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The 2022 Oklahoma Sooners wrapped up spring ball with a spring game that had a record crowd, a Heisman statue presentation, more than 200 former players, and more than 50 recruits on hand. Oh, and some football was played.
It wasn’t a clean spring performance with several turnovers and other miscues, but it was a fantastic way to end the spring in the Red’s 21-17 win over the White.
For the last four months, Brent Venables has been rebuilding a foundation of a program that while successful under the last coaching staff, had begun to lose its edge, missing the College Football Playoff in back-to-back seasons and failing to qualify for the Big 12 championship.
On a windy April day in the spring, the Sooners stood out and provided a lift for a program and a fan base eager to turn the page and begin the Brent Venables era of football.
As the Sooners begin pursuit of National Championship No. 8, here are 8 takeaways from Oklahoma’s spring game.
Sooner Nation Showed Up and Showed Out
Apr 23, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners former player Baker Mayfield poses for a photo with the Heisman trophy after his statue is unveiled during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables challenged Sooner Nation to show their commitment to the program by showing up for the spring game. Sooner Nation answered the call by packing 75,000 fans into Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
It was such an impressive turnout that it had the rest of college football either impressed or defending their favorite team’s lack of attendance.
As Oklahoma fans have done all offseason, on social media, their presence in Norman on Saturday showed a passion and excitement for their program that few can match.
With a move to the SEC coming in the next few years, Oklahoma fans will feel right at home with some of the epic gameday atmospheres in places like The Swamp, Between the Hedges, Tuscaloosa, and Death Valley.
And though it was an exhibition game, getting the turnout that Oklahoma received from the fan base matters. It resonated with the recruits that they had in Norman for the weekend and the players felt the love from the Sooners faithful.
While other fan bases try to downplay the importance of Oklahoma’s turnout, Josh Pate of 247Sports and the Late Kick Show shares the importance of getting this kind of response at the spring game.
Oklahoma did what everyone else wants to do Saturday. Spring attendance DOES matter. pic.twitter.com/NHAAzBwqXR
— Josh Pate (@LateKickJosh) April 25, 2022
April 23, 2022; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) warms up during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
In his first action in front of a big crowd at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Dillon Gabriel looked sharp completing 65% of his passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns combined for the red and white team.
On an incredibly windy (yet somehow normal) Oklahoma day, Gabriel became acclimated with the elements that can make quarterbacking a high-octane offense in Norman challenging. Unshaken, Gabriel smoothly operated the uptempo Jeff Lebby offense, putting pressure on the defense during the spring game.
He was accurate and showed a nice deep ball throughout the game.
Sooners of the Past Return
April 23, 2022; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners former players and family pose for a photo during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
From Steve Owens and Brian Bosworth to Adrian Peterson and Kyler Murray, the Oklahoma Sooners’ spring game was a who’s who of players from the past.
More than 200 former players were at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to take part in the rollout of Brent Venables 2022 Oklahoma Sooners. Venables took a moment before the game to highlight the return of the guys who “built the program.”
Fans and recruits loved getting a chance to see these Sooners legends. Based on the reception, it wouldn’t be surprising to see double that amount for the 2023 spring game.
— Nate Feken (@TheGreat_Nate) April 24, 2022
Theo Wease looks back
Oklahoma’s Theo Wease (10) catches a pass in front of Oklahoma’s Kani Walker (26) during the University of Oklahoma’s annual spring football game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, April 23, 2022. Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman.
In his first extended game action since last August, Theo Wease looked back and looks ready to roll when the Sooners kick off the regular season in September. He only received one target, but he made that one count on a big 48-yard reception down the left sideline, beating spring ball standout Kani Walker to set up an early touchdown for the red team.
With Marvin Mims starting at one spot and the multiple losses at wide receiver this offseason, the Sooners need [autotag]Theo Wease[/autotag] to return to his 2020 form when he tied for the team lead in receptions. Saturday showed why there’s excitement about getting Wease back from injury.
Jovantae Barnes ready for Big Role
Oklahoma’s Jovantae Barnes (2) runs past Oklahoma’s Jordan Mukes (29) during the University of Oklahoma’s annual spring football game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, April 23, 2022. Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman.
With [autotag]Marcus Major[/autotag] sitting out and [autotag]Eric Gray[/autotag] assigned to the white team, true freshman running back [autotag]Jovantae Barnes[/autotag] got a chance to carry the load for the red team.
It wasn’t an efficient day as Barnes averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, but it was an important performance for the true freshman running back. DeMarco Murray and the Oklahoma Sooners answered the question, could Barnes be a bell-cow running back? With his 17-carry performance and his tough running between the tackles, Barnes proved he could handle a heavy load if called upon even in his freshman season.
Barnes had two touchdowns on the day to help the red team win the spring game 21-17.
Defensive Line Pressure
Oklahoma’s Ethan Downs (40) during the University of Oklahoma’s annual spring football game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, April 23, 2022. Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
The losses of Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto, and Perrion Winfrey to the NFL at the same time would be tough to stomach if it were any other program but Oklahoma and a few others.
That’s a lot of lost production from your defensive line in one year. If the spring game is any indication, the Oklahoma Sooners are going to be in great shape in 2022.
Sure, they weren’t allowed to tackle the quarterback and they were playing against mixed and matched offensive line groupings, but the pass rush took advantage and that’s what you want to see.
Ethan Downs, Marcus Stripling, Jeffery Johnson, Jalen Redmond, and Reggie Grimes, who each figure to be a significant part of the defensive line rotation stood out on Saturday, making the offensive line work and harassing the Sooners’ quarterbacks.
Brent Venables is THE MAN
April 23, 2022; Norman; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables speaks to former players during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
In four short months with the Oklahoma Sooners, that’s the word that can best describe the type of person Brent Venables is. Baker Mayfield said he was ready to run through a wall for Venables after spending 30 minutes with the man.
Sooner Nation showed up 75,000 strong
Baker Mayfield Beloved
After an offseason of turmoil with the Cleveland Browns, Baker Mayfield was welcomed home with an outpouring of love and support from 75,000 Oklahoma Sooners fans. Mayfield’s Heisman statue presentation was a big draw for many who came to see the living legend’s return to Norman.
After the game, Mayfield shared this and many other thoughts with the media.
Before we get started I just wanted to say thank you to the university. This school has obviously been everything and more to me. It’s meant so much in my history and everything that the support staff, current staff did to make this weekend special was truly one of a kind and it’s been a dream come true. So, I just want to say thank you to everybody that came out and supported today. Obviously, with the stands that full, obviously there’s much more than just what the ceremony was, and we’re all excited about the new era of Brent Venables football here at Oklahoma. And I couldn’t be more excited and thankful that this weekend was the one that we got to combine all those things together. – Mayfield via Joey Helmer of OUInsider.com
The Oklahoma Sooners’ living legend is one of the great Sooners’ stories over the last couple of decades. His progression from walk-on at Texas Tech to walk-on transfer at Oklahoma to Heisman trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft is one of the great come-up stories in all of sports.
His story at the professional level is still to be written, but his legend resonates with Oklahoma players and fans of all ages. Baker Mayfield is one of the most beloved players in the history of the program and no matter where life takes him, his presence in Norman will always be a big deal for the program and for the fans.