NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 3: Offensive tackle Lane Johnson #69 of the Oklahoma Sooners congratulates running back Dominique Whaley #8 after a touchdown during the first half against the Tulsa Hurricanes September 3, 2011 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 47-14. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Sooner Nation had waited (impatiently) for the better part of eight months and on the opening night of the 2011 season in Norman, the Oklahoma Sooners did not disappoint them. We, at least some of us anyway. Not unexpectedly, there are some among OU fans that were not satisfied with the Sooners 47-14 win over Tulsa. To these people, I can only say. Seriously? What else exactly were you looking for last night?
These people may disagree, but in my opinion they are choosing ignore a very important fact about the game Saturday night. First, this was about as vanilla as OU could get on offense. Look, it just doesn't make any sense to give anyway anything in terms of scheme or play calling two weeks before the big game against Florida State. If this game had been more competitive, then maybe Heupel has to dig a little deeper into the playbook. Fortunately, it never came to that and OU fans should recognize that's a good thing. No reason to be frustrated with last night's offensive performance, unless you're just looking for something to complain about.
So with that said, let's talk about what we did see Saturday night from our Sooners.
Well it wasn't the finest Landry Jones performance we've ever seen, but it also didn't really need to be. Jones was efficient Saturday night going 35/47 for 375 yards and one TD. He was the victim of a couple drops, so those numbers could have been even a little bit better. Though I will say it seemed like Jones and the passing game were maybe just a hair off, I mean it's nitpicking on my part but they didn't seem to click at quite 100%. Now that's to be expected considering it was the first game of the season and the fact that they were without their #2 threat in Kenny Stills. Some may have wanted a couple more touchdown passes for Landry, and there were opportunities, but this team establishing a dominant run game is a HUGE plus for this offense. But we'll get into that more a little later.
So what is key on a night when you're not really challenged is avoiding the little mental lapse type mistakes. Landry was essentially untouched for the entire night and more importantly didn't have an interception. We're all aware of his propensity last year to turn the ball over at inopportune times, so it was encouraging last night that he didn't even really make a throw that was threatened to be intercepted. If this is as "poor" as Landry plays all year, I think we'll be just fine.
As expected, Drew Allen was the first guy off the bench and came in to relieve Landry during mop up duty. Somewhat surprisingly, Allen was actually allowed to throw the ball some whereas in the past really just coming in to hand the ball off. He had a couple decent throws, but got very, very lucky that he wasn't the victim of a pix six. I was a little disappointed that the coaches didn't at least give Blake Bell a series or two and play both backup QBs to see how they did in live game action. Bell has already used his redshirt year, so I see no benefit in an opportunity like last night with the game well in hand to not get Bell in there as well.
Clearly the star of the night was walk-on RB Dominique Whaley and his four touchdown performance. We've learned as OU fans to, at times, take some of the things we hear from our coaches with a considerable grain of salt and that very approach was widely adopted when it came to talk of Whaley's pending emergence from a crowded OU backfield. However Mr. Whaley showed all us doubters that the coaches might not have been full of it on this one. Whaley is a big(er) back who showed an impressive ability to run through tackles last night, none more so than on his 32-yard TD run which would be his fourth and final of the night. It's only natural for some, like the FX announcers, to get a little over excited about one game so I think we can hold off on the Heisman talk for at least a little while. We all know the competition gets a lot tougher in two weeks against FSU and in the weeks to come, but at the same time that shouldn't necessarily take away from Whaley's burst onto the scene last night. 131 yards with a 7.3 average per and 4 TDs speaks for itself and it does not speak softly.
For all the attention Whaley is getting, and deservedly so, the man who started the game for OU was actually Brennan Clay. His play seemed to draw mixed reviews, at least based on those in our game threads last night, but I thought Clay played pretty well. Clay finished with 64 yards on 14 carries (4.6 avg) and one touchdown on a nice 11-yard run where he did a great job of being patient, allowing his blockers to set up the scoring run. Clay also caught the ball well out of the backfield (4 for 41) and many are calling him "Demarco-lite" after a nice little game Saturday night.
