It's the start of a new season in Norman.
Where: Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
When: Saturday, August 31 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports Regional Coverage
Live Stream: Sooner Sports
Listen: Sooner Sports Radio Network
Betting Line: Oklahoma (-22)
Although the Oklahoma Sooners finished at a respectable 10-3 last season, their 41-13 humiliation at the hands of Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl left the team with a bad taste in its mouth this summer.
Now, with 10 new starters—including redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight—the Sooners look to make amends in 2013. It all begins with a showdown against a tougher-than-expected Week 1 opponent.
Following an 8-5 campaign, the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks football team is full of optimism. The team earned its first-ever berth in a bowl game last year.
With the Warhawks returning 17 starters—including senior quarterback Kolton Browning—the team looks ready to get even better.
Who will have the upper hand in this Week 1 matchup?
Stoops should have his guys fired up to go on Saturday.
1. Allow Knight to Settle Down
In the first start of his collegiate career, nerves will certainly play a role in Knight’s performance.
As a result, it’s critical for the Sooners to be able to get the run game going from the start. If Damien Williams and the other backs can start breaking off some big runs, Louisiana-Monroe might be forced to load the box. That should create some holes for Knight through the air.
The more comfortable Knight is out there on the field, the greater Oklahoma’s chances of winning are.
2. Contain Browning
In 2012, the Warhawks’ quarterback gave opposing defenses fits.
Not only was Browning successful through the air—3,049 yards and 29 touchdowns—but he also did some damage on the ground. The senior rushed for 488 yards and seven scores on 146 carries.
With an inexperienced front seven, the Sooners need to make sure they don’t let Browning get loose early. Otherwise, it could be a very long night for the defense.
3. Prove the Critics Wrong
At No. 16, Oklahoma is ranked outside the top 10 in the preseason polls for the first time since 2000. If that wasn’t enough, the Sooners are also predicted to finish third in the Big 12 behind rivals Oklahoma State and Texas. Think Bob Stoops will use this as motivation?
Sure, there’s no doubt Oklahoma will be fired up to play in 2013. But actually carrying that energy onto your on-field performance is a completely different thing.
If the Sooners want to earn the respect of the rest of the nation, it starts with Week 1.
ULM will need a top performance from Browning in this one.
1. Force Knight into Early Mistakes
Oklahoma will do everything in their power to try and allow their freshman quarterback to settle down.
It will be up to Louisiana-Monroe to counter that by putting the pressure on Knight. With a heavy dose of run from the Sooners most likely early in the game, the Warhawks must load up the box. They should tempt Knight to beat them with his arm.
If Louisiana-Monroe can get an interception or two early, there’s a chance the youngster could completely unravel.
2. Establish Browning’s Duality
It’s vital for the Warhawks to keep the Oklahoma defense on its toes all game long.
If Browning can achieve success through both the ground and air, the inexperienced Sooners will have no idea what to expect. This could likely lead to sloppy mistakes on defense. That would open up receivers for big plays.
Louisiana-Monroe needs to get Browning going very early.
3. Take the Crowd Out of the Game
Oklahoma is nearly unstoppable at home. They are an unprecedented 81-5 at Norman under Bob Stoops.
That only makes an already difficult task even tougher.
The Warhawks almost have to get an early score or two. If they can follow that up with a couple big defensive plays, the pressure will be thrown onto the Sooners and the crowd will be out of it.
If Louisiana-Monroe can accomplish this, they could be on their way to pulling off another opening-week upset.
Williams will be expected to take some of the pressure off of Knight.
Trevor Knight (QB, RS Fr.)
Bob Stoops surprised everyone by naming Knight the starting quarterback for Week 1. Now, the redshirt freshman must back up his coach’s faith by delivering a solid debut.
A dual threat, expect Knight to rely on his feet to get him out of trouble. It will be imperative that he opts against making bad throws in tight spots. His predecessor, Landry Jones, struggled early in his career with knowing when to just throw the ball away.
With an experienced backfield and talented receiving corps, Knight has all the tools to guarantee his success.
Damien Williams (RB, Sr.)
A JUCO transfer in 2012, Williams came in and immediately contributed for Oklahoma.
He rushed for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns on 176 carries last year. Furthermore, Williams was just 68 yards shy of being the Big 12’s leading returning rusher.
