OU report card: Don’t forget offensive line penalties when analyzing Alamo Bowl defeat

OU report card: Don’t forget offensive line penalties when analyzing Alamo Bowl defeat

They often blocked well. They also blocked illegally. OU was called for six holding penalties — two on Sexton, and one each on Everett, Rouse, tight end Austin Stogner and receiver Gavin Freeman. Mettauer was flagged for ineligible receiver downfield and a personal foul. It would take pristine blocking to make up for that many penalties.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 29, 2023, 5:00pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 29, 2023, 5:00pm CST

SAN ANTONIO — In the middle two quarters of the Alamo Bowl, OU outgained Arizona 447 to 99 in total yards, and the Sooners scored 24 straight points. But the Wildcats dominated the first and fourth quarters and beat OU 38-24.

How did it happen? Six Sooner turnovers did the trick, including three in the final 15½ minutes. But this OU report card looks closer at how the Sooners snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Offensive line: D. The Sooners used a makeshift offensive line, with center Andrew Raym and tackle Tyler Guyton skipping the bowl game. But the Sooner regrouped with a quintet of starters vs. Arizona that sported quite a bit of experience: center Troy Everett, tackles Walter Rouse and Jacob Sexton, and guards McKade Mettauer and Caleb Shaffer. They often blocked well. They also blocked illegally. OU was called for six holding penalties — two on Sexton, and one each on Everett, Rouse, tight end Austin Stogner and receiver Gavin Freeman. Mettauer was flagged for ineligible receiver downfield and a personal foul. It would take pristine blocking to make up for that many penalties. OU quarterback Jackson Arnold was sacked thrice; he was pressured seven times. OU’s running game was productive at times, and in 29 designed running plays, the Sooners gained 189 yards, led by tailback Gavin Sawchuk’s 134 yards on 15 carries. But the penalties were killers.

Pass rush: A. Brent Venables went with a smaller, faster defensive lineup for his 3-3-5 defense. It mostly worked. OU’s continued assault of Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita kept the Sooners in the game early and allowed the Sooners to take control of the game through three quarters. Even in the fourth quarter, OU twice sacked Fifita. The Sooners were credited with five quarterback hurries and five sacks. They got to Fifita with blitzes and with their front four. Linebacker Kendal Dolby had two sacks, and linebacker Kip Lewis and linemen Marcus Stripling and R. Mason Thomas one each. Arizona was missing star offensive tackle Jordan Morgan, and the Sooners took full advantage.

Seth Littrell: C. OU’s new offensive coordinator was hampered in his debut: rebuilt offensive line, freshman quarterback making his first start. Littrell’s schemes and gameplan seemed solid. Nothing to criticize on any particular play. But all six OU turnovers came on pass plays. All eight OU penalties came on Sooner pass plays. OU snapped the ball 79 times; 50 were pass plays. Some of those were run-pass option calls by Arnold. But OU’s running game was effective. More runs would have helped minimize the cavalcade of mistakes.

Jackson Arnold: C. Arnold did so many things well, it’s a bummer to give him a C. But he committed four turnovers, which is losing football. Arnold’s accuracy was good, completing 26 of 45, including 21 of 31 between a rough start and rough finish. Arnold’s mobility was readily apparent; he will be a load for future opponents. But while Arnold had a good sense of avoiding Arizona’s pass rush, he also held the ball too long at times, perhaps contributing to the excessive holding penalties.

Atmosphere: A. The Alamo Bowl is quite underrated. It ranks with the Citrus as the best bowls without the New Year’s Six distinction. Great city to visit, quality matchup always. And fans turn out. Arizona, playing in perhaps its second-biggest bowl ever, brought a healthy contingent of fans, perhaps 10,000. OU fans probably numbered 30,000, and the game was announced at 55,853 in the 65,000-seat Alamodome, which rocked throughout the game.

Pass defense: C. In the middle two quarters, OU’s defense was dominant. ‘Zona never ran the ball effectively, but Fifita was slowed in the second and third periods. In those quarters, Fifita completed eight of 17 passes, for 95 yards and an interception. But Fifita started and ended hot. In the first and fourth quarters combined, he completed 16 of 21 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns. The Sooners blitzed a lot, leaving the secondary in man-to-man coverage. The slant patterns were particularly effective early and late, plus Jacob Cowing got behind cornerback Woodi Washington for a 35-yard touchdown pass, and a scrambling Fifita found Cowing on a crossing pattern that Cowing turned into the go-ahead, 57-yard touchdown play. And in one of the plays of the game, a 2nd-and-17 from the Arizona 10-yard line, Fifita hit Tetairoa McMillan on a slant pattern for 15 yards. Four plays later, UofA scored the go-ahead touchdown,

 

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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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