Although the Sooners played great football from October through January last year, which culminated with a win against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, their September performances left something to be desired. The Sooners were bullied in Week 1 against Houston and were put flat on their backs in Week 3 against Ohio State. Following these crushing losses, the Sooners had to do some soul searching and rebounded by reeling off 10 straight victories. With an experienced offensive line protecting star QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma is expected to extend their winning streak by winning the Big 12 and contending for a College Football Playoff spot.
Where: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla.
When: 2:30 PM CT on FOX
Week 1 offers a good tune-up opportunity for the Sooners with UTEP coming to Norman. The last time the Miners played the Sooners in 2012, they kept it much closer than expected but ended up losing 24-7. Prior to the 2012 meeting, Oklahoma played UTEP in 2002 and 2000 and outscored the Miners by a combined score of 123-14. This matchup will likely be a lot more like the early 2000’s matchups since Oklahoma is loaded with talent on offense and defense while UTEP is a middling Conference USA team that lost their all-time leading rusher, Aaron Jones to the NFL Draft.
Despite losing Jones, the Miners bring back a talented and experienced offensive line headlined by All-American offensive guard Will Hernandez. Solid line play should ensure that redshirt junior Quarterback Ryan Metz stays upright in the pocket more often than not. Interestingly enough, Metz was the first UTEP quarterback to ever be invited to the Manning passing academy when he was extended an invitation over the summer. Both Miner fans and coaches are hoping that this experience with the Manning family will help the team improve upon their 4-8 record from a year ago.
Oklahoma’s Biggest Advantages
Aside from overall talent and athleticism, here’s what gives OU an edge:
Experience at QB: Out of all the defenses that Baker Mayfield has faced in his storied college football career, UTEP is probably one of the weakest. The Miner defense struggled to defend the run and the pass last year en route to a disappointing 4-8 season. Mayfield should be able to pick apart this defense and will likely be sitting on the sideline cheering on Kyler Murray by the time the 4th quarter rolls around.
The big boys up front: With preseason All-American Redshirt Junior Orlando Brown leading a battle tested offensive line, the Sooner o-line should be able to open up some big holes for their young running backs. I expect Rodney Anderson, Abdul Adams, Trey Sermon, and Marcelias Sutton to all get some carries in this game since no running back has separated themselves from the pack at this point in time.
DC Island: Though there was a lot of blame to go around after the Sooners’ rocky September last season, most of the blame fell on the cornerback position opposite standout senior Jordan Thomas. The Sooners plugged in multiple guys at the position until settling on Jordan Parker mid-season. Parker performed admirably as a starter but failed to record an interception during the season and had a lot of help over the top to mask some of his deficiencies in coverage.
These deficiencies were highlighted in fall camp, where Sophomore Parnell Motley won the starting corner job from Parker. Motley is an aggressive corner in the mold of Zach Sanchez who is not afraid to jump routes and can be counted on in man coverage without too much safety help. This coverage ability has led to Motley referring to his side of the field as “DC Island” in practice, which is an allusion to his hometown of Washington D.C. If Motley can operate successfully on an island opposite Jordan Thomas, the Sooners will be tough to beat this season. Look for Motley to try and grab his first career interception against UTEP.
What the Miners have going for them
Ground game: With their experienced offensive line, the Miners should be able to have a bit of success on the ground against an Oklahoma front seven that is trying to find its footing. Since UTEP likes to slow down the game and milk the clock, if they are able to run successfully on Oklahoma, they may be able to keep Baker Mayfield off the field for longer than expected.
Linebacker play: Despite missing two games last season, hard-hitting linebacker Alvin Jones Sr. still registered 93 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss. Jones is the unquestioned leader of a UTEP run defense that struggled last season but looks to be much improved this year. If the Miners can slow down the Sooner run game and make the offense one-dimensional, then they might be able to hang with Oklahoma for a couple quarters like they did in 2012.
House money: Since Oklahoma is a heavy favorite in this game, UTEP really has nothing to lose. They are playing with house money and should take all the chances they can against this OU team. On top of that, Oklahoma will surely be looking ahead to their Week 2 showdown against Ohio State in Columbus and could be got off guard.
With Baker Mayfield and the Sooners looking to start the season strong after a disappointing opener last year, I expect them to dominate the Miners from start to finish. Even if Oklahoma gives up some big plays on defense, the Sooner offense will be too much for UTEP.
Final Score Prediction- OU-55 UTEP-10