Game Grades: Oklahoma Sooners 34, Tennessee Volunteers 10

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The Oklahoma Sooners faced their first test of the season Saturday night against the Tennessee Volunteers. The Sooners passed, but not with flying colors in their 34-10 victory on Owen Field.

Not that Oklahoma didn’t impress with the win. The defense shined, but the offense could have been better and for the first time this season the special teams looked below average.

All of this resulted in an up and down report card for the Sooners as they get ready for conference play.

The Offense

Trevor Knight: A

Sep 13, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight (9) celebrates scoring a touchdown with running back Keith Ford (21) during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Knight’s two best performance of his career have come against SEC teams. Saturday was his best performance of the season through three games as he completed 20 of his 33 pass attempts for 308 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Knight also scored on a five yard touchdown run.

Some fans are waiting for Knight to put up one of those Sam Bradford or Jason White like performances with a 70% completion percentage and about 400 yards to go along with four touchdown passes. Those fans are just unrealistic. Not that Knight isn’t capable of that type of performance from time to time, but those guys were some of the most accurate and prolific passers in the history of college football. This Sooners quarterback is just a different type of player and also adds a running threat those guys didn’t have.

Josh Heupel has yet to open up the playbook for Knight. Once he does we will get more of a chance to see all that he adds to this offense. I expect to see that to some extent next week at West Virginia.

With a limited playbook, some conservative play-calling and some wide receivers who are still developing, Knight really deserves some high praise for his performance and the numbers he was able to put up against a Tennessee team with a really solid secondary.

Running Backs: B

The running game was good but not great for Oklahoma against the Tennessee defense.

The Sooners ran for 146 yards and had their lowest yards per carry average (4.3) of the season, which should not be a surprise considering they were facing a much better defense than they had faced in their first two games. The difficulties in the run game may have had less to do with the running backs and more to do with the play calling and the fact that Tennessee sold out to stop the run in this game.

It looks as if Keith Ford has emerged as the go-to guy for Oklahoma in the running game. He got the bulk of the playing time at running back and rushed for 56 yards on 15 carries, but once again proved that his worth is in his versatility. Ford was also able to catch two passes for 35 yards including a 23 yard touchdown pass. His 11 yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave him his sixth touchdown of the season.

While Ford is turning into a scoring machine, Samaje Perine is proving that his power is difficult for teams to deal with. The bruising freshman had nine carries for 67 yards.

For whatever reason Alex Ross didn’t see as much time as he had in the first two games of the season getting only five carries.

It seems as if Heupel and running backs coach Cale Gundy are still trying to find the right mix behind Ford. They may need to find that mix in a hurry with Ford leaving the field with a leg injury in the second half.

Wide Receivers: A

Oklahoma has been looking for that number two receiver to help take some pressure off of Sterling Shepard in the receiving corp. It seems as if Durron Neal may have established himself as that guy. He led the team in receptions with seven.

Shepard was his usual impressive and dependable self with 109 yards receiving.

It also looks as if Blake Bell is developing into a real threat at tight end. He had three catches and was targeted on a couple more plays. He showed off the toughness he’s been known for by standing up well to the physical play of the Tennessee defense with some really tough catches and an unwillingness to go to the ground after the catch.

Freshman KJ Young also had a couple of nice catches and looks to be the most likely of the younger guys to make a difference this year.

Coaching: C

I had to throw in coaching in this weeks grade book. ABC’s Kirk Herbstreit was critical of the Oklahoma offense and their inability to convert on third down and I’m in agreement.

This was definitely an issue for the Sooners against Tennessee, but the biggest reason for this was the play-calling that left the offense in third and long all night long.

For the most part Oklahoma ran two running plays with their running backs and they were pretty much all between the tackles. It was also very clear they are hesitant to allow Knight to keep the ball on the option and zone read plays.

Against Tulsa it seemed as if Heupel was more willing to mix things up. Against Tennessee he did what he has done many times in the past against better competition (minus the Sugar Bowl) and played it not to lose.

Holding back some of the playbook is a good idea at this point in the season, but more up-tempo and not running the same play over and over on first down may have resulted in a more productive offense.