We’re calling it “Sellout Crowd’s Two Cents on Four Quarters.” It’s our rapid reaction from the network following big sporting events in Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Sooners’ 73-0 season-opening romp past Arkansas State certainly counts as one.
But how much should Sooner fans take away from Saturday’s win in Norman? The Sellout Crowd weighs in.
Getting the most out of the mismatch
Berry Tramel, (berrytramel.com): Games like this are quite beneficial. They let a lot of Sooners play. They leave lots of room for experimentation, like freshman phenom Jackson Arnold, the backup quarterback who apparently will be used in some Belldozer-type short-yardage stuff. They separate the wheat from the chaff.
Approximately 75% of the crowd was gone by the start of the second half, with OU ahead 45-zip at halftime. The hardcores stuck around to watch Arnold’s OU debut. The softcores headed for air-conditioning and something more entertaining than a horribly one-sided football game. It’s up to you to decide which is the wheat and which is the chaff.
What can you learn from such an exhibition? Not much. But there were some positive signs.
Dillon Gabriel threw with superb accuracy, completing 19 of 22 for 308 yards. He had lots of playmakers, and while the OU receivers had a massive talent edge, backup Jayden Gibson took advantage of his 6-foot-5 frame to make a couple of circus catches.
The offense totaled 642 yards – 473 in the first half alone – and that’s what a program like OU ought to do against a substandard opponent.
The defense pitched a shutout, which is about all you can do when faced with such a meager assignment. The pass coverage was at times shaky, bailed out by dropped passes and errant passes from quarterback J.T. Shrout, who played two years each at Tennessee and Colorado.
Arkansas State is not a good team. But the Red Wolves historically have been sneaky. They upset Kansas State in a 2020 season opener. There was no chance of that Saturday, when the wheat was separated by the chaff.
The little things were just as encouraging
Guerin Emig (guerinemig.com):The big score deserves a lot of attention. So does Dillon Gabriel’s stat line. And several big OU plays, from Jayden Gibson’s two impersonations of Lynn Swann to Kani Walker’s rip-the-ball-from-the-receiver effort to produce the Sooners’ only takeaway.
Let’s consider the little things OU did right, and the fact they did them pretty much all day. The little things won’t get as much focus, but considering they take teams to the biggest places over the course of a season, they should. You do the little things consistently well against any opponent, even one as inferior as Arkansas State, a head coach should smile.
Brent Venables will be grinning into Sunday morning breakfast.
The big moment of OU’s opening touchdown drive was Gabriel’s 45-yard rainbow to Andrel Anthony. But how about this little one: Tawee Walker finding a crease made by Tyler Guyton and McKade Mettauer on the right side of OU’s O-line and rushing for 7 yards on third-and-2. A team can man up and get a job like that done against anyone anytime.
Gavin Freeman had the Sooners’ biggest moment all game a few minutes later with an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. That wouldn’t have happened, however, without two less obvious effort blocks — one from Shane Whitter as Freeman got going and another from Samuel Omosigho to spring Freeman down the stretch. On it went the next three hours in all three phases of OU’s game, and by all sorts of players.
Dillon Gabriel delivers a sharp 2023 debut
Eli Lederman (eli-lederman.com):For all the offseason talk about accuracy, efficiency and Jackson Arnold, Dillon Gabriel didn’t need to make a statement Saturday. But that the fifth-year passer made a pretty strong one in his season debut certainly didn’t hurt.
Gabriel made deep throws to Andrel Anthony and Nic Anderson look comfortable. He made plays with his feet, too, including his nifty 5-yard touchdown run. And he was a big part of why the Sooners got off to a good start on the oft-discussed situational downs (11-of-14 on third down).
Gabriel opened his second season in Norman 19-of-22 passing for 308 yards and three total touchdowns in the kind of performance OU will need from him. The Sooners need consistent production from its skill players. Stability from Gabriel will help with that.
