Oklahoma gets set to kick off its 2022 campaign against the UTEP Miners on Saturday afternoon in Norman, Oklahoma. Sooner Nation has been itching to see their team play in meaningful action for the first time under new head coach Brent Venables. While Venables is far from new to roaming the Owen Field sidelines, the game against UTEP marks his first time as head coach.
His team is the more talented team, but that doesn’t mean anything if they don’t come out and execute. UTEP has a few players that could be potential thorns in Oklahoma’s side, and if the Sooners don’t execute, they could find themselves a little anxious while UTEP hangs around.
Here are three keys for the Oklahoma Sooners to start the season off 1-0.
Settle in early
It goes without saying, Oklahoma has to relax. They can’t come out pressing and trying to prove something by forcing plays that aren’t there.
The team has to execute within their defined roles. If that happens, the talent will take over, and the rest will work out the way most people believe it will against UTEP.
Some quick passes for Dillon Gabriel, a few touches for starting running back Eric Gray, an early stop on defense, or a few early first downs on offense would be monumental in Oklahoma getting settled in and getting their own emotions in check.
Up Next: Offensive and Defensive Key to the Game
Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby brought his uptempo offensive system over from Ole Miss. Lebby’s offenses have been highly productive, and a significant reason why is the tempo in which they play.
Through five games last year, the Rebels were running 2.89 plays per minute. That can truly wear a team out, especially in the heat, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that Oklahoma will be working at a breakneck place to see if they can break UTEP’s will early.
Taking them completely out of the game by forcing their depth to play is a bonafide way to push yourself closer to victory.
Take away the ball
No one will mistake UTEP QB Gavin Hardison for a Heisman hopeful, but Hardison doesn’t shy away from letting it rip.
Hardison threw for 3,218 yards and 18 touchdowns in 13 games last season. He struggles with accuracy, as evidenced by the 13 interceptions and a completion percentage under 56 percent for his career. In week one vs. UNT, Hardison completed just 46.8% of his passes in the Miners 31-13 week zero loss.
He’s willing to take chances, but his accuracy will lead him to several mistakes, and Oklahoma has to take advantage.
Oklahoma wasn’t bad at forcing turnovers last year, but that could improve along with their third down defense. Against a QB like Hardison, who has the propensity to be loose with the ball, Oklahoma must capitalize on his mistakes, providing more possessions for their lightning-fast offense to wear down the Miners’ defense.
Nothing more needs to be said. The depth charts are out, the game is officially sold out, and the Sooners know the work they’ve put in.
The atmosphere may be overwhelming at first, but ultimately, it’s all about just playing football. As Brent Venables has said multiple times this offseason: Don’t talk about it, be about it.
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