Oklahoma Sooners face themselves as much as the Warhawks on Saturday

Sooners Illustrated breaks down the key match-ups between OU and the Warhawks

Oklahoma has run up against some meager competition in non-conference games in the recent past, while at the same time playing in some high profile contests. Tulsa, Akron and Louisiana Tech were all a part of that group. Louisiana-Monroe, picked by some to be one of the worst teams in FBS, might be the easiest matchup for the Oklahoma Sooners in a very long time.

Throw out that the Sooners face Ohio State in less than two weeks. This week is still about Oklahoma finding a way to be better than it was just a few days ago against Houston. This week isn’t about being better than Louisiana-Monroe. It’s about being better than Oklahoma.

“They were disappointed but still angry and know they’ve got to be better,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “That was the mood, and a lot of them were around (Sunday). They have their day off. I do believe they’ll respond. But we’re not looking down the road. When you lose right here like this, we’ve got to get better today and tomorrow and be a better football team Saturday, and that’s all we’re trying to do is make that improvement by Saturday.”

There are holes in the passing game, worries in the secondary and inconsistency across the board. The biggest matchup for Oklahoma this week is cleaning up its own act on offense and defense.

“They both have to improve and get more consistent period,” Stoops said. “So that's what we'll go out and practice.”

That is the main battle this weekend. Here’s a quick look at a few other key spots:

When Oklahoma has the ball. . .

OU receivers not named Mark Andrews or Dede Westbrook vs. Warhawk’s secondary

This week is as much about proving worth as it is about winning a game. Andrews and Westbrook looked good last week, but the rest of the receiving corps still has something to prove. ULM allowed just 137 passing yards against Southern last week and returned its top six defensive backs to a starting unit that relies on five starters in the defensive backfield.

Jarvis Baxter, AD Miller and Jeffery Mead – among others – have to figure out how to help.

Offensive line vs. ULM pass rush

The Warhawks lost their best defensive end from last year, Ben Banogu, who transferred to TCU in the offseason. There were a lot of question marks up front for the Warhawks, and they didn’t prove much last week. The Oklahoma offensive line has to be most consistent, if only to give quarterback Baker Mayfield more comfort standing in the pocket.

When Louisiana-Monroe has the ball. . .

Oklahoma’s QB contain vs. Garrett Smith

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Smith is the same as Greg Ward or Trevone Boykin or J.T. Barrett, who comes to Norman in a little less than a month. Smith is a talented dual-threat quarterback in his own right, but he just isn’t up to the caliber of scrambling signal callers that Oklahoma has seen or will see in the future.

That’s why the Sooners need to perfect their contain defense against Smith before trying it once again versus Barrett. The Sooners were mediocre against Ward, who beat Oklahoma as much with his arm as he did with his legs. Smith isn’t as elusive as Ward, but he does have speed that will test the Sooners’ edges.

Dakota Austin/Parrish Cobb vs. ULM receiving corps

Austin and Cobb struggled in just about every position they were put in Saturday. Austin looked small, and Cobb looked very young. Ohio State will bring athletes to Norman that mirror Houston’s talent on the outside. TCU will have the same thing waiting in Fort Worth.

This week is about refinement on a lot of fronts for Oklahoma. Cornerback opposite Jordan Thomas is one of those major fronts.

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