NORMAN — Oklahoma’s two most important players play one of their most personal games Saturday, Dillon Gabriel having launched his college career at UCF and Danny Stutsman being from Orlando.
“Yeah, I ain’t gonna lie,” Stutsman said after practice Tuesday. “It’s been kind of a competition between me and Dillon whoever can get the most tickets.”
“It’s interesting how college football brings it all full circle,” Gabriel said Monday. “I’m excited for it. I’m excited for every opportunity.”
That last line is no accident. The Sooners are being careful not to treat one Saturday differently than any other, at least outwardly.
That goes for Stutsman and Gabriel even on a week they have unusual ticket obligations for incoming friends and family.
“The goal is to go 1-0 every single week,” Stutsman stated.
In that vein, let’s skip the Sooners’ leading tackler and their Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and begin an OU-UCF breakdown with the running back whose season high is 66 yards.
One player: Marcus Major
Here it is — the game OU running backs have been waiting for.
UCF’s last outing was a 51-22 loss at Kansas. Jayhawks lead running back Devin Neal carried 12 times for 154 yards.
No big deal, you say? Neal is a future NFL back who can do that to a lot of teams? OK.
But then how do you explain KU RB2 Daniel Hishaw rushing for 134 yards? And RB3 Dylan McDuffie rushing for 91?
Here’s how: UCF’s run defense ranks 121st in FBS.
Baylor’s Richard Reese rushed for 100 yards in UCF’s game before Kansas.
Kansas State’s DJ Giddens rushed for 207 yards and 4 touchdowns in UCF’s game before Baylor.
Boise State’s Ashton Jeanty rushed for 115 yards in UCF’s second game Sept. 9.
The Knights did contain the running backs for Kent State and Villanova in games one and three, but the pattern has since been established. Someone for the Sooners is headed for a triple-digit rushing day.
Could be Gabriel, coming off his career-high 113 rushing yards against Texas. Could be Tawee Walker, the only OU running back with a 100-yard game this season (117 vs. SMU).
Let’s make him Major.
He ran effectively against Cincinnati and Iowa State the two weeks leading up to Texas. He feels due to build on that.
“Each time I get the ball, it’s an opportunity for me,” Major said after his 63-yard effort at Cincinnati. “I’ve got to make the most of what I get.”
He should make plenty of his opportunities against UCF.
One problem: John Rhys-Plumlee is healthy again
UCF’s starting quarterback injured his knee during the game-winning drive at Boise State Sept. 9. He had 273 yards passing and 73 yards rushing at that point.
Plumlee totaled 280 yards passing and 90 yards rushing in UCF’s season-opening rout of Kent State.
He threw two interceptions in both of those games – surely OU’s interception-happy secondary is aware of that fact – but was more dangerous to his opponent than to his own team.
He has the potential to be dangerous for the Sooners after missing UCF’s three games after Boise plus the final three quarters at Kansas.
“We know having him back will give them a real charge,” Brent Venables said, one eye on a stat sheet that shows Plumlee has over 4,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing in his career. “It’s going to be a great challenge for our team.”
The last dual threat quarterback OU defended was Cincinnati’s Emory Jones. The Sooners limited Jones to reasonable passing and rushing yardage while intercepting him twice in a 20-6 victory.
Whether Plumlee can be more effective will likely come down to how his knee holds up.
One preposterous prediction: Gus parks the bus
There’s a term in soccer for when a team retreats into a purely defensive posture: “parking the bus.”
Much as it would be fun to see UCF coach Gus Malzahn let his play-calling imagination run wild Saturday, and as often as OU defenders have been asked about that possibility all week, I don’t see it happening.
The Knights went into a shell after trying Plumlee at Kansas for a quarter. He wasn’t right and neither was the defense. It’s not much use opening the playbook under those circumstances.
Plumlee might be closer to 100% Saturday, but I can’t see Malzahn repairing his defense in the two weeks since Kansas. Thus I can’t see UCF making it interesting enough for their warlock of a head coach to spin his wand.
“They like tricks, you know,” OU defender Kendel Dolby said this week. “So just spending time in the film room, preparing as much as you can. There’s going to be things that you didn’t watch on film, but it’s just being disciplined in your technique.”
If the Sooners play with basic discipline and technique, they should be fine. Since Malzahn isn’t likely to conjure anything crazy.
One pick: OU 47, UCF 26