Brent Venables, Dillon Gabriel steal the show in front of record-breaking crowd for Oklahoma’s Spring Game

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After a mountain of hype, the Oklahoma Spring Game delivered on many fronts for the Oklahoma Sooners. The loyal fans of the Crimson & Cream packed out The Palace on the Prairie with just over 75,000 fans for the start of the Brent Venables era.

The game showcased what the new regime in Norman has been cooking up as they prepare the Sooners for the 2022 season. While there were many familiar faces from the past few years, the Sooners had new faces donning Oklahoma jerseys for the first time. The roster was split into two teams led by defensive ends coach Miguel Chavis for the white squad while running backs coach Demarco Murray led the red team.

New quarterback Dillon Gabriel did exactly what you want your veteran quarterback to do. He looked calm and poised under duress and stepped up and made some nice throws to a plethora of receivers. The tempo of the offense was indeed as fast as advertised and gave Sooners fans a glimpse of what the offense can look like under offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

Gabriel was 19 of 28 for 250 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He looked sharp in his first appearance for the Sooners.

The anticipation of seeing running back Jovantae Barnes did not disappoint. Barnes carried the ball 17 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns. He looked explosive, physical and decisive.

Presumptive starter Eric Gray’s biggest highlight came when he broke out for a huge run for the white team that is certain to have people salivating about his upcoming season. Gray carried the ball four times for 53 yards, including the 50-yard run.

Marcus Major didn’t participate but Tawee Walker ran the ball well in his absence. Walker has turned heads in practice and capped off an eye-opening spring with a solid performance in the spring game.

The offensive line play was solid, considering the likely starters were split between the two sides. They opened up some lanes for the backs and gave time for the quarterbacks to throw the ball.

The only notable player missing was Andrew Raym who didn’t participate. McKade Mettauer, one of the transfer offensive linemen the Sooners landed looked pretty comfortable at guard as he made a key block that sprung Gray loose for his big gain.

Marvin Mims and true freshman Jayden Gibson scored touchdowns out wide for the receiver group. Theo Wease, who returned from an injury-filled 2021 also made a nice grab for a 48-yard gain that led to a touchdown early in the game. Jalil Farooq saw his number called quite a few times and has a chance to be a major contributor on the heels of his electric performance to end the season in 2021. Farooq would finish with two receptions for 17 yards.

Jayden Gibson’s 95-yard touchdown helped him lead the way at receiver on the afternoon. He finished with 113 yards on three receptions and a touchdown. Marvin Mims picked up right where he left off the 2021 season with two receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, guys like defensive end Ethan Downs and defensive back Kendall Dennis stood out as both forced turnovers during the game. Downs would punch out a fumble and Dennis intercepted a pass in the second half of the game. There wasn’t too much to be made of the Sooners’ new defensive system as Ted Roof kept things largely vanilla for good reason.

However, guys like Jeffery Johnson and Jordan Kelley made plays from the defensive interior while DaShaun White roamed at the second level making their impact felt. On the back end, Woodi Washington, Joshua Eaton made some plays on the ball. Eaton recovered the Downs forced fumble and broke up a possible touchdown in the end zone too. In the end, the red team led by DeMarco Murray got the win as they won 21-17.

Though they weren’t taking quarterbacks to the ground, Ethan Downs and Marcus Stripling were credited with two sacks apiece and Jalen Redmond added a sack for the red team. Johnson, Kelley, White, Jonah La’ulu, and Reggie Grimes combined for five sacks for the white team.

While the football was the main focus, it was incredible to see the alumni turnout as the Sooners did everything in their power to get every Sooner to Norman that they could. Big names like Adrian Peterson, Kyler Murray, Mark Clayton, and Jamelle Holieway were all in the building. Baker Mayfield’s Heisman statue ceremony took place at halftime with the unveiling in Heisman Park.

The pageantry, emotion and the excitement of the day delivered in spades and with no significant injuries to report, the first spring game of the Brent Venables era can be considered a huge success.

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