Oklahoma football; Sooner newcomers answer call for absent starters

Of the 61 Oklahoma football players who saw action in last weekend’s season-opening win over Missouri State, 14 were first-year Sooners.

As it turned out, a number of those OU newcomers ended up making important contributions to the Sooners’ 48-0 win. It is not typical for a championship caliber program like Oklahoma to play as many freshman players this early in the season. It’s even less typical to see first-year players step up like several OU newcomers did in the season opener against Missouri State.

The most noticeable and noteworthy of the new Sooner starters, of course, was quarterback Spencer Rattler, whose much-anticipated Oklahoma debut as the next man up in the string of prized Sooner signal callers was every bit as impressive as the expectations that preceded it.

By now, most every Sooner fan knows about what Rattler managed to accomplish in just half a football game, including four touchdown passes and a passing efficiency rating that was the third best among any and all Oklahoma quarterbacks in the history of the program.

But the highly touted redshirt freshman quarterback wasn’t a one-man-show. He had plenty of support from some other newcomers on offense seeing their first game action for Oklahoma.

One reason so many first-year Sooners saw action in the game was because of the number of Oklahoma players who were unavailable to play as a result of either testing positive for COVID-19 or due to contact tracing.

Many of the new players might have seen action anyway because the lopsided nature of the game. The game was basically decided after Oklahoma led 31-0 after the first 15 minutes.

The Oklahoma football depth chart was on full display last Saturday night

The Sooners’ top running back on the depth chart, junior T.J. Pledger, was one of the players ruled out for the season opener, and true freshman Seth McGowan saw quite a bit of action as a result of Pledger’s absence. Redshirt freshman Marcus Major drew the starting assignment at running back on Saturday, but it was McGowan who caught the most attention.

McGowan’s numbers were not record shattering, but it was a good strong showing by a four-star recruit who a year ago was playing high school ball in Mesquite, Texas. The true freshman gained 61 yards on nine carries, including a rushing touchdown, and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. McGowan also was on the receiving end of one of Rattler’s 14 pass completions, which went for 37 yards.

Rattler completed passes to 12 different Oklahoma receivers on Saturday. Seven of the 12 were either true freshman or redshirt freshman.

Marvin Mims, another of the prized Oklahoma recruits out of the talent-rich state of Texas, caught three passes for 80 yards in the Missouri State game, one of which was for 58 yards and an Oklahoma touchdown barely five minutes into the game. In addition, Mims showed his versatility, returning three punts, averaging almost 23 yards per return.

Several other freshman stepped up for the Sooner offense in the season opener. H-back Mikey Henderson caught four passes for 37 yards and wide receiver Trevon West hauled in four targets for 57 yards. Both Henderson and West are true freshmen.

A third true freshman OU receiver, Finn Corwin, out of Dallas, also made it into the box score with a pair of catches from backup Sooner quarterback Tanner Mordecai, including a 16-yard reception for a touchdown.

Another Sooner newcomer who made the most of the opportunity afforded him was redshirt senior Stephen Johnson, who comes out of the junior-college ranks and was asked to handle the placekicking duties in the absence of No. 1 kicker Gabe Brkic. Johnson responded with 12 points in the scoring column on field goals of 42 and 22 yards and six extra points.

Oklahoma placekickers have now made their last 19 field goal attempts and have been successful on 59 consecutive extra points.

What it all comes down to is a great start by Oklahoma to this most unusual 2020 college football season, made even more special by the performances of numerous first-year players who represent the future of Sooner football.