Oklahoma football: An early spring look at the Sooner offense for 2023

Nov 5, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) warms up before the game against the Baylor Bears at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) warms up before the game against the Baylor Bears at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports /
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Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles taking a spring preseason look at the offensive and defensive units and what fans can expect for the 2023 Oklahoma football season as well as a breakdown and preview of each individual position group for the upcoming season. Today we look at the offensive unit as a whole.

The Oklahoma offense ranked 13th in the country last season, averaging 474 yards per game. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel was the leader of that offense, and he is back for a second season under offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

Before coming to Oklahoma ahead of last season, Gabriel also played a year in Lebby’s offense while both were at UCF in Gabriel’s freshman season in 2019, so the pair are on the same page with one another.

A year ago, the Sooners did not have true backup to Gabriel, and when he went down with an injury midway through the season, it was readily apparent OU didn’t have a backup ready to play. Oklahoma has addressed that issue with a highly rated five-star quarterback named Jackson Arnold, who will serve in that role in 2023 while grooming as the Sooner QB for the future.

Gabriel said he want to be more vocal this season. “I think that’s the next step,” he told reporters during a media availability after practice last week.

"“To see where I can take this thing, not just where it’s at, but taking it to a whole other level.”"

Gabriel had a good season a year ago, throwing for 3,165 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions, but he knows it can be even better. And that’s what he’s focused on this season.

The Sooners have some holes to fill on the offensive line and at wide receiver, and they also need to make up for the lost production from the departure of Eric Gray, who is headed to the NFL after gaining 1,366 rushing yards and averaging 6.4 yards per carry,14th best in the country.

Brent Venables likes what he has in the running back room heading into the new season.

"“It’s a really good strong group of guys that are really looking forward to the opportunity to be the guy,” the Sooner head coach said just ahead of the start of spring practice."

The guys he’s referring to are sophomore Jovantae Barnes, who served as the primary backup to Gray last season and rushed for 519 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaged 4.5 yards per carry in a backup role. Gavin Sawchuk, who like Barnes was a highly touted 2022 recruit, saw very limited action during the regular season, but we saw what he can do when he carried the ball 15 times in OU’s Cheez-It Bowl appearance, gaining 100 yards and averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

The Sooners also have Marcus Major at the running back position. Major has battled injuries throughout his Sooner career, but he can be a solid option if he can stay healthy. And they have a promising four-star prospect in freshman Daylan Smothers.

Jahlil Farooq looks to step into the No. 1 receiving role in 2023 replacing the departed Marvin Mims. Farooq was fourth on the team a year ago with 37 catches for 466 yards and was fifth on the team with five touchdown receptions. The always dependable Drake Stoops is back for another season, and larger contributions are expected from sophomores Jayden Gibson and Nic Anderson.

Gibson, at 6 feet, 5 inches, and Anderson, who is 6-foot, 4 inches, provide a height advantage at the receiver position Oklahoma has not had previously and is a growing trend in college football.

TE Austin Stogner returns to Norman after a year at South Carolina last season. He should have an immediate impact in the offense.

Chris Murray and Anton Harrison are off to the NFL, but the Sooners will have returning offensive line starters in LG McKade Mettauer, C Andrew Rayhm and RT Tyler Guyton. A couple of transfers, Walter Rouse from Stanford and Caleb Shaffer from Miami of Ohio, are expected to have an immediate impact in Bill Bedenbaugh’s offensive line room. Look for Rouse to fill one of the tackle spots and Shaffer at RG.

While major improvement is expected on defense, having Gabriel back at quarterback and surrounded with enough offensive firepower to make a difference in Jeff Lebby’s balanced ground and air attack, there should not be much of a drop off, if any, in OU’s top-ranked Big 12 offense of a year ago. That combination is key to Oklahoma’ turnaround in year two under Brent Venables.

Next in our spring position group series, we take a deeper dive into the RBs.