As far as Oklahoma's pass rush is concerned, Ronnie Perkins and Nik Bonitto garner the headlines.
And with good reason: Perkins is squarely on NFL radars as a redshirt junior, and by many metrics, Bonitto is one of the highest-graded pass rushers in the nation.
However, there's another budding phenom making serious noise behind Perkins and Bonitto.
Though his role has largely been to spell the Sooners' two star rushers thus far in 2020, Marcus Stripling could be primed for a more significant role as the season winds down. The sophomore from Houston has taken full advantage of every opportunity that's presented itself, recording a tackle for loss in each of Oklahoma's last three contests. He's accrued 2.5 sacks over that period, including 1.5 of the Sooners' nine total sacks in a 62-9 win over Kansas.
"I feel like Strip, definitely when he gets his opportunity, he tries to make the most of it," said Bonitto. "You can see he's had a couple big plays these last couple of weeks. He's just a guy that is a really good pass rusher."
Stripling saw the field on a very limited basis in 2019 as a true freshman, appearing in all 14 games but logging just six tackles. However, the former 4-star recruit has already matched that total in just seven games this season. His teammates cite Stripling's ravenous appetite for learning as the driving force behind his marked improvement from 2019.
"I’ve seen Strip take a big leap from last year," said Perkins. "He’s been one of the guys, you know, he listens a lot. He pays a lot of attention to detail, so when his number gets called, it’s really nothing new to him. He asks a lot of questions to me, to Nik, to anybody, just picking at our brains to try to get better."
It's beginning to translate to game situations for Stripling, and Bonitto has grown accustomed to seeing his backup come through whenever his number is called.
"When we put him in there, that's what we expect him to do is get after the quarterback," Bonitto remarked. "So, I feel like whenever he gets that opportunity to go in, there's no drop off. I feel like he's just as good enough to make a play as anybody else that we play."
Amongst a deep corps of pass rushers that includes talented true freshmen Reggie Grimes and Brynden Walker, don't expect Stripling to simply get lost in the shuffle. Should Perkins jump to the NFL after the 2020 season, it's reasonable to assume that Stripling will line up opposite Bonitto next year with the starting 11. However, there's still plenty to be accomplished this season as the Sooners pursue a sixth straight conference title, a mission that Stripling could impact with his explosive edge rushing.
"Really just putting everything that he’s been learning since last year," said Perkins. "Since his freshman year, I think he’s starting to really put it together, and it’s clicking for him.”
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