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Preview: Houston Comes To Oklahoma in Historic Sunday Matchup

If you like points, the Big 12 saved the best for last this weekend. Previewing Houston at Oklahoma!

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Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook makes a second half reception against Houston - Getty Images - Icon Sportswire
Getty Images - Icon Sportswire

With no NFL to compete with, the world watching in a historical Sunday match up against the Houston Cougars and the Oklahoma Sooners.

It will be our first look at Alabama quarterback transfer Jalen Hurts, the inexperienced but talented offensive line, and the new Alex Grinch defense. 

Game Details

  • When: SUN, SEP 1 at 6:30 PM CT
  • Where: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
  • Forecast: Partly cloudy, High of 92
  • TV: ABC
  • Stream: ESPN+ / WatchESPN
  • Betting Line: OU -23, 80u

Houston Cougars

Last year, quarterback D’Eriq King led Houston to 9th in passing efficiency and seventh in passing yards. This year, King returns, but he is now coached by offensive mastermind, Dana Holgorsen. This Houston offense could be scary, especially if the Oklahoma defense isn’t improved.

Don’t know how talented D’eriq King is? Well you are about to find out. King was quietly one of the best quarterbacks in the 2018 season. If the Sooners are not careful, he can start his year off like he ended last year.

Before hurting his knee, King threw for 2,982 yards by completing 63.5 percent of his passes. He tallied 36 passing touchdowns to just only 6 interceptions.

The 5-foot-11 quarterback can also make plays with his feet, and is extremely accurate while throwing off the run. King also had 674 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. 

The Cougar receiving corps is also loaded considering that 10 of the 12 top receivers from last year are returning with Marquez Stevenson and Keith Corbin leading the way. Stevenson hauled in 75 receptions for 1,019 yards and 9 touchdowns, while Corbin nabbed 56 receptions for 923 yards and 10 touchdowns of his own.

The running back group should be solid with veterans Patrick Carr, Mulbah Car, and Texas Longhorn transfer Kyle Porter.

On the defensive side of the ball, and this is the part Sooner Nation is going to like, Houston was pretty bad last year. Surprisingly, they could possibly be even worse this year with Ed Oliver and five of the top seven tacklers gone. This is also a defense, similar to the Sooners, in transition.

The 4th-worst defense in the country in 2018 underwent an overhaul this off-season. Head coach Dana Hologorsen brought in new defensive coordinator  Joe Cauthen. Cauthen is bringing an aggressive style of defense that thrives on sacks and interceptions.  The two safeties, Gleson Sprewell and Deontay Anderson, will be the premier players on this defense. They are also the top returning tacklers.

The Coogs mirror the Sooners in a lot of ways. A potent offense with a suspect defense.

Oklahoma Sooners

Lincoln Riley is again faced with replacing a Heisman Trophy winner and 1st-overall draft pick at quarterback. Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts should help with that.

Hurts is 26-2 as a starting quarterback and is now a leader on this team. Riley named Hurts a captain earlier this week. There are immense expectations for Hurts, and this game will be a great opportunity for him to show Sooner Nation and the country that he can be successful in this offense. Especially, against this defense.

Oklahoma also has one of deepest running back groups in the country with Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, and TJ Pledger returning. All three have experience and play-making abilities. Coach Jay Boulware is one of the best running back developers in the game and has done a great job at molding these backs into NFL-type players. Coach Boulware also added one of the best JUCO transfers in Rhamondre Stevenson, and a highly recruited freshman in Marcus Major. These guys have great vision and are very physical backs.

The wide receivers for Oklahoma will be exciting, electric, and fun to watch. Starting with junior wide receiver CeeDee Lamb who has 111 receptions, 1,965 yards receiving, and 18 touchdown receptions as a two year starter. Lamb will be the leader for a young and vastly talented receiving corps. OU added Jadon Haselwood (#4 overall player and #1 rated wide receiver per Rivals), Theo Wease (#11 overall player and #3 rated wide receiver per Rivals), and Trejan Bridges (#21 overall player and #4 rated wide receiver per Rivals) that are all expected to contribute and make plays Sunday night. With young talent combined with established players like Charleston Rambo and Nick Basquine, this receiving core will be one of the top in the country.

Although Sooners are replacing four NFL draft picks on the offensive line, which is not ideal. However, do not expect a drop off in talent and pure dominance. The offensive line will also have the opportunity to find their rhythm against a soft Houston front seven.

On the defensive side, they will have their hands full against Houston. Especially, as they break in the new “speed D” scheme. Although, I expect the defensive line should have a good pass rush due to Houston’s substandard offensive line. Of course that won’t make D’eriq King any slower or less athletic. They will need to keep him contained. The nose guard and tackles need to be disruptive while the defensive end and jack backer collapse the pocket.

The second and third levels of the defense better be prepared to make plays against this highly-touted Houston offense. The linebackers and nickel back have to stop the run and make this offense one-dimensional. Oklahoma will have to be sharp if they are going to stop the King-to-Stevenson connnection. I would expect cornerback Tre Brown to be tasked with covering Stevenson, but I would be shocked if he is left alone with the task.

3 Keys to The Game For The Sooners

Control The Game – Lincoln Riley needs to manage the game with his play calling to keep his defense off the field as much as possible. One way to stop Houston from scoring is to simply not allow them time of possession. OU needs to run the ball, take their time calling precise plays, and let the offense control the time of possession. 

Create Turnovers – Oklahoma has to create turnovers and havoc. It’s probably unrealistic to ask the Sooner’s defense to improve enough to complete stop the Houston offense. If they get into a shootout, which we all expect, extra possessions will come in handy to getting the win. We know that Alex Grinch preaches creating turnovers, but can his players actually produce them? It has been one of the major focuses during the off-season and we will all find out Sunday if they are capable. 

Secondary Needs To Show Up – As mentioned, no one is expecting the OU secondary to shut down Houston. However, we know the Sooner offense will do their thing, so if the secondary can show improvement from last season, this should be in the bag. They need to slow down the tandem of D’Eriq King and Marquez Stevenson. If the Sooner’s secondary can’t create any kind of resistance, then anything can happen in a shootout, and this one might be a little close for comfort.

Game Prediction 

This has all the makings of a shootout. The over-under on this game is 80 points. It is not going to be an easy opening game, but I expect the Sooners to close this game out late with a couple of quick scores. For those go to bed early on Sunday, they will probably wake up to a final score that doesn’t convey how close the game actually was.

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