Przybylo: OU will learn about itself vs. Vols

You want answers about real expectations for OU in 2015? They're coming Saturday at Tennessee.

The debut of the Lincoln Riley “Air Raid” offense was a successful one for Oklahoma. Sure there were a few hiccups and bumps in the road, but most fans are going to walk away feeling pretty dang good about a 41-3 win.

But not overly excited. The Sooners essentially did what they were supposed to do. You have an overmatched opponent in your backyard, and you’re supposed to take them out like that.

Now’s the real test as OU heads to Neyland Stadium as OU heads to play in front of more than 100,000 fans as OU gets ready to play at Tennessee.

“Each week is a challenge,” Riley said. “We play in one of the best venues here in the country. There were a lot of challenges this week we had to get past, and I think we’ll be a much better group when we hit the field Monday.

“There’s going to be a bunch of whose first game is behind them. It’s going to be a great challenge up there. Can’t wait to play those guys.”

Riley’s not alone. This showdown in Knoxville has been circled for months. If you want to know what the realistic expectations are for the Sooners this season, we’ll find out Saturday.

Are the Sooners legit contenders for a Big 12 or national championship? Or still in the process of finding their identity with 2016 being the season it all comes together?

When the Vols came to Norman last year, it was a chance for Tennessee to prove it had made that leap back into the national conversation. They’re not there just yet, but Butch Jones has things rolling for the Vols and Saturday is once again a chance for their statement.

It wasn’t a perfect game by any means for the Sooners against Akron. The secondary had some issues, but the Zips couldn’t capitalize. OU’s vaunted rushing attack was limited to 100 yards on 33 carries.

A lot of good, too, obviously. Seven receivers had at least two receptions. Joe Mixon showed why OU players and coaches have been raving about his ability, and of course, there’s Baker Mayfield.

In his first start as a Sooner, Mayfield set the OU season-opener record with 388 passing yards, while also throwing for three touchdowns and running for another.

That first start couldn’t come at a better venue for Mayfield, the place where he dreamed of being the school’s quarterback since he was a young boy.

This second start, though, is going to tell more of a story. The poise, the maturity he displayed when things didn’t work out in the first quarter, will he be able to handle the pressure of playing in front of that frenzied crowd?

And Samaje Perine, who came in as OU’s only Heisman contender for this season, will he find a way to make an impact? A new offensive line, a new system, Perine rushed for 33 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.

“We still have a lot to work on, but we just got a glimpse of what this offense can be for us,” Perine said. “We’re going to work hard to be ready for Tennessee and be ready for whatever they throw at us and be hot.”

Tennessee, conversely, was able to run all day in its win against Bowling Green. The Vols racked up 399 yards on the ground and six touchdowns.

The Vols were a test of physicality for the Sooners last year. Linebackers Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans have both said they realized they needed to get bigger, stronger following last season’s showdown.

They’re bigger. They’re stronger. And now we’ll find out if they’re better. Not just the linebackers, but OU as a whole.

The Sooners fell off the radar after the win against the Vols. An argument could be made that was the high point for OU’s season before things went off the rails.

This year there were no expectations of making the college football playoff. No top 10, top five ranking. And following Saturday’s game, we’ll know if that was justified or if, once again, Bob Stoops shows he might do his best work when the least is expected.

The test is a big one. The answer comes Saturday night.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories