Five Standout Sooners in OU’s Stunning Season-Opening Loss

Even in a losing effort there is something positive to come out of it. There are no excuses for the way the Sooners started the 2016 college football season, but despite the obvious, some good things did come out of it.

On balance, the bad outweighed the good for Oklahoma in falling to then-15th-ranked Houston over the Labor Day weekend, leaving the Sooner players and their coaches with much to work on and get corrected moving forward.

The Sooners did not deserve to win that game, and they earned all the negative fallout in the press about another false high ranking for Bob Stoops’ troops, who clearly did not have their act together and sputtered in the spotlight in one of the marquee matchups to open the new college football season.

Despite the final score, however, several Oklahoma players did have standout performances in the Houston game. I’ve chosen to shine the spotlight on five such Sooners, and the list might surprise you.

OFFENSE

QB Baker Mayfield

Sep 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) attempts a pass during the first quarter against the Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After the game and again on Monday heading into an important week of practice, the Oklahoma second-year starting quarterback made no bones about the fact that the team has to play better than it did on Saturday. Mayfield admitted that he tried to do too much by himself and got a little greedy, holding the ball longer than he should and attempting to make more out of some plays than was actually there for the taking.

This should not take away from the fact, though, that the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year completed all nine of his first-half passes and finished the game connecting with his receivers on 73 percent of his throws, going 24 of 33 for 323 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 323 passing yards were more than his total in all but four games last season.

WR Dede Westbrook

With the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Sterling Shepard, Westbrook has taken over the lead receiver role in the Sooners’ Air Raid passing attack. And he lived up to his new role, although in a losing effort against Houston.

Westbrook hauled in a career-best eight pass receptions in the Sooners’ season-opening loss for 70 yards. That was three more catches than the next best Oklahoma receiver, who happened to be running back Joe Mixon.

Westbrook also attempted a halfback pass on a razzle-dazzle play that could have resulted in a big play for the Sooners at a key stage in the second half, but was incomplete over the head of a wide open Dimitri Flowers.

RB Joe Mixon

Sep 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) rushes for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Sooners’ sophomore halfback was the most versatile of the Oklahoma skill players on offense. Mixon snared a one-handed pass reception from Baker Mayfield on the Sooners’ second possession of the game that resulted in a 60-yard gain down to the Houston 15-yard line. Unfortunately, the Oklahoma drive stalled from there, and the Sooners were forced to settle for an Austin Seibert field goal.

That was one of five catches in the game for Mixon, resulting in 77 receiving yards. Mixon also accounted for 40 yards rushing on six carries, an average of almost seven yards per attempt.

One of several OU recruits on the Sooner roster from the talent-rich state of California, Mixon is also being utilized this year on kickoff returns. On Saturday he returned three kicks for 64 yards, an average of 21.3 yards per return.

DEFENSE

LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is one of the new starters at linebacker for the Sooners this season following the loss of All-Big 12 selections Eric Striker and Dominque Alexander.

The 6-foot, 2-inch, 242-pound redshirt junior was one of the standouts on a Sooner defense that had difficulty slowing down the potent Houston offense last Saturday. Bob Stoops was quick to cite the stellar play of Okoronkwo in the Houston game in the Sooners’ regular Monday press conference this week.

Okoronkwo delivered nine tackles in the game, seven of them of the solo variety. He also was credited with two tackles for loss, one sack and three quarterback hurries.

His outstanding play on defense, however, was somewhat overshadowed by two huge mental mistakes the Sooner linebacker committed, getting flagged for two roughing-the-passer penalties late in Houston possessions that kept Cougar drives alive and its offense on the field.

Nickelback Will Johnson

Another Sooner defender expected to play an impact role this season is fifth defensive back Will Johnson, who can move between the secondary and linebacker and gives the Oklahoma defense more flexibility.

Once rated as the No. 2 cornerback coming out of the junior-college ranks, Johnson was the Sooners’ leading tackler on Saturday with a career-high 10 (seven solo and three assisted).

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