College football is finally back as the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners are set to host the Houston Cougars in the 2019 season opener. Lincoln Riley enters his fifth season at OU, third as its head coach, and will face an old foe in a new place with Dana Holgorsen kicking off a new chapter at UH. Eyes around the nation will be focused on this prime time matchup in Norman as it’s the one and only football game scheduled on the eve of Labor Day.
Also, lest anybody forget, Sooner fans need to WHITE OUT the Palace on the Prairie! Also, it’s your last opportunity to wear white before Labor Day, so be sure to take advantage.
Time & TV: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. CT, ABC
Line: Oklahoma -23 (as of Thursday, 3 p.m. CT)
What will the Sooners look like with Jalen Hurts at QB?
When college football fans around the nation turn on their televisions to watch Oklahoma and Houston, they’ll be most interested in seeing how Alabama grad transfer QB Jalen Hurts has taken to Lincoln Riley’s tutelage. Over the past four seasons, the Sooners have set the bar when it comes to offensive prowess. Under Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, the offense was as potent and efficient as the sport has ever seen. With Hurts now at the wheel, people want to see if OU takes a step back, and if so, how much.No matter what happens, plenty of overreactions are likely to be expressed.
The other interesting dimension of this is how Lincoln Riley will tweak his offense to fit his QB’s skill set. Generally, much of it will look the same, but he has a successful history — at both ECU and OU — of adjusting his scheme to best suit his personnel. Hurts has the size, agility, patience and vision to create serious problems for defenses with his legs, so expect Riley to pepper in some designed runs. Additionally, when OU is in short-yardage situations, it’ll be interesting to see what brand of power package he chooses to deploy.
While Hurts is an adept passer, he doesn’t quite possess the arm talent of his predecessors (though there’s certainly no shame in that). How this impacts what Riley chooses to do with the downfield passing game remains to be seen.
How will Alex Grinch’s defense handle Houston’s high-powered offense?
The other dominating storyline for Oklahoma this offseason has been the hiring of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. After the last two seasons of all-time prolific offense were spoiled by a severe lack of defense, Riley knew a change had to be made. Mike Stoops and OU parted ways in October, and Grinch was hired in January to take over the Sooners’ D.
Although Grinch was brought in from his co-DC role at Ohio State, it was his track record at Washington State that sold him to Riley. His goal is to run an aggressive, swarming style of defense that forces multiple turnovers a game, and his group certainly won’t have to wait long for a challenge because Houston is expected to field one of the better offenses in college football this season. Led by dynamic dual-threat QB D’Eriq King, the Cougars boast several dangerous receivers and runners that will test OU early and often.
Can Oklahoma’s re-tooled offensive line perform up to standard?
The Sooners’ O-line won the Joe Moore Award in 2018 for the nation’s best unit up front, but four of those five guys are now in the NFL kicking off professional careers. Although a lot of production must be replaced this fall, the team captain and lone returning starter, Creed Humphrey, might have been the most talented individual of last year’s group.
To go along with Humphrey as the keystone is redshirt junior Erik Swenson at LT. Down the line, LG Marquis Hayes, RG Tyrese Robinson and RT Adrian Ealy are all redshirt sophomores and members of OU’s #SoonerSquad17 class. With 2019 being most of these players’ third year in the program, they understand what’s expected of them as well as the standard that’s been set before them. It’ll simply be a matter of these players gelling into a cohesive unit. As we’ve seen in the past, that can sometimes take several games. Hell, even last year’s unit struggled with run blocking in the early stages of the season.
In short, if the unit is a well-oiled machine by the time OU rolls into Fair Park, I like the team’s chances of reaching the College Football Playoff once again.
OU vs. Dana Holgorsen: Part VIII
The Mountaineers never beat the Sooners in seven tries under Dana Holgorsen. Now at Houston, Holgo will try to finally tally a win on his 0-7 record against Oklahoma.
On paper, this could be one of the better offenses he’s had, regardless of where he’s been as a head coach or coordinator. On the flip side, the defense will need to make dramatic improvement from last season’s abysmal showing. For as awful as OU’s defense was, the Cougars were even worse at times. The chips will obviously be stacked against Holgorsen when UH comes to Norman, but if this turns into a shootout, anything is possible.
According to Vegas, Oklahoma should defeat Houston by at least three possessions, and in this instance it seems on point. The way this looks on paper, the Sooners should have absolutely no problem moving the ball on the Cougars’ defense, especially when it comes to the ground game. I expect to see a couple 100-yard nights for OU’s running backs, and Jalen Hurts will also rack up his share of keepers. That said, the biggest takeaway from this game will be Hurts’ passing. Not only will he spread the ball around to a number of receivers like CeeDee Lamb, Grant Calcaterra and others, he’ll throw the ball down the field with efficiency. Defensively, Alex Grinch’s group will start slow, and even bust on a couple plays made by Coogs QB D’Eriq King, but the raucous white-out crowd will help them settle in midway through the night.
Final score prediction: Oklahoma 56, Houston 31
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