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Oklahoma Football: Season In Review

Oklahoma football just finished up their 2023 season with a 38-24 loss to Arizona in the Alamo Bowl, officially ending their football program's tenure in the Big 12, and getting ready to officially start their SEC tenure. As they look to start this new phase, here's what can be taken away from a respectable 10-3 Sooner campaign.


How Much Do We Read Into The Bowl Game?

The six turnovers and five holding penalties were the story of the game. Big plays were nullified, huge opportunities were squandered, and Jackson Arnold had some tough moments to start his Sooner career. With those kinds of mistakes - mistakes in turnovers and flags that affected Oklahoma all season - winning was impossible.


The positive lies in the fact that they almost overcame that. The Sooner offense showed flashes of brilliance even without Jeff Lebby. They outgained Arizona by almost 200 yards, had some really explosive moments, and had production from both the pass and running game, with Sawchuck having an awesome game, and Arnold having two touchdowns despite a poor start and a total of 4 turnovers.


With a promising QB who started his first ever game, tons of transfer losses, facing a talented, full-strength Arizona team, this loss doesn't need to fester too much. But the lesson that a cleaner game needs to be played regardless of how effective the offense is overall is invaluable.


Biggest Positives Of 2023

Oklahoma was coming off a tough 6-7 season, and as such, the first big positive lies in the results. The Sooners won 10 games, were in the thick of the conference race and needed a 2OT loss by BYU to Oklahoma State in the final week to finally push them out of the race. Most importantly, with 5 one-score losses last year, they won games that they wouldn't have in 2021, pulling out three one-score wins that required nervy, clutch play in the final minutes, including a signature win against playoff-bound Texas, and an underrated tight win over SMU where they pulled away late.


While their defense certainly wasn't perfect, they improved tremendously, moving up by 30+ places in FBS yards and points allowed. Their third-down defense was in the top-30, and as a result, they were able to get off the field. The biggest improvement, though, was in takeaways. They had a whopping 20 takeaways, which was fifth in the country, and those turnovers won the Sooners a lot of their games. They'll have arguably their best three defensive players in Jaren Kanak, Danny Stutzman, and Billy Bowman back in 2023.



Offensively, they were near the top of college football. They were third in points, fourth in yards, and were overall dominant. They didn't score under 20 once, and surpassed 50 a whopping 5 times. While they lost Dillon Gabriel to the portal and Drake Stoops to the draft, Jackson Arnold should have a complete offseason under his belt and will be poised to succeed, and will have some excellent weapons, including Jalil Farooq, Nic Anderson, and star transfer WR Deion Burks, to throw to. Gavin Sawchuck, who had an awesome 2023, and Taylor Tatum, the top RB in their entire 2024 class, will head up an excellent RB group, even without Tawee Walker.


Biggest Issues Heading Into 2024

The biggest things causing OU's 2023 issues had a common theme: lapses. Penalties, turnovers, and big plays allowed cost Oklahoma all season. In their three losses, they had 11, 8, and 8 penalties, while also having 3, 3, and a whopping 6 turnovers. Between lost momentum, nullified big plays/opportunities, and great field position setups for their opponents, the Sooners were probably just a couple shots in the foot away from finishing undefeated. They barely got away with these mistakes this year, and they certainly won't get away with them in the SEC.


While their defense made strides, their secondary was still fairly leaky, and the pass game was where the Sooners got gashed more often than not. Another area of defensive concern, the quarterback running game, was an issue that carried over from 2022, and is certainly something the Sooners are going to need to work on before joining the SEC, a league which has transformed itself in a direction of much more explosiveness.


In a conference much more hinged on the trenches than the Big 12, Oklahoma will need to be competitive up front. The transfer portal lost them 5 offensive linemen, most notably Savion Byrd and Cayden Green, and with all of the holding penalties against Arizona, that showed. They did add two talented and experienced linemen in Spencer Brown from Michigan St, and Febechi Nawaiwu from North Texas, and have a great recruiting class coming in, but there's still work to do in the portal.


While defensively, the continuity of Brent Venables, Ted Roof, and multiple key playmakers will help the unit evolve even more, in addition to a good class, offensively, the changes at OL, the replacement of OC Jeff Lebby with Seth Littrell and Joe Jon Finley will leave a lot to work on in the offseason along with a new, albeit talented QB in Jackson Arnold.


End Of Rant

While there were moments where the season played like a mixed bag, Oklahoma undoubtedly made strides in Venables' second year, and will look to build on it as they head to the SEC. How they handle the rest of transfer season and the offseason will play a big role as their first new year in the SEC goes.

 

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