Center under the gun vs. Cardinals

Oklahoma wraps up the nonconference schedule this weekend against Ball State. Here are five key storylines to follow:

1. Fine-tuning the defense

With Texas a week away, the Sooners defense could use some refining after last weekend's disappointing showing against Missouri. A week after shutting down Florida State, the OU defense surrendered two touchdowns in the first quarter, then two in the fourth as Missouri was able to stay in the game. Blown coverages and missed assignments in the run game by the linebackers plagued the defense on those drives.

The Sooners overcame the glitches against Missouri in Norman. Against Texas in the Cotton Bowl, that might not be the case.

2. Ikard's acclimation at center

Stoops said this week that it will take some time for the Sooners to adjust to the loss of center Ben Habern, who broke his forearm against Missouri. Left guard Gabe Ikard will handle center duties, perhaps for the rest of the season. Stoops admitted Ikard's newness to snapping disrupted the tempo of the offense in the second half last weekend. Fortunately, Ikard can work through some of those kinks against Ball State before facing the Longhorns.

3. Whaley separating from the committee

Hands down, walk-on Dominique Whaley has been OU's best running back. But through three games, he has just 55 carries to Brennan Clay's 41. This might be the point at which Whaley begins to get the bulk of the workload. His play has warranted it.

4. Sharpening Stills

Sophomore wideout Kenny Stills has only played in one game so far this season. A suspension sidelined him in the opener, and lingering symptoms of a concussion kept him out of the Missouri game.

With the Sooners about to enter the heart of the Big 12 schedule, assimilating their No. 2 receiver completely back into the flow of the offense is imperative.

5. Last call for the freshmen?

This could be the final opportunity for freshmen such as wide receiver Kameel Jackson and running back Brandon Williams to prove they can contribute this season. Starting with Texas, the rotations will begin to tighten and playing time will be even harder to come by.

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation.

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