State of Oklahoma: Recap and Preview

Last night, we witnessed our arch-enemy Boise State defeat Virginia Tech on the road, helped by two very questionable calls on their last drive.  Now, we will have to deal with the injustice that in several hypothetical scenarios the Broncos will displace the Longhorns in the national title game, and we also have to deal with this little presumptuous Smurf named Kellen Moore who's trying to steal Colt's all-time wins record by beating up on crappy teams.  Psh.  What follows will be an in-depth article on why their blue field sucks, their schedule sucks, and...

What, our arch-rival is Oklahoma?  And we're actually scheduled to play them?  Oh yeah.  I forgot ;).  Let's start over.

Oklahoma opened last Saturday against a team from the WAC, a conference that stinks so bad that no team from it should ever be allowed to play for the national championship Utah State, a team with a moderately good offense.  Texas fans may remember them for their offensive output against Texas A&M last season, where they went for 521 total yards in a 30-38 loss.  Still, while Utah State put up respectable offensive numbers last season, they were still only 4-8 in a mid-major conference, and therefore this is a team that Oklahoma is expected to pummel, especially at home.  And... they didn't.  In fact, Utah State actually threatened to pull off an upset at some points in the game.  While many think Texas looked pedestrian against Rice, at no point in the game did Rice ever threaten Texas.  This is not the case for Oklahoma.

Unfortunately,  I was unable to watch the game live or find a recording of it, so I was relegated to following the game online and then finding highlights and reading the play-by-play.  My analysis, then, will be a bit incomplete, but I will make some general observations based on the numbers and the play-by-play descriptions.

Brief Game Recap

Oklahoma jumped to a 21-0 lead, and it looked like it would turn into a typical opening day blowout.  Instead, Utah State put up 10 points before the half to cut the lead to 11, and then scored one more time to make it 21-17.  Faced with a fourth and 1 in his own territory, Stoops decided not to give the annoying upstarts the ball back and ran the ball with Demarco Murray... who barely got the first down by reaching for the sticks.  After a Landry Jones incompletion, Murray then zipped off for a 63 yard score, arguably the biggest play of the game.  Utah State QB Diondre Borel threw a pick the next series, which OU converted into a field goal.  The Aggies scored one more on a 31 yard pass to make it 31-24, yet could not score again to close the gap.  They missed a field goal in the 4th quarter and their last drive ended with another interception, and Oklahoma pulled out the win.

Offense

The offense put up 422 yards of total offense, but that's pretty deceptive.  After a good start, the Sooner offense really struggled.  Look no further than Landry Jones for the primary problem.  Most people gave Jones a break last season as a RS freshman replacing Sam Bradford, and overall he got positive evaluations.  This year, people will not be so generous, and it is concerning for OU fans that Jones did not show marked improvement.  It is honestly a little surprising, and some OU fans have even called for the talented backup to take over.  By most accounts, such as this one, Jones is locking into his first read (which is normally Ryan Broyles) and that was it.  Oklahoma may have come out with a vanilla gameplan, but it is concerning that Jones could not complete over 50% of his passes against a paltry defense and added two interceptions.  Jones was not expected to be a Heisman superstar but he was expected to be a solid presence, and he wasn't last Saturday.

Two guys saved this offense and this team:  Demarco Murray and Ryan Broyles.  Broyles had 9 catches for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Murray ran for 218 yards on 35 carries for two scores himself.  In other words, the two of them accounted for 85% of the team's total yardage and every touchdown.  We already knew that Oklahoma would be reliant on these two players, but I don't think they wanted to be that reliant on them, especially against Utah State.  Without Murray and/or Broyles, Oklahoma may have very well lost this game.  Murray had an excellent game, but I doubt the coaches are happy with Murray's 35 carries, considering his injury history.

The rest of the skill positions were mostly a nonfactor.  Kenny Stills continues to get positive reviews, but no other receiver or runningback had much of an impact on the game.  The tight ends did nothing, causing concern from those at CC Machine as well as Boomer and Sooner.  The lack of other playmakers on offense is not a surprise, as it was something I talked about in my preview of their offense, but it should be concerning for Sooner fans that the problem manifested against such an overmatched opponent.

The offensive line got mixed reviews.  This game review discusses the failure of center Ben Habern on blitz assignments, also alluded to at CC machine, which is a little surprising since Habern was supposed to be on of the stronger guys on the line.  Stephenson and left tackle and the guards, Good and Evans, were mostly good while Mensik apparently struggled and looks to be the weak link of the line.  Despite Murray's strong day, it seems that much of it was created by Murray himself and not by the prowess of the offensive line.  Murray deserves credit for his tough 4th and 1 run discussed above, but it is telling that they decided to run outside with him in such a situation against Utah State.

Going into the season, they had questions at WR, TE, and OL.  None of that has changed, except now you might have to put QB there as well.  There is a lot of time for them to improve between now and the RRS, but it better happen fast, because this is not an offense currently equipped to handle the Texas defense.  Not that I'm complaining.

Defense

The first thing to come to mind for the defense is the secondary, namely the corners.  The corners were identified as a potential weak point, and they showed it early.  While both Fleming and Hurst had interceptions, they also got burned by the Utah State offense.  In fact, Borel had seven completions of 25 yards or more, and he averaged an impressive 20 yards per attempt.  Fleming in particular was picked on often and he may find himself out of a starting job if that continues.  The safeties didn't really help, with Nelson reportedly struggling as well.  Quentin Carter did his job in run support but he is not going to help much in coverage.  Tony Jefferson, however, has given Sooner fans some hope for the DBs.

Another potential weak point was middle linebacker, and Tom Wort had an uneven game of missed assignments and personal fouls.  Travis Lewis was good but Ronnell Lewis spent his time on the D-line, replacing the injured Frank Alexander.  Lewis is geared towards pass rushing and reportedly struggled trying to play as a complete DE.

On the D-line, the injury problems showed.  Adrian Taylor played but was not himself and the loss of Alexander was felt.  They didn't get pushed around but they often whiffed on the mobile Borel, failed to get penetration, and Utah State pulled off a few solid runs.  The lack of depth here is already a concern, and this game showed that they really can't afford injury troubles on the line.  Jeremy Beal remains a stud but he can't do it himself.

The defense is supposed to be the strength of the team, and they struggled to contain the big play on several occasions.  The D-line should get better as Alexander returns and Taylor, presumably, continues to heal up, but their cornerbacks will need to upgrade their play quickly or they will cost Oklahoma a loss.  Depending upon where you look, Oklahoma gave up around 421 yards of total offense, which is not a great way to start the season.

Special Teams

O'hara hit his lone field goal while Tress Way booted an 85 yard punt, on his way for a 46 yard punt average for the night.  Not much to say here other than the fact that Way punted 8 times, which is not something I'm sure OU planned to do against mighty Utah State.

Conclusion and Looking Ahead

That was obviously a rough opening day for Oklahoma, and if you think some Texas fans were freaking out over the game against Rice, you should take a look at how OU fans reacted to this one.  The reaction is understandable; while most of the areas of weakness weren't surprising, the extent that they were weaknesses was unexpected, especially against Utah State.  Add some new worries such as Landry Jones' play and you're looking at some serious problems for Oklahoma, who don't have the luxury of playing a cupcake next week.  Oklahoma still won their game, which is important, but it could not have been encouraging for their fans to see.

Florida State rolls in next week, sporting one of the top offensive lines in the country, a mobile and experienced QB in Christian Ponder, and some nice skill position players.  Their defense is not very experienced, but there are still some good athletes there that have promise, and Bob's younger brother Mark will obviously try to key in on OU's limited weapons if they don't help out Broyles and Murray.  It is, of course, foolhardy to judge too much off of one game, especially the first, but it is safe to say that if Oklahoma does not come out markedly better next week, they will have little chance of beating the Seminoles.

I think Oklahoma will come out much improved, but I am no longer sure if that will be enough to beat Florida State.  The matchup I'm most interested in seeing is between Oklahoma's D-line and FSU's O-line.  The winner of this battle will greatly influence the game, because FSU likes to the run the rock and OU wants to shield their corners.  On offense, Landry Jones better wake up or he's going to make Sooner Nation want to burn his stache off.  Also, unless Broyles and Jones have developed a Colt-Shipley connection (I doubt it), I'm guessing that somebody else, possibly Stills, will need to come up with a solid game to help out.  In any case, I'll take the Seminoles in a close one in Norman.

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