Oklahoma football: Sooner Schooner still cruisin’, but road ahead filled with potholes

Oklahoma runs on to the field before the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Central Florida Knights at Gaylord Family Oklahoma-Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct., 21, 2023.
Oklahoma runs on to the field before the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Central Florida Knights at Gaylord Family Oklahoma-Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct., 21, 2023. /

The Oklahoma football win over UCF was not pretty, but unlike a year ago, the Sooners did not concede to adversity and found a way to finish out the game with a win.

If you were Kansas, the team OU plays this week on the road in Lawrence, there was plenty to go to school on from Oklahoma’s performance this past weekend in building a game plan for the 6th-ranked and Big 12 leading Sooners.

In the Jayhawks, Oklahoma is going to find an offense that is almost as explosive as UCF and even better balanced and a defense that is at least as good, if not better than UCF’s. Plus, the Jayhawks will be playing at home and it will be homecoming.

With the exception of Texas, which will always be the biggest game on the Oklahoma football schedule because of tradition and historical significance, the game this coming Saturday at Kansas, in what is expected to be cold and wet conditions, is the biggest trap game for sure, but also probably the most challenging remaining game on the regular schedule for the Sooners.


Perhaps the best thing that came out of the UCF game was the reality check that this Oklahoma team may be better than a year ago, but it is not unbeatable. Several of the chinks in the Sooners’ armor were exposed in the close win over UCF, which underscores head coach Brent Venables‘ cautionary remarks about the team’s improvements still being a work in progress.

The Sooner defense played well against UCF, as it has all this season, holding the high-powered Knight offense to under 400 yards, over 100 yards below their season average. One-hundred eighty of those yards, however, resulted from just three big plays, something OU has remained vulnerable too again this season.

Although Oklahoma outgained UCF, the country’s fourth-best rushing team, on the ground (189 to 149), it took a 74-yard fourth quarter to boost the Sooners’ rushing total. For OU’s offense to be hitting on all cylinders, it needs balance and that requires and effective run game. The Sooners have struggled with consistency and finding the most effective running-back combination all season.

A good part of the season, Dillon Gabriel has been OU’s leading rusher. Another telling stat in this area: Last Saturday, Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon II ran for a career-high 282 yards in one game. That is only 37 yards shy of the Sooners’ Marcus Major’s rushing total through seven games.

If Oklahoma is to remain undefeated, especially with three of the final five regular-season games on the road, it is imperative that the Sooners step it up and become more consistent running the football. A one-dimensional Sooner offense, like most, is only half-powered and at the mercy of the defense. Clearly, that is not something OU cannot afford to remain in the championship hunt.

Absent stability on the offensive line, which has been necessitated somewhat by injury, the mixing and matching on the offensive line likely has been a contributor to some of OU’s run-game struggles.

Despite the couple of noticeable mistakes, Venables was pleased with the way the OU defense played overall against UCF, which incidentally runs a very similar offense to what the Sooners will face this weekend at Kansas.

"“I thought this was — it wasn’t — but it had all the makings of a dominant performance on defense,” the OU head coach said in his postgame comments following the win over UCF.“It wasn’t. So we got punished for making some mistakes, (but) it doesn’t take much to be on the right side if it, though, too.”"

During the summer, Venables made the comment that the 2023 Oklahoma team had a chance to “hang a banner” if the defense improved. People scoffed at that remark at the time, recognizing that he was speaking about a team that was coming off a 6-7 season the year before.

Well, here we are, seven games into the 2023 season and the Sooner defense has improved, as has the offense, and Oklahoma is 7-0 and sitting in the catbird’s seat in the Big 12. Yet there are still some disbelievers among fans and the media as to OU’s ability to sustain that success for the full season.

"“People are doubtin’ us,” Venables said in his postgame speech to the team on Saturday. “Everybody that ain’t a Sooner fan is holding their breath, waiting for Oklahoma to collapse.“They don’t know. The heart of this football team. The leadership of this football team. The capability…I didn’t say this in January. I didn’t say it in spring ball. I didn’t say it at the beginning of the summer.” he said. “I wanna see you guys prove it.“You’ve proven it to me. No limits on what this team can do.”"

Oklahoma clearly has some work to do, both on the practice field and on Saturday’s, with some challenging games straight ahead. The one thing this Sooner team has plainly demonstrated this season, especially in the wins over Texas and UCF, is that it is up for the challenge.