NORMAN – If you weren’t paying close attention, and nobody told you, there was virtually nothing about the Sooners’ 56-7 thumping of UTEP Saturday afternoon on Owen Field that would have given you the idea that anything had changed. This was an opener that any of Bob Stoops’ teams could have delivered against a lesser opponent. For that matter, it might have been one of Stoops’ better openers, given the Sooners’ historic trend of less-than-impressive Labor Day weekend showings.
But there was one thing that showed for sure there was a new sheriff in town, and it came at the beginning of the third quarter when the Sooners, up 35-7, trotted out Kyler Murray at QB. Bob Stoops would have ridden Baker Mayfield well into the third quarter, and maybe into the fourth, before having him give way to the reserves, even in a game that was long since decided. But not Lincoln Riley. Frankly, it was refreshing.
As was the overall performance against the Miners. To be sure, nobody expected UTEP to challenge the Sooners, and they did not, other than an opening possession that accounted for all of their points on the day and was attributable more to Sooner defenders getting their sea legs than anything else. But it was the way it was done. Other than several stupid penalties (Matt Romar, we’re looking at you), the early season mistakes that often rear their heads in openers were noticeably absent.
Mayfield had a great day for any QB, in only two quarters of work. He finished an astonishing 19-20 for 329 yards and three TDs. He did not come close to throwing an interception, and really shouldn’t have had the one incompletion, as an obvious pass interference penalty went uncalled. And he still put the ball in the hands of his receiver even on that play. The offensive line dominated UTEP, and a plethora of running backs showed promise. Murray, in his first action since transferring from Texas A&M two years ago, was just as efficient as Mayfield, going 10-11 in his second-half work.
One of the big questions coming into the season was how the receiving corps would take up the slack left by the departure of Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook. The answer was simple – 14 Sooners caught almost literally every pass that was thrown their way. Mark Andrews ran roughshod, stacking up 7 catches for 134 yards and a TD, while showing some agile moves for a big man in collecting yards after the catch. Freshmen CeeDee Lamb and Grant Calcaterra both had TD catches, and Kentucky grad transfer Jeff Badet hauled in four balls for 91 yards, including a juggling 51-yarder that set up a Sooner score.
The Sooner defense, meanwhile, limited UTEP to 167 yards of total offense on the day, and shut them out after their first possession. UTEP did not gain 100 total yards the rest of the game after their first drive, which netted 78 yards and a touchdown. The big downer defensively was what appeared to be a knee injury to Jordan Parker on special teams. No word yet on the severity of the damage, but it didn’t look good when he returned from the locker room during the game on crutches.
Next up is the one everyone’s been looking forward to – a trip to Columbus, Ohio and Ohio State. The Buckeyes struggled at Indiana last Thursday night before finally pulling away. The thumping they put on the Sooners last season in Norman has not yet been forgotten. Hopefully, we can return the favor Saturday night. See you in Columbus.