NORMAN — The Oklahoma Sooners appeared to be in no hurry on Saturday.
Picking themselves up from a slow start, No. 2-ranked OU’s season opener at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium turned into a game late, resembling last season's second half collapse against Kansas State.
But this year, the OU defense was able to come up with one final stop with under two minutes remaining to hold on for the victory.
Here are three quick takeaways from Oklahoma’s 40-35 victory over Tulane.
Riley Gets Creative
On Wednesday, senior tight end/H-back Jeremiah Hall said that Lincoln Riley had some things up his sleeve when it came to how the Sooners were going to survive the year with just two scholarship running backs.
The OU head coach didn’t hide his intentions in Game 1, utilizing his very deep and talented wide receivers room to offset the lack of depth at running back.
In the first half on Saturday, Riley turned to true freshman Mario Williams, calling a number of quick passes and bubble screens in his direction, often on first downs in traditional running situations.
Mike Leach famously defends his gaudy run/pass splits by explaining that a quick pass to the flats accomplishes the same goal as a running play, and it appears Riley will take a page out of his former boss’ book in 2021.
Furthermore, Sooner fans got their first look at Caleb Williams in competitive play in the form of the old Belldozer package.
The true freshman quarterback was brought in on the goal line to use his legs and punch in OU’s second touchdown of the afternoon, again keeping Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray out of harm’s way.
Defensive Rotation is Here, for Better or Worse
The defensive coaching staff has pumped up the defensive depth all offseason long, and it was on full display on Saturday.
And no area of the field showed the trust in the defensive coaching staff more than with Alex Grinch’s safeties.
Over the past two years, Pat Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell have seen more action than just about anyone else on the defense, as there simply wasn’t any depth to rotate in.
But as early as the third drive of the game, Key Lawrence and Justin Broiles were subbed in to hold things down on the back end for OU.
Young guys like Kelvin Gilliam, Danny Stutsman, Clayton Smith, Latrell McCutchin and Reggie Grimes all saw plenty of work in the first half as well, proving that it wasn’t just talk from the coaching staff. They truly believe they have 22-25 guys who can play significant snaps on defense this year.
Unfortunately for the Sooners, many of those guys were on the field as the Green Wave clawed their way back into the game late.
The defensive depth is undoubtedly much better than in year's past, but there was still a clear drop off along the defensive front from the starters to everyone else.
A Series of Impressive Returns
Oklahoma wasn’t at full strength last year, which is a scary thought as 2021 trudges on.
Offensive playmakers Jadon Haselwood and Austin Stogner both missed a lot of time battling through two very different injuries in 2020, but they both looked to be in great condition during OU’s opener.
Haselwood caught four balls for 47 yards on four targets, and Stogner hauled in three passes for 36 yards to start off the year.
A pair of opt-outs from the 2020 campaign returned to the field in style as well. Running back Kennedy Brooks and defensive lineman Jalen Redmond showed little signs of rust in their first competitive action in almost two years.
Albeit on limited touches, Brooks was called upon to ice the game after things got dicey in the fourth quarter.
Finishing with 14 carries, Brooks rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
On the defensive side, Redmond added a pair of tackles, getting into the backfield to log 0.5 tackles for loss.
Conventional wisdom would say all four of those players should only improve as the year moves along and they get more snaps under their belts, a great sign for things to come this season.