Oklahoma football: Three storylines for Sooners vs. Kent State

Oklahoma coach Brent Venables runs onto the field during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the UTEP Miners at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022.Ou Vs Utep
Oklahoma coach Brent Venables runs onto the field during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the UTEP Miners at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022.Ou Vs Utep /

The poetic verse, “Here comes another one just like the other one,” is what Sooner fans are hoping from the Oklahoma football matchup against Kent State on Saturday.

Other than finally witnessing the new-look Sooners in action last weekend after an offseason of both chaos and change, Oklahoma’s 45-13 season-opening win over an overmatched UTEP team was relatively uneventful in the sense that the Sooners were never really in any real trouble of coming away victorious for the 28th time in the last 29 home games and the sixth season opener in a row.

Now the Kent State Golden Flashes out of the Mid-American Conference roll into Norman for their first-ever football meeting with the Oklahoma Sooners.

It’s a different game with a different team sporting a different style of play, but Sooner fans are looking for another outcome the same as the other outcome the week before and not one of those too-close-for-comfort contests that come down to the wire with a one-score difference as so many did last season in what turned out to be Lincoln Riley’s swan song as the Oklahoma head coach.

Next week will potentially be a different story as the Sooners make their first road trip of the young season, heading up north to face an old familiar rival in Nebraska and a renewal of the Big Red Rivalry, but that’s for then and this is now, with Kent State next up on the OU schedule.

What are the big things to watch for in Saturday’s game with the 0-1 Golden Flashes? We’ve come up with three compelling storylines to follow:

Dillon Gabriel and the Oklahoma aerial attack go bombs away

Sooner fans though they might see more passing from quarterback Dillon Gabriel in his first start in an OU uniform. He threw 23 total passes against UTEP, completing 18 of them for 233 yards.

This week could be a lot different. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby is a big proponent of taking what the defense gives you. In Kent State’s opening game last week at Washington, the Huskies gained almost 400 yards through the air, including four touchdowns. Look for Gabriel to light up the nighttime skies on Saturday with medium and deep throws to an assortment of Sooner playmakers. I see the Sooners going well over 233 passing yards this week.

Sooners won’t be the only team running a hurry-up offense

The new offense offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby installed in the offseason calls for the Sooners to go up-tempo, harking back to an offensive style we saw from the Oklahoma offenses of the early 2000s under Kevin Wilson. The idea of the up-tempo offense is to catch the defense off guard, out of position and unable to make defensive substitution. But there is a downside to the 11-man offensive team as well. It can also catch offensive players off guard, and if the timing isn’t precise, it can create costly penalties and even cause a mishandling of the ball that can lead to a turnover.

The other negative that can come from playing fast on offense is it doesn’t provide much rest for the defense when the offense goes three-and-out and isn’t able to stay on the field beyond three downs.

The Sooners ran some hurry-up offense in the Week 1 victory, and they clearly made short work of the limited time they had possession (21 minutes, 27 seconds total), but something tells me we’re going to see a lot more of that as the season moves forward.

Oklahoma is likely to get a mirrored look at itself on Saturday. Kent State also likes to play fast on offense. In fact, the Sooners and Golden Flashes operate two of the fastest offenses in college football.

Another strong defensive performance is in the offing

Kent State didn’t run the ball that much last week. We should probably correct that to say they ran the ball a lot, but not very effectively. They ran the ball 39 times for 147 yards, a decent amount, but for only 3.8 yards per attempt. The Oklahoma defensive line and front seven held UTEP to just 28 rushing yards for the game in 31 attempts. The Sooners also recorded six sacks and 10 quarterback hurries in the game.

If Kent State is unable to establish the run on Saturday, the Flashes will have to go to the air. The Sooners allowed 288 passing yards to UTEP, but that was on 51 pass attempts and the OU defense was playing zone coverage on the back end with the intent of not giving up deep balls over the top at the expense of limiting the passing game to short completions in front of the OU defenders.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof may elect to change up coverages this weekend, and we should get another look at how good this Sooner defense can be this season.