Quick Facts on Oklahoma
Last Year’s Record: 8-5
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Coach: Bob Stoops
Returning Offensive Starters: QB Trevor Knight; FB Dimitri Flowers; RB Samaje Perine; WR Sterling Shepard; WR Durron Neal; C Ty Darlington; OG Nila Kasitai
Returning Defensive Starters: DE Charles Tapper; LB Dominique Alexander; LB Jordan Evans; LB Eric Striker; CB Zach Sanchez; FS Ahmad Thomas
- RB Samaje Perine (5-11/237): A bit of a slow start for Perine, only rushing for 77 yards against Louisiana Tech on 13 carries, 33 yards on 10 carries against Tulsa and then 67 yards on 9 carries against Tennessee. And then, West Virginia happened, where Perine exploded on the scene, where he carried the ball 34 times for 242 yards and 4 touchdowns and then, Oklahoma realized what they had. Perine went from 12 or so carries to 20+, except for the Baylor game, where he only ran the ball 5 times for 21 yards. Perine had three huge games, the aforementioned West Virginia game, Texas Tech where he rushed for 213 yards on 25 carries and the next week Perine was a one-man wrecking ball, running for 427 yards against Kansas. We’ll get into what Riley does with the running game in a bit, but Perine is arguably the best running back in the conference (as far as I’m concerned).
- LB Eric Striker (6-0/233): Every year, I do these previews and for the past two years, I always look up the Oklahoma roster thinking that Striker is 6-4/245 and that’s not the case at all. He’s actually pretty short all things considered, for an outside linebacker, and he’s not really heavy at all. It’s all speed. Striker doesn’t have just one huge game, but he’s really consistent. He had 9 sacks last year and his highest sack game was 2 sacks, against TCU, but other than that, he’s got at least half a sack a game for every game except for three, while the same sort of thing could be said about his tackles for loss, where he had a high of 2, but was pressuring every game except for Tulsa and Baylor.
- DE Charles Tapper (6-4/281): Tapper is the other bookend to Striker and that’s a pretty nice combination, complete with 7.5 tackles for a loss and 3 sacks, he’s your strongside defensive end (I think he plays on the boundary side). Tapper had a better sophomore campaign, with 9 TFL and 5.5 sacks, so something was a bit off last year. The potential is there, but I’m not sure exactly what we’ll see as Oklahoma has to replace the middle of the line.
- I Don’t Have a Clue About Quarterback: I do want to get this out of the way. I don’t have any ill feelings for Baker Mayfield. I really am done with that whole episode, although it was interesting in listening to Jace Amaro talk about Mayfield, not the person, as they still text or whatever, but the way that Mayfield left. None of us were in that room when Mayfield, but Amaro said that Mayfield just sorta left, that he was great in practices, but he wasn’t great in games and that’s pretty much the book on Mayfield. Mayfield sometimes can’t get out of his own head and he thinks he can make any throw and he just can’t. No one can, maybe except for a few guys that get paid millions of dollars to do so. Trevor Knight really had the same problem as Mayfield, which is 12 picks (Mayfield had 9 as a true freshman) and that’s way too many turnovers for what Oklahoma was doing last year. If Riley an help either one of them with the decision-making then maybe the Sooners will be significantly better.
- Shepard and Westbrook: Sterling Shepard (5-10/195) is a preseason All-Big 12 and Shepard was dominant when he did play. I can’t recall the injury, but Shepard was injured against Iowa State and the Oklahoma offense and Shepard wasn’t the same. Shepard didn’t play until Clemson and he only had 1 catch against Clemson. Prior to that, Shepard was dominant, catching 177 against Tulsa, 215 against TCU, 197 against Iowa State, 101 against West Virginia and 109 against Tennessee. There’s no doubt that someone is going to get more catches and the idea is that Dede Westbrook is going to be that guy, a JUCO transfer (6-1/167) that supposedly was outstanding in the spring. He’s obviously a bit slight, but he’s apparently got moves and there’s a pretty good chance that Riley is going to find another receiver that will be a terrific one-two punch. It will also be interesting to watch what Riley does with TE Mark Andrews (6-6/247) and how he’s implemented in the offense. Andrews didn’t catch a pass last year, but it seems like he’s going to be more involved this year.
- Rebuilding the Lines: Maybe the most overlooked aspect of what Oklahoma hopes to do offensively is that they will need to replace two very talented tackles and three-fifths of the offensive line. Make no mistake, OG Nila Kasitati is very good and anchoring the middle, Ty Darlington is going to be solid, but those edge tackles are brand new and if anything throws a wrench into OU’s plans early in the season, this is probably a pretty good place to start. The likely replacements at tackle are Josiah St. John (6-6/300) and Derek Farniok (6-9/329). As mentioned above, Tapper and Striker both return, but inside, you’ll see two relatively new defensive tackles, Charles Walker (6-2/297) from Garland and Matthew Romar (6-0/287) from Port Arthur. Walker and Romar appear to be a bit different than what the Sooners had last yer as they’re smaller than Jordan Phillips, who was large and in charge (6-6/330) so it will be interesting to see how these defensive tackles handle those inside runs. Much thanks to @JordanEsco for helping me with the players looking to contribute this year.
- Change in Philosophy: With Lincoln Riley calling plays, the biggest question is going to be whether or not the Sooners will continue to be a dominant rushing team. For comparison purposes, while in charge of East Carolina, Riley ran at least 20 rushing plays for every game of the season and ran 30+ times for nine games last year. Now, the results weren’t always there, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Last year, ECU ran 433 times and averaged 4.84 yards a carry, but compared to what Oklahoma did last year, the Sooners ran 557 times for 6.10 yards per carry. That’s about 10 less carries a game, which is significant. Heck, there was a point last year when Oklahoma ran the ball 42, 59, 33, 51, 55, and 63 times during a six game stretch. I suppose that how this all shakes out is how well the offensive line rounds into shape and if the quarterbacks don’t turn the ball over. The more shaky the quarterback position, the easy thing to do is to hand the ball off to one of the talented runners. The question is if there will be enough carries to go around. The Sooners will run enough, but will it be enough to keep everyone happy. As a quick aside, Riley was a huge part of the team’s success last year, but that defense for ECU wasn’t bad either, 37th in total defense (I know . . . the competition wasn’t great) and 11th in rushing defense plus an incredibly efficient offense, 18th best in the nation in converting on third downs and a first down offense that was 4th in the nation.
- Talented Back Seven: The linebacker corps is really terrific and they’re set, with Eric Striker, Dominique Alexander (6-0/227), Devante Bond (6-1/237), Jordan Evans (6-3/223). It’s pretty clear that Oklahoma likes a “type” of linebacker and they aren’t huge guys, but they’re highly productive. Alexander is the most productive with 107 tackles and Evans is right there with 93 tackles. CB Zach Sanchez (5-11/179) returns for his junior campaign, including 8 passes broken up. Free safeties Steven Parker and Ahmad Thomas are incredibly important, as Parker had 6 passes broken up and you could see him leap-frog his competition.