No. 4 Oklahoma looks to avoid upset vs. Houston
Houston (8-5 last year) at No. 4 Oklahoma (12-2), Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC).
Line: Oklahoma by 23.
Series record: Oklahoma leads 2-1.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Oklahoma saw its College Football Playoff hopes derailed in 2016 with a season-opening loss to Houston. The Sooners are well aware that a repeat would be damaging, especially because there isn’t a marquee opponent on the slate to give them a second chance if they slip. Oklahoma hired Alex Grinch as its new defensive coordinator in the offseason. An early breakdown against Houston’s high-powered offense would make it difficult to build momentum.
Oklahoma run game vs. Houston run defense. Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks ran for 1,056 yards last season while Trey Sermon ran for 947 yards and a team-high 13 touchdowns. Jalen Hurts, the transfer quarterback from Alabama, also is a prolific runner. The last time we saw Houston’s run defense, the Cougars were getting gouged for 507 yards rushing in a 70-14 loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl. With a new quarterback, the Sooners could rely on the ground game more. Houston no longer has All-American defensive lineman Ed Oliver, so there will be even more pressure on Houston’s defensive front.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Oklahoma: Hurts. He played in three national title games with Alabama, but now he’s leading coach Lincoln Riley’s system, which is much different than what he’s used to. Hurts already has gained the respect of the team since transferring in January, being named a captain. This will be the first step in seeing if he can handle the pressure of following Heisman-winning quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray
Houston: D’Eriq King. The senior quarterback is one of the nation’s top returning players. He was injured late last season, yet he still passed for 36 touchdowns and rushed for 14 in 11 games. He often uses his exceptional mobility to buy time to pass. The Sooners’ aggressive defense will look to create turnovers against a quarterback who threw just six interceptions last season.
FACTS & FIGURES
Oklahoma has won 13 straight home openers. … The Sooners are beginning their 125th year of football. … Oklahoma leads the nation in scoring and yards per game since Riley became the coach. … Dana Holgorsen, the former West Virginia coach, is the new Houston coach. Oklahoma beat West Virginia 59-56 last season.