More on Season Opening Shutout
On Saturday, Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium played host to a 34-0 season opening victory for the Sooners over ULM. OU joined Wisconsin (45-0 vs. UMass) as the only FBS school to play another FBS opponent and pitch a shutout in Week 1.
“Defensively it was one of our better performances in that when I’m talking about assignments communications, things we can control. Playing hard, playing fast, I thought all our guys did that really well,” head coach Bob Stoops stated. “Any time you can hold someone to zero points you’re doing something right.”
OU’s defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was also pleased with the squad’s performance, especially since it was the first time the new defensive scheme had been utilized.
“I think our guys were very confident when they took the field,” Mike Stoops said. “That was different than before. I just felt like we were in control early in the game.”
Bob Stoops went on to express he felt the defense was disruptive and put pressure on ULM quarterback Kolton Browning. He also thought that coverage was excellent and tackling was strong. Additonally, OU’s backups forced ULM into two three-and-outs.
According to Bob Stoops, some players who stood out against ULM included Jordan Phillips, Charles Tapper, Geno Grissom and Corey Nelson, who led the team with eight tackles and recorded a sack and added 2.0 tackles for loss.
Another defensive unit that excelled Saturday was the secondary, featuring players like Aaron Colvin, Zach Sanchez, Quentin Hays, Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson.
“The secondary played great,” the head coach said. “Coverage was outstanding. They all tackled well, covered well. I don’t know that we had a breakdown in communication.”
Senior co-captain Aaron Colvin said that recording a shutout feels great, but the defense understands it has to remain focused on upcoming games.
“It’s a confidence booster, but at the same time, one win or one loss doesn’t define you as a team or a defense,” Colvin said. “I mean if you look at last year, we had a lot of great games, but people tend to forget those for the bad games. We are encouraged by the win, but we have to continue moving forward.”
QB Trevor Knight, Ground Game and Clock Control
A key part to OU’s success on Saturday was its running game, which recorded 305 total yards. It was the 14th time in the Stoops’ era that OU has run for 300+ yards. Not surprisingly, the Sooners own a 14-0 record in those contests. Leading the Sooners in rushing was an unconventional player: first-time starter Trevor Knight. Knight posted 103 yards rushing on 13 carries, the most rushing yards by an OU signal caller since Jason White had 117 at Kansas (10/13/01) – the only other quarterback to register a 100-yard rushing game under Stoops.
Senior RB Brennan Clay expressed that having a quarterback like Knight who can make plays with his feet helps the running backs since he “puts a nuisance on the defense.” Clay emphasized that a successful run game could be a staple of the offense this season.
“I think it is just really made for the run game this year,” Clay said of the offense. “We were a little bit more pass-oriented last year. But that’s not going to be the case. We are going to be able to pass the ball as well as soon as we get this run game going. It’s going to open up deep shots down the field. We missed a few early on to Jalen (Saunders) and Jaz (Reynolds). They’re there so we’re not really worried about it. This offense is still going to be able to put up a lot of points.”
Aside from putting points on the scoreboard, OU’s running game also benefited the defense.
“It makes a big difference,” Stoops said of OU’s ability to control the clock with prolonged drives. “When your offense is on the field, your defense is resting and they don’t have the ball. Times here when we’ve had poor defensive performances, people don’t look at the poor offensive performances right next to it. If you’re out there for three plays and go three and out it’s only about 30 seconds and your defense is right back out there and it’s not really healthy. We played together the other night really well. And that’s why the score is what it was.”
A Stellar Special Teams Debut
Stoops also expressed he was pleased with how the special teams, from the kicking game to punt returns to defense, performed against ULM.
Off the foot of Nick Hodgson, all seven of OU’s kickoffs went through the end zone for touchbacks, while Michael Hunnicutt was a perfect 2-2 on field goals. In his OU debut, Jed Barnett averaged 43.6 yards on seven punts with four landing inside the 20-yard line and no return yards. When ULM faked a punt, Clay made the tackle to prevent a first-down conversion.
“I was very pleased with special teams,” Stoops said. “They were really strong, sound. We didn’t have the opportunity to cover a kick because they were all kicked out of the end zone.”
Up Next, West Virginia
This week, the Sooners open Big 12 play at home against the West Virginia Mountaineers. The game is the earliest conference opener in OU history. The previous early mark came when OU posted a 41-0 win vs. Baylor (9/18/99) in the second week of Stoops’ first season.
In 2013, OU claimed a 50-49 victory in Morgantown, W.Va. The game was an offensive shootout that saw 164 combined plays and 1,440 net offensive yards.
“Now we’re on to West Virginia, a conference game at home,” Stoops said. “We had a barn burner 50-49 a year ago so our guys understand the challenge of facing these guys. They’ve only had one game as well so it’s a bit different to have a conference game this early.”
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen took note of OU’s dominant defensive performance against ULM.
“Yeah, they have made some changes [from last season] unfortunately for us,” Holgorsen said. “They had a tremendous amount of speed on the field. They seem to be a lot more aggressive, a lot more attacking, they’re blitzing more. They are aggressive with their coverage. It’s not surprising with Coach Stoops and what they have been able to accomplish the last couple of decades. They looked fast, they looked good, they looked aggressive.”
Appreciating the Blocking Ability of FB Trey Millard
One of the most versatile players on the team is Trey Millard, whom Stoops says “can line up anywhere and is comfortable and we’re comfortable with him anywhere.”
While Millard only recorded one rushing attempt in Saturday’s contest, he impacts the game in a way that does not always show up in the final statistics, such as through his ability to block for runners. Although he didn’t touch the ball frequently against ULM, Stoops said in the future, Millard will have more opportunities, but his skills as a blocker are valuable, as well.
“People fail to realize if Trey is running with the ball, (Roy) Finch is blocking for him and that doesn’t work as well,” Stoops shared. “We do want Trey to be able to catch the ball, run the ball, do all kind of things. As games go it will happen. All those plays you see Trevor (Knight) coming around the edge with, he’s blocking and blocking well. He does what we ask him to do really well.”