I'll openly admit this next little bit maybe be more of my own personal bias, but I don't think that automatically makes me wrong. I hate the way they used Roy Finch Saturday night Or maybe I should say I hate the way they hardly used him at all, that might be more accurate. All last year, and this spring/summer we've heard the same things about Finch. How dynamic he is, how explosive he is, how hard he is to tackle. And yet here they are barely giving him any carries (5 for 23) and moving him to the slot, where I believe he was targeted all of zero times. To me, this reeks of a Mossis Madu type situation, which failed miserably, and no offense to Madu but Finch is a MUCH better player. So to move him to a position where he cannot get the ball into his hands on at least a semi-regular basis strikes me as a highly questionable decision. I'll reserve judgment, for now, for many of the reasons I mentioned earlier. It was just one game and we know they were holding things back, but if it stays like it was Saturday night I think they are making a big, big mistake.
I did like the way Heupel used Trey Millard last night, getting him involved in the passing game, but we didn't see him get the carries (1 for 6 yards) that we might have expected. Jonathan Miler got in late and had the benefit of running against nine man fronts, finishing with 20 yards on seven carries. The two backs we didn't see at all were Jermie Calhoun and freshman sensation Brandon Williams.
WIDE RECEIVER / TIGHT ENDS
The star of the show as usual was the one and only Ryan Broyles. 7 catches for 100+ yards would be a great game for most WRs, but that's just a first quarter for the Sooner superstar. Of his 14 catches, the finest was surely the 50-yard bomb he hauled in despite the ball being under thrown and some serious pass interference. The guy just defies the human vocabulary at this point.
Going in, without Stills, many OU fans were looking for a guy to step up and make a claim for that third WR spot. If Saturday night is any indication, that guy is Trey Franks. Of all the wideouts, Franks easily had the best performance on the night (behind Broyles of course) finishing with 74 yards on seven catches. At times it seems like if he could just get his feet underneath him, he'd be just a step or two away from breaking some of these for big gainers.
The other likely candidate for that third spot was Dejuan Miller and he did not have the game that many had hoped for against Tulsa. Miller finished with a disappointing 20 yards on just two catches. Hopefully it's just a matter of needing to get warmed up and back into the swing of things after having missed most of last year.
The rest of the WR field was pretty uneventful. Jaz Reynolds played, but didn't have a catch. Kameel Jackson got in, bye-bye redshirt but we knew that was coming, but not until very late though he did have a nice 17-yard reception. Justin McCay and Sheldon McClain did not play a single snap in the game.
The TEs were almost non-existent for most of the night. James Hanna had 46 yards on 2 catches, but 41 came on a single play. Austin Haywood had the first two receptions of his career, totaling all of 12 yards. Fan fave, Trent Ratterree, had just a single catch for six yards.
I'm by no means an expert on the intricacies involved with playing on the offensive line and as of yet, I haven't had a chance to watch the replay yet which usually gives me a chance to gather much more insight to their play. So forgive my simplified analysis of their play Saturday night against Tulsa. From a novice perspective, I think almost anyone could see they were getting a good push for most, if not all, of the night. Clearly evidenced in the overall performance of the RBs (246 yards and a 5.3 yard avg) as well as the noticeably clean jersey of Landry at the end of the night.
The point has been made and remains valid, that the competition in two weeks will be considerably better, but it was encouraging to see them establish a solid run game Saturday night. Even against teams with a defense like TU in the past, they've struggled to do so at times so while it's important to keep it in perspective it was still a positive.
The five who came out first were (from left to right): Stephenson, Ikard, Habern, Evans, and Daryl Williams. Much like they do though, the coaches subbed in multiple guys throughout the night. Austin Woods got in at center late, Bronson Irwin, Stephen Good, and Adam Shead all saw time at guard, while Lane Johnson and Tyrus Thompson also saw time at tackle. Freshman Nila Kasitati did not play, so hopefully that means they'll give him the redshirt year I think he needs.
So overall it was pretty much what most of OU fans could have expected, though if you consider how dominant the run game looked maybe even better than expected. As when you consider they weren't running at full strength, minus Stills, plenty of reason to be optimistic for the FSU game in two weeks. As always, your comments are welcome as to what you saw, liked/disliked, or just think we didn't include above.