NORMAN, Okla. — Marquise Brown always has been associated with three-digit numbers. Good or bad, they come up.
In March, it was 148 — Brown’s weight at the start of spring practice. Fans, analysts and nearly everyone who makes a point of following Oklahoma thought it was either a joke or another sign of the program’s recruiting deficiencies. Putting someone that small on a football scholarship didn’t add up.
Last Saturday in Stillwater, there was another three-digit number attached to Brown: 265. That was the number of receiving yards he piled up in the fifth-ranked Sooners’ 62-52 victory over then-No. 11 Oklahoma State.
The smallest player in Bedlam played larger than the rest. The Sooners (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) have their rocket to replicate what 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook could do.
“It’s a complete difference maker,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “I think we saw some of what Dede could do last year with that speed that he had, but I think Marquise is even faster. Love Dede, but Marquise — he’s got another gear.”
Brown’s average of 19.6 yards per reception exceeds what Westbrook did last season, although Westbrook had 16 more catches through nine games.
But they’re both cut from the same cloth and terrify defenses. If they catch the ball with momentum heading up the field, no one will catch them.
“The way they play, the way they attack the ball and are able to keep up speed while still catching the ball, some of the things they do route-wise are very similar,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said.
Marquise Brown’s path to Oklahoma
Like Westbrook, Brown took the junior college route to Oklahoma. But there were differences. Westbrook came from Central Texas while Brown learned the game in South Florida.
Despite his size, Brown learned how to stand out as a youngster. Speed is something he learned how to use.
“There’s a lot of fast guys in Florida, so it’s competitive,” he said.
Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown gives the Sooners another offensive gear. pic.twitter.com/LQbyWiWhy5
— John Shinn (@john_shinn) November 7, 2017
Brown didn’t get many looks when he played at South Broward High School in Hollywood. Colleges were put off by his lack of size. Brown’s interest in college didn’t seem all that keen, either.
“I kind of lagged off my ACT score, took it too late,” Brown said. “By the time I got my scores back it was past the signing day period, so I had to go to JUCO.”
A high school coach had a connection at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif. Brown headed west, but it wasn’t easy. He had to work at nearby Six Flags Magic Mountain to make ends meet.
But Brown never lost a step. By October of his lone junior college season, Oklahoma, West Virginia, USC, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Nebraska, Arizona State, Cal and TCU had offered him a scholarship.
Brown visited Oklahoma in early December and signed a letter of intent two weeks later.
Marquise Brown was slow out of the blocks
Teammates admit that Brown struggled to adjust when he arrived at Oklahoma. They saw the speed, but Brown didn’t necessarily know where he was going. Oklahoma’s offense requires receivers to make pre-snap and post-snap reads based on coverages. Brown lagged behind in the spring and still trailed when preseason practice ended in August.
He didn’t play against Ohio State. The coaching staff benched him after a fumble in the Baylor game.
One thing that helped him was fellow Floridian Jeff Badet transferring in from Kentucky. They quickly bonded. Badet, a graduate transfer, was someone Brown could lean on.
“He wasn’t really liking how his season was going the first half, but as you guys are seeing, things have picked up for him,” Badet said.
“It was just, practicing harder, preparing myself for each game to get better for each and every week,” Brown said. “October, I think I bought in and started practicing hard.”
Brown registered 4 catches for 73 yards against Texas. In the come-from-behind win at Kansas State, he pulled in 6 passes for 126 yards. He scored his second career touchdown in the victory over Texas Tech. Then came Bedlam.
“I think he’s just had a couple great weeks of practice in a row and he’s translated it onto the game field,” Mayfield said. “I’ve hit on it the last couple weeks that we need to practice harder and need to be more intense and we translated it. It’ll happen.
“But he’s a guy that has really worked hard and he’s seeing the results of it, so I think just going forward for him he needs to keep doing the same thing, and it’s working.”
The Sooners have another elite weapon
Statistically, the Sooners have the best offense in college football. Brown, who has put on 15 pounds and weighs 162 pounds these days, made that unit even more lethal. The one thing it lacked in the first half of the season was a receiver who could score anytime he touched the ball.
Westbrook put that kind of fear in defensive coordinators last season. It’s hard to move safeties to slow the run when that speedster is out wide.
The Sooners face No. 8 TCU (8-1, 5-1) in another Big 12 showdown at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. Westbrook exploited TCU’s stop-the-run mindset last season. Brown’s emergence comes at a time when the Sooners need it. They’ll need to hit some deep shots against the Horned Frogs to prevail.
“There’s no doubt,” Riley said. “Having that deep threat — and we’ve got a few guys that give us that. Marquise gives us that, Jeff Badet gives us that. I think CeeDee [Lamb] can give us that. So we’ve got some good deep threats. We’ve got a nice little mix going on right now.”
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