

“The sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to be a great player. I just hope I do my part showing him right from wrong and kind of be a big brother for him.”

Sept. 19, 2022 video. Sooners OC Jeff Lebby is impressive with early quarterback play and that backups have gotten significant game experience. Video courtesy/OU Athletics

Morris returns: ‘I was just out there having fun’

OU’s projected starting right tackle entering September, Wanya Morris instead spent the first two weeks of his senior season working with the scout team, practicing against the likes of pass rushers Reggie Grimes, Marcus Stripling and R Mason Thomas.

On the sidelines for OU’s first two games this fall — the result of an “off-field issue”, per coach Brent Venables — Morris says he found an opportunity for growth.

“For me, I just took it as a learning period,” Morris said. “Took it as an experience to get better. I got two more extra weeks than everybody else to stay prepared and get ready. All I did was stay in the weight room, stay in the playbook. When I came back, it was like clockwork.”

In Week 3, Morris returned to an offensive line that paved the way for a season-high 312 rushing yards in the Sooners’ 35-point win in Lincoln. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound tackle had to wait until the game's third series to make his season debut and is yet to reclaim his starting job from TCU transfer Guyton, who has started all three games thus far.

Morris on Monday referred to his time out as a moment of maturation — “Those two weeks I had off definitely helped me see a lot and learn about myself. How you respond to things is how you are as a man,” he said.

Now back in the fold, Morris is ready to compete and contribute for OU up front.

“I was just out there having fun,” said of his Week 3 return. “Good to be back out there with my guys and competing with my guys. I love this team. It’s fun to compete with them. As you can see, we’re going to do a lot this year.”

Tulane tips?

The sixth-ranked Sooners host Kansas State Saturday (7 p.m., FOX), and OU defensive tackle Jeffery Johnson is intimately familiar with the last team to beat the Wildcats. The Sooners’ nose tackle spent four seasons playing for the Tulane defense that went to Manhattan and upset Kansas State in a 17-10 win over the weekend.

So has Johnson heard from his former teammates ahead of OU’s Week 4 meeting with the Wildcats?

“Oh, for sure I did,” Johnson said. “Congratulations to those guys. But I'm so focused on this week because we've got our opportunity. It's our turn now. Kansas State is going to come out swinging this weekend, so we've got to be on our toes and be prepared."

Johnson totaled 136 tackles and eight sacks in his four seasons with the Green Wave. In Week 3, that Tulane defense limited Kansas State quarterback Adrian Martinez to 150 yards passing and held the hosts scoreless after halftime en route to handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season.

Johnson and Co. can only hope to replicate something similar in Week 4.

Conference dominance

Sometime soon — perhaps in 2023 or 2024, no later than 2025 — the Sooners will reside in the SEC. But for now, the Big 12 remains home and OU resumes conference play this weekend in a league it has feasted on over the past eight years.

Entering Saturday’s Big 12 opener, the Sooners’ hold a record of 54-8 dating back to the start of the 2015 season. That mark — with a win percentage of .871 — paces the Big 12 over that span, ahead of second-place Oklahoma State (42-21-.667) and Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia, all level at 33-30 (.524). Over the same stretch, Texas sports a record of 32-30.

Road success

Recent history in the conference series between OU and Kansas State suggests a rare, yet distinct advantage in favor of the traveling party.

In the last 11 meetings between the schools, eight of those games have been won by the visiting team. That same trend plays out over the history of the matchup in Big 12 play, too; since the league’s inception in 1996, visitors hold a record of 12-7 when the Sooners and Wildcats meet.

Over Big 12's lifetime, Kansas State has proven a particular thorn in OU’s side at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The Wildcats are 4-5 in nine visits to the Sooners since 1996, taking more wins in Norman than any conference opponent over that span. OU’s last three home losses to Kansas State have come by a combined nine points.

The Sooners lead the all-time series 77-21-4 and stand as 13.5-point favorites in Week 4, as of Tuesday afternoon.

Week 4 captains announced

OU’s captains for Saturday’s conference opener are center Andrew Raym, cornerback Jaden Davis, wide receiver Marvin Mims, defensive tackle Jeffery Johnson and defensive end Ethan Downs.

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OU beat Writer

I came to the Tulsa World as an intern in 2019, returned in Aug. 2021 and now cover the Sooners with Eric Bailey. I'm a New Yorker, a graduate of the University of Missouri and an avid soccer (read: fútbol) fan. Let's talk:

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