Oklahoma vs. Louisiana Tech Complete Game Preview
With the season opener against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs only days away, it’s finally time to see whether or not the Oklahoma Sooners are deserving of all the preseason hype.
The pressure will certainly be on the boys from Norman, as they are ranked in the Top Five in both major polls. However, backed by an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in January, along with a stellar finish to the 2013 recruiting class, the Sooners have a lot to be confident about heading into 2014.
But as college football has taught us in the past, it only takes one game to change a team’s entire season.
Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s matchup.
Where: Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium, Norman, Oklahoma
When: Saturday, August 30 at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports regional coverage
Live Stream: Sooner Sports
Listen: Sooner Sports Radio Network
Betting Line: Oklahoma (-38), per Vegas Insider
Oklahoma's Keys to Victory
Keep Sokol on His Back
An Iowa transfer, quarterback Cody Sokol will be making his debut for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Going back to his days at Scottsdale Community College—3,807 yards, 43 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2011—it’s evident that Sokol has a lot of potential. And if the Sooners don’t want to be featured prominently in his highlight tape, it’s in their best interest to delay Sokol’s rise for at least another week.
Last season, Louisiana Tech coughed up 30.0 sacks, finishing No. 88 in the nation. Conversely, Oklahoma’s defense ranked No. 29 in sacks with 33.0—that includes a whopping 16 over the final four games.
Take Advantage of a Soft Run Defense
One of the Bulldogs' primary weaknesses last season was their run defense.
The team finished No. 92 in rushing defense (194.8 yards per game), gave up 25 rushing touchdowns and conceded over four yards per carry to opposing tailbacks. In fact, Louisiana Tech allowed opponents to top 160 yards on the ground in seven separate occasions.
Sure, the Sooners are hurting from the loss of each of their top three rushers last season. However, sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross have shown they are more than capable of carrying the baton.
Louisiana Tech's Keys to Victory
Run Dixon into the Ground
If the Bulldogs have any shot of winning on Saturday, it’ll be because of the legs of running back Kenneth Dixon.
In two seasons with the team, the junior has rushed for 2,111 yards and 31 touchdowns. He set an NCAA freshman record with 27 rushing touchdowns in 2012 and posted an impressive 6.1 yards per carry last year.
It’ll be no easy task to break through a Sooners front seven that returns six starters. But if Dixon can get it going, Louisiana Tech could keep Oklahoma off the field and extend its chances of competing.
Take Advantage of the Sooners’ Inexperience at Wide Receiver
Oklahoma will be without three of its top four leading receivers in 2014. That includes vertical threats Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester.
That news should serve as music to the ears of the Bulldogs secondary. The unit ranked No. 31 against the pass (213.5 yards per game) while finishing seventh in touchdowns allowed (12) and 13th in interceptions (18).
If Louisiana Tech can get Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight to struggle early, that could be the first domino in what might be a collapse for the entire offense.
Oklahoma Players to Watch
QB Trevor Knight
The Trevor Knight the Sooners receive in 2014 could be the difference between a spot in the College Football Playoff and a trip to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl.
In his first official outing since his masterful performance against the Crimson Tide in January, Knight will have to maneuver past a talented secondary. Making matters worse, he’ll be without three of his top four leading receivers from last year.
Oklahoma still has options in the passing attack, mainly