The Oklahoma Sooners are set to open the non-conference portion of the schedule in front of a sold-out home crowd. As UTEP journeys to the recently renovated Gaylord Memorial Stadium, the Miners square off against a defense whose strength lies in the secondary. With playmakers like cornerback Jordan Thomas on the field, OU hopes to force their opponent to become one dimensional.
Look for the Sooners to lean on these three players to ensure that happens come Saturday. Here are three players who must step up and perform against UTEP.
3 Key Defensive Players
Projected to start at cornerback is Jordan Parker opposite of lockdown defender Jordan Thomas. However, I’d expect the coaching staff to rotate players in on both sides of the ball during the second half. Earning raving reviews coming out of camp, Parnell Motley cemented himself as a part of the conversation heading into the fall. At this current juncture, UTEP possesses an experienced receiving corp looking to provide a target for quarterback Ryan Mertz. Likely utilizing a true freshman at running back, the Miners may pass more often than not on Saturday. Offenses are going to test Motley and he’ll need to prove worthy early on.
After a stellar performance in the bowl game, expectations consistently elevated for Caleb Kelly over time. Moving back to a base 4-3 defense, duties shift slightly for the linebacking crew. Although the Miners are replacing Aaron Jones, they possess a big, physical offensive line headlined by All-American Will Hernandez. If runners get into the second level, the linebackers will be asked to shed a player like Hernandez in order to make the tackle. Each time the ball is run, Kelly will look to be in on the play. Look for him to be the leading tackler on Saturday.
Moving from OLB to defensive end, Ogbo Okoronkwo remains one of the nation’s better pass rushers. Facing a big but inexperienced UTEP tackle could easily give way to a productive outing for the RS Senior. Recording nine sacks from the linebacker position a year ago, OU hopes that Okoronkwo can continue to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. From the DE position, he should find the same level of success while keeping the Miner quarterback in an uncomfortable state.