Let’s be honest here. The Sooners haven’t been stellar in season openers away from Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. That’s not necessarily an indicator that things will go south in Houston on Saturday though. Oklahoma returns its most talent laden team since Sam Bradford led the boys out of the tunnel in Jerry World back in 2009. OK, perhaps that’s a bad example. However, expectations were high back in `09 and they’ll remain every bit as high when OU takes the field at NRG Stadium this morning as well.
In the game of football the past has no bearing on the future. Each season is fresh with new possibilities and opportunity. Greg Ward Jr. and his Cougar teammates will have more to say about Oklahoma’s debut than an injury riddled 2009 squad or a slow-starting 2012 team that snuck out of El Paso with a win. This may be the best team that Bob Stoops has faced in an opener and the game plan will leave no room for error.
Three Keys When Oklahoma Has The Ball
1. Dominate the line of scrimmage | Keeping Baker Mayfield healthy has to be a top priority this season. With all due respect to the potential of freshman Austin Kendall we really don’t want him on the field with the game still in question.
2. Protect the football | Houston was +21 in turnover margin last season. They thrive on taking the ball away and that’s exactly what OU must prevent. Houston’s offense is dangerous and giving them extra opportunities to be on the field could be disastrous.
3. Run, run, run! Run the football | The Cougars were good at defending against the run in 2015 but way below par at defending the pass. Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are some of the best in the business. Using them to set up the pass will only give Baker Mayfield a higher rate of success against what could be a porous Houston secondary.
Three Keys When Houston Has The Ball
1. Dominate the line of scrimmage | Sound familiar? Yeah, it applies to both sides of the ball. For all of the reasons Oklahoma wants to win the line of scrimmage when they have the ball, they also want to win the line of scrimmage when Houston is on offense. OU wants to live in the Cougars’ backfield and put all kinds of pressure on Greg Ward Jr.
2. Contain and funnel everything up the middle | Greg Ward Jr. is dangerous. He’s even more so if he can get to the outside. Oklahoma needs to keep him from getting there by playing containment and forcing him up the middle where the linebackers will have the opportunity to clean things up.
3. Stop the run | Houston has a new toy in running back Duke Catalon and they plan to use him. As the two offenses mirror each other, Houston plans to make Greg Ward Jr. even more lethal with a successful rushing attack. Limit the run and you limit what the Cougars are able to accomplish within their offensive game plan.
We’re about to learn a whole lot about this OU football team and then two weeks later we’re going to learn even more. Making it to that match-up against Ohio State with an unblemished record will be determined on Oklahoma’s ability to successfully implement these six elements into their game plan against Houston.