NORMAN – The Oklahoma Sooners have a pretty good chance of at least slowing down the Houston Cougars offense, especially with four starters in the secondary with at least some starting experience. Houston might have a little bit more trouble with Oklahoma.
The Cougars are starting an entirely new secondary in the season opener.
There might not be a go-to receiver in the Oklahoma offense, and the Sooners have even said that they don’t really need one. As a group, they’ll have to make head-way against an inexperienced secondary because right now, there isn’t much proof that Houston will be able to slow down Oklahoma, which is now a 12-point favorite after opening at just six points.
“I’m excited to see them play,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said of the receivers. “There’s so much depth. There’s going to be a lot of guys who get opportunities. I’m excited to see which ones step up. We think a lot of them will. I think they’re hungry. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got something to prove. We’re certainly hoping that they play that way on Saturday.”
The starting lineup at receiver looks something like this: Jarvis Baxter, Mark Andrews, Dede Westbrookand a plus one. That plus one could either be Jeffery Mead OR AD Miller. The group still has a transfer, a walk-on and a player who has been more injured than healthy during his career at Oklahoma within the two-deep.
“I feel like the group is in good shape,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “There’s more guys being more consistent in how they’re practicing and playing on the field. I think the whole group is just more prepared.”
Houston will get their fill on offense. The Cougars will score enough points to compete with Oklahoma, but they are going to force the Sooners’ biggest unknown to beat them. Oklahoma will have every chance to prove its pass-catching worth.
They’ll just have to actually do it.
That is the main battle this weekend. Here’s a quick look at a few other key spots:
When Oklahoma has the ball. . .
Sooners’ interior line vs. Houston’s linebackers
The Cougars know Oklahoma’s strength is on the ground with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. That’s not some big secret. Houston has to know about the inexperience on the interior of the line, and as a result, it will avoid tackles Orlando Brown and Dru Samia more often than not.
The best way to break up offense is right down the middle, where Oklahoma is starting a guard coming off a significant knee injury, a redshirt freshman and a center who was pushed by a walk-on during preseason camp.
The interior of Oklahoma’s line will have to hold up long enough and block well on the second level, because that’s where Houston’s defense is the best.
Baker Mayfield vs. the Houston secondary
Yes, the Houston secondary and Oklahoma’s receiving corps was the key matchup. But Mayfield and his decision making against the secondary is pretty important too. The key matchup is about Oklahoma’s receiving getting open. This one is more about Mayfield finding that option.
There will be holes in the Cougars’ pass defense. Mayfield will just need to find them.
When Houston has the ball. . .
Greg Ward Jr. vs. Jordan Evans
Evans said as recently as Tuesday that he won’t be spying Houston’s high-octane quarterback, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has never been a fan of leaving one players responsible for a running quarterback like Ward.
But there is a bit of an individual match-up here. The defense is now Evans’ to command, and he seems ready for the task – talking with more responsibility and leadership than ever before this week. Evans has the most athleticism on the defense and has the ability to keep Ward in check. Evans won’t have to do it alone, but he will have to make sure his help is in the right position.
Houston receivers vs. Oklahoma pass defense
The Sooners caught a little bit of luck when Houston’s top receiver, Ra’Shaad Samples, was ruled out of the season opener with a concussion. But that doesn’t mean the task is easy, just a little less hard. If Oklahoma wanted a test for its secondary, it will get it Saturday. Houston will likely target Dakota Austin frequently.