KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET
SITE: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
TV: FOX Sports Oklahoma
SERIES: First meeting.
RANKINGS: Oklahoma No. 16, Louisiana-Monroe unranked
The Warhawks set the tone for an 8-5 season in 2012 by upsetting Arkansas in overtime in their season opener. Oklahoma limped to the finish line in 2012, losing 41-10 in the Cotton Bowl.
Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning led the Sun Belt with 29 touchdown passes last season, topping 3,000 yards with a completion percentage of 63.8. That included a 412-yard game against Arkansas. Oklahoma and coach Bob Stoops are aware of Browning's ability and the Sooners might have to win with defense in support of redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, who makes his first career start.
ULM is 0-10 in program history against Big 12 opponents.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Landry Jones is gone, and with him went six years of stability at the quarterback position for the Oklahoma Sooners. For the first time since 2006, the starting quarterback position was up for grabs at the start of fall camp. And to the surprise of many, head coach Bob Stoops did not pick the man with experience to lead his offense in 2013, at least for the home opener against Louisiana-Monroe Saturday night.
"With Louisiana Monroe coming in here this week I think everyone is very aware of what they did a year ago, and they have 18 starters coming back this season primarily in juniors and seniors. They're a team that went to Arkansas a year ago and won 31-28 I believe, and then they went to Auburn and had a chance 31-28, lost by three points, and they had every opportunity to win the football game, and then took Baylor 47-42 to the wire," Stoops said. "With all these starters back, they're a team that is very used to coming into stadiums and places like this and playing well. They're used to winning."
When the Oklahoma offense takes the field for the first time Saturday, redshirt freshman Trevor Knight will jog out there with them. Knight, 6-1, 202 pounds, was ranked by Rivals.com as the sixth best dual-threat quarterback in the country coming out of San Antonio, Texas, in the class of 2012. As a senior, he threw for 2,092 yards and 27 touchdowns, along with 943 rushing yards and 15 more touchdowns. The fact that he could throw gave him the nod over 6-6, 252-pound junior Blake Bell.
In two years, Bell has 104 rushing attempts, compared with just 20 passing attempts. He averaged just 3.6 yards per rush, but scored 24 touchdowns. That means he scored once every 4.3 times he carried the ball. His had just one carry longer than 19 yards (55 yards against Baylor), and just two longer than 11 yards. But that was because he usually was inserted with short yardage to gain for the first down or touchdown.
Stoops still has the "Bell-dozer" package in the offense, where Bell lines up at quarterback but everyone in the stadium knows he's going to plow through the line to get the necessary yardage. With Knight as the starter, there's still the threat of the long ball that has been a trademark of Stoops since he took over in Norman in 1999.
Knight will be helped in his assimilation with an experienced offensive line. The line returns 85 starts, good for 19th best in the country. The anchor is Gabe Ikard, a preseason All-American at center. Experience is the operative word at running back as well. The Sooners return the ball carriers who scored 29 of the 30 rushing touchdowns last year, including 11 each by Bell and Damien Williams. Williams led the Sooners with 906 rushing yards. Oklahoma lost its top two receivers, but there's plenty of depth. The best may be 6-2, 198-pound Jaz Reynolds, who was suspended for the 2012 season.
The defense is looking to rebound from a sub-par 2012. The Warhawks will provide a good first test. They opened last season by knocking off then-No. 8 Arkansas, though the season proved that that ranking was very inaccurate. Cornerback Aaron Colvin will be the key to helping a very inexperienced secondary. ULM, as they prefer to be called, won eight games and qualified for a bowl game for the first time last year. It won't be a cake-walk, but the Sooners should out-talent the Warhawks.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Trevor Knight, a redshirt freshman, will get the nod over junior Blake Bell. Knight is far more versatile, and coach Bob Stoops hopes that versatility will overcome the first-game jitters. The last time he was in a game, it was in high school in San Antonio, Texas. There probably weren't 82,000-plus people in the stands. Bell will be there for the short-yardage situations.
--WR Trey Metoyer caught 10 passes in his first four games, all starts, last season. Then he was bumped from the starting lineup and caught just seven passes the rest of the way. He has been impressing his coaches this fall with his route-running and his maturity. He could have a breakout game. The Sooners have plenty of depth at wide receiver, and Metoyer adds to that depth.
--CB Aaron Colvin is one of four players in this year's secondary to see the field last season, so his experience will be counted on heavily. The pass defense was suspect last year, so maybe a bunch of newcomers can improve the unit.
--QB Kolton Browning averaged 290 passing yards per game last season. Coach Todd Berry summed up his quarterback succinctly, saying, "Hope if a very, very powerful thing, and our football team, when Kolton's back there, he creates hope."