Louisiana-Monroe-Oklahoma Preview

For the first time in years, Oklahoma enters a season with

questions on both sides of the ball.

Coach Bob Stoops’ expectations, though, haven’t changed one

bit.

The 16th-ranked Sooners go for a fourth consecutive

season-opening victory Saturday night in their first matchup with

visiting Louisiana-Monroe.

After going 10-3 and winning a share of the Big 12 title last

year, it remains to be seen how Oklahoma will fare after losing

star quarterback Landry Jones to the NFL. The Sooners will also

likely need to show significant improvement on defense if they hope

to contend for a national championship.

“We’ve got a challenging year ahead of us, and it really starts

from the beginning,” Stoops said. “We understand and know it’s

going to be a challenge, but again, I believe it has our players’

attention.”

The Sooners are counting on big things from Trevor Knight, who

is set to replace Jones after beating out junior Blake Bell for the

starting quarterback job.

“He’s a player,” center Gabe Ikard said of the freshman. “He’s

going to get out there and use his ability. He’s got a great arm

and he’s extremely fast. We’re going to get to see and all-around

quarterback. He makes good decisions. I know he hasn’t played any

games yet, but he’s a rare talent. It’s very exciting to have him

behind us and we’re very excited what he can do.”

The 6-foot-6, 252-pound Bell, meanwhile, still remains a big

part of the Sooners’ plans. He figures to do most of his damage in

short-yardage situations, but could be used in other areas,

too.

“We’re not going to just detail all of it for Louisiana-Monroe

or anyone else,” Stoops said of Bell, who ranks third in the

conference with 24 rushing touchdowns over the previous two

seasons. “I think it’s fair to say we’ll see as it goes, you know,

what we do and don’t do with the two of them. I think a lot of it

is predicated by what happens once he’s on the field.”

After surrendering an average of 37.8 points over last season’s

final five games, Oklahoma is looking to get back to its dominating

defensive ways. The Sooners struggled mightily against the run in

2012, yielding an average of 192.2 yards to rank just ahead of

Kansas’ conference-worst mark of 192.6.

Oklahoma’s season ended on an especially sour note after giving

up 633 total yards in a one-sided 41-13 loss to then-No. 10 Texas

A&M in the Cotton Bowl.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove, since last year was a down

year,” senior linebacker Corey Nelson said. “It’s not even just me;

it’s just the defense as a whole. We all have something to prove.

After last season, especially the last game, we have something to

prove.”

The Sooners could be in for a stiff test against

Louisiana-Monroe, which upset then-No. 8 Arkansas 34-31 in overtime

in last year’s season opener. The Warhawks averaged 33.8 points in

going 8-5 in 2012, losing to Ohio 45-14 in the Independence

Bowl.

“With all these starters back, they’re a team that is very used

to coming into stadiums and places like this and playing well,”

Stoops said.

Louisiana-Monroe is led by senior quarterback Kolton Browning,

who threw a Sun Belt-high 29 touchdowns and finished third with

254.1 passing yards per game.

“Kolton Browning is probably the best offensive player in that

league,” Stoops said. “I think he’s a great player, and he has a

lot of experience around him.”

Browning, the Sun Belt preseason offensive player of the year,

completed 42 of 67 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns

against the Razorbacks last year, adding 69 yards and another score

on the ground. The Warhawks had dropped each of their first 23

matchups against ranked foes before beating Arkansas.

The Sooners will have to get by without defensive end D.J. Ward,

who had his spleen removed earlier this month. He is expected to

miss about six weeks.

Oklahoma will be also missing offensive lineman Jacob Reed. The

senior was suspended Monday after he was charged with assaulting

his ex-girlfriend and breaking into her apartment over the

weekend.