Berry’s OU report card: Dillon Gabriel’s running adds new element to OU offense

Berry’s OU report card: Dillon Gabriel’s running adds new element to OU offense

Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby opened the playbook. We know that by the way the Sooners ran quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Not counting sacks and scrambles, Gabriel carried the ball eight times, often with success.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 23, 2023, 5:39pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 23, 2023, 5:39pm CDT

CINCINNATI — Dillon Gabriel made plays not only with his arm, but his feet, and OU’s defense came up big in a 20-6 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday. But there was plenty left on the bone for the Sooners to improve upon, as reflected by the OU report card:

Quarterback run game: B. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby opened the playbook. We know that by the way the Sooners ran quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Not counting sacks and scrambles, Gabriel carried the ball eight times, often with success. Gabriel gained seven and 11 yards on draw plays, the latter to help OU run out most of the last four minutes. Gabriel also zipped 12 yards on a zone-read option play to help ignite a third-quarter drive that ended with Gabriel’s tough, one-yard touchdown run. And Gabriel converted a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter with an old-fashioned option play, on which he faked a pitch and darted inside for a four-yard gain. But Gabriel had one disastrous play — a first-quarter fumble at the UC 10-yard line while running a zone read — plus a near disaster after he flipped a backwards pass on a run-pass option that missed the slipping Andrel Anthony and slowly rolled out of bounds at the UC 8-yard line.

Third-and-short defense: A. The best way to stop opponents on third down is to avoid short-yardage situations. The OU defense did that. The Bearcats faced just four third downs in which they needed fewer than four yards. And OU stopped three of those four. A tone was set early in the second quarter, when linebacker Danny Stutsman stoned UC tailback Myles Montgomery for a yard gain on third-and-2; the Bearcats punted. Another huge stop came when Reggie Grimes and Isaiah Coe teamed to stop Emory Jones for no gain on a third-and-2 quarterback keeper at the OU 20-yard line; Jones threw incomplete on the next play, with 32 seconds left in the third quarter and the Sooners leading 17-6.

Third-and-long defense: D. Cincinnati faced 10 third downs in which it needed at least eight yards. The Bearcats converted three, which is not terrible defense. Except the Bearcats converted third-and-really-long. UC converted a first-quarter third-and-12 when Sooner cornerback Gentry Williams was flagged for pass interference, leading to a field goal. In the second quarter, Jones hit receiver Evan Prater on a short crossing route that became a 14-yard play on third-and-11. And Jones scrambled for 20 yards on a third-quarter third-and-19.

Running game: C. The Sooners gained 119 yards on 30 designed running plays. Not great. Tailback Marcus Major had 63 yards on 15 carries. But the positive sign was that OU ran well when it needed to. Midway through the third quarter, after the Bearcats drew within 10-6, the Sooners ran three straight zone reads, gaining 18, 12 and six yards, igniting a touchdown drive. And on one of the game’s biggest plays, with OU leading 10-3 in the second quarter, Major broke a variety of tackles and gained 19 yards on 3rd-and-19, setting up a field goal that put Cincinnati in a 10-3 hole.

Atmosphere: A. The Bearcats produced a fabulous game-day environment for their Big 12 conference-game debut. From the Fox Big Noon Kickoff assembly on Bearcat Commons to the massive tailgating on the other side of Nippert Stadium, the campus was rip-roaring early. UC students turned out en masse and kept the place hopping until OU put away the game late. Several thousand Sooner fans added to the revelry. Nippert held up quite well in its Big 12 debut.

Quarterback containment: B. Cincinnati’s best offense comes when its mobile quarterback is running around. The Sooners let Jones free for some critical yardage running but didn’t let him get free for much in the passing game. Jones was sacked twice, for 14 yards in losses, but gained 57 yards on eight positive-yardage scrambles. Jones, however, completed just one pass, for eight yards, in scramble mode. That will do against UC.

Intermediate passing game: B. We often focus on Gabriel’s deep-ball throwing. And that was solid Saturday – he completed two of five long balls, for gains of 25 and 49 yards. The 49-yarder to Anthony was sweet. But Gabriel’s intermediate passing was quite effective. He completed nine of 13 intermediate passes, which accounted for 119 yards. The curls were particularly impressive; Gabriel completed all three of his passes on those routes, for 25 yards and 12 yards to Anthony, and 21 yards to Jayden Gibson.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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