NORMAN – The Brent Venables era started off with a bang Saturday in steamy Norman, as the Sooners routed the visiting Miners of UTEP, 45-13 before a sellout crowd of 83,173. The win was the Sooners’ sixth straight season opening win. They are 20-3 in season openers since 2000 and 99-23-6 in season openers all time.
New Sooner QB Dillon Gabriel was 15-23 for 233 yards and two touchdowns and looked comfortable in command of the offense. Marvin Mims led all receivers with 81 yards on three catches, while Brayden Willis tallied three catches for 40 yards and two TDs. Theo Wease had three catches for 37 yards, while Eric Gray had two for 33, Drake Stoops had two for 25, Jalil Farooq had one for nine yards and Marcus Major had one for eight yards. Gray led the Sooners in rushing with 102 yards on 16 carries. Major added seven carries for 54 yards.
The Sooners started off quickly. Gabriel hit Stoops for 16 yards on the second play of the game. Two plays later, Gabriel connected with Mims for 42 yards and a first down at the UTEP 12. Gabriel took it the rest of the way on the next play, and the Sooners were up 7-0. The drive covered 75 yards in five plays and took only 1:17 off the clock.
The Miners picked up a first down on the ensuing possession courtesy of a roughing the passer call but couldn’t do anything otherwise. UTEP punted back to the Sooners at the OU seven-yard-line. A pair of false starts left the Sooners facing second and 13 from their own four-yard-line. However, Gray busted off a 35-yard run, followed immediately by a 31-yard Gabriel pass to Mims and a 24-yard pass to Gray. Three plays after they were in jail at their own four-yard-line, the Sooners were knocking on the door at the UTEP six. Two plays later, Gabriel hit Willis for the first of his two TDs on the day, and the Sooners were up 14-0 only 5:42 into the contest.
Another UTEP punt put the Sooners at their own 30, but a fair-catch interference penalty moved it out to the OU 45. From there, Gabriel hit Stoops for nine yards. On the following play, true freshman walk on Gavin Freeman did his best Wes Welker impression, taking a pitch on a reverse right, breaking a tackle, and going 46 yards for a score on his first career touch. OU was up 21-0 with 6:43 still to play in the first quarter.
The Miners put together their first sustained drive of the day on the ensuing possession, moving from their own 25 to the Sooner 31 before settling for a field goal that made it 21-3 with 14:12 to play in the first half. After the Sooners went three-and-out, UTEP scored again, this time on a 10-play, 85-yard drive that took 5:10 off the second quarter clock. It was 21-10 Sooners with 8:18 to play in the first half.
After an exchange of punts, the Sooners answered. From their own 32, the Sooners moved out to the 50 on four straight running plays. Four plays after that, OU faced fourth and one from the UTEP 47. A Gray run picked it up easily, and four plays later, Gabriel hit a wide-open Willis from 28 yards out for the score, and OU was up 28-10 with 55 seconds to play in the first half. That would be the halftime score.
UTEP picked up 24 yards on their opening play of the second half but could do no more. OU took over on its own 20 after the Miner punt. Gray ran for 12 on first down, then three plays later Gabriel hit Wease for 33 yards down to the UTEP 25. Willis caught one for six on the next play, then Gray ran for seven, Farooq caught a pass for nine, and Gray ran for two to put the ball at the one-yard-line. Two plays later Major barreled in from a yard out, and OU was up 35-10 with 10:48 to play in the third quarter.
The next UTEP possession reached the Sooner 36 before OU’s defense forced a turnover on downs. Four plays later, the Sooners were on the UTEP 20, helped along by Major’s 27-yard run. After a pass interference penalty wiped out a pick in the end zone, Major punched it in from six yards out, and suddenly OU led 42-10 with 3:16 to play in the third quarter. Each team would add a field goal in the fourth quarter to forge the final score of 45-13.
Overall, it was a good opener. Unlike some past seasons, we didn’t struggle with an inferior opponent. We did have a lot of teaching moments and things that can be used to improve going forward, all while wining comfortably. Much nicer to close out your inferior opposition without getting yourself into a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Next up, the Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday night at 6:00. We should see the debut of the new colored LED stadium lights at this one. That should be a trip, judging from some of the video we’ve seen of the testing. See you there.