Oklahoma football: Takeaways from a spring game like no other

LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 18: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners passes during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 18: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners passes during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Brent Venables and Baker Mayfield sure know how to whip a crowd into a frenzy.

A record crowd of 75,360 attended the 2022 Spring Game for the Oklahoma football Sooners on Saturday. That number was by far the most in school history and the most in the country so far this spring. Over 250 former players also were also in attendance.

Those who were there witnessed the first spring game for the team under new OU head coach Venables, who addressed the former players before the game and addressed the record crowd at halftime.

One sentence in Venables halftime speech rang truer than any other, however as he applauded the crowd for showing up the way they did,

"“This is how we get from good, to great!”"

This sentiment has been a summary of what Venables and his new staff have been doing over the last few months. They have spent the winter and spring trying to build the bedrock of the program  in Venables’ vision, and trying to implement discipline, purpose, physicality and character in the Oklahoma program as it enters a new era.

That extends to the fanbase as well, as the staff and players called on Sooner Nation to pack out the stadium on Saturday, and they delivered.

Halftime also featured the official Heisman statue unveiling for Baker Mayfield, who received the loudest roar from the crowd all afternoon.

During his words to the crowd, Mayfield became emotional and stated,

"“This is home, it’ll always be home. I mean that.”"

However, the loudest cheer may have been after Mayfield paused in his speech and a fan yelled, “We love you Baker!”

After a brief pause, Mayfield smiled and responded, “Love you guys too,” bringing an already standing house to a roar.

Mayfield and the other former players in attendance got to watch the current edition of the Sooners do battle in the Red-White spring game, which the Red team won, 21-17.

Sooner fans get first look at new starting QB Dillon Gabriel

Offensively, it was clear from the game’s first drive that starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel is still very comfortable in Jeff Lebby’s offensive scheme. The unit looked crisper and moved quicker when he was taking the snaps.

Tempo was an emphasis in the game (as it will continue to be under Lebby) and Gabriel’s time under center was far and away the smoothest. He showed good pocket awareness and solid accuracy, throwing one touchdown, but also one interception.

The four other quarterbacks (Nick Evers, Ralph Rucker, Micah Bowens and Ben Harris) all took limited snaps, and none looked as comfortable as Gabriel. Evers, a true freshman, struggled at times with the pressure from the defensive front, as did Rucker. The two are expected to compete for the backup job in the summer and fall.

Bowens may have been the second best quarterback on the day, and he threw a strike for the White team to freshman wideout Jayden Gibson for a 95-yard touchdown. Harris took the least snaps out of all five QBs on the roster.

Freshman running back Javonte Barnes had two early touchdown runs for the Red team and was impressive in his debut on Owen Field. Tawee Walker introduced himself to Sooner fans on a day when running back depth was not as much as one might’ve hoped.

On the outside, Marvin Mims and Theo Wease both starred for the Red team, as each had big plays. Wease had a big grab on a Gabriel scramble to set up the game’s first touchdown and Mims caught a touchdown over the middle.

For the White team, returning names Drake Stoops, Jalil Farooq and Brayden Willis all made nice plays, and Gibson’s long touchdown got them closer in the second half.

Up front in the trenches, McKade Mettauer had multiple hole-opening blocks that helped the running backs get going downhill. Offensive line is a unit Sooner fans will be watching closely after it had its share of struggles a year ago.

OU defense showed its stuff as well

Penalties plagued both squads, but a positive Sooner fans can take away is the pressure on the quarterbacks was a constant all afternoon long, and the Red team was able to force three turnovers in the first half.

Ethan Downs, especially, jumped out with his ability to rush the passer. He had two fourth-quarter sacks on Rucker and forced a fumble on Stoops.

Marcus Stripling joined Downs in the backfield on multiple occasions and garnered some tackles for loss. They are both young players who got some playing time a year ago, but will now be counted on to play larger roles in the front-seven.

In the secondary, Josh Eaton had a beautiful breakup of a pass intended for Gibson in the end zone, and fans may have gotten a clue on how Venables plans to use two versatile players on the back end, Key Lawrence and Billy Bowman.

Lawrence lined up against Drake Stoops multiple times in the slot man-to-man, while Bowman often played deep safety away from the line of scrimmage, after playing many different positions last year. The defense as a whole stood up well against the run, and only allowed a handful of pass plays to break loose.

The day served as a positive stepping-stone for Venables and the team in his first year at the helm, while also honoring one of the all-time greats to ever do it at Oklahoma in Baker Mayfield. Both men certainly go about business in their own unique ways, and both certainly have the support of a hungry fanbase as they go forward in their careers.