It’s really not a special secret to say that Oklahoma’s offense needs to get off to a better start than it did in either of the Sooners’ first two games. There’s no secret formula for fixing the issue, either.
Oklahoma went six drives before scoring against Tennessee and 11 drives without a touchdown – there were only 13 drives in regulation.
It wasn’t much better against Akron, who held the Sooners without a point on their first three drives and without a touchdown on seven drives to start the game.
“That's us. That's offense,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “. . .That's us. That's attention to detail, like I said, errors that we don't make in practice. The two interceptions that I threw were on hitch routes that we throw 300 times a week. We don't do that (make mistakes) during practice.
“That's stuff that we have to go out and execute, even when it's a big game."
To put it simply, that has to change. Oklahoma can’t afford these kinds sputtering starts to its offense.
"We were that close to just setting it off," Mayfield said. "We really were very close. Looking back on film, just penalties, dropped balls, turnovers. It wasn't anything they were doing, just like I said about the Akron game: It's just attention to detail. We've got to be able to go out and execute. Just play in and play out, be able to do our job."
It’s really all in Oklahoma’s control. Little things like penalties or dropped passes have doomed the Sooners early. In the past two games, Oklahoma has had 10 drive following the first Sooners’ touchdown of the game. Nine of those drives have produced another touchdown.
It’s all about Oklahoma getting out of its own way and letting that avalanche flow.
That is the main battle this weekend. Here’s a quick look at a few other key spots:
Oklahoma’s offensive line vs. Tulsa’s front four: No matter which starting five comes out for Oklahoma or what the rotation looks like, the Sooners have to get better up front. Nothing has been impressive, although it is drastically improving.
The Sooners have just one more non-conference game to become good enough – even if the start of the conference season isn’t all that difficult either. Still, Oklahoma wants to enter the Big 12 season without too many questions.
The Hurricane’s defensive front will be the worst that Oklahoma has faced yet this season. Tulsa has given up 4.9 yards per carry and has just three sacks in two games, despite being ahead for much of the game.
The matchup is all about Oklahoma improving itself, and the most important spot for improvement is at left tackle, where Orlando Brown will try and field a balanced pass rush that includes Derrick Alexander, Matt Linscott and Trent Martin.
Dede Westbrook vs. Kerwin Thomas: Like the offensive line, Oklahoma’s receiving corps needs to get better on its own and find a receiver behind Sterling Shepard. All eyes start with Westbrook, who will be matched up against a lesser corner than Tulsa’s top defender. Oklahoma’s passing game will also have to deal with elite safety Michael Mudoh.
One on one, Westbrook will have to win his battles. Against Akron, he did. Against Tennessee, he was silent. Westbrook has to prove he can be that No. 2 option against an elite team.
This might be Westbrook’s last chance before it becomes an open competition.
Oklahoma secondary vs. Tulsa’s vertical passing game: After being one of the worst pass defenses in the country last year, the Sooners are the only team in the nation that have held two teams below 125 passing yards to start this season.
They are sixth in the country in pass defense (106.5 yards per game).
That comes with a bit of hesitation because Tennessee (105th) and Akron (123rd) are two of the worst passing offenses in the nation. Tulsa presents a much different animal.
The Tulsa offense is 10th in the nation in passing yards per game. The Golden Hurricane is second in the nation in yards per attempt, and it is the only school in the country that averages more than 19 yards per completion (20.14 yards). That’s the impact of head coach Philip Montgomery, who was the offensive coordinator at Baylor. The Bears are the only other team in the nation with more than 16 yards per completion.
Against Tulsa’s left tackle, Tapper doesn’t have to be dominant. Whether he gets a sack or seven isn’t going to make a huge difference in the outcome. What Tapper needs is a big statistical game. He’s been great this season but has been silent on the stat sheet.
This is Tapper’s best one-on-one matchup of the season. He has a great chance to wreak havoc.