Always hard to evaluate first games, and it’s critical not to make too many snap judgments positively or negatively based on one game.
That being said, let’s review game one for the Sooners in 2014.
"Big 3" running backs
OU's list of weaknesses in the preseason included new running backs. Well, let’s go ahead and check that item off. Keith Ford looked great running the ball and showed a surprising receiving ability as well. Alex Ross at times looks like a player who has had three carries the last three years, but there’s a combo of power and speed there that could be deadly as he gets more used to running the football. Ross also showed a nice receiving game out of the backfield,
and he’s going to be a real weapon on kickoff returns. Finally, it was a great freshman debut for Samaje Perine, showing power and quick moves. He’s going to be nightmare for defenses moving forward.
These big three big RBs would appear to give OU a power running game not seen since Adrian Peterson was on campus.
All spring and summer, Sooner fans have been hoping that Jordan Phillips could recover from back surgery. While he didn’t play too many snaps, he was an absolute monster at nose guard.
OU moved Geneo Grissom to outside linebacker to give the defense a bigger presence on the edge against running looks. Well, that move seems to have worked perfectly. Grissom was everywhere Saturday night and was a big factor in OU’s excellent run defense.
Meanwhile, the Grissom move has not robbed Eric Striker of his attacking role. Dom Alexander looks much improved at in stopping the run. He just looks more physical. It was a limited night for Charles Tapper and Chuka Ndulue, but the starting front seven has an elite, all-conference look to it.
Julian Wilson and Zack Sanchez appeared to lock down the passing game as well. It took a late breakdown by backup safety Steven Parker to really “notice” the new safeties. Before that play, Sooner fans saw excellent coverage plays by both Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd.
OU played nearly 20 defensive players in the first half alone. (That includes the starters plus backups Matt Romar, Matt Dimon, D.J. Ward, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Charles Walker, Steven Parker, Hatari Byrd, Jordan Thomas, Torrea Peterson and Jordan Wade.) Probably close to 26 defensive players saw action on the night.
Offensively, OU emptied the bench as well with a full second-team offensive line, second-team receiver group, etc.
Sure there were some issues in the second half, but you can't have it both ways. OU fans have been clamoring for Bob Stoops to play more backups, so you shouldn't complain when the youngsters struggle in their first game under the bright lights.
A long kickoff return setting up a touchdown, a blocked field goal, zero issues in kickoff coverage, two well-struck field goals, two good punt returns. Special teams were flawless and aided the Sooners' efforts in the other two facets.
It’s not hard to imagine Sterling Shepard returning a punt for a TD or Alex Ross taking a kick back the final yards to the end zone. In a close contest, the kicking and return games could be a big difference.
Trevor Knight's second half
Knight’s execution with the backup WRs wasn’t great. Ideally, during the garbage time of the fourth quarter, OU fans should have been seeing Cody Thomas’ debut. Instead, Knight had to take all the snaps to preserve Justice Hansen’s redshirt year.
Inside linebacker depth
ILB depth was exposed with the expulsion of Jordan Evans for targeting. Caleb Gastelum did a good job filling in, but with the suspension/legal impasse impacting Frank Shannon, it’s a tight position for OU. OU should not be relying upon walk-ons as starting LBs. Aaron Franklin, the only remaining Brent Venables-recruited LB on the roster, also got some playing time in the second half and did a good job. Maybe OU can get Rashod Favors more involved at MIKE LB, since OLB depth is in much better shape with Grissom, Striker, Obo, Bond and P.L. Lindley.
OU really needs a final answer on the Shannon situation to make some permanent plans. The Sooners appear set to redshirt Curtis Bolton and Tay Evans for now.
The only thing that really qualifies was Knight’s two red zone-area turnovers. OU left at least an additional six points on the field. With the running game clicking, it easily could have been a 62-16 final.
Blake Bell the tight end
All August camp, Sooner fans have heard players and coaches rave about Blake Bell’s transition to TE. While Bell moved around a bunch, he was mainly a blocking TE with only one pass thrown his direction. Hopefully, the TE receiving game is being saved for later in the season.