To state the obvious, Oklahoma’s season opener against UTEP on Saturday afternoon shouldn’t be much of a contest. Sure, the Sooners are retooling of Oklahoma’s offense should come into play when considering the 43 point spread however so should the fact that the Miners allowed opponents to score an average of 34.9 points per game last season. That ranked UTEP 105th in scoring defense.
With one of the more experienced offensive lines in the nation and a Heisman contender at quarterback Oklahoma’s offense should experience a lion’s share of success on Saturday. With the scoreboard sure to be lighting up, here are three players to keep an eye on as they each have something to prove.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield
Yes, he’s proven himself over and again. No one plays better with a chip on their shoulder than Oklahoma’s emotional leader. His 3,965 passing yards and 40 touchdowns last season sent him to the Downtown Athletic Club for the Heisman ceremony. This will be his first appearance on the field since his highly-publicized arrest arrest in the spring. How he responds will most likely be to have extra emotion and extra amp in his play. Can he tone it down enough to remain as effective as normal?
UTEP opponents averaged less than 18 passing attempts per game last season but opposing quarterbacks completed 60% of their throws. I think Baker is going to be just fine.
Receiver/Tight End Mark Andrews
Andrews has everything you’d want in a big target. He’s got speed and frame to make the perfect mismatch. He’s too fast for linebackers to run with in coverage, and at 6-5/254 he’s too big for defensive backs to body up.
Andrews has live in the shadows of Sterling Shepard and Dede Westbrook during his first two seasons at Oklahoma and yet he’s still managed to compile 50 receptions for 807 yards and 14 touchdowns. Shepard moved on to the NFL following the 2015 season and Westbrook did the same after 2016. If there were even a time for Andrews to step into the limelight its right now.
Running Back Abdul Adams
The Sooners could go as much as four deep at running back on Saturday. However, as they take the field on Saturday afternoon it’ll be Rodney Anderson and Abdul Adams playing for their immediate future.
UTEP allowed opposing ball carriers an average of 5.3 yards per carry in 2016. They’ll be starting a true freshman in the middle of their line on a 3-4 scheme so I would expect all of Oklahoma’s backs to see success. That said, Adams enters the season as Oklahoma’s leading rusher, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and has the dual-threat capability of being a receiver out of the backfield. I expect Lincoln Riley to settle on two backs to feature in the Ohio State game with Adams gaining a slight edge as the top back.