Sooners Overrun Owls in Opener

John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to SoonerSports.com
Saturday, Sept. 1 | Norman, Okla.
7 Oklahoma
Oklahoma
63
14
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FLORIDA ATLANTIC

NORMAN — Oklahoma was dominant in its 63-14 season-opening victory over Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Exactly what the victory proves remains to be seen, however. After all, it is just one game, and it's the first one at that.

"We're very excited about the win today. It's a game that definitely had our attention," second-year OU coach Lincoln Riley said afterward. "Everybody wants to come to these conclusions about what you are and what you aren't. Did we learn something today? Yes. I think we've got some quality guys ... We had some young guys step in there and play very well and the team's competitive nature is really good right now."

Before a crowd of 86,402 (the 117th consecutive home sellout), the No. 7-ranked Sooners won their 13th straight home opener and posted their largest margin of victory in an opener since 2008. 

Despite the departure of Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Baker Mayfield, the OU offense still outgained the Owls 650 to 324 in total yardage and averaged 10.4 yards per play.

"That's a good football team," Riley said of FAU, which went 11-3 last season and finished with 10 straight victories. "They're going to win a lot of games."

OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops also spoke highly of the Owls after studying tape of last season, during which FAU averaged 498.4 yards offensively.

"I thought they did a lot of good things," Stoops said. "(FAU coach) Lane (Kiffin) has always been a tremendous play caller. They moved the ball on a lot of people. I just didn't feel like they played anybody the caliber of a Power Five conference team. That's where you likely see the size and the strength of your team. I thought that was a part of it today."

The Sooners were dominant despite seven players making their first career starts — redshirt senior linebacker Curtis Bolton, sophomore tight end Grant Calcaterra, junior linebacker Mark Jackson Jr., redshirt freshman linebacker Ryan Jones, redshirt junior defensive end Kenneth Mann, redshirt senior fullback Carson Meier and freshman defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles.

Buoyed by three 65-yard scoring plays in the first half alone, the Sooners amassed 408 yards before intermission, averaging 12.8 yards per play and 10.3 yards on first-down snaps. 

Redshirt junior quarterback Kyler Murray connected with wide receiver Lee Morris for a 65-yard touchdown to give OU a 21-0 lead with 4:49 left in the first quarter. A redshirt junior walk-on, Morris now has three career receptions and every one had been for a touchdown. He had two catches for two scores last season.

Redshirt junior running back Rodney Anderson pushed the score to 35-0 with a 65-yard touchdown run with 13:07 left in the second quarter, giving him 100 rushing yards on five first-half carries before exiting the game for good.

The final 65-yard score came on a Murray connection to junior speedster Marquise Brown to give the Sooners a 42-0 halftime lead. Brown finished with six catches for 133 yards (22.2-yard average).

Murray completed 9 of 11 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game with 2:48 left in the second quarter. "He handled it well," Riley said of Murray. "There was definitely some nerves. Everybody has some nerves before the first game."

Riley also said he was particularly pleased with OU's special teams play. "I think we've taken some steps on special teams that I think will continue to be a weapon for us throughout the season," Riley said.

Early in the first quarter, Morris blocked a punt into the end zone that was recovered by Curtis Bolton and gave OU a 14-0 lead. It was the Sooners' first blocked punt in five seasons (Matt Dimon vs. Kansas in 2013) and the first returned for a touchdown since 2002 (Will Peoples scored vs. Texas Tech).

"It's one of those special teams plays we've really been looking for," Riley said. "There was kind of a surge in energy from there and we just rode that momentum the rest of the way through."

Five OU running backs amassed 316 rushing yards while averaging 8.1 yards per rush.

The Sooners scored nine touchdowns — five rushing, three passing and one on special teams.

Sophomore backup quarterback Austin Kendall relieved Murray with 2:48 left in the first half and wound up completing 8 of 10 passes for 88 yards and one touchdown.

However, Kendall suffered an apparent leg injury when he slid into a bulky equipment chest on the FAU sideline with 13:20 left in the game. He was replaced by redshirt sophomore Tanner Schafer. True freshman Tanner Mordecai finished the game and completed 2 of 2 passes for 37 yards.

Afterward, Riley said he was still awaiting an evaluation on the extent of Kendall's injury. "We'll see how he's doing, but I'm optimistic," Riley said.

OU hosts UCLA next Saturday at noon.

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