Blowouts and building blocks : Takeaways from Lincoln Riley’s four season openers

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While Oklahoma didn’t punch its way into the College Football Playoffs in 2020, the COVID-altered campaign still provided some very positive takeaways for the Crimson and Cream.

In week five, the Sooners took down the Horned Frogs, 33-14 in Fort Worth. Quarterback Spencer Rattler dissected the TCU defense for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns. More impressively, the young signal-caller proved he had learned a valuable lesson following his benching in the previous game versus Texas as he completed 13 of his 22 passes with no interceptions. Rattler would throw just two more picks that season as the Oklahoma offense became as efficient as it was explosive.

A 41-13 beatdown of Oklahoma State in week eight showcased to the nation that Alex Grinch’s defense would only improve from there. The Sooners bottlenecked now-Carolina Panthers running back Chubba Hubbard to 43 yards on the ground while tormenting Spencer Sanders into three sacks and an interception.

Last, but certainly not least is the 2020 Cotton Bowl. Where OU’s 55-20 blowout win over Florida cemented the Sooners’ beliefs that they could hang against SEC competition.

Each season brings unique opportunities and challenges in the world of college football. However, looking back at a program’s past can help predict future tendencies.

With Oklahoma’s season opener against Tulane just 14 days away, here’s how the Sooners have faired in week one during the Lincoln Riley era.

2017 UTEP Miners

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Oklahoma 56 - UTEP 7

The offense began firing on all cylinders in Riley's first game at the helm. Quarterback Baker Mayfield tossed his way into three touchdowns and 329 yards on 19-of-20 passing against the Miners. The 2017 Heisman winner would give way to the 2018 winner (Kyler Murray), who threw for 150 yards and a touchdown of his own. While a 49 point blowout of UTEP may not seem historically significant, it provided Riley and his Sooners the confidence needed to upset No. 2 Ohio State, 31-16, the following week.

2018 FAU Owls

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Oklahoma 63 - Florida Atlantic 14

Oklahoma did force an interception while holding the Owls to just 14 points, but once again, the story of Oklahoma's win -and its entire season- was the offense. Three different running backs recorded at least 50 rushing yards as Rodney Anderson (100 yards, two touchdowns), Trey Sermon (69 yards, one touchdown), and Kennedy Brooks (51 yards, one touchdown) ran roughshod over the FAU defense.

2019 University of Houston Cougars

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma 49 - Houston 31

In easily the most competitive season opener of the Lincoln Riley era, a powerful performance from Jalen Hurts helped Oklahoma fend off a feisty Cougars squad. The Alabama transfer scored six of the Sooners' seven touchdowns in a two-dimensional assault against Houston. Hurts ended concerns over his arm talent by completing 87 percent of his passes for three touchdowns, and 337 yards. In a battle against Houston's dual-threat quarterback D'Eriq King, he also tacked on 176 rushing yards and three more touchdowns. The arrival of Jalen Hurts in Norman announced Oklahoma as the nation's premier destination for Heisman-level quarterbacks. With current QB Spencer Rattler next in line for the throne.

2020 Missouri State Bears

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Oklahoma 48 - Missouri State 0

By the start of the 2020 season, strong quarterback play under Lincoln Riley had become a tradition in week one. Spencer Rattler threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns against a Bears' defense that allowed him to complete 14 of his 17 passes. But the win over Missouri State also provided a peek at an improved defense. Oklahoma limited MSU to just seven first downs and 81 total passing yards on the day. Delarrin Turner-Yell recorded his first career interception as the pass rush (which expects to be even better in 2021) tallied 4.5 sacks in the blowout win.

Prediction: 2021 Tulane Green Wave

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Oklahoma 45, Tulane 20

This will be Oklahoma's first season opener on the road during the Lincoln Riley era. While the Sooners' offense is almost guaranteed to be in midseason form by the second quarter, it could take some time for the defense to come into its own. Turnover in OU's secondary, coupled with an experienced quarterback in Tulane's Michael Pratt, sets the table for the Green Wave to get some punches in. While it is unlikely that Lincoln Riley will unveil new offensive wrinkles versus Tulane, OU's receiver depth will be impossible to ignore come September 4th.

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