The Oklahoma Sooners (1-0) kicked off the Brent Venables era with a dominating 45-13 win over the UTEP Miners on Saturday. It was a win that received contributions up and down the lineup. From seniors to true freshmen, Oklahoma saw a host of players make an impact on Saturday.
They couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in week one as the offense scored touchdowns on their first three drives, each drive consisting of six plays or less.
On the first two defensive possessions, Oklahoma forced punts to help the Sooners jump out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.
From there, the Sooners were able to cruise to victory in Venables’ first game as a head coach. As we continue to break down the season-opening win, here are five takeaways from Saturday’s performance.
Dillon Gabriel efficient
Sep 3, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) throws during the first half against the UTEP Miners at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
On a hot day in Norman, the Oklahoma Sooners’ starting quarterback had an efficient day. He finished 15 of 23 for 233 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He also added 20 yards rushing and a touchdown. That rushing touchdown got the scoring started on a read-option, where he kept the ball and worked his way into the end zone.
Gabriel was fantastic in the first quarter, completing 6 of 7 passes for 127 yards and one touchdown through the air, and one touchdown on the ground.
In the second quarter, things weren’t as in sync, and Gabriel missed a couple of throws, but he rebounded from a couple of three-and-outs to lead the Sooners on a scoring drive to end the first half.
All in all, it was a great first start in a Sooners’ uniform for Gabriel. He was in control of the offense, keeping it on the move and working at its break-neck pace.
Running game dominates
Sept. 3, 2022; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners running back Eric Gray (0) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the UTEP Miners at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Led by Eric Gray’s 102 yards rushing, the Oklahoma Sooners ran for 259 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Marcus Major had a career day for the Oklahoma Sooners with seven carries, 54 yards, and two touchdowns.
Gray showed off his elusiveness and Major showed off his power providing a fantastic one-two punch for the Oklahoma Sooners offense.
After the offense experienced a sluggish start to the second quarter with two drives ending in punts, the Sooners’ final drive of the half started with four straight runs to Eric Gray. Eight of the 11 plays called on that drive were runs.
Though the drive ended with Gabriel’s second touchdown pass of the day to Brayden Willis, that was a drive that leaned heavily on the run and reasserted Oklahoma’s physicality.
Oklahoma’s going to run the ball and run it a lot. They’ve got several guys that can be difference makers. Seven players carried the football for Oklahoma, including true freshman walk-on Gavin Freeman, who took his first collegiate touch 46 yards for a touchdown.
Pass Rush Shows Out
Oklahoma defensive lineman Reggie Grimes (14) celebrates after sacking UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison, bottom, in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
When the UTEP Miners started to get some things going in the second quarter, Reggie Grimes answered the call. He closed out the half with a sack that took potentially took points off the board for UTEP. That gave him 2.5 sacks in the game.
Heading into the week one matchup, Grimes had three career sacks. He nearly matched that in the first game of the season.
In total, the Sooners had six sacks on the day, with five players recording at least half a sack. Ethan Downs, Isaiah Coe, and David Ugwoegbu each recorded a full sack, and true freshman R Mason Thomas earned the first half sack of his career.
Yeah, the Sooners’ pass rush is going to be just fine.
Brayden Willis shines in lead roll
Sep 3, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners tight end Brayden Willis (9) scores a touchdown during the first half against the UTEP Miners at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
After splitting time at tight end/H-back the last couple of seasons, Brayden Willis earned an opportunity to be the starting tight end. There was no rotation on Saturday. Brayden Willis is the guy, and he responded accordingly.
The fifth-year senior captain had three catches for 40 yards and two touchdowns but was also an impact blocker in the running game. In a time when tight ends are either blocking or receiving tight ends, Willis showed off his ability to do everything and was a key component to the Sooners’ offense in the win.
“I’m really proud of, I love watching him play, Brayden Willis. Had two touchdowns, and he’s a neutralizer,” Venables said. “He’s the lead blocker on a couple of the other touchdown runs from a couple of the running backs. He just buried guys. And he’s got a great physical presence to him and incredibly accurate, can stretch the defense.”
Willis is off to a hot start in what should be a career season for the senior tight end.
Run Defense Dominates
Sep 3, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; UTEP Miners running back Jalen Joseph (25) is tackled by Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Justin Broiles (25) and Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Jaden Davis (4) during the first half at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
On a day when the Oklahoma Sooners were playing a lot of zone coverage, they gave up a lot through the air. But the defense was fantastic against the run.
The Sooners held UTEP to minus 19 yards rushing on 16 carries in the first half. UTEP was better running the ball in the second half but managed only 47 yards on 15 carries for 3.13 yards per carry.
The tests will get tougher as the Sooners get deeper into the schedule, but this was a fantastic start to the season for the run defense.
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