Oklahoma football: Sooners may have to rely on offensive show to beat Oregon

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 18: Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners is tackled by Darius Sanders #95 of the University of Oregon Ducks on September 18, 2004 at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 18: Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners is tackled by Darius Sanders #95 of the University of Oregon Ducks on September 18, 2004 at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

It’s been over a month since the last Oklahoma football game, but you’d hardly know it with all the news that has come out of the Sooner program over that time, including a surprising head-coaching change.

Lincoln Riley was the Oklahoma coach the last time the Sooners took the field, on Nov. 27 against Oklahoma State, but it will be former OU head coach Bob Stoops, the winningest coach in the history of Oklahoma football, who will be coaching the team when it takes on 14th-ranked Oregon in the Alamo Bowl on Wednesday night in San Antonio.

Stoops, who last coached Oklahoma on Jan. 2, 2017, leading the Sooners to a 35-19 win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, immediately stepped forward to serve as interim head coach after Riley stunned the college football world, announcing that he was leaving OU to become head coach at USC.

Brent Venables, who was at Oklahoma for 13 seasons as an assistant and defensive coordinator under Stoops and most recently led one of college football’s best defenses as the coordinator at Clemson, has been hired as the new Sooner head coach, but Stoops agreed during the coaching transition to lead the team in its Alamo Bowl game.

8:20 p.m., CT. 815. Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. 820. 10-3. Sooners -4.5. 10-2. ESPN

This will be Oklahoma’s 55th postseason bowl appearance, fourth most nationally, and 23rd consecutive bowl game The Sooners are 30-23-1 all-time in bowl games. The 30 bowl wins are the fifth most in college football.

This marks the first time since 2014, however, the Sooners have not been in a New Year’s Six bowl and only the third time in the last seven seasons Oklahoma has not made it into the College Football Playoff.

Like Oklahoma, Oregon has also endured a head-coaching change, with Mario Cristobal leaving after the regular season to take the vacant job at his alma mater, Miami. Pass-game coordinator Bryan McClendon will serve as interim head coach for the Ducks in the Alamo Bowl. The new Oregon head coach, Dan Lanning, previously defensive coordinator at Georgia, was one of the candidate names floated for the Oklahoma job.

The Sooners are 6-1 all-time against Oregon. OU’s only loss to the Ducks came in the last game the two teams played, in 2006 in Eugene, Oregon. The Sooners lost that game 34-33 when a controversial onside-kick call went against OU. Oklahoma prevailed over Oregon in the 2005 Holiday Bowl, 17-14.

Bob Stoops was 2-1 against Oregon as the Sooners’ head coach.

The Alamo Bowl will be televised on ESPN, with the kickoff set for 8:20 p.m. CT on Wednesday. Jason Bennett will provide the play-by-play, Andre Ware will offer analysis and Paul Carcaterra will be on the sidelines.

What to watch for from Oregon

Oregon is led on offense by senior quarterback Anthony Brown, who transferred from Boston College. He completed 64 percent of his passes this season for 2,683 yards and 15 touchdowns with six interceptions. He is also dangerous with his legs, having posted 637 rushing yards along with nine more touchdowns. Brown’s 3,320 yards of total offense leads the Pac-12.

Junior running back Travis Dye leads the Ducks with 1,118 rushing yards and also has a team-high 41 receptions for 374 yards. Brown’s other top receiving target, Devon Williams, who has 35 catches for a team-high 557 yards, has opted out of the game and will declare for the NFL Draft.

The Ducks are particularly effective on third downs, successfully converting 51.5 percent of their third-down attempts. That ranks fourth best in the country.

Oregon will be without several defensive starters, the best of which is All-American edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, who leads the Ducks with 7.0 sacks this season and 12.0 tackles for loss. Thibodeaux has opted out of the Alamo Bowl and plans to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Safety Verone McKinley III leads the country this season with six interceptions. Linebacker Noah Sewell is the team’s top tackler with 106 through 13 games along with 4.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.

What to watch for from Oklahoma

True freshman Caleb Williams will be making his seventh consecutive start for the Sooners at quarterback. He will be forced to operate without two key receivers, Jadon Haselwood and Austin Stogner, both of whom, along with backup signal caller Spencer Rattler, entered the transfer portal after OU’s final regular-season game, and are now with other teams.

Oklahoma will have all of its other offensive weapons, however, including leading receivers Marvin Mims and Mario Williams and leading running back Kennedy Brooks, who eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the third time in his career. In his last seven games Brooks has averaged 113.3 rushing yards per game. Mims leads the team with 648 receiving yards on 30 catches, and Williams has 33 catches for 347 yards.

The Sooners are No, 1 in the nation in red-zone offense. They have come away with points (43 touchdowns, 11 field goals) 96 percent of the times they have reached the red zone this season.

OU will also be without four key members of its front seven on defense. Defensive tackles Perrion Winfrey and Isaiah Thomas, along with linebackers Nik Bonitto and Brian Asamoah, have all opted out of the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Longtime Sooner assistant Cale Gundy will call the offensive plays for the game with help from the offensive assistants; Brian Odom will call the defensive plays. After this game, Odom will leave the staff to join Lincoln Riley at USC. Both Gundy and Odom are OU alums.

Savvy Sooner stats

  • Oklahoma has outscored its opponents 129-43 in the second quarter and 117-54 in the third quarter, but the Sooners have been outscored 101-97 in the opening quarter.
  • Since Bob Stoops arrived in Norman in 1999 as head coach, Oklahoma leads all Power Five teams with 245 wins. Oregon ranks eighth with 210 wins over the same span.
  • Dating back to the start of the 2012 season, OU is 49-16 in games played away from home.

Bottom line

Oklahoma is a 4.5-point favorite in the game. The Sooner should be able to move the ball against the Oregon defense as long as they are able to run the ball effectively with Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray and with the threat that Caleb Williams poses when he tucks the ball and takes off. The unkown in this game is how the OU defense will perform without a quartet of key players in the all-important front seven. It will be next man up in a defensive unit that was playing especially well the second half of the season.

It should be a competitive game, and having Bob Stoops on the sideline should be an extra motivation for an Oklahoma team that would like to finish out a disappointing season with a strong performance and a bowl victory. Oklahoma wins 31-27.