NORMAN, Okla. – The Sooners open the season with high expectations.
But there are a good deal of questions, too. Maybe some of them get answered Saturday against Louisiana Tech.
But what if they don’t?
Here’s a look at what could happen - both good and bad when the Sooners kick off against the Bulldogs.
Oklahoma gets a lead and gets a lead early. If that happens, things will work out for OU, for quarterback Trevor Knight, for the defense and more.
Not only will it be a giant exhale for the fans, who are expecting nothing less than a run to the national semifinals this year, but it will be a giant relief for Knight, who has spent the offseason hearing about how great he was against Alabama.
If things go well, Knight will throw down the field early and often against the Bulldogs, working in Sterling Shepard as well as a number of new targets, into the game. If things go well, tight end Blake Bell will catch a pass and get the loudest ovation of the game.
Remember, it’s not like Knight has a history of playing well for long periods of time. He played in just eight games a season ago. Now, one of them was against Alabama where he threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, but Knight struggled early last season against ULM and West Virginia and was replaced by Bell.
That’s why on Saturday, Knight needs to get off to a good start and show his consistency.
Meanwhile, if things go well, that means running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross are both productive and efficient. The Sooners are in desperate need of a runner to emerge and in desperate need to have someone step up who can be trusted. Neither Ross or Ford are that guy through August.
If things go well, both Ford and Ross share carries and have success.
Same goes for the receivers. Only Shepard, who has more than 1,000 receiving yards, has any real experience. Durron Neal, was named the starter opposite Shepard when Dorial Green-Beckham was ruled out for the season. A lead will allow Knight some freedom to spread the ball around to players like Neal and redshirt freshman KJ Young, who was also named a starter. A lead will also allow OU to shift in and get some experience for other receivers like Jordan Smallwood, Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett.
Defensively, we know the line is the strength of the team, but if things go well, the linebackers, have success, and most importantly healthy. That’s the weakest, thinnest part of the defense now that Frank Shannon is likely out for the season. Behind Shannon is a lot of inexperience. Jordan Evans does his part and finishes with double digit tackles and a sack.
Geneo Grissom, Eric Striker and Charles Tapper control the line of scrimmage early, the Sooners are able to put Tech in a lot of third-and-long situations and allow themselves some freedom to blitz without worry. Jordan Phillips looks sharp, not like the guy who missed all but four games a season ago. Even Matt Romar, who has impressed in summer and moved up the depth chart at tackle, gets in and gets some experience.
Defensive backs Zack Sanchez and Julian Wilson get off to a good start, particularly Wilson, who is at a new position and sophomore Ahmad Thomas shows why he was good enough to win the job at free safety.
If all goes well, the Sooners lead by two touchdowns after the first quarter, three at halftime and win easily – 44-14.
Let’s not talk about potential injuries, but more about what could realistically happen - and that includes ignoring the prospect of the Sooners losing. That isn’t’ going to happen.
OU wins this game, but it doesn’t go well. Think ULM in 2013 when Knight struggled in the new-look Sooner offense, post Landry Jones. This time, Knight tries to do too much. The Sooners had great luck throwing it downfield against Oklahoma State and then against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but this time there’s no Jalen Saunders running free. Instead, the Bulldogs bottle up Shepard and the new receivers for OU don’t break free.
That leads to Knight trying to run early and often. Sure, Knight is smart about things, but knowing he’s injury prone and knowing he missed games last season, due to injury, Knight’s not free and loose when he takes off - instead sliding early and running for the sidelines.
OU still can score, but the offense isn’t fluid with new running backs Ford and Ross. Ford had fumbling issues last year, so clearly he takes extra precaution holding on Saturday. The extra precaution means choppier running, mechanical maneuvering and less success. Ross got all of three carries last season and isn’t able to show the ability to get 15-20 carries per game. Because Knight and the receivers struggle, Ford and Ross don’t have the operating room necessary to get comfortable.
Defensively, the pressure falls on the linebackers. The Bulldogs pick on Jordan Evans and force the Sooners to start making changes, trying out Rashod Favors, Caleb Gastelum and a combination of P.L. Lindley and Aaron Franklin. OU struggles to get its run defense in order as ends Geneo Grissom and Eric Striker are consistently burned, over-running the quarterback and playing over-aggressive.
Watch for play action and make sure Thomas doesn’t bite while Wilson is tested at his new cornerback position.
It takes awhile, but Knight does figure things out. The defense plays well enough late and a 14-3 halftime lead turns into a 31-10 victory. Underwhelming, but the Sooners win.