The 129th season of Oklahoma football is just hours away from getting underway. The Sooners will host Arkansas State on Saturday, to begin the 2023 season, in a game that kicks off at 11:00 AM. OU enters the game as a heavy favorite (36 points) and will debut a bevy of new players who have arrived since the end of the 2022 season. Brent Venables used the transfer portal, and the 2023 recruiting class, to rebuild Oklahoma’s defense and provide more power and weaponry for the offense.
There’s no chance of an upset on Owen Field on Saturday as Oklahoma should take control of this game fairly early. With that in mind, here are five predictions for the Sooners and the Red Wolves.
1. Oklahoma’s Defense Will Produce Three Turnovers
Brent Venables added 21 players during the offseason who transferred from four-year schools, with 16 of them arriving on scholarship. Among the 16 scholarship transfers, nine are on defense. That lets you know where the primary focus was for immediate improvement in 2023 was. I think the investment, particularly on the defensive line, pays immediate dividends on Saturday. Jonesboro, is the third stop for Arkansas State quarterback J.T. Shrout. He began his career at Tennessee, before spending last season at Colorado, and then transferring to Arkansas State. He’s thrown one more career touchdown (12) than he has interceptions (11), and he’s likely to be under pressure all day behind a Red Wolves offensive line that gave up 38 quarterback sacks in 2022. Between interception opportunities and any fumbles that may hit the turf, I think we’ll see Oklahoma’s defense produce three turnovers.
2. Oklahoma’s Offense Will Produce Two 100 Yard Rushers
One of the theme’s you’re going to see in this post is that I’m expecting a pretty big day for Oklahoma’s offense. We’re also expecting to see more than a handful of running backs carry the ball, opening the door for multiple opportunities for various guys to make plays. Arkansas State gave up an average of 162.4 yards per game on the ground last year, and the Sooners were 10th nationally with an average of 219.4 rushing yards per game.
Oklahoma’s rushing attack in 2023 will begin with Marcus Major (4.5 career yards per carry) and Tawee Walker (3.4 career yards per carry) before giving way to Jovantae Barnes (4.5 career yards per carry), and Gavin Sawchuk (6.2 career yards per carry). Behind Barnes and Sawchuk, the Sooner offense produced two one hundred yard rushers in the Cheez-It Bowl against Florida State. I’ve been saying since that night that we saw a preview of what’s to come in 2023. Now we’re here and Jeff Lebby has the stable of backs to keep pounding away at the Arkansas State Defense.
3. Arkansas State Will Have Less Than 50 Rushing Yards
Honestly I wanted to say that the Red Wolves will have negative rushing yards, but I realize how crazy that sounds. That said, Arkansas State struggled to move the ball on the ground in 2022. They managed an average of just 88.2 rushing yards per game at a pace of 2.8 yards per carry. There were only three other programs that were worse at running the football than Arkansas State last season.
Remember, this offensive line also surrendered 38 quarterback sacks in 2022. Three of the five starters along the offensive line are back this season, and the two new faces are transfers from Ole Miss and Lamar. Of the nine new scholarship transfers on defense, six are on the defensive line – Rondell Bothroyd (Wake Forest), Trace Ford (Oklahoma State), Jacob Lacey (Notre Dame), Phil Paea (Utah State), Davon Sears (Texas State) and Da’Jon Terry (Tennessee). Oklahoma’s defense is bigger, deeper, and stronger up than they were in 2022 and they should have a very good day in the trenches on Saturday.
4. Dillon Gabriel Will Account For Four Touchdowns
One of the things that Arkansas State will have to account for, when scheming for Oklahoma’s offense, is the running game of quarterback Dillon Gabriel. In 2022 he ran for a career high 315 yards and six touchdowns. It’s probably not something that Jeff Lebby wants to go to often, but it’s certainly something that he’ll take if it’s available. When you couple Gabriel’s running ability with a passing game that should have a massive speed advantage against the Red Wolves’ defense, you’ve got the recipe for a multiple touchdown game. If Gabriel plays into the fourth quarter then it’s a sure indicator that things aren’t going well for the Sooners. I expect that he plays into the early third quarter before giving way to Jackson Arnold. I also expect that he’ll be pretty electric while he’s in the game.
5. Andrel Anthony Will Lead The Sooners In Receiving Yards
Someone in the receiving corps has to replace the production of Marvin Mims in 2023. I think Jalil Farooq is a good option to get some of those extra catches that’ll be available, but I’m looking at Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony to be the guy who can get the big chunk plays with his speed. He averaged 16.05 yards per reception for the Wolverines and will provide the best speed option, at the receiver position, for Oklahoma’s offense. When you add a higher expected volume of catches in Jeff Lebby’s offense, he becomes one of the favorites to have the most receiving yards for this team each weekend.
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