Oklahoma-Western Carolina: Three Keys to the Game

Crowd needs to be better ... big recruiting weekend for the Sooners ... Remembering 9/11
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There aren’t a lot of X’s and O’s to be broken down when Oklahoma, ranked No. 4 in the FBS, takes on Western Carolina, a team on the rebound in the FCS.

The Sooners are a 46.5-point favorite and in five games vs. Division I-AA opponents since 1999, the average score is 58-6.

So here are three important elements of Saturday’s game:

Bring the noise

It’s going to be hot — just like last week. The score is going to get big — just like last week.

But Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley believes Sooner Nation needs to show up, be loud and have an impact on his team’s performance — unlike last week.

Remember, the entire 2020 season was spent under a 25-percent capacity restriction. Last week’s game, due to Hurricane Ida shifting Tulane’s home game out of New Orleans at the last minute, only allowed seating in the lower bowl.

And then, uninspired by the opponent and perspired by the oppressive heat the already-thin crowd dwindled throughout and virtually emptied after OU built a 37-14 halftime lead.

Riley doesn’t want to see that again.

“Ready to finally have a full capacity and get back to the atmosphere that we know and love, the place that we know and love. I can tell you our staff, our players, been a lot of anticipation about getting back to this one. I hope our fans feel the same way. I know they will.”

Anyway, Western Carolina is this year’s pay per view game. Fans who don’t pony up the $54.99 will either need to show up (the game is sold out but secondary market tickets can be found) or wait for next week’s replay.

“I think a 6 o'clock kick, right here Saturday night, packed house, man,” Riley said, “sounds amazing, honestly. Can't wait for it to get here.”

Big recruiting weekend

A steady stream of important visitors, expected to be around a dozen in both the 2022 and 2023 classes, will be in Norman for this week’s game — which underscores Riley’s desire to have a lively crowd.

At the forefront is 5-star Lakeland, FL, defensive lineman Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound prospect on his official visit this weekend. Brownlow-Dindy is the No. 1 player in Florida, the No. 2 defensive tackle in the nation and the No. 3 high school player overall in the 2022 class.

Dindy, who’s also considering Texas A&M, is a game-changing talent whose parents are OU alumni. Signing him out of SEC country — especially before OU joins the SEC — would be a sort of coup. He’s also officially visited Ohio State.

The other big-name prospect in Norman this week is 5-star offensive lineman Devon Campbell of Arlington (TX) Bowie. The 6-3, 310-pound Campbell is widely projected to Texas, but in July had Texas listed in his top five with Alabama, LSU, USC and Oklahoma.

In addition to the two 2022 5-stars, the Sooners are also hosting a bunch of players already committed, including 2023 quarterback commit Malachi Nelson, 2022 defensive backs Robert Spears-Jennings and Jayden Rowe, and 2023 tight end Luke Hasz, among others.

Remembering 9/11

Another reason the crowd needs to be big: OU is helping commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by striping the stadium, among other events.

In 2001, the third-ranked Sooners were set to host Tulsa when the attacks happened. The game was postponed until Nov. 3 (OU won 58-0), and in their first game back — a riveting 38-37 home game over No. 11-ranked Kansas State — emotions ran high.

Riley recalled Thursday he was a senior in Government class at Muleshoe High School when the news broke.

“We started watching it on the TVs,” he said. “We never left our classroom the entire day. We just sat and watched all the news coverage. I remember it being hard to believe, honestly. We had a couple first responders from our hometown that went up there and were part of the efforts up there and hearing some of their stories after. It’s still one of the most shocking events in my lifetime, even up to this day. It just rocked you and you really didn’t know what to think.”

The date even has a personal connection for the Riley family.

“It’s been a bittersweet day for my family,” he said. “That’s my brother’s birthday. I remember his birthday being anticlimactic.”

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