Coming off a huge victory in Columbus that has national pundits “anointing” the Sooners as Lincoln Riley put it, the Sooners now turn their attention to the Green Wave of Tulane. While Oklahoma is coming off of a huge win, Tulane is reeling after a tight 23-21 loss at Navy last Saturday.
Date: Saturday, September 16th
Time & TV: 5:00PM CT on PPV/Sooner Sports.com
In their Week 2 loss, Tulane held the Navy triple-option attack to 194 yards on 52 rushing attempts. This solid defensive performance can mainly be attributed to physical Tulane front seven (as well as the fact that they practice against an option attack). This group hung tough for most of the game but they did not get much support from the offense, which was held to 13 points in the first three quarters. Although the Green Wave were able to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, they were unable to complete the comeback against the Midshipmen.
While I don’t think that there’s any way Tulane can win this game, here are some reasons why this game could be closer than expected.
Ohio State Hangover
This game reminds me a little bit of the 2015 matchup between Oklahoma and Tulsa. In that game, the Sooners found themselves coming off an emotional victory over the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville and struggled early on in the Tulsa game. This led to a slim 31-24 halftime lead for the Sooners before Baker Mayfield and the Sooner offense blew the game open in the second half en route to a 52-38 victory. While the offense was potent in this game like they were for most of the 2015 season, the Sooner defense struggled, giving up 603 total yards to the Golden Hurricane. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that cornerback Jordan Thomas was suspended for the Tulsa game, leaving recently-departed Sooners cornerback PJ Mbanasor to start in his place. In addition to this, Tulsa had a potent offense in 2015 that was led by head coach Philip Montgomery, an Art Briles disciple.
Like the game against Tulsa in 2015, the Sooners could struggle in the first half against Tulane because they are coming off a huge and emotional road victory and now face an opponent that they expected to easily beat. The good news for the Sooners this time around is that most of the their defense should be available to play, minus Will Johnson, who has been ruled out. This means that freshman safety Robert Barnes will likely start in his place as long as he is cleared to play on Saturday. On top of this, their cornerback tandem of Jordan Thomas and Parnell Motley looks stout.
Tulane’s option attack
Unlike most of the teams that Oklahoma will play in their conference schedule, Tulane utilizes an option-based scheme that has some of the wishbone concepts made popular by legendary Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer. This option attack can be difficult to defend because once the ball is snapped, the quarterback, the running back or the other receivers in the backfield could get the ball at any point, and timing is key. It keeps opposing defenses on their toes and could lead to some big gains if the Sooners are caught out of position.
To run the option offense to its full potential, Tulane will need quarterback Jonathan Brantley to step up. Brantley was the backup to start that season after Kansas State transfer Jonathan Banks won the starting job in fall camp. After Banks went down against Navy, Brantley stepped in and ran the offense fairly well, even though Tulane ended up losing. With another week of first-team reps, Brantley could cause some problems for inside linebackers Emmanuel Beal and Kenneth Murray, who will be tasked with reading where the ball is going in this offense. In addition to accounting for Brantley, the backers will also have to focus on star running back Dontrell Hilliard who runs well and can also potentially catch out of the backfield. Having said that, If Murray and Beal stay focused, OU should be fine.
Up to this point in his coaching career, Lincoln Riley seems to be much more willing to go to young players in blowouts and even in big games than Bob Stoops ever was. This was apparent in both the UTEP game and the Ohio State game, where a lot of fresh faces saw the field. This gamble has paid off for Riley as young players like Trey Sermon, Grant Calcaterra, Ceedee Lamb, Tre Norwood, Mark Jackson, Robert Barnes, Addison Gumbs and others have made solid contributions or at least seen some good action through the first two games.
Despite being extremely impressive thus far, one of the hallmarks of a lot of young players in college football is that they struggle with consistency. This means that they could be due for an off day against Tulane after strong outings. Look for the young guys to continue to get major minutes, especially in the event of an early blowout.
I expect the Sooners to follow up their win in Columbus with another dominant performance. I think the defense continues to improve and pitches a shutout in this game against a backup QB they should be able to torment all day.
Oklahoma 63, Tulane 0