Oklahoma takes to the road for the first time this season when it visits Tulsa (1-1) Saturday for a 2:30PM kickoff. The #19 Sooners are coming off a 28-11 win over SMU last Saturday that left many in the fanbase desiring to see more “flash” from the offense. Instead of opening things up, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby instead decided to keep things pretty plain and basic. The results were still good, though, as quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw four touchdown passes and running back Tawee Walker rushed for 117 yards on 21 carries.
Now, Oklahoma’s offense will face a Tulsa defense that is allowing opponents an average of 25 points, and 407 yards, through the first two games. Of those 407 yards allowed per game, 302 of them are coming through the air, so this is a good opportunity for the Sooners to return to those big downfield plays on offense that we saw in week one. In addition to that, here are four things to keep an eye on for this game.
The Golden Hurricane Quarterback Situation
Tulsa starting quarterback Braylon Braxton injured his ankle in the season opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and didn’t play last Saturday against Washington. Backup Cardell Williams, who replaced Braxton in the opener, left the Washington game with a thumb injury, leaving junior Roman Fuller to fill the void. Fuller completed 12 of his 18 pass attempts for 85 yards and a touchdown.
It’s uncertain at this point who the Golden Hurricane signal caller will be on Saturday, but what is certain is that through two games Oklahoma ranks 35th in total defense, 63rd in pass defense, and 6th in scoring defense. It might be a long day for whoever gets to take snaps for Tulsa.
Oklahoma Defense vs. Tulsa Run Game
Limiting Tulsa’s rushing attack is going to be the key for Oklahoma’s defense on Saturday. The Sooners currently rank 28th nationally in rush defense (82.5 YPG) and the Golden Hurricane are going to try and run right into the teeth of it. Through two games this season, Tulsa has run the ball 89 times and attempted just 52 pass attempts. Some of that is the situation with the quarterbacks and some of it is offensive philosophy. Keep in mind that when Kevin Wilson was running Oklahoma’s offense the Sooners had two 1,000 yard running backs.
Tulsa running back Jordan Ford is averaging 5.2 yards per attempt and his battery mate Anthony Watkins is running at a pace of 6.0 yards per carry. Bill Jackson is third in rushing for the Golden Hurricane but he leads all backs with an average of 6.4 yards per rush. This is going to be the key matchup for Danny Stutsman and the Sooner defense on Saturday.
Will The Sooners Have 100-Yard Rushers In Back-to-Back Games?
Junior running back Tawee Walker became the first Oklahoma player to crack the century mark on the ground this season, with his 117 yard performance against SMU. He leads all of the Sooner running backs in both carries (29) and yards (161). It appears, after two games, that he’s going to be the guy the OU offense leans on the most, but senior Marcus Major is also in the mix with 17 carries on the season and a 4.1 yard per carry average.
Tulsa ranks 51st nationally in run defense, with opponents grinding out an averaging just 105.5 yards per game at a clip of 3.25 yards per carry. Oklahoma has to be better than that on Saturday, I believe that they will. The Washington Huskies only managed 109 yards on the ground against the Golden Hurricane last Saturday but they averaged 5.0 yards per carry. That means that they were limited in the rushing game because they chose to be, and not because they couldn’t get it going. The Sooners are tilted a bit heavy on the run as well. They run the ball 96 times this season for 409 yards, and passed it 60 times. As a team, Oklahoma is averaging 4.3 yards per carry on the season but Tawee Walker is hitting a clip of 5.6 yards per carry and Marcus Major is at 4.1 yards per carry.
Will Jeff Lebby Open The Offense Back Up?
As we already stated, Tulsa is struggling to defend the pass this season. Washington scored three touchdowns through the air against them in Week 2 and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for 409 yards. This would be a good week for the big plays to return for the Sooner offense after taking a bit of a different approach from Week 1 to Week 2.
Dillon Gabriel’s longest pass of the season is 52 yards. That came in Week 1. Andrel Anthony’s longest reception of the season is 45 yards. That came in Week 1. Do you see where I’m going with this? Against Arkansas State, the Sooners averaged 8.65 yards per play. Last Saturday against SMU that average went down to 5.25 yards per play. Most notably, the passing game shrank from 12.8 yards per attempt in Week 1 to 6.5 yards per attempt in Week 2.
Granted, SMU is a much better opponent than Arkansas State was, but Tulsa will be as well. The question is, which version of this Oklahoma offense will we see? Regardless, the Golden Hurricane will have to prepare for both of them.
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