Oklahoma won big on Saturday against UCLA—and it may have lost big, too. In the second quarter, running back Rodney Anderson left the game with an apparent right knee injury. On his sixth carry of the day, after a first-quarter touchdown, Anderson was tackled by three UCLA defenders and twisted as he was pulled to the ground. He would eventually leave the field, accompanied by medical staff but walking on his own, before returning to the bench in street clothes and a brace for the second half.
The injury casts a shadow on the Sooners’ otherwise-impressive 49–21 victory over UCLA, pushing Lincoln Riley’s team to 2–0 on the year and Chip Kelly’s to 0–2. For the second consecutive week, Oklahoma’s offense looked unstoppable while its defense held an opponent in check—further proof that the Sooners may not miss a beat this season without Baker Mayfield. In his second game as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, Kyler Murray threw for three touchdowns and just one interception. He completed 19 of 33 passes for 306 yards and distributed the ball to seven different targets—most notably sophomore CeeDee Lamb, who caught seven passes for 146 yards, averaging 20.9 yards per catch.
On defense, the Sooners held a struggling UCLA offense to 387 yards, 174 of which came in a garbage-time fourth quarter. After the unit allowed FAU just two touchdowns in Week 1, there’s optimism surround an area that’s been the Sooners’ one weak spot in recent years. “I think really just our overall talent level is getting better,” coach Lincoln Riley said in his postgame interview on FOX. “Our depth is getting better. … We’re flying around, making a lot of plays right now.”
Still, though Mike Stoops’s defense has looked strong through two weeks, there’s not enough evidence yet that this unit is any better than those of recent years, which also started strong in nonconference play. Last year, through Week 3, the Sooners defense was allowing an average of 12.3 points per game; on the season, that number would increase to 27.1. Going into 2018, it seemed as if Stoops’s unit would need to take a step forward to keep the Sooners in contention—under the assumption that their offense would regress even slightly. So far, though, there’s no evidence that’s the case.
With Anderson out of the game, Murray led the Sooners in rushing, finishing with 69 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns. Through two weeks, Oklahoma has put up nine touchdowns on the ground, an improvement from a year ago, when it took the team four games to score as many rushing touchdowns. With Murray’s ability to push the pocket and run, the Oklahoma offense in 2018 looks as if it might be even more dynamic than expected, and even if Anderson misses appreciable time, there should be enough talent to plug the gap. (Riley said postgame that there was no further info about the extent of the injury.) The rest of the rushing corps—on Saturday, it was Marcelias Sutton, T.J. Pledger and Trey Sermon—combined for 91 rushing yards.
Through just two weeks, Oklahoma’s spot atop the Big 12 looks secure. It begins conference play next weekend in Ames, Iowa, against the team that was responsible for its only regular-season loss in 2017. Last fall, Iowa State traveled to Norman and left with a 38–31 upset, and if the Sooners can avoid a repeat, they should be able to coast until mid-October, when they travel to No. 16 TCU.