NORMAN, OK - This isn't Philadelphia. "Trust the process" doesn't have to be some blanket phrase that never materializes. In the case of the Sooners, after a 28-11 win over SMU, while they showed a couple of areas for improvement, they also showed why fans should believe in them. Archrival Texas made a massive statement against Alabama, but Oklahoma and Sooner Nation need to focus on their own journey to their own top level. Here are the lessons from week two to take to Tulsa.
Aggression Needs To Be Kept Up The Whole Game
If we're just looking at a stats sheet, it's hard to figure out why Oklahoma only scored four times. Gabriel completed at a high percentage, the team didn't turn over the ball, they rushed well, and converted third downs at a high level. However, when actually watching the game, it became clear.
Oklahoma has the ability to get explosive, search for big plays, and keep a consistently running motor on offense. But on Saturday, they didn't. In between scores, they'd string together confusing drives where they sleepwalked through and didn't look for anything other than just staying alive in the drive - and when they did that, the drives would stall. To that end, OU had an impressive 7.9 yards/play on their four scoring drives, but the rest of the game, it was a miserable 2.9 yards/play.
At times, the game had the feel of last year's second game against Kent State, where everyone knew the team could score, yet for a while, they just... didn't. Keeping their intent going from minute 1 to 60 is going to be paramount for the Sooners to truly resurge. Penalties were a symptom of that kind of undisciplined play, and with 9 penalties for 88 yards (on both sides), the Sooners made the equation for themselves harder than it needed to be.
Defense Held Together Remarkably
This SMU offense they were going up against was no slouch. While they no longer had Tanner Mordecai, they had a QB in Preston Stone who was highly touted as a dual-threat option and had two years in their system, and a pair of coaches in head coach Rhett Lashlee and offensive coordinator Casey Woods who had led one of the country's best offenses over the last couple of years.
The offensive struggles from the Sooners, as well as some timely plays by SMU, allowed the Mustangs to win the yards and possession battles, as well as almost equal the Sooners in first downs. However, that didn't show up in the scoreboard. SMU only saw the end zone once, and only scored twice. When it was time to get them off the field, OU did, and SMU was stopped twice on downs and was limited to just 4-16 on third downs - and that's why such a skilled offense was limited to a mere 11 points.
Furthermore, Oklahoma got timely and clutch turnovers - in addition to the two on downs, they forced a fumble and interception (both in the second half), without which the game could have been a very precarious situation for the Sooners.
Danny Stutzman is proving to be the leader of this defense. He had a whopping 17 tackles, including a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. He was flying over the field, and his awareness at all times of where the ballcarrier was and how the play was progressing is going to be extremely useful for the Sooners, whose new-look defense is already well ahead of 2022.
The Bottom Line - Clutchness
Simply put, this is the kind of game that OU would have lost last year. The second year of the Venables era doesn't look to be the same as the first, though. The Sooners avoided it by doing all of the things they weren't able to do in 2022's close games. They won the ball security battle, creating two turnovers and producing none and they dominated the third-down battle on both sides.
Also, even after a period of offensive struggles, Dillon Gabriel and co. strung together two fourth-quarter scores to put the game away when they really needed it - and every time they got into scoring position, they turned it into six.
If Oklahoma can continue playing like this on both sides, and add some more consistency on the offensive side, they can have a 2023 season that's diametrically opposed to their 2022. Even though it'll be a pseudo-home game, OU faces their first road game at Tulsa, a team with a power offense, who somehow while losing 43-10 at Washington, still won the time of possession battle, ran more plays, and had 318 total yards (after an opening game where they exceeded 500).
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