#9 Oklahoma vs. UTEP | Three Questions About The Sooners

The Brent Venables Era officially gets underway on Saturday afternoon when Oklahoma hosts UTEP to kickoff the 2022 football season. Coaching changes and transfer portal exits don’t do anything to squelch expectations at a program like OU but the fact that Venables is directly linked to Oklahoma’s last national championship only serves to amp up those expectations. It’s doubtful that 2022 would be the year that the Sooners bring home the hardware but the answers to these three questions could at least affirm our belief that Sooner Nation is at least on the right course.

Are Jeff Lebby And Dillon Gabriel The Real Deal?

Saturday won’t be the first time Dillon Gabriel and Jeff Lebby worked together. The two worked some magic in 2019 when Gabriel, then a freshman, threw for 3,653 and 29 touchdowns to lead the Knights to a 10-3 record. A year later, Lebby was calling plays for Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss but Gabriel went off for another 3,570 yards and 32 touchdowns. Gabriel was limited in 2021, due to injury, but in less than three full seasons in Orlando he compiled 8,037 yards and 70 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions. The questions is, can success in the American Conference translate to success on the Power Five level?

Lebby more than proved his worth against S.E.C. competition during his time at Ole Miss. Under his tutelage, Matt Corral passed for 6,686 yards and 49 touchdowns during his final two seasons with the Rebels. That was enough to hear his name called by the Carolina Panthers in last spring’s NFL Draft and now Lebby is hoping to produce similar results for Gabriel. UTEP won’t necessarily be a step up from the competition Gabriel faced in the American Conference but we should at least have an idea of whether the reunited coordinator and quarterback are on the same page in their new location.

Is Marcus Major Finally Ready To Take The Spotlight?

Major was the No. 3 player from the state of Oklahoma in the 2019 recruiting class. The Millwood (OKC) star turned down offers from Alabama, Florida, Michigan, and multiple others to stay home and play for the Sooners. However, he’s been relegated to a backup role and missed most of the 2021 season with an academic issue. His best moment yet as a Sooner came against Florida in the Cotton Bowl when he ran for 110 yards and a touchdown, on just 9 carries, to close out the 2020 season.

Don’t get me wrong, Eric Gray is clearly RB1 when Oklahoma’s offense takes the field on Saturday afternoon but Marcus Major is as close as he’s ever been to getting bulk reps throughout an entire season with the Sooners. OU will need two running backs in Lebby’s system and Major has the opportunity to finally live up to the potential he had when he first arrived on campus. In terms of a “now or never” moment, it can’t get any more realistic than what it is right now for Marcus Major.

Is Jeffrey Johnson The Answer To Anchor The Defensive Line?

Jeffrey Johnson is in the unique position of having played against Oklahoma in 2021 and then turning around and playing for the Sooners in 2022. Defensive assistant Todd Bates has anointed Johnson as the replacement for Perrion Winfrey in the middle of the defensive line. The 6-2/313 nose guard was a monster in Tulane’s defense from 2018-2021 and will no doubt have huge shoes to fill now that he’s in Norman. His ability to eat up blockers and create a mess in the middle of the offensive line will make things much easier for guys like Jordan Kelley and Jalen Redmond who will be lining up next to him in the middle to the line.

There’s quality depth behind Johnson with Isaiah Coe. Look for the former JUCO star to get reps throughout the game without Oklahoma giving up any size or strength. Both Johnson and Coe check in at 6-2/305.

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