Every week Sooners Illustrated will break down a few players and a few units and assign them grades based on their performance.
Here are the Game 1 grades:
Receiving corps not named Sterling Shepard – B+: Last year, everyone outside of Shepard seemed pretty much useless. That had to change this year. In the first game of the season, it certainly did.
Oklahoma threw for 439 yards against Akron. Shepard finished with just 68 yards. That’s only 15 percent of the total yardage. In regular-season games where Shepard played the full game last season, he finished with less than 35 percent of the receiving yardage only once. Shepard caught at least 48 percent of the yardage in five or those seven games.
The group did have a case of the dropsies early but cleaned it up in the second half, when the offense was hitting its stride. The biggest change is that other receivers were looked to in time of stress for Baker Mayfield – specifically Durron Neal and Jarvis Baxter.
Offensive line – C-: There were going to be some rough patches in the season opener, especially with three players making their debut on the line alone. Two of them were freshmen, and one was a true freshman.
Amazingly, Mayfield was sacked only once but was sent scrambling – usually to his right – plenty of times in the first half. Oklahoma had zero net yards at the end of the first quarter and finished the game with a three-yard rushing average.
The group cleaned it up after the first quarter, so it wasn’t a failing grade. It was definitely below average – but understood because more than half the line hadn’t taken a test before.
The big debut – B+: Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s attack, Joe Mixon, Dede Westbrook, Austin Seibert and even Jarvis Baxter: All of them made their debuts Saturday night. In total, six different offensive players and one defensive player made the first start of their careers against Akron.
Riley’s offense started slowly but racked up 539 total yards. Seibert averaged almost 50 yards per punt and it both of his field goals – both were at least 35 yards. Westbrook and Baxter combined for 91 yards and one touchdowns, averaging more than 10 yards per catch. Mixon was pretty special too.
Overall, opening night was a great success.
Jordan Thomas – B: Because of what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops described as team reasons, Thomas didn’t make the start in the season opener. Instead, true freshman P.J. Mbanasor played in the first defensive series.
After that, Thomas had a solid showing. He made the tackles he needed to make and was a big part of the Oklahoma secondary that allowed just 88 passing yards.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and the defensive coaching staff – A: Saturday night was going to be a test run for Stoops, who coached live from the box for the first time, and his coaching staff. Substitutions had to be crisp. Stoops needed to recognition incoming packages and make the necessary calls.
The defense couldn’t be caught out of position or have the wrong players out there.
Oklahoma never called a timeout to help its defense – that in itself was an accomplishment. The Sooners also consistently had the correct players in place. Even when they didn’t, linebacker Devante Bond came running on late to make a wide-side tackle on a read option play. Everything worked out for the defensive group as a whole.