Reason to feel better about the past: The only problem during the Sooners’ 73-0 cakewalk over Arkansas State last week was that Drake Stoops and Dasan McCullough exited early with injuries. Stoops played through his shoulder knock against SMU Saturday night. McCullough spent the game on the sideline with his ankle injury, but was suited up and didn’t appear to be in rough shape.
No team wants to lose depth chart cornerstones the first two weeks of a season. With Stoops and McCullough in solid shape and with no notable injuries to report Saturday night, the only Sooner facing an extended absence is third-string quarterback Davis Beville (probable high ankle sprain according to Brent Venables).
Reason to worry about the future: Dillon Gabriel remains an inconsistent passer.
Check out these back-to-back games Gabriel had last year as OU starting quarterback:
* 26-of-39 for 330 yards and 4 TDs vs. Kansas State, then 7-of-16 at TCU
* 29-of-42 for 403 yards, 2 TDs and an interception vs. Kansas, then 15-of-26 at Iowa State
* 28-of-40 for 449 yards, 6 TDs at Texas Tech, then 14-of-24 vs. Florida State
Now for Gabriel’s first back-to-back stat sheet of 2023:
* 19-of-22 for 308 yards vs. Arkansas State, then 19-of-27 for 176 yards vs. SMU
Gabriel did throw four touchdown passes against the Mustangs, with no interceptions. He was sharp in the fourth quarter when OU needed him to be.
He was also out of sync over the first three quarters when the Sooners’ defense tightened down enough to put the game out of reach.
Coach who can put up his feet and crack a beer: Defensive coordinator Ted Roof. SMU came in hoping to lean on running backs LJ Johnson Jr and Jaylan Knighton, then setting up play-action for quarterback Preston Stone. OU’s best hope to interfere with that plan was for linebackers to show up where they were supposed to, then make tackles.
WILL linebacker Danny Stutsman finished with 17 tackles, one shy of his career high. MIKE linebacker Jaran Kanak made four tackles, broke up two passes and spent a few snaps harassing SMU quarterback Preston Stone. Kip Lewis, listed behind Stutsman at WILL, made nine tackles.
Knighton carried 15 times for 76 yards but Johnson, SMU’s starter, never really got out of second gear. That helped keep the Mustangs’ deep passing game in check. Stone completed three balls for between 20 and 30 yards, but nothing over 30.
Silver stars for Jay Valai and Brandon Hall, OU’s cornerbacks and safeties coaches. The secondary played well. Free safety Key Lawrence was a madman.
A gold star for Roof, who also coaches linebackers, and a game ball for Stutsman.
Coach headed straight back to the film room: Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. Right tackle Tyler Guyton got caught five yards past the line of scrimmage to cancel Marcus Major’s 24-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter, OU leading 14-11. Gabriel overcame that with a 10-yard strike to Stoops on third-and-6.
Two snaps later, left tackle Walter Rouse false-started to make it second-and-15 from the SMU 21-yard line. Next play, Gabriel and Jalil Farooq overcame that by connecting on a 21-yard score to give the Sooners some cushion.
It wasn’t just penalties that sidetracked OU’s offensive line. Tawee Walker rushed for 117 yards, but made a decent chunk of that after contact. OU’s other backs found little room and suffered as a result.
Gabriel got solid protection. SMU chased him some but sacked him just once.
This was a step back, though, for a line that failed to deliver in too many key situations last year.
Oklahoma’s Jalil Farooq (3) celebrates a touchdown in OU’s 28-11 win over SMU Saturday in Norman. (SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN-USA TODAY NETWORK)
SportsCenter highlight: Farooq’s catch, shake-off, cut and touchdown. Gabriel threw a nice shot to get Farooq inside SMU’s 10-yard line on that decisive second-and-15, and the receiver took it from there. Farooq shook off cornerback Charles Woods and, in the same split second, cut around the tackle attempt of safety Jonathan McGill.
The combination of toughness and agility marked OU’s best play on a night individual highlights were rare.
Name to remember: Peyton Bowen. OU’s five-star freshman made a big play in pass coverage, breaking suddenly on Stone’s fourth-and-5 throw toward the sideline after OU had taken that 21-11 lead, and knocking the pass away.
Bowen made a bigger play on special teams, blocking SMU’s first punt to set up OU’s offense on the Mustangs’ 40-yard line. Three plays later Gabriel fired a play-action slant to Andrel Anthony for a 29-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.
“He did a great job. He’s only gonna get better,” Venable said of Bowen. “He makes plays.”
“A year ago I’m not sure we would have figured out a way to win that game.” — Venables, nailing the most positive thing about a stressful Saturday night for his Sooners.
OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. (SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN-USA TODAY NETWORK)
Could you repeat that?
“That’s my father-in-law. Yeah so he’s my father-in-law. That’s a grandfather to my two kids. So he was down there with my entire family after the game.” — Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby when asked after OU’s win if he invited Art Briles to be on Owen Field Saturday night.
“Again, he’s with his entire family. That’s my father-in-law. That’s the grandfather to my two kids.” — Lebby when it was suggested that some among OU’s fan base would have trouble accepting that as an excuse.