NORMAN, Oklahoma –After a very impressive season-opening win over Louisiana Tech last Saturday, the Oklahoma Sooners will travel up the turnpike to take on Tulsa Saturday morning.
The Golden Hurricane is rarely a pushover, and this season is no exception as Tulsa seems to have rebounded from last year’s poor 3-9 season. TU started the year with a dramatic double-overtime win over Tulane last Thursday night.
As for Oklahoma, the Sooners showed against Louisiana Tech there’s plenty of reason for the hype that has surrounded the team since their big win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The defense stymied the Bulldogs in dominating fashion and the offense showcased an improved power run game featuring three dynamic backs.
The Sooners were far from perfect on Saturday, and there are plenty of kinks to be worked out on both sides of the ball. However, it’s only the second week of the season and there is a lot of time before the grind really starts for the Sooners. Although, based on Tennessee’s performance against Utah State on Sunday, the grind may be starting sooner than originally expected.
Playing Tulsa is more than just a tune-up for the Sooners, though. It’s a great thing for a state passionate about its college football, and a great thing for a larger program to throw a bone to a smaller program.
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We’ll get an opportunity to have more questions answered on Saturday, for both Oklahoma and Tulsa. One game doesn’t give a clear picture on the direction a season could take. It’s still possible the hype surrounding the Sooners was too much or that Tulsa isn’t ready to turn the page on last year’s disaster.
But it’s equally possible the first game is an accurate picture of 2014 for both these teams. We obviously can’t know that until later, so for now, we’ll sit back and enjoy the game and try to learn more about the Sooners and Golden Hurricane.
Three questions for Oklahoma
1. How will Trevor Knight fare against an experienced secondary?
Knight was good, but not spectacular against Louisiana Tech, throwing for 253 yards and touchdown and an interception. He was 19-of-34 and is clearly still working on the chemistry between him and his new receiving corps. The performance was encouraging, though, as Knight didn’t regress much and was much-improved compared to how he began the 2013 season. The Tulsa secondary boasts a lot of veterans, so it won’t be easy for Knight to pick them apart from the pocket. Knight has to play well for the Sooners to be successful on Saturday because the Golden Hurricane secondary is too good to just allow him to get away with a lot of mistakes.
2. Can the OU defense contain Tulsa’s revitalized passing game?
After a miserable 2013 season, Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans looked like a completely different player against Tulane on Thursday. Evans threw for 438 yards and four touchdowns against the Green Wave and found a new weapon in receiver Keevan Lucas. OU has the players to keep up with the tandem of Lucas and big wideout Keyarris Garrett on the outside, but the defensive line will need to get pressure against an offensive line that gave up just a single sack last week. Evans did throw two interceptions last week, and both were bad decisions. If the Sooners can get consistent pressure on Evans, they will definitely be able to rattle him and force him to make some bad decisions.
3. Will the Sooners’ success on the ground continue?
The Sooners didn’t have eye-popping numbers against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, but Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine were all very impressive in their first action as featured backs. The trio ran for 164 yards and five touchdowns on 33 carries. Most impressive—and a testament to the group’s power style and the Sooners’ offensive line—was that none of those 33 carries were for negative yardage. The Tulsa defensive line is deep and has a lot of experienced players, so it won’t be a walk in the park for the Sooners on Saturday. The offensive line will have to flex its collective muscle and open up holes for the new feature backs to gash the Golden Hurricane defense.
Three players to watch for Tulsa
1. Wide receiver Keevan Lucas- 13 receptions, 233 yards, three touchdowns
Lucas had 442 yards receiving a year ago, then promptly went out and had more than half that total in the first game of the season. Lucas is a speedy guy in the slot that perfectly complements the 6-foot-4 Garrett on the outside. Evans has clearly identified Lucas as a guy he’s comfortable with so he should get a lot of targets on Saturday. To avoid the Sooners’ scary pass rush, the Golden Hurricane may employ a lot of quick slants to get the ball out quickly. Most of those will probably go to Lucas.
2. Running back Tavarreon Dickerson- 15 carries, 84 yards
Dickerson showed flashes of talent against Tulane that made some think he could be an excellent replacement for the departed Trey Watts. It’s likely he will be part of a by-committee approach with James Flanders, but Flanders wasn’t particularly effective against the Green Wave. Dickerson showcased a terrific combination of speed, power and escapability that should land him the feature back role down the road.
3. Safety Demarco Nelson- Nine tackles, one interception
The Golden Hurricane’s game against Tulane was Nelson’s first game action since the 2012 season after he was forced to miss the entire 2013 season thanks to academic issues. Nelson was a bit rusty, blowing a couple of coverages, but he atoned for his mistakes by grabbing the game-clinching interception in the end zone in the second overtime. Nelson is probably the most talented player in the Tulsa secondary, so Knight will need to be aware of where he is at all times.
Key matchup: OU cornerback Zach Sanchez vs. Tulsa wide receiver Keevan Lucas
One thing the Sooners’ sophomore cornerback is not is shy. After earning the starting role as a true freshman this year, Sanchez already has an interception to his credit this year, skying for a pick against Louisiana Tech last week. With Lucas seemingly Evans’ new favorite target, Sanchez is probably going to get a lot of action his way. He’ll be more than up to challenge. Fellow cornerback Julian Wilson’s matchup with Garrett will also be fun to watch.