Oklahoma football: Mid-term report card on Sooners’ 2022 performance

Oklahoma coach Brent Venables l;ocks arms with players before 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 l;ocks arms with players before 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 /

With seven games down and a bye week in the 2022 Oklahoma football schedule, it seems like an appropriate time to review the first half of the season and offer a mid-term report card.

By any measure, this has not been a typical year for Sooner football. OU opened the season full of promise and with the excitement and a little bit of apprehension that comes with a new head coach and coaching staff and more than a third of the roster comprised of players in their first year at Oklahoma.

All was good through the first three games of the season, with OU winning each by at least 30 points. Coming off an impressive 49-14 dismantling of Nebraska. the Sooners were at home for their Big 12 opener against perennial nemesis Kansas State. That’s when things became very real for this year’s OU team and a giant course correction set in.

K-State handed the Sooners’ their first loss of the season and just the 12th loss at home since the beginning of the 1999 season. The margin of defeat against Kansas State was just seven points, but the game exposed cracks in the Oklahoma armor that were soon to become massive.

The following week at TCU, OU fell behind 27-10 after the first quarter. With more than nine minutes to go in the second quarter, Dillon Gabriel took a hard hit to the head while sliding down on a play that ultimately resulted in targeting. Gabriel left the field on his own accord and was later placed in the concussion protocol.

The Sooners were already in dire straits when Gabriel was forced out of the TCU game, but for the remainder of the TCU game and carried over to the annual showdown with Texas the following week, the wheels came completely off the Sooner wagon.

Over the final three quarters of the TCU game and all four quarters of the Red River rivalry, the Sooners were outscored by an embarrassing 70-14.

In a period of three weeks, after beginning the season 3-0, Oklahoma went from No. 6 in the national rankings to completely out of the top 25 and receiving no votes. An Oklahoma football team had not performed this badly since the John Blake teams of the late 1990s that produced three consecutive losing seasons.

What began as talk of a 15th Big 12 championship and a potential College Football Playoff contender has swiftly digressed into concern whether the Sooners will even do enough (at least six wins) to become bowl eligible.

With Gabriel back at the controls this past weekend, Oklahoma showed it still had a heartbeat and wasn’t throwing in the towel. The Sooners exploded for 701 yards of offense and played complementary football for the first time in a month in defeating 19th-ranked Kansas 52-42.

The win sent OU into the bye week with an overall record above .500 at 4-3, but with a lot of ground to make up in the Big 12, where the Sooners sit a 1-3 and in ninth place in the conference.

The road ahead this season doesn’t get any easier for Oklahoma in the Big 12, which many experts believe is the strongest conference top to bottom in college football.

The Sooners have home games left with Baylor and Oklahoma State and road games at Iowa State, West Virgina and Texas Tech, needing at least two more wins to become bowl eligible, something that hasn’t been an issue for an OU team in almost a quarter of a century.

First-half report card


The OU offense has had a few issues this season, but none more glaring than when Dillon Gabriel is not available to play. In the five games that Gabriel has started and finished at quarterback, the Sooners have averaged 450.6 yards of offense, three times exceeding 500 yards and another just short of that mark. In the two games that Gabriel was out while in the concussion protocol, the Oklahoma offense averaged an anemic 275 yards of offense and 12.0 points while giving up an average of 52.0 points.

Eric Gray is well on his way to his first 1,000-yard rushing season and ranks third in the conference with 695 yards and right at 100 yards a game, and Dillon Gabriel is second in the conference in passing yards as well as touchdown-to-interception ratio (13 to 1). WR Marvin Mims is among the Big 12 leaders in receiving with 32 catches for 542 yards and three touchdowns.

Oklahoma’s success on offense this season can largely be attributed to the solid and generally consistent play of the offensive line. The Sooner run game is in the top three in the Big 12, and for the most part, Gabriel has had time to set his feet and find open receivers

The Sooner offense had its best showing of the season in the win over Kansas. The OU offensive strength will be seriously tested in the remaining five games when it goes up against four of the top six defensive units in the Big 12.

The abysmal offensive performances against TCU and Texas, however, exposed the Sooners’ glaring weakness in the backup quarterback spot behind Gabriel.

Grade: B


To say this has been a year of extremes so far for the much-maligned Oklahoma defense would not be an exaggeration. After the first three Sooner wins, it appeared that the defense was improved and going to be better than the last couple of years. But that proved to be premature. Once OU began Big 12 play, against much better offenses, the mask came off and an abundance of flaws were exposed. Players out of position (called misfits in defensive terminology), missed tackles and running backs and receivers running loose in free space became a recipe for defensive disaster. All of a sudden, the Sooner defense looked worse than it had in even recent memory.

What mystified the entire Sooner fan base was that all of this was unfolding with Brent Venables, one of the most accomplished defensive coaches in the game today, as head coach. Venables is not the OU defensive coordinator (Ted Roof is the coach he brought in for that role), but you know he was brought in with the idea to get OU back to a championship-level defense and has a lot to say about what goes on with the defensive unit.

The Sooner defense played with more discipline and aggressiveness in the win over Kansas, but giving up 42 points is indicative of a unit that still has plenty of fundamental problems and is highly vulnerable to the top offenses in the Big 12.

It is probably going to take another year or two for Venables and Roof to get the right players to fit into the defensive system that Venables has built his reputation on.

Grade: D

Special Teams

Special teams have been a bright spot for this year’s Oklahoma team and the one unit that has shown consistency through the first seven games. Punter Michael Turk leads the Big 12 with an average of 45.2 yards per kick. Eleven of his 34 punts have been over 50 yards and 11 others have been downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Redshirt -sophomore Zach Schmit took over the placekicking duties for the Sooners this season. He is six of seven on field-goal tries, with a long of 44 yards, and he has been successful on 31 of 31 extra point attempts. On kickoffs, his kicks have reached the end zone 64 percent of the time.

The punt and kickoff coverage has been outstanding. Marvin Mims has returned six punts for the Sooners for an average of close to 20 yards, while the Sooner punt return coverage has allowed an average of less than two yards on seven returns for which there wasn’t a fair catch.

Grade: B+


Brent Venables drew a lot of praise for the quality of the new assistant coaches he brought in and added to the staff, and it appears that new culture and philosophy that the former Sooner defensive coordinator is establishing is well received by the players. Some folks are already questioning whether Venables is cut out to be head coach of the Sooners. I personally believe it is way too early to make that judgement.

Everyone knows Oklahoma has not lived up to preseason expectations and the way the Sooners played against TCU and Texas was downright embarrassing. The poor execution and decision making by the players was a major part of that, for sure. But they don’t shoulder all the burden. The buck stops with the coaching staff and ultimately the head coach, who are tasked with formulating the game plan and getting the players prepared to play each and every week.

So far, the team itself isn’t the only work in progress. It appears that the coaching staff is, as well.

Grade: C