NORMAN, Okla.--The Sooners got their season off to a terrific start with a 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. Oklahoma earned its first defensive shutout since 2010 and redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight showed he can make defenses pay with his legs.
After a quick review of the game, here are three reasons for hope and two reasons for concern as the Sooners look toward West Virginia on Saturday.
Linebacker Corey Nelson’s defensive stop on second-and-3 in the first quarter
The Sooners’ defense will be much improved if Nelson consistently performs like he did on this play. ULM quarterback Kolton Browning kept the ball after seeing OU linebacker Eric Striker about to tackle his running back. Browning followed his guard into the hole. Nelson saw the entire play unfolding, slipped underneath the blocker and stopped Browning for a two-yard loss. If Nelson can consistently slip past blockers in the running game like he did on this play, the Sooners are sure to improve on their 5.15 yards per carry allowed average from 2012.
Defensive end Charles Tapper’s quarterback hurry in the second quarter
With ULM facing a third-and-9, OU did a terrific job disguising its blitz which resulted in Tapper going unblocked and hammering Browning as he tried to release the ball. Before the snap, linebacker Frank Shannon was on the line of scrimmage poised to blitz while nickelback Julian Wilson was lined up over the closest slot receiver on the wide side and linebacker Nelson was lined up on the slot receiver on the short side of ULM’s five-receiver formation. After the snap, Wilson and Nelson were blitzing, Shannon was dropping back to pick up one slot receiver, safety Gabe Lynn had dropped down to pick up the other slot receiver and Tapper was cruising untouched toward the quarterback as ULM’s tackle slid inside to pick up Wilson’s blitz.
The Sooners only sent five pass rushers against five ULM blockers yet Tapper went unblocked due to the confusion created by Mike Stoops’ plan. It’s a good example of the versatility and aggressiveness Stoops hopes to play with in 2013.
Trey Metoyer’s 13-yard third-quarter touchdown
This play brings hope for multiple reasons. First, it showed what Knight can do once he gets comfortable and into a rhythm during the game. It was a good read to recognize Metoyer was open (thanks to a terrific job by the Sooners’ offensive line) and a perfectly thrown pass kept the defender from doing anything about the touchdown. Had it been underthrown at all, the defender was in position to knock it down. It’s easy to look at Knight’s numbers (11 of 28 for 86 yards) and assume he can’t throw, but this play should make you think twice before jumping to conclusions. Any struggles the Sooners’ passing game has with Knight at the helm won’t be rooted in any physical limitations.
Secondly, the play should give Metoyer, who has the physical tools to be a game-changing receiver, confidence after a rough freshman season. Now the sophomore could have a sense that he is in the midst of a fresh start after high expectations and a disappointing first year in Norman. If Metoyer plays up to his ability, the Sooners’ offense could go to another level.
Bonus reason for hope
Running back Roy Finch was on the field. On offense. Enough said.
Lacoltan Bester’s 7-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 in the first quarter
The Sooners’ senior receiver ran a 7-yard route with his team needing eight yards to move the chains. That’s never a good thing. True enough, the route was designed to get Bester the ball on the move as he flashes across the middle of the defense to give Knight an easy dump-down option. But Bester went behind the ULM linebacker, instead of in front of him, adding additional depth to his route anyway. Why not go a yard deeper to move the chains? It wouldn’t have made Knight’s throw any more difficult. A little better field awareness and OU moves the chains on that play and Knight gets some early confidence. Little things like that can turn into big things against Big 12 teams, which could result in a loss.
Near interception late in the second half
Under a minute remained until halftime on 3rd-and-9 at the ULM 16-yard line. Knight almost threw an red-zone interception which would have cost the Sooners’ three points. Before the snap, early in the play clock, it appeared Knight had Jaz Reynolds in single coverage on the short side of the field, so it’s easy to see why Knight thought the Sooners had the advantage. However, one or two seconds before the snap, ULM backed out into zone coverage. Knight threw the ball anyway. ULM defensive back Cordero Smith dropped the potential interception in the end zone as Reynolds tried to split double coverage. Knight's mistake is just part of being a young quarterback and should be a great learning experience for the redshirt freshman.