Oklahoma football: Western Carolina worse off by close OU Week 1 win

Sep 4, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) throws during the game against the Tulane Green Wave at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) throws during the game against the Tulane Green Wave at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Western Carolina could be just what the doctor ordered for an Oklahoma football team that is looking to get well fast after being challenged right down to the wire by an inspired Tulane team that refused to lose last Saturday in the Sooners’ season opener.

When the Sooners and the Catamounts, an FCS school out of the Southern Conference, meet on Saturday night at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium it not only will be the first time the two schools have faced each in football, but in any sport.

Western Carolina probably would have been better served had Oklahoma won big over Tulane, as it was expected to do, rather than narrowly escaping a 21-3 second-half comeback that fell just five-points short in a 40-35 Sooner victory.

Instead, the Sooners, ranked No. 4 this week in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the Coaches Poll, will be out to demonstrate to the Sooner Nation and the college football world that they are alive and well, have worked off the physical and mental rust of the season’s opening game and are ready to show their true character and what they are really made of.

Unfortunately, the Catamounts are the next in line for Oklahoma, which is keenly aware of the danger of allowing one bad game to turn into two, and especially against an FCS opponent.

It doesn’t help that Western Carolina must face a Sooner team that clearly will be on the rebound and playing at home before a sold out OU Memorial Stadium, where Oklahoma has lost just 11 times in the last 135 games played there, dating back to the beginning of the 1999 season.

Oklahoma has won more Big 12 championships (14) over that time that it has lost at home.

Kickoff on Saturday is set for 6 p.m. CT. The game will only be available for viewing on a pay-per-view basis (by Bally Sports Oklahoma), with Chad McKee doing the play-by-play and former OU co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chuck Long providing analysis).

What to watch for from Western Carolina

Western Carolina comes in riding a three-game losing streak, including an opening-game home loss, 31-28, to Eastern Kentucky last weekend. The Catamounts certainly are no slouch moving the ball on offense. They totaled 501 yards of offense against Eastern Kentucky, featuring a balanced attack (226 yards rushing, 275 passing).

The Catamounts are led on offense by quarterback Rogan Wells, a graduate transfer from Valdosta State. Wells completed 22 of 44 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown but also had two interceptions. Junior running back rushed for 115 yards and averaged close to seven yards per carry. Wells’ two primary receiving targets are Raphael Williams and Kenny Benjamin, who combined for 14 receptions a week ago.

Senior linebacker Ty Harris, a preseason All-Southern Conference selection, is Western Carolina’s defensive leader.

Western Carolina has never beaten an FBS opponent. It is 0-59 all-time against FBS teams. The Catamounts are coached by former Florida quarterback and SEC Player of the Year Kerwin Bell, who is in his first season at Western Carolina. Former Oklahoma All-American offensive lineman Jon Cooper (2005-08) is the offensive line coach for the Catamounts.

What to watch for from Oklahoma

First and foremost, Lincoln Riley wants the Sooners to play with an edge and sharp mental focus for a full four quarters, Oklahoma played with intensity and sharpness for most of the first half against Tulane and rolled up a 37-14 halftime advantage, but came out way too conservative in the second half, with the mindset the game was over, and it nearly cost them the game.

Look for the Sooners to keep the throttle down most of the way against Western Carolina, not trying to run the score up as much as playing with consistency and without mistakes on both offense and defense. This will be a good matchup for the Sooners’ to sharpen their game before the competition ramps up considerably in the weeks ahead.

Spencer Rattler had good numbers a week ago, but his decision making in throwing the ball into tight windows trying to make plays, instead of taking what the defense gives him, was uncharacteristic of the way he played at the end of the 2020 season.

The OU run game produced just 116 yards in the season opener. Look for Tennessee transfer Eric Gray to rebound from a 28-yard performance against Tulane with a stronger performance in Game 2.

Defense coordinator Alex Grinch rotated 31 players into the game against Tulane. The Sooners will continue to utilize their depth defensively to keep fresh players in the game, but it’s unlikely they will go three deep in their rotational sets.

Savvy Sooner stat

Since Lincoln Riley arrived at OU as offensive coordinator in 2015, the Sooners have produced at least 500 yards of offense in a remarkable 54 of 80 total games (67.5 percent). Make that 55 games after this weekend.

Bottom line and prediction

I realize this may sound a little bold after last week’s narrow win against a team that was a 27-point underdog, but there is no way Oklahoma will lose this game. In fact, it’s frankly a little embarrassing that this matchup is even on the schedule. Although No, 1 Alabama is also playing an opponent from the Southern Conference this weekend. It might be more interesting to predict or bet on whether Bama or the Sooners will run up a bigger scoring margin. What everyone will be looking for from Oklahoma’s game two performance is how much improvement the Sooners make over Week 1. A win is a win is no longer good enough to stand on for Oklahoma this season. How the Sooners win will determine how far they are able to go.

Oklahoma 59, Western Carolina 17