Oklahoma football: Best and Worst from opening half of Sooners’ season

The grades are in, Now it’s time to celebrate the good and put the not-so-good behind us from the opening half of the 2020 Oklahoma football season.

As the Sooners’ 3-2 record reflects, the scale is fairly evenly weighted when it comes to the exemplary and the disappointing. As previously noted, the last time Oklahoma was 3-2 after five games was in 2016, and things turned out very nicely from that point forward.

We choose to look at it with the same glass-half-full perspective heading into the second half. But we can’t overlook what got us to this place in the season.

Most Valuable Player

Expectations were sky high for redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler, who became the fourth Sooner starting quarterback in as many seasons. He follows two Heisman Trophy winners and a Heisman runner-up. Those are extremely big shoes to fill, and Rattler has shown excellent poise and held up to the pressure well. He’s made some mistakes — as his five interceptions in five games will attest — and a few bad decisions, but he is also the principal reason the Sooners have won their two Big 12 games.

Rattler’s stats are extremely impressive for a first-year starter. He ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency and yards per pass attempt, sixth in the country in passing touchdowns and 12th in total offense.

After being benched late in the first half against Texas, the young quarterback put the Sooners on his shoulders in the second half, and had it not been for his performance in the four overtimes, making some tough throws at critical junctures, Oklahoma could easily have lost that game.

Rattler’s only going to get better with time, and that is great news for the Sooner faithful.

Most Surprising Player

Lincoln Riley and the Oklahoma coaching staff knew that true freshman wide receiver Marvin Mims was going to be good when they recruited him out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but they had no idea he would become an impact player as quickly as he has and make as strong a contribution in his first five college games.

Mims is tied for the team lead with 16 pass receptions for a team-high 328 yards and six touchdowns. His six receiving touchdowns ties him for fifth best in the country this season. He has had a touchdown catch in every game but one this season and a pair in two games.

The 5-foot, 11-inch freshman receiver had a career game in Oklahoma’s win last weekend over TCU. He had four receptions for a game-high 132 yards, including touchdown catches of 50 and 61 yards. He also had 61 yards of return yardage (19 on kickoffs and 42 in punt returns), giving him 193 all-purpose yards for the game.

Most Improved Player

If we had a category for “Next Man Up,” it would go to the collective group of OU defensive lineman who man the front line of the Sooner defense. OU lost a couple of defensive line starters off of last year’s team and also is without arguably its two best defensive players this season in DE Ronnie Perkins and DT Jalen Redmond. Perkins is suspended for at least five games this season and Redmond opted out.

In spite of this adversity, the Sooner defensive line play this season has been one of strength areas on the team, and redshirt junior Isaiah Thomas is one of those defensive linemen who have stepped up in a major way this season. Thomas played in 20 games over two seasons prior to this one, recording just 11 total tackles and two sacks.

So far this season, Thomas’ play has stood out and he has been a disruptive force among the OU front seven. Filling in for Perkins, he has 13 tackles, nine of them of the solo variety, 1.5 sacks and he leads the team with five quarterback hurries. Even when Perkins returns, Thomas has earned himself an important role in the OU defensive line rotation.

Most Impressive Newcomer

While Isaiah Thomas gets the nod as the most improved Sooner player at midseason, a fellow defensive lineman, Perrion Winfrey, edges out wide receiver Marvin Mims as the Most Impressive Newcomer.

Winfrey, a junior college transfer, was rated by 247Sports as the No. 1 JUCO player in the 2020 recruiting class. Although he got off to a somewhat slow start this season, he has made his presence known in a major way in the Sooners past two games. In the wins over Texas and TCU, Winfrey was credited with four tackles a shared quarterback sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and a critical blocked kick of a Texas field-goal try in the third overtime session.

Although he was credited with just 10 tackles on the season, Winfrey’s presence has been a big reason the Sooners rank 12th in the country in rushing defense and are holding opponents to an average of under 100 yards rushing through five games.

Best game of the season

Score-wise, the 48-0 win over Missouri State to open the season jumps off the page, but strangely that was not the Sooners’ best outing, primarily because the level of competition was much different than competing against Big 12 teams. With that in mind, the 31-14 win last week at TCU was the most complete and, therefore, the best OU game thus far in the season.

The Red River rivalry win over Texas qualifies as the most exciting — a four and a half-hour  marathon that went to four overtimes easily makes it that way –but it was not the Sooners’ best collective performance.

Best single-game performance

Marvin Mims’ 132 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns (one for 50 yards and the other for 61 yards) and 61 return yards, totaling 193 all-purpose yards, in Oklahoma’s 33-14 win at TCU is the best individual day by a Sooner so far this season.

Biggest disappointment

The biggest disappointment of the season so far is not as much the home loss to Kansas
State as the way the Sooners lost that game.

Oklahoma led 21-7 at halftime and owned a 28-7 lead at the 6:35 mark in the third quarter. K-State managed a couple of scores before the end of the quarter, and the Sooners scored one more time to take a 35-21 advantage into the fourth quarter.

That’s when everything that could go wrong for Oklahoma did. In the final quarter, Kansas State scored 17 unanswered points, erasing the 14-point Sooner advantage heading into the final quarter, and delivering a shocking come-from-behind victory. It was the Wildcat’s first win of the season, and they haven’t lost since.

In the final quarter alone, K-State ran just two more plays than OU (18 to 16), but outgained the Sooners 102-37.

The result was one of the biggest Oklahoma collapses in recent history.

Biggest underachiever

Redshirt junior Charleston Rambo was Oklahoma’s second leading receiver last season behind All-American CeeDee Lamb and was expected to become the heir apparent to the No. 1 receiver role this season. Rambo caught 43 passes last season for 743 yards and five touchdowns and averaged over 17 yards per reception.

He began the 2020 season strong, with nine receptions for 110 yards and a couple of touchdown catches in the first two games. Since that time, though, his targets have been declining as has his offensive impact. Rambo ranks third among the OU receivers in terms of catches, receiving yards and yards per catch. Entering the season, he was considered No. 1 on the depth chart and the Sooners’ primary deep threat.

In the TCU game, Rambo caught two passes for 29 yards, and he had just two receptions for 16 yards in the four-overtime win over Texas.

Either Sooner quarterback Spencer Rattler has lost confidence in Rambo (he has dropped a number of passes this season) or he feels more comfortable with other OU receiving targets. In the past two Oklahoma wins, Rattler has singled out Marvin Mims, Austin Stogner and Theo Wease as his three main targets.

It’s not clear what is going on with Rambo, but his involvement  and impact isn’t anywhere near what it was expected to be.