For the first time since 1998, the Sooners will be without coach Bob Stoops. How will they respond under Lincoln Riley?
August marks the start of college football, and it’s been a long time coming. Here at SQ we’re previewing all the top teams in the country based on our own top-25. Yesterday we took an in-depth look at No. 7 Washington; today I preview the Oklahoma Sooners.
Team Name: Oklahoma Sooners
2016 Record and Rank: 11-2 (5)
Coach: Lincoln Riley (first year)
Key Arrivals: CB Justin Broiles, RB Trey Sermon, OL Tyrese Robinson, LB Addison Gumbs, WR Ryan Jones, TE Grant Calcaterra, WR Jeff Badet (transfer)
Key Departures: RB Joe Mixon, RB Semaje Perine, WR Dede Westbrook, LB Jordan Evans, HC Bob Stoops
Previewing Oklahoma’s Offense
In 2016, the Sooners boasted one of the best offenses in the country, finishing third in both total yards (7,212) and points per game (43.9). Offensive coordinator turned head coach Lincoln Riley has orchestrated one of the most lethal offenses in the nation and returns his best player in quarterback Baker Mayfield.
If it wasn’t for Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Mayfield would have had a legitimate chance at winning the Heisman Trophy, but ended up finishing third. Mayfield finished 2016 with the fourth-best passing season from a Sooner quarterback. He picked up 3,965 yards (ninth nationally), added 40 touchdowns (sixth), and only eight interceptions. Accuracy all over the field was one of his strengths as he led all qualifying passers with a 71 completion percentage. Mayfield finds himself on the watch list for five different awards and was even ranked fifth on ESPN’s Top-50 Players of 2017 list.
Oklahoma had three dynamics playmakers that complemented Mayfield perfectly; unfortunately for the Sooners, they all left for the NFL. Running backs Joe Moxon and Samaje Perine each accounted for 185+ carries and over 1,000 yards. Receiver Dede Westbrook led the team with 80 receptions, 1,524 yards, and 17 touchdowns. It’s never easy to replace three players that accounted for just over 53% of the team’s total yards and touchdowns.
At running back, sophomore Abdul Adams will get first crack at replacing the dynamic duo of Mixon and Perine. Adams only carried the ball 53 times for 283 yards but has emerged as the leader in the backfield. RB coach Jay Boulware has praised the young runner and is excited to see how far Adams has come.
You’ve got a guy like Abdul who’s really, really accelerated his development the last year, All areas — as a receiver, as a runner, just in every single aspect of his game has improved. He’s probably our most improved player on our football team from his first year to his second.
OU Daily Sports (@OUDailySports) August 8, 2017
Replacing Westbrook’s production proves to be a more difficult task. No receiver last season came even close to matching Westbrook in yards or receptions, with the closest being Mark Andrews with 31 receptions and 489 yards. The next man up for the Sooners is Jeff Badet, a graduate transfer from Kentucky. In his four years at Kentucky Badet only caught 82 passes for 1,385 yards, but already has approval from Mayfield.
Jeff has been huge for us, He’s another speedster on the outside. There are a bunch of guys that can get down the field. Jeff is perfect for this team because he adds that veteran experience and leadership to our locker room, which is what we needed
In such a high octane offense and with Mayfield at QB, the Sooners shouldn’t have much problem finding a pass catcher to fill the void.
Previewing Oklahoma’s Defense
The Sooner defense was abysmal, ranking 87th in the country giving up 5,277 total yards. However, to be fair, 42% of those yards came in just four games against Houston, Ohio State, TCU, and Texas Tech, all teams that finished in the top-45 in total offense. Riley has already made it clear his intentions to improve the defense by wanting to get back to “where we are extremely physical and people know what’s coming every time they step on the field with us”.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops plans on moving the defense back to a 4-3 scheme, and the move should be welcome to the big guys up front. The big name on campus for the defensive line is senior Ogbonnia Okoronkwo who moves back to a more permanent defensive end position. As a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker, Okoronkwo led the team in sacks with nine, 6.5 more than the next leading player. On a team that ranked 99th in sack percentage last year, more players will need to step up other than Okoronkwo for the defensive front to be formidable.
DMN College News (@dmn_colleges) August 5, 2017
All-Big 12 linebacker Jordan Evans was the heart and soul of the Sooner defense after leading the team in tackles (98) and interceptions (four). Evans left for the NFL, but fellow starter Emmanuel Beal returns as a leader on defense. After finishing second on the team in tackles with 81, Beal will have to adjust to a new role. At only 6‘0” and 218 pounds, Beal isn’t the prototypical 4-3 middle linebacker, but makes up for it with speed and play recognition. Adding to the linebacking core will be former five-star recruit Caleb Kelly, who will look to break out after a limited role his freshman season.
Three Key Games
1. Sept. 9 at Ohio State- Oklahoma’s season could easily come down to how they do against Ohio State. Last season they started out slowly, and dropped their matchup to the Buckeyes 45-24 in Norman. A game at Ohio State will be even harder and the Buckeyes boast one of the most well-rounded teams in the country. While the Sooner offense might be able to score consistently, the defense could have some trouble stopping J.T Barrett and company from scoring. Expect a high scoring game that Ohio State pulls out at the end.
2. Nov. 4 at Oklahoma State- Game one of possibly two between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. This interstate rivalry could determine the Big 12 title twice, once in the regular season and one in the Big 12 Championship. The Sooners have had the Cowboys’ number lately, winning 12 of the last 14 matchups. This could be Oklahoma State’s best chance with an offense that might be the best in the conference. The duo of Mason Rudolph and James Washington is lethal and will be tearing teams apart all year. Oklahoma be warned.
3. Nov. 25 vs West Virginia- Oklahoma’s final hurdle for a possible conference title appearance. The Mountaineers haven’t beaten the Sooners since joining the Big 12, and last year was probably the best chance to end that. Unfortunately for West Virginia the Sooners blew them out 56-28. Oklahoma still has an equally talented team while West Virginia doesn’t seem to have improved much. A nice tune-up game for Mayfield and company.
Oklahoma will again be a force in the Big 12. Mayfield is the best quarterback in the conference, if not the country. He’ll have to gain a connection with new receivers, but he doesn’t seem too concerned. This team goes as far as the offense takes them, but like many teams in the Big 12, will have to have a semi-strong defense to back them up. I see the Sooners going 10-2 in the regular season, losing to Ohio State and rival Oklahoma State. Depending on how they bounce back and if they beat the Cowboys in the Big 12 Championship game, the Sooners could sneak into the CFP, but they’ll need some other teams to lose along the way to help their chances.
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