Sellout’s rapid reaction to OU’s 20-6 victory at Cincinnati

Sellout’s rapid reaction to OU’s 20-6 victory at Cincinnati

Oklahoma is 4-0 after winning its Big 12 opener at Nippert Stadium. Here's the Sellout Crowd's postgame analysis.

Mike Sherman

By Mike Sherman

| Sep 23, 2023, 2:25pm CDT

Mike Sherman

By Mike Sherman

Sep 23, 2023, 2:25pm CDT

CINCINNATI — Here’s the Sellout Crowd’s rapid reaction to Oklahoma’s 20-6 victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats in a Big 12 Conference football opener: 

Nothing easy about OU win, but that’s OK

Berry Tramel: Cincinnati’s offense moved the ball. The Bearcats got into OU territory eight times and reached midfield on another possession. UC went home with six points.

The Sooner offense moved the ball. 

OU’s offense moved the ball. The Sooners got into Cincinnati territory six times and reached midfield on another possession. OU went home with 20 points.

That’s how tough football games are won, and make no mistake, this was a tough football game. The Sooners beat UC in a historic and hard-edged affair.

It wasn’t pretty, but this was the kind of game the Sooners made a habit of losing in 2022. But on this beautiful afternoon in which the Bearcats made their Big 12 conference-game debut, the Sooners found a little running game at the right time, hit enough deep balls and turned away Cincinnati’s many threats.

Run game woes still hard to ignore

Eli Lederman: The Sooners are 4-0 and they’ve gotten there without an impact run game. OU will have to sort out its issues in the backfield if the Sooners intend to be back at AT&T Stadium for the Big 12 Championship on Dec. 2.

Four games into 2023, OU doesn’t know who its lead running back is. The Sooners began Saturday averaging a meek 4.3 yards per carry. And in Cincinnati, they mustered 105 yards on the ground (3.1 per attempt) and only 35 before halftime. 

Potential showed on the series of runs that preceded Dillon Gabriel’s third-quarter rushing score powered OU’s final touchdown drive. The passing game might be good enough to overcome the lack of rushing power. But OU has more questions than answers in the run game at present.

So much is better about this Sooners team from last year to this fall. A rushing attack that led the Big 12 in yards per game a year ago isn’t one of those things.

Good enough when it had to be

Guerin Emig: Any conference road win is important, whether dominant, opportunistic or lucky. Chalk up OU’s victory at Cincinnati as opportunistic.

The Sooners did not click consistently on offense. They weren’t strong enough in the run game to do so. Their passing game was more reliable, but there were still too many mistakes to suit Dillon Gabriel and Jeff Lebby. 

What Gabriel and Lebby needed to do was enough good things to score enough points to bolster a defense playing well enough to win. The Sooners accomplished that most clearly on a nine-play, 75-yard drive in the third quarter to open a 17-6 cushion.

OU’s defense did play well enough to win, mostly by clamping down on multiple occasions when it appeared Cincinnati was on the verge of scoring. 

In order of appearance:

* Key Lawrence shot over from his safety position to help Woody Washington and pick off Emory Jones in the end zone in the second quarter. 

* The Sooners stiffened after Cincy had a first-and-10 from the OU 15 in the last minute of the first half. The Bearcats got nothing as Carter Brown pulled his 26-yard field goal try wide left.

* Cincy had second-and-2 from the OU 20 late in the third quarter, only to gain 0 yards its next three plays as Danny Stutsman, Reggie Grimes and Isaiah Coe manned up at the line of scrimmage.

* Billy Bowman intercepted Jones’ tipped pass at the OU 26 midway through the fourth quarter. 

An OU win in a defensive game? You bet

Jenni Carlson: OU won a defensive battle.

Yes, it’s true.

I’m not ready to say the Sooner defense is completely fixed, but it sure looks better than it has been in the past few years. Here are three things I liked about OU’s defensive performance at Cincinnati.

*The Sooners limited the Bearcats’ rushing yards. Cincinnati was going to run the ball. It’s what the Bearcats do best, but at half, they didn’t even have 40 yards. They ran it better in the second half, the Sooners held them in check well. Their longest run was 20 yards.

*The Sooners got pressure on Bearcat quarterback Emory Jones. We haven’t seen much in the way of blitzes and stunts and such from the OU defense, but on Saturday, Brent Venables opened up the playbook. The results were splendid. Sacks. Hurries. Tackles for loss. Really great work by the defensive line and the linebackers.

*OU continues to tackle well. We saw a few more missed tackles than in non-conference games, but this was a step up in competition. And still, the Sooners were more often than not sure in their tackling. Lots of great open-field tackles and one-on-one situations that would’ve gone bad without a good tackle. 

Red Zone Defense and Just Enough Offense

Ed Murray: OU started last season 3-0 before giving up 41 points in a week 4 loss. There was no repeat in Cincinnati. Through three quarters, the Bearcats reached the red zone four times and ran 15 plays. The results: Three points. With OU leading 10-3, Key Lawrence ended one of those possessions with a goal-line interception and the next trip ended with a missed short field goal just before halftime.

Finally, in a 10-6 game, the OU offense imposed its will with six power running plays in a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Gabriel capped it off with a little push from tackle Walter Rouse for a 17-6 lead. On the next drive, Andrel Anthony made a beautiful grab on a 50-yard bomb to set up a field goal. For a day that might be considered a little shaky for the offense, Anthony had his second straight 100-yard day and Gabriel his 19th career 300-yard passing day.

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Mike Sherman is the director of content for Sellout Crowd. He spent the majority of his 39 years in journalism at The Oklahoman, first as a sportswriter and then as the sports editor. His staff routinely produced award-winning coverage of the Sooners, Cowboys, Thunder, high school sports and major events. Mike is a past president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. His career includes tenures as the sports editor with the Tampa Bay Times and Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch, an assistant city editor with The Tennessean in Nashville and a reporter for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa. More recently, he spent three years as executive editor for Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit investigative news organization in Oklahoma City. Mike and his wife, Cathleen, live in Edmond, Oklahoma, where they raised four children. Email Mike at mikesherman@selloutcrowd. Follow him at @MikeSherman on X/Twitter.

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