Oklahoma football: The appropriate time to hit the panic button


It’s time. In two days, OU football will officially be here. The team will be hitting the field around 6 p.m. on Saturday, and the chase for an eighth national title will begin.

With expectations so high, it’s easy to slip into premature panic. Sooner fans have been disappointed before. How many different years has OU been highly ranked, just to disappoint by losing two or three games in the regular season? I know, those are bad memories; let’s not think about them.

Shortly after the ball is kicked off on Saturday, many fans will start looking for the weakness that might bring this team down. Pessimistic fans will start complaining about every little thing that doesn’t go perfectly.

Trevor Knight throws an incompletion? “The Sugar Bowl must have been an outlier.” A wide receiver drops a ball? “Oklahoma is going to suck without DGB.” The offense doesn’t score on every drive? “Josh Heupel needs to be fired.”

I don’t want you to be one of these people. Whether you are in the stadium with over 80,000 fellow fans, or at home watching on TV and tweeting out your thoughts, nobody wants to hear you panicking about every little thing.

It is the first game of the season, so there will be rust. Not everything is going to go well. Trevor Knight won’t complete every pass. Receivers will drop balls. Players will miss blocks. Some plays that Heupel calls just won’t work. Some players may have looked good in practice, but won’t fully translate on game day. It’s going to happen.

I don’t think you can take a whole lot away from the first game of the season against such an inferior opponent. That doesn’t mean you need to watch the game without worrying about any mistakes. There are a few things that could happen that merit some serious concern.

Here is my list of the four things that could happen that could mean some serious problems for the Sooners down the road.

Keith Ford and/or Alex Ross commit multiple mistakes

Gone is Bob Stoops’ security blanket at running back. When Stoops needed someone he trusted, he turned to Brennan Clay. Now Clay is trying to make an NFL roster, and Stoops is left with a stable of unproven running backs. The two guys with any experience, Keith Ford and Alex Ross, are listed as the starters.

Neither has yet to prove he can be reliable. Ford had ball security issues last season. Ross committed a personal foul penalty early in the season. Even with three senior running backs in front of them, Ford and Ross had their chances and showed that they couldn’t be fully trusted.

Stoops and the coaching staff value reliability over any other trait from their backs. If you can’t block well, hold on to the ball, and avoid penalties, you won’t see the field very much, no matter how talented you are (see Roy Finch).

If Ford and Ross make mistakes that jeopardize the trust of the coaching staff, the Sooners are in trouble at the running back position.

Trevor Knight takes a lot of hits

Knight has a history of injuries in his one season with the Sooners. He was injured twice last season, and had to leave mid-game as a result. The first injury even led to him being supplanted as the starter at quarterback.

This year, there is nowhere near the depth that there was last year. Unless Baker Mayfield is granted immediate eligibility, the backup quarterback position will be fairly weak. Both Justice Hansen and Cody Thomas have never played snap of college football and Blake Bell has been focusing on tight end all off-season.

Knight MUST stay healthy this year. Without him, the Sooner offense has almost no chance of being productive.

Even if Knight is running around making plays this season, he needs to avoid taking extra hits. The offensive line should protect him in the pocket, but outside of it, he needs to improve on protecting himself.

If Knight is taking a bunch of hits against the Bulldogs on Saturday, it is definitely a bad sign for OU.

The Bulldogs have multiple plays of over 40 yards

OU’s defense has always had a problem giving up the big plays. Even when the unit plays well, there is usually a big play or two that the opposing offense has throughout the game. Even in the Alabama game, the defense gave up some long plays. Against Alabama, it was something the Sooners overcame. Against other teams, it has cost Oklahoma a victory.

If Louisiana Tech is gashing the Sooners defense with the “home-run” plays, it is definitely something to be concerned about, especially when competition rises as the season goes on.

The Sooners aren’t ahead by more than 10 at halftime

Usually when teams like Louisiana Tech play big time programs like OU, everyone expects a lopsided game. This Saturday is no different. Oklahoma is favored to win by a wide margin. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way.

If OU is looking rusty early, and only up by a touchdown late in the first quarter, it’s not a reason to panic.

Even if they don’t pull it together, just the talent differential and home field advantage should give this team enough to separate from the Bulldogs.

If halftime hits and OU is up by less than 10 points, it might be time to panic!

I’m not predicting any of these scenarios. Hopefully the Sooners avoid any of these situations and have a great start to the 2014 season and the chase to bring another national title to Norman.