In 2013, the senior should be expected to get the majority of carries. His experience will be instrumental in the growth of freshman quarterback Knight.
Full Depth Chart: click here
Ham will be Browning's go-to-guy in 2013.
Kolton Browning (QB, Sr.)
Browning has to be on his A-game if the Warhawks have any chance of pulling off the upset.
Last season, the senior threw for 3,049 yards and 29 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. He also led the team on the ground, rushing for 488 yards and seven scores. Not surprisingly, Browning was named the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year for his performance.
His dual-threat ability could give Oklahoma’s inexperienced defensive line fits.
Je’Ron Hamm (WR, Sr.)
With Louisiana-Monroe’s top receiver from last season departing, Hamm will likely be Browning’s top target.
In 2012, the senior caught 62 passes for 915 yards and six touchdowns. Hamm’s 14.8 average led the team.
With more opportunities, expect Hamm to really make some noise against the Sooners and during the remainder of the year.
Full Depth Chart: click here
Stoops has warned his team to be cautious of ULM's offense.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from Oklahoma’s Meet the Media conference on Aug. 26 via Soonersports.com.
Head coach Bob Stoops:
I hope the players understand that this will be tough. This is a challenge, these guys are really good, as I’ve said. They don’t go through those three games last year with a younger, more experienced team and play like they did without being an excellent football team, and they are. I’ve already talked to the team about it. (ULM) went to Arkansas and won 34-31. They went to Auburn and lost 31-28…and they always could have won easily. Then they played Baylor and lose 47-42. So that’s some good football and they’re a good football team and they’ve got most of these guys all back, so we’re very aware.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops:
Certainly (ULM’s) quarterback is dynamic in virtually every element of the game with his ability to throw the ball, his ability to scramble and throw the ball, his ability to scramble and run. He’s a foolproof guy who can make a lot of things happen and certainly when they are playing well he can make things happen. We have got to try to disrupt him and get him off his spots and take away some of his easy throws that he likes. You have got to disrupt him to disrupt the tempo of their team. If he’s in rhythm, they get into a rhythm and they start moving then they can really put you on your heels. We are going to have to try to be proactive in our attack.
Senior fullback Trey Millard:
The first game is always the one where you want to come out and get tested. They are a good team, upset some teams. They have played a lot of close games with some good teams, so we know that they are no joke.
Senior linebacker Corey Nelson:
We are ready for them. We don’t take any team lightly, especially Louisiana-Monroe. They had a great season last year. They had great games against Auburn and those other SEC teams. They play well, and we are looking forward to them. It’s going to be a very good game.
The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel:
Louisiana-Monroe’s breakout season of 2012 – an upset of Arkansas when we thought the Razorbacks were a quality team, an overtime loss at Auburn, a narrow home loss to Baylor – did Bob Stoops a favor.
Before those verdicts, Stoops might have had to summon a Duck Dynasty reference to get his players’ attention about the Warhawks. Now, Stoops has a little ammunition.
Also from Tramel:
But Louisiana-Monroe’s defense isn’t putting the kibosh on much of anyone.
In the Independence Bowl, Ohio U. scored 45 on the Warhawks. Arkansas State scored 45, also. Louisiana-Lafayette scored 40. Western Kentucky scored 42.
I know OU is breaking in a new quarterback. But the Sooners have a veteran line, veteran running backs and a stable of playmaking receivers.
If Trevor Knight is half as good as he’s been billed – literally, half as good – then the Sooner offense should light up Louisiana-Monroe.
If OU struggles in Knight’s debut, that’s a bad sign. A very bad sign.
Millard and the other veteran's on the team should help carry the Sooners to victory.
Last year, this is exactly the kind of opening-weekend matchup that could have caught Oklahoma napping. However, this season is different.
The Sooners are breaking in a freshman at quarterback. Not only that, but they are trying to rebound from a rather disappointing season in 2012. The pressure is not only on the team, but also on several players who will hope to win the starting job for the rest of the year.
All of this will actually work in Oklahoma’s favor, as the team will be treating this matchup like a BCS title game.
Sure, the Sooners will make some mistakes and look sloppy on defense early. If anything, that is expected.
However, the team should rely on its veteran players and run away with the game in the second half.
Prediction: 41-27 Oklahoma
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