A very strange August camp session with no media access led to a highly anticipated debut of OU's new quarterback and a brand new defense last weekend against Louisiana-Monroe. The strangeness continued even after the Sooners received the opening kickoff.
The Very Good
The whole freaking defense
Every level of the D had multiple defenders making plays. Granted, it was ULM, but it was like watching vintage 2002-2003 Mike Stoops D out there:
- Stop the run;
- Force the opponent off schedule;
- Zone blitz the QB to hurry him into short passes on third down.
The whole starting defensive line of Geneo Grissom, Jordan Phillips, and Charles Tapper had excellent games. Corey Nelson, Franklin Shannon and Eric Striker made the plays at the linebacker level. Nelson and Shannon, in particular, were everywhere and did a very good job in run support on early downs and then blitzing on later downs. Likewise, Striker was a constant menace to ULM QB Kolton Browning. (Striker kind of reminds me of a very big version of Brandon Shelby – dropping into coverage,
blitzing off the edge, providing a physical presence coming up from the secondary near the line of scrimmage.)
The quality of play by these six defenders allowed OU to run a 3-3-5 on 1st and 2nd downs. OU pulled Striker for Kass Everett on 3rd and long to line up in 3-2-6 package with blitzers coming from all directions.
The secondary was less involved than last year, which is a good thing. It's never a good sign when a safety and CB are your leading tacklers, as was the case last season.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin owned his side of the field most of the night. After a rough first quarter of being bodied around by a much bigger receiver, Zach Sanchez played three quarters of excellent coverage, almost getting an interception at one point. Julian Wilson got the Sooners a turnover on a deflection off a hurried throw from Browning. Free safety Gabe Lynn had the textbook legal hit of the night, and Quentin Hayes was barely tested at safety.
Overall, the Sooners' coverage was excellent and the new/old look enabled OU to dominate in the box. The Sooners showed some effective depth on the DL and in the secondary.
On a very hot night, OU's coverage teams did not have to deal with any kickoff returns. On a college football Saturday filled with big special teams plays, Hodgson turned a third of them for the Sooners into a non-event. The kicks were mostly out of the end zone, and there were no reports that Hodgson's effort was wind-aided. If he keeps this up, it could be a real kicking weapon for OU.
After an uneven showing in the spring game, Jed Barnett had many Sooner fans fretting the loss of Tress Way. And with the offensive shaky start, Barnett
got a lot of early work from deep inside the Sooners' end of the field. Barnett did an excellent job punting for both hang time and distance.
Trey Millard, Roy Finch, Damien Williams and Brennan Clay all contributed to the rushing effort of 300-plus yards. Finch had his best overall game since Iowa State back in 2010. Wlilliams made tough yards early, which set up nice runs late. Clay did a nice job picking up yards off option runs and inside handoffs. Millard, as per usual, did not receive enough touches, but he did a great job blocking on a number of QB runs.
QB running game
OU is now that much harder to prepare for. The offense showed multiple looks for the QB run game. The pistol formation was actually being used as the football gods intended. The diamond formation made a nice return. Trevor Knight rushed for more than 100 yards and showed the kind of mobility not seen under center for OU since Jason White in 2001 or Rhett Bomar in 2005.
The Somewhat Ugly
Knight's stats would have looked much prettier with some better hands/playmaking by the WR corps. Add the Trey Metoyer drop/interception, the dropped swing pass to Jalen Saunders that he could have taken to the house and Jaz Reynolds' drop in the first quarter together and Knight probably has close to 200 yards passing.
Reynolds' pass blocking wasn't adequate, either.
At least for the first quarter, the OL did not open up the running holes necessary to keep the offense on schedule. This led to several 3rd-and-long situations, which, in turn, led to punts.
The OL got progressively better, but it would have been ideal if this veteran unit had taken control from the start to help their young QB.
Knight was obviously amped for his first start, and it showed in his overthrowing and lack of accuracy for most of the first half. Especially on 3rd down, Knight also got a number of his passes knocked down. It was not a great start, but the crisp touchdown passes to Saunders and Metoyer were encouraging.
*Thanks as always to HolaKyle for putting together highlights from the game on YouTube. Make sure to check out his YouTube channel for more.