Utah St.-Oklahoma Preview

A year ago, Oklahoma’s season opener was a complete disaster.
Its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was injured and the team
lost to a ranked program, essentially ending its national
championship aspirations.

It’s unlikely Bob Stoops’ club will experience a similar fate in
this year’s opener.

The seventh-ranked Sooners look to put a disappointing 2009
behind them in Saturday night’s opener against a Utah State team
that hasn’t defeated a ranked opponent in nearly 20 years.

Coming off an appearance in the BCS title game and with Heisman
Trophy-winner Sam Bradford back, Oklahoma opened last season as the
nation’s third-ranked team. Any chance of getting back to the
championship game pretty much ended when Bradford was injured in a
season-opening loss to then-No. 20 BYU at the new Cowboys Stadium
in Texas.

Freshman Landry Jones was thrust into the starting quarterback
role, and although he played well at times, the Sooners were unable
to recover from injuries to other key players – tight ends Jermaine
Gresham and Brody Eldridge and offensive lineman Trent Williams.
Oklahoma went 8-5 to finish tied for third in the Big 12 South, and
ended the year with a win over Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

“We don’t want to be a five-loss team,” Jones said. “That’s not
what we’re here at Oklahoma for and that’s not what this program
has been built on. This program has been built on championships and
that’s what we’re working toward during fall camp, and hopefully
that’s how our season will turn out.”

This season seems like it should get off to a better start with
a game against Utah State, which has lost 26 straight to ranked
opponents since defeating then-No. 25 Fresno State 20-19 in 1991.
The Sooners, then ranked third, beat Utah State 54-3 in 2007.

Oklahoma, which hasn’t won a championship since 2000, has won
the first four meetings with the Aggies, outscoring them
230-27.

For the Sooners to hand Utah State another lopsided defeat and
get back into the national championship picture, many of the same
players who struggled as fill-ins around Jones last season will now
be expected to excel as regulars in the starting lineup.

Jones broke Bradford’s school record for passing yards by a
freshman with 3,198 and also led all led all Football Bowl
Subdivision freshmen with 26 touchdown passes. He had five games
with at least three TD passes and threw for a career-best 418 yards
in the Sun Bowl.

“Ultimately if that core around him is playing at a higher
level, (Jones) has a chance to be really solid,” offensive
coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “The quarterback gets all the glory
and credit when everybody else is good. They stink when all those
guys aren’t good.”

A healthy DeMarco Murray should make things easier for
Jones.

The senior, coming off his first healthy offseason, is expected
to carry the rushing game for the Sooners after running for 705
yards and eight touchdowns last year. Despite splitting carries his
first three seasons, Murray – with 45 touchdowns – is on pace to
break Oklahoma’s career records for touchdowns of 57 held by 1969
Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens.

“We’re counting on him to have a big year,” Stoops said. “He’s
got great experience, so hopefully we can give him the opportunity
of a few more snaps, a few more carries and a few more touches even
out of the backfield to give him opportunities for those big
plays.”

Murray and the Sooners’ ground attack will try to run over a
Utah State team that had the 11th-worst rush defense in the FBS
last season, allowing an average of 205.5 yards.

The Aggies finished seventh in the Western Athletic Conference
last season with a 4-8 record under first-year coach Gary Andersen
after winning three games or fewer each of the previous six years.
Utah State hasn’t finished with a winning record since going 6-5 in
1996.

Although the Aggies’ defense struggled last season, the offense
put up a school record 5,272 yards and returns eight starters –
including quarterback Diondre Borel.

The senior passed for 2,885 yards with 17 touchdowns and four
interceptions, but could have trouble finding open receivers
against an Oklahoma unit that ranked seventh in the FBS in scoring
defense last season (14.5 points per game) and eighth in total
defense (272.6 yards per game).