OU Rundown: Three things that intrigue me about Saturday’s game with SMU

OU Rundown: Three things that intrigue me about Saturday’s game with SMU

Gentry Williams, line play and OU’s defensive depth will all play a role.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Sep 8, 2023, 10:00am CDT

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Sep 8, 2023, 10:00am CDT

Game 2 of Oklahoma’s 2023 season features a visit from SMU (5 p.m., ESPN+). Let’s talk about it.

What’s at stake

The Sooners tore through Arkansas State and blanked the Red Wolves in the program’s first FBS shutout since 2015. SMU (1-0) should present a more rigorous test.

The Mustangs’ 37.2 points per contest ranked 12th nationally last season and their 472.8 yards trailed only Oklahoma (474.0 YPG) and 12 other programs. That Tanner Mordecai-led offense carried SMU to a 7-6 finish in Rhett Lashlee’s first season. 

Behind the reins of the tempo offense in 2023 is Preston Stone. The third-year passer sailed through the Mustangs’ 38-14 win over Louisiana Tech in Week 1, finishing 23-for-37 for 248 yards and three passing touchdowns in his second career start. 

Brent Venables noted SMU’s veteran starting lineup this week. He and his coordinators also highlighted the personnel upgrades the Mustangs mined from the portal in 2023. The transfer duo of LJ Johnson Jr. (Texas A&M) and Jaylan Knighton (Miami), for instance, combined for 192 yards (6.2 YPG) and a touchdown in the opener.

“They’ve got, give or take, 14 or 15 seniors on defense and offense,” Venables said. “Very experienced football team. They’ve done a great job in just a short amount of time.”

The first meeting between the Sooners and Mustangs since Howard Schnellenbges’ lone season in 1995 will be a challenge for OU. It should be a fun one as the Sooners enter as 16.5-point favorites, per Bovada.

Three things that intrigue me

Gentry Williams vs SMU passing game: SMU threw the ball nearly 40 times per game in 2022 (13th nationally). Here’s how OU’s Peyton Bowen described Lashlee’s passing attack during  the Sooners’ preparation this week: “They can make plays,” said the freshman safety. “They’re going to take shots. They’re going to give us 50/50 balls. In my eyes, we have to make those plays.”

Eyes, then, turn to Gentry Williams. The sophomore cornerback recorded three tackles in a smooth first start in Week 1. SMU will test him downfield.

Williams’ standout moment from the opener — the booming tackle he laid on Ja’Quez Cross for a six-yard loss — was evidence of the preparation coaches say has been central to his development in Year 2.

“It was a play we had been working all week,” Williams said. “Just read it, stayed true to my keys, and understood the play. When the moment came I was ready.”

Line play: SMU defenders accounted for six sacks against Louisiana Tech led by a pair from freshman linebacker Alex Kilgore. That pass rush will challenge a Sooners offensive line that’s oozing with confidence and did not allow a sack while rotating heavily in Week 1.

Production on OU’s defensive line has been a recurring subject since the start of the Big 12 play last fall. The Sooners’ search for a breakout Saturday will come against a Mustangs offensive line with 259 combined career games across the front line.

Competitive depth? After pumping up its competitive depth through July and August, OU boasted it against Arkansas State. Eight-seven Sooners ultimately featured in the 73-0 win.

OU won’t be able to run through 87 players on a weekly basis and will begin trimming that depth against tougher opponents like SMU. However, the Mustangs ran more plays (77.3 per game) than all but one offense nationally last fall and the Sooners could sub frequently in Week 2  as the defensive depth chart continues to settle. 

“Developing your team and developing depth is an ongoing thing we’ve all got to be very conscious of regardless of what the next few weeks look like,” Venables said.”

One thing from the opposing locker room

Lashlee took a crafty dig at rivals TCU and the Big 12 after SMU secured its 2024 jump to the ACC on Sept. 1.

“We’re the only school in the DFW Metroplex that’s in a top-3 conference in the country starting next year,” he said.

Another Lashlee note this week: He and Mustangs offensive coordinator Casey Woods were on staff at Auburn with Sooners defensive coordinator Ted Roof when the Tigers won the national title in 2010.

Something to watch

The injury statuses of Drake Stoops and Dasan McCullough are unclear headed.

Stoops left the Sooners’ second offensive series of the season holding his right shoulder and was later spotted with his arm in a sling. Venables has said Stoops was “ready to go back in the game” while OU held him out for the final three quarters.

McCullough has been spotted with a protective boot on his left foot since he exited with a lower body injury in the opener. Venables explained the Sooners’ initial concerns over a high ankle sprain were calmed upon further evaluation.

“Don’t have any idea whether or not those guys will be available,” he said Tuesday. 

A prediction 

I don’t do game predictions … so I’ll say Dillon Gabriel throws for 350-plus yards. Gabriel has eclipsed 350 yards twice in 13 starts at OU: in wins over Kansas and Texas Tech last fall and only seven times in 39 career games. An SMU secondary that finished 72nd in pass defense in 2022 could help him get there.

 

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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