Berry’s OU report card: Offense glitters, but defensive grades are squishy

Berry’s OU report card: Offense glitters, but defensive grades are squishy

OU’s passing game eventually loosened up the TCU defense, and the run game asserted itself. Over the final three quarters, the Sooners gained 199 yards on 28 running plays.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Nov 24, 2023, 6:38pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Nov 24, 2023, 6:38pm CST

NORMAN — OU’s 69-45 victory over Texas Christian on Friday was as wild as it sounds: a combined 1,127 total yards, 55 first downs, 14 offensive touchdowns and three field goals.

The last time an OU game had this many combined points, the Sooners won 59-56 at West Virginia in 2018. And this game didn’t even have Kyler Murray to carry the load.

Thus the OU report card shows some glittering grades for offense but some shaky grades for defense.

Running game: A. The Sooners used just three running plays in the first quarter, for 11 yards, though one of them was quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s eight-yard touchdown run up the middle. But OU’s passing game eventually loosened up the TCU defense, and the run game asserted itself. Over the final three quarters, the Sooners gained 199 yards on 28 running plays. Tailback Gavin Sawchuck finished with 130 yards on 22 carries, and Gabriel had a 40-yard run off a fourth-and-1 option play. OU averaged 6.8 yards per carry on called running plays.

Red-zone defense: D. The Sooners have been fairly tough in the red zone this season, including some memorable goal-line stands. But there weren’t many stands vs. TCU. The Frogs penetrated the OU 20-yard line six times; they produced five touchdowns and one field goal. On the five touchdowns, TCU never faced third down in the red zone.

Deep passing game: A. Gabriel completed four of eight passes on throws at least 20 yards downfield, for 182 yards and two touchdowns. All of Gabriel’s completions — 50 yards on a Nic Anderson post pattern on the game’s first play, a 59-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Gibson on a fly pattern, a 20-yard completion to Anderson on a seam route and a 53-yard TD on a Brennan Thompson post — came in the game’s first 15½ minutes. Gabriel didn’t connect on another deep ball, and his only two long throws in the second half were first overthrown and then underthrown, the latter intercepted. But those initial home runs set a tone for the game and soon enough caused the Horned Frogs to adjust, opening the run game for the Sooners.

Special teams: B. Gavin Freeman muffed a punt for the third time this season; the Frogs recovered and turned it into a 19-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. And OU allowed a 32-yard kickoff return. But otherwise, the Sooners were solid. The slumping Zac Schmit made 23- and 40-yard field goals. Luke Elzinga’s only punt went for 48 yards. And the Sooners fleshed out a TCU fake punt, with P.J. Adebawore forcing Trent Battle, an upback who took the direct snap and wanted to pass, to scramble, and Kip Lewis pulled down Battle five yards shy of a first down. 

Gallery: OU’s 69-45 win over TCU in pictures

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Run defense: D. The Sooners let TCU tailback Emani Bailey break free far too much. Bailey gained 150 yards on 21 carries. The Horned Frogs had 173 yards on 25 designed runs. Bailey is no slouch; he now has 1,209 rushing yards this season.

Offensive line: A. The Sooners allowed two sacks, but one was on a major blitz in the fourth quarter, and another was on a scramble in which Gabriel slid, else he’d have finished with positive yardage. TCU was credited with only one other quarterback hurry. And early in the game, the line gave Gabriel plenty of time to set up for those long balls. Meanwhile, the running game was well blocked, as soon as the TCU defense backed up after the initial aerial assault. Sawchuck (and Gabriel, on his 40-yard option run) had some big holes.

Crowd: B. OU had plenty of unused seats, but give the fans credit. The traffic-free roads and the lack of campus buzz made it seem like this game could be the lowest-attended in years. Fans clearly weren’t enamored with a Friday game, the students were torn since the game was in the middle of a five-day weekend, and OU even promoted special ticket packages for the game. But still, the stadium mostly was full and didn’t look bad for the Fox cameras.

Pass rush: B. Much has been made of OU’s limited sacks this season — 18 through 11 games. And the Sooners had just one sack Friday, courtesy of safety Reggie Pearson, whose blitz forced a fumble from Frog quarterback Josh Hoover. But Brent Venables’ blitzes worked repeatedly, without too much consequence on the back end. The Sooners were credited with seven quarterback hurries against Hoover, one each from Kendel Dolby, Kip Lewis, Rondell Bothroyd, Ethan Downs, Trace Ford, Da’Jon Terry and Isaiah Coe.

 

 

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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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