UCLA came into Norman hoping to get a signature win over the Sooners for their new head coach Chip Kelly, but the Sooners had other ideas. The Bruins kept the game reasonable for a little over a quarter, but eventually it became clear that Oklahoma’s program is just better stocked. Sooners 49-21, but it wasn’t even that close as the Bruins added some garbage scores late.
After two games in the books, we know more about how Kyler Murray is going to helm this offense and what we can kind of expect from the Oklahoma defense. What did Oklahoma’s first game against a Power Five opponent tell us?
The Sooners Can Throw The Ball Downfield
From the beginning of this game, it was clear that UCLA wanted to crowd the line of scrimmage and force the Sooners to throw the ball. Oklahoma proved that they could do that well enough when needed.
Kyler Murray repeatedly was able to find one-on-one matchups against defensive backs, and he took those shots whenever they were available. Players like Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb, and Grant Calcaterra were able to get looks downfield.
Murray averaged 9.3 yards per attempt and ended the day with three touchdowns to three different wide receivers. Because the Oklahoma wide receiving corps is deep with playmakers who can go up and make unbelievable catches, the quarterback’s job is a lot easier. While his predecessor’s job was often to make plays and take control of the offense, Kyler Murray’s role under Lincoln Riley is somewhat different.
Murray is going to try and get the ball to his athletic wide receivers whenever possible and let their athleticism take over.
Oklahoma Is Potent On Special Teams
In the offseason, Lincoln Riley went out and hired Shane Beamer, son of long time head coach Frank Beamer, to help with special teams. That hire appeared to have paid off on Saturday, as the Sooners made some big time returns.
One of those helped the Sooners capture some early momentum. Even though the Sooners won the game by multiple touchdowns, the Bruins were the team to strike first. UCLA put the first points up on the board and caught the momentum to go up 7-0.
But the Sooners didn’t take long to get it back. On the ensuing kickoff, Tre Brown returned the kickoff all the way to the UCLA 12 yard line, setting up an Oklahoma score to tie the game.
Then, in the third quarter, Cee Dee Lamb set up an Oklahoma touchdown with a 66 yard punt return. That set Oklahoma up to take a 35-7 lead with 5:19 left in the period:
The Sooners Struggled To Run The Ball
Coming into this game, the Sooners were expected to run the ball all over the Bruins. Compared to their performance in Week 1, Oklahoma struggled to get that done. It didn’t help, of course, that Rodney Anderson left the game in the first half with an undisclosed knee injury.
Untimely penalties and UCLA’s commitment to stopping the Sooner run game also limited the amount of production that Oklahoma was able to get on the ground. At halftime, Oklahoma had amassed a mere 69 yards rushing against the Bruins.
The inability to run the ball whenever they wanted really stuck out when Oklahoma went for it on fourth down in the second quarter. After being stopped on third down at the Bruin 23 yard line, the Sooners faced a fourth-and-one. Riley opted to go for it, but the UCLA defense stood up and tackled Trey Sermon for a loss of two yards on the play.
Granted, when you look at the stats for this game, the rushing yards don’t strike you as problematic. Oklahoma ran the ball for 179 total yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry, an above average performance for most teams. With a talented backfield and the best offensive line in the Big 12, the Sooners should rightly expect to excel as a physical football team. Should they be worried that they didn’t do more of that against UCLA?
What Should We Make Of The Oklahoma Defense?
There was ample discussion over the offseason about whether Oklahoma would be an improved team defensively, and it’s hard to know what to take away from Saturday’s performance on that score.
Even though UCLA is a maturing team under Chip Kelly, they are still inexperienced and most likely, will not make a bowl game this year. As you would expect, Oklahoma was mostly able to contain the Bruins and keep them from getting in the end zone. They gave up a few plays every now and then, but Mike Stoops brought a lot of pressures that just overwhelmed quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Is Oklahoma playing championship-level defense right now? That’s hard to say. As out-manned as they were, the Bruins were able to move the ball somewhat. They put up more points (21) and total yards (387) against the Sooners than they did when facing Cincinnati the previous week. Making those kinds of comparisons can be dangerous, especially since a good deal of that production came in garbage time.
Yet the question remains: is Oklahoma’s defense just that good or UCLA’s offense is just that atrocious? Answering that question is going to be difficult until the Sooners face off against the kinds of high-flying offenses that they’ll see in the Big 12. Their matchup against the Cyclones this weekend will be an interesting one to pay attention to in that regard.