Oklahoma football: All eyes will be on defense in OU’s 2021 opener

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 16: Quarterback Johnathan Brantley
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 16: Quarterback Johnathan Brantley /

It isn’t where the 2021 Oklahoma football season was supposed to kick off, but you won’t hear any Sooner fans complaining about it.

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Except, of course, the 30,000 or so that won’t be able to attend in person because seating will be limited to just the lower bowl of the stadium. Due to the short turnaround time and this being a holiday weekend, several of OU’s game services providers are not able to assemble a full staff, which necessitated the seating limitation.

The Oklahoma-Tulane game on Saturday was originally scheduled for New Orleans, but for obvious and necessary reasons, courtesy of Hurricane Ida, the two schools agreed to relocate the game to Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Not that it really mattered where the game was played, but this is definitely advantage Oklahoma.

Even though the game is being played at OU, Tulane will be the designated home team. This may be a first. I don’t recall any other time when the Sooners played at home as the visiting team.

The Sooners, who are coming off a 9-2 2020 COVID-19 pandemic year and a final No. 6 ranking nationally, have won more Big 12 championships (14) than losses at home (10) since the 1999 season. That’s the dilemma and the huge challenge the Tulane Green Wave out of the American Athletic Conference, are walking into.

Oklahoma is 97-23-6 all-time in season-opening games and is 18-3 since 2000.

This will be the second meeting in history between the two schools. That previous meeting was also in Norman, in 2017, with Oklahoma winning 56-14.

Tulane has actually been playing varsity football longer than Oklahoma. The Green Wave’s football history commenced in 1893. Oklahoma’s first season was in 1895, making this the 127th season of Sooner football.

The season opener Saturday marks the 1,300th game in OU football history. The Sooners rank fifth in college football history with an all-time winning percentage of .726 (917-329-53).

Saturday’s game will be televised by ABC, with Dave Pasch doing the play-by-play and former OU player Dusty Dvoracek providing analysis and Tom Lugenbill on the sidelines.

What to watch for from Tulane

Tulane is led on offense by sophomore quarterback Michael Pratt. The Green Wave was 6-6 a year ago and scored 30 or more points in eight of their last 10 games. Tulane led the AAC in rushing last season, averaging 216.0 yards per game, but head coach Willie Fritz says the team is looking to pass the ball more this season under new offensive coordinator Chip Long.

The Green Wave finished second to last in the 11-team AAC last season throwing the football. But they were first in the conference and 17th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 216.0 yards per game, and they are deep at that position again in 2021..

Defensively, the Green Wave ranked in the middle of the pack in the AAC last season and 77th among FBS teams nationally. Tulane’s best player on defense is linebacker Dorian Williams, who led the AAC with 98 total tackles last season and was No. 2 nationally with 16.5 tackles for loss.

What to watch for from Oklahoma

Oklahoma won eight consecutive games to finish out the 2020 season with an as-per-usual explosive offense that got better with every game. What’s scary for OU opponents this season is second-year starting quarterback Spencer Rattler is expected to be even better this time around and his has even more offensive weapons at his disposal in 2021.

Rattler will be missing one receiving receiving weapon, at least to begin the new season. Theo Wease, listed on the depth chart as the No. 2 “X” receiver behind Jadon Haselwood, suffered a leg injury in practice and is expected to be out for several weeks.

Everyone expects a Lincoln Riley offense to be good every year, but all eyes in this game and throughout the season, quite frankly, will be on the Sooner defense to see if defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s group can live up to all the preseason hype and expectations of being the best defensive team in OU’s five season under Riley.

The last time Tulane came to Norman, in 2017, the Oklahoma defense struggled early. The Green Wave took an early 7-0 lead and stretched it to 14-7 with touchdown drives of 65 and 75 yards before the Sooners finally woke up.

Savory Sooner stat

The Oklahoma defense ranked fourth nationally in opponent third-down conversion percentage (27.9) last season.


Oklahoma is a 26.5-point favorite over Tulane, according to WynnBet Sportsbook. The No. 2-ranked Sooners are a much more talented team and should have little difficulty winning the game and covering the spread, Besides recording the win, the second most important thing in the game for the Sooners is too avoid any serious injuries. That is why you will likely see a lot of second and third-teamers see plenty of action, as well as backup QB Caleb Williams, another five-star quarterback recruit like Rattler before him.

Oklahoma 52, Tulane 13