And for all the clamor over Jackson Arnold — who certainly impressed going 11-for-11 for 114 yards in his college debut — it’s Gabriel that OU needs in order to achieve its title aspirations this fall.
Receiver depth and defensive aggression seem improved
Jenni Carlson (jenni-carlson.com):Let’s not overreact — it was Arkansas State.
Clearly, Saturday’s opener was a mismatch for OU, but still, there was lots to be impressed by.
Three things that stood out to me:
The number of receivers who caught passes. The number was nine in the first half, 10 by the end of the game. Receiver depth was an issue a year ago, so if even half a dozen of these guys become regular pass catchers during Big 12 play, that’d be huge. Two sidenotes: Andrel Anthony sure looks like the new Marvin Mims, Dillon Gabriel’s go-to guy, and Sooners everywhere have to hope Drake Stoops’ shoulder injury isn’t severe. He’s so tough, so dependable. Being without him for long wouldn’t be great news.
The aggressiveness of the defense. The Sooners didn’t have a ton of sacks (one) or tackles for loss (six), but defenders were going hard to the ball. Early in the game free safety Reggie Pearson shot through the line of scrimmage and brought down an Arkansas State running back for no gain. A couple of plays later, linebacker Dasan McCullough dropped back in coverage and broke up a pass attempt to force a punt. On the first play of Arkansas State’s next possession, linebacker Danny Stutsman zipped into a gap and brought down a ballcarrier for a 1-yard gain. The Sooners were aggressive without being reckless. Lots of good, solid plays were made by defenders who weren’t sitting back on their heels. That’s a positive no matter how good the opponent.
Too many big penalties. OK, this was the opposite of impressive. In the first half alone, OU committed five penalties for 60 yards. Three were 15-yard personal fouls, two on defense, one on offense. It isn’t something that was going to kill the Sooners against the Red Wolves, but against a better opponent? That could be the difference in winning and losing.
Not a competitive opponent, but lots of competitive depth
Todd Lisenbee (toddlisenbee.com):The early season mismatch is a story as old as time at big-time programs like Oklahoma. How a team handles this necessary step is important to the growth of a program and the building of a culture. If you want to be hyper-critical, things weren’t perfect for the Sooners, but for week one, it doesn’t get much better.
Quarterback play: Dillon Gabriel was sharp and Jackson Arnold kept the ball rolling with a near flawless second half.
Depth: Especially at receiver, a position with a big question mark next to it in the preseason. Any time you can play that many players on both sides of the ball and win 73-0, you know the roster doesn’t have many holes in it.
Sharpness: Not a lot of false starts or lining up issues, which is always good in week one, but especially good when you’re rotating in so many bodies.
Injuries: It’s not something Oklahoma can control, but it’s a bummer nonetheless that Drake Stoops and Dasan McCullough left with injuries.
Pass rush: Still a little inconsistent, but wouldn’t read too much into it. Oklahoma’s defensive game plan was very vanilla and they ran in a lot of bodies in the front four.
The offensive line shines and the defense looks alive
Sam Mayes (sam-mayes.com):Let’s be honest: We have seen OU look like hot garbage in non-conference matchups over the last few years. The headline in those games was the overall lack of physicality up front on the Sooner offensive line. That was not the case against Arkansas State. The Sooner offensive line was poised and physical at the point of attack. Keeping Gabriel upright and opening big holes in what looks to be a deep running back room. I know it’s Arkansas State, but you have to start somewhere. The Sooners put the right foot forward today.
I don’t think we will fully understand the damage the Alex Grinch defense did to OU. The remnants of Grinch’s speed D were still visible a year ago as the Sooners looked lost and confused by Venables’ more complex defense. Against Arkansas State, it was easy to see that the Sooners were confident in their assignments and had a much better understanding of the defense. I’m not going to say this defense will be great, but I do believe they won’t be the liability they have been for a decade.