OU head coach Lincoln Riley turns 37 on Sunday. A complete performance and a dominant win in Saturday’s game versus Tulane is the best early birthday present the Sooners could give him.
Oklahoma’s offense is expected to be great this season. And why shouldn’t it? Even with last-minute transfers and injuries at receiver, the Crimson and Cream have the firepower needed to light up any defense.
But as we’ve seen so many times, Oklahoma’s offense is not capable of hoisting a national championship trophy by itself. That’s why the improvement of Alex Grinch’s defense has many convinced the Sooners will finally break their glass playoff ceiling in 2021.
The defense faces its first test of the year in the Tulane Green Wave.
(Credit: OU Athletics)
Clear communication along the defensive front
The Sooners want to use their depth against the Green Wave. That means Grinch and defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux plan to open the floodgates and release the depth at defensive tackle and nose guard.
With Perrion Winfrey, Jordan Kelley, Isaiah Cole, Josh Ellison, Jalen Redmond, LaRon Stokes, and Kelvin Gilliam substituting in and out of the game, it will be critical that everyone is on the same page defensively. This miscommunication could become especially dangerous when you consider the number of ways Tulane can run with the football.
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Corral the ground game
Quarterback Michael Pratt had great success last year. His 20 touchdown passes were more than any other true freshman in the country. But he threw for under 200 yards in six of Tulane’s 10 games last year. I say take away the running game and force the pressures on his throwing shoulder.
Pratt was active on the ground in 2020, rushing 115 times for eight touchdowns. Eliminating him from the equation allows the Sooners to focus on Cameron Carroll and Stephon Huderson. At 225 pounds, Carroll has the powerful frame needed to soften up OU’s interior defense. Huderson is Tulane’s speed back that accounted for more than 65 yards per game last season.
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Stop Jha’quan Jackson
Jha’quan Jackson led the Green Wave in touchdown receptions (8) and all-purpose yards (788) last year. He’s a critical cog in the passing game as well as special teams. Jackson’s versatility makes him a player to watch on Saturday, and formations, where he’s set in motion, should be handled with care.
The secondary will have to tackle well on the perimeter and keep an eye on him when in zone coverage. It’ll take a team effort to rally to the football and prevent yards after the catch, as Jackson’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field.