When the final whistle blew against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater, many were left feeling underwhelmed by the results of the 2021 season. It was supposed to be the one that restored Oklahoma as a legitimate national title contender.
It never materialized. From the week one nail-biting win over Tulane to the losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State, it was as disappointing a year as an 11-win season can be.
While there were initial frustrations in the wake of Lincoln Riley’s departure, this offseason provided a chance to reset the foundation and the identity of OU Football.
Riley’s tenure didn’t yield a national championship, but he won a lot of games. At the same time, it never felt as if this team was getting any closer to national title contention.
From the Alamo Bowl win over Oregon to a record-setting spring game, and now to the start of the 2022 season, it’s time to turn the page. It’s time to see what the Sooners can do under first-year head coach Brent Venables.
The dawn of a new era
Apr 23, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables reacts during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Change can be scary. New can create uncertainty.
With Brent Venables at the helm, the future for Oklahoma looks bright.
The Oklahoma Sooners’ new head coach has provided the inspirational leadership to steady the program since coming on board back in December. He helped Oklahoma recover its 2022 recruiting class, leading it to No. 8 in the nation. He inspired a fan base to set a new spring game attendance record.
It isn’t just his success that breeds confidence in the program moving forward. It’s that success combined with a personality and attitude that makes people believe this team can return to contention as early as 2022.
Of course, the results on the field will be how we evaluate this team, but few people doubt Oklahoma will be successful.
The only question that lingers is how long it will take for Venables to turn Oklahoma into a legitimate national title contender.
It's Dime Time
Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel during an NCAA college football practice, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Norman, Okla. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Sometimes in life, a loss or transition creates an opportunity for the right person to step into the right position at the right time. That’s what it feels like with Dillon Gabriel.
His injury led to a new starter emerging at UCF. Looking to continue his playing career, Gabriel was looking at Ole Miss, where his former offensive coordinator was working, but ultimately decided on UCLA to work with Chip Kelly.
However, when news came down that Caleb Williams was entering the transfer portal, things changed for Gabriel and the Oklahoma Sooners. Within hours of Williams’ announcement and just days away from classes starting at UCLA, Gabriel decided to reunite with Lebby in Norman.
A perfect storm of circumstances created an opportunity for a guy who’s been lauded as a great leader to step in and help steady the waters as Oklahoma navigated a sea of turnover during the offseason.
His experience, leadership, and understanding of Jeff Lebby’s offense will be key to Oklahoma’s success in 2022.
Don't play with your food
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
In 2021, the Oklahoma Sooners had a hard time putting teams away. Maybe they felt they were good enough to win on talent alone. Whatever it was, Oklahoma let teams hang around too often, which was reflected in the way the College Football Playoff committee ranked the Sooners in the initial playoff rankings.
The Oklahoma Sooners are the more talented team heading into Saturday’s matchup. They should run away from the Miners this afternoon.
In the current playoff system, how a team wins matters. The Oklahoma Sooners should dominate a football game against a team that lost by 18 to UNT a week ago.
Brent Venables’ intensity and aggressiveness will be the driving force behind a team that won’t take their foot off the gas. Against UTEP, the Sooners need to dominate from whistle to whistle if they want to take a step up from good to great.
No Big Plays
Nov. 27, 2021; Stillwater; Oklahoma Sooners cornerback Woodi Washington (0) steps in front of Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Blaine Green (28) to intercept a pass during the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium. Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
One way to allow a massive underdog to find belief in a game is to allow big plays. Whether it’s a long completion, a big run, or a turnover, the Oklahoma Sooners don’t need to give the less-talented UTEP Miners any life through big plays.
Oklahoma can put the Miners away early, giving younger guys on the depth chart an opportunity to play significant snaps, but only if they don’t allow the Miners to find any momentum on the field.
Unleash the pass rush
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 nation may not know it yet, but the Oklahoma Sooners have a talented group of pass rushers along the defensive line. Reggie Grimes, Ethan Downs, and Marcus Stripling will be terrorizing offensive tackles all season and Jalen Redmond will be doing the same to interior offensive lines.
There’s no time like the present to put teams on notice that the Sooners will be just fine getting after quarterbacks despite the losses of Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas, and Perrion Winfrey.
Oklahoma’s edge trio of Grimes, Downs, and Stripling will be dynamic and disruptive against the Miners. Biding their time, they’ve been building toward this moment. Grimes and Stripling, in particular, have been in the program for multiple years, playing rotational roles for Alex Grinch’s defense. Now at the forefront, this veteran duo, along with sophomore Ethan Downs, will be the catalyst for the Oklahoma Sooners defense.
Under the direction of Miguel Chavis and Todd Bates, this unit will put on a ferocious display as they get after opposing quarterbacks.