The talk leading up to Oklahoma's season opener against Louisiana-Monroe centered around the debut of rainmaking freshman quarterback Trevor Knight. The offseason quarterback derby tended to overshadow the big questions about how the Stoops brothers would shore up a defense that collapsed late last season.
Yet, as OU's new field general struggled to find his footing early in a 34-0 win over the Warhawks, the Sooner D minimized the damage. The overhauled unit stoned ULM's prolific offense for all four quarters, giving the O more than enough time to get going.
Using a brand new 3-3-5 stack, a crop of a new faces harassed ULM quarterback Kolton Browning with stunts and blitzes coming from a variety of angles. Meanwhile, OU's secondary blanketed the Warhawk receivers. When all was said and done, OU had held ULM to a measly 166 total yards for the game, an average of 2.7 yards per play.
The defense wasn't the only new scheme that the Sooners unveiled. As promised, OU rolled out a more balanced offensive attack to take advantage of a stable of quality runners, including the quarterback. The Sooners ran a number of new option concepts out of the Pistol sets that have comprised their version of the spread offense, finishing with 305 rushing yards and an average of about 6 yards per attempt. For his part, Knight showed off the wheels that had set tongues wagging in camp, rumbling for 103 yards on 16 carries.
Given how last season ended, it's fair to say that Sooner fans were treated to a pleasant surprise Saturday night. The win over ULM was far from flawless, but it should offer hope that Stoops and his revamped staff are addressing some of the biggest flaws that have surfaced as of late. Compared with some of the sluggish starts that have plagued the Sooners in recent years, it's tough to ask for more than what OU gave in the 2013 opener.
A few other observations:
- Knight didn't post pretty passing numbers (11-of-28, 86 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT), and he missed on a number of the pitch-and-catch throws that have become staples of OU's offense – bubble screens, swing passes, etc. However, he displayed more than enough arm strength to hit downfield targets on deep and intermediate routes. His touch clearly needs work, although part of that can be chalked up to nervous energy. As he settled down in the second quarter and played into the second half, his accuracy definitely came along.
- The biggest story on defense, in my mind: OU's ability to generate pressure on Browning. It seemed as though OU exploited every conceivable angle or lane to get to the quarterback. The Sooners were missing that disruptive ability to get into the backfield last year. This game offered proof of just how big of a benefit that kind of pressure can provide.
- Charles Tapper looks like he could represent a real problem for offensive tackles in the Big 12 this season.
- Eric Striker played his ass off after receiving a starting spot at outside linebacker. That goes for the entire linebacker corps, really. With Striker, Frank Shannon and Corey Nelson holding it down, they could make significant headway in re-establishing the position as the cornerstone of the Sooner defense.
- The D will only get better with the return of Cortez Johnson and Chuka Ndulue from suspension next week.
- Josh Heupel still appears allergic to tight ends.
- Lost in the shuffle: Wide receiver Trey Metoyer came across far sharper and more attuned to the offense than at any point last season. Jaz Reynolds saw his first action in forever, too.
- Punting wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, based on practice reports.