Things are a-OK in Norman, Oklahoma after four weeks. The Sooners (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) made a huge statement in conference play with a big 20-6 win against Cincinnati (2-2, 0-1 Big 12). In a game that was a lot more of a dogfight than the score implies, Oklahoma made a lot of positive strides. As they head towards the meat of their conference schedule, here are the biggest takeaways from Saturday's win.
Dillon Gabriel And The Pass Game Continue To Impress
Today's stat line: 26/38, 322 yards, and a touchdown from Gabriel (not to mention a rushing TD on top of that). Of OU's 21 first downs, 16 were generated on the passing end, and in a game where the trenches were pretty even, and the running game was having some issues, the passing game delivered.
Gabriel's overthrow problem from last year looks essentially good, and after a couple of early nerves-induced interceptable passes, he threw an extremely clean game. Andrel Anthony is showing steady improvement and starting to isolate himself as the number one option on the team, something that Oklahoma very much needs. Today, he showed his ability to handle the 50:50 ball with an extremely athletic late catch, and added 6 more for a total line of 7 catches for 117 yards.
Drake Stoops is proving to be ever so solid and reliable in the slot, and will also be a force to be reckoned with all season. His route running, agility, and sure hands are combining to be an even more lethal combo than they already were last year. If there's one aspect of the passing game that needs some work, it's the integration of the TE. Despite the loss of Brayden Willis, with Austin Stogner back, they really shouldn't be missing a beat there, and Jeff Lebby needs to add that extra threat to his playcalling.
The Defense Is Here To Stay This Time
Last year, Oklahoma's defense had a masterful shutout against Nebraska, and the moment the conference schedule arrived, the group collapsed. Not on Saturday. Only allowing six points, Oklahoma was always able to get Cincinnati off the field despite the Bearcats equalling OU's total of 24 first downs.
The biggest difference from last year is the overall clean level of play from the Sooners. Clean tackling was not an issue at all for Oklahoma and in fact. Against an extremely experienced QB in Emory Jones who was in fairly good form coming in, the Sooners delivered. They were even able to get big turnovers, with two very timely interceptions. In Danny Stutzman, who tacked on 13 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and a sack, but more importantly, got big tackles in big moments, they have a star who unifies the defense, with plenty of playmakers behind him.
Brent is no longer having to make his defensive ideas work with Lincoln Riley's leftovers. Brent was busy during the portal and his recruiting push to prioritize defensive improvement, and now, he has players who can actually execute his defense. Expect a very improved Sooner defense.
Still Areas To Improve On
Oklahoma's at a much higher level than last year, but that also means that they're at a level high enough for a 20-6 win to be scrutinized. The Sooners could have made this game much, much more dominant for themselves.
One major shortcoming was their inability to capitalize on opportunities. In five red zone trips, they had two touchdowns, two field goals, and a fumble. Against top teams, they need to be more efficient in the red zone, as opportunities won't be as frequent. Furthermore, they were only 6-16 on third downs and weren't able to extend drives, even ones that were a couple of first downs in.
Oklahoma also got in their own way with mistakes. The fumble by Dillon Gabriel in the red zone was the most glaring, but they also had eight penalties for 53 yards. In addition to yielding a first down for Cincinnati with a defensive penalty, they also set themselves behind the sticks at times - which eventually ended multiple drives. Oklahoma needs to play even more efficiently
Lastly, their run game needs to improve. There were some good runs here and there, but overall, the Sooners only had 3 yards a carry and struggled to get the run game going. Run blocking, as well as the timing and playcalling with regards to running the ball, needs to improve. If they can, the play-action pass options can also open up a lot more.
Do you play fantasy sports? Check out Trophy Smack for your next league prize! If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to our Youtube channel & Newsletter for SR Original Shows & more! Finally, give our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok & Threads a follow, all of which have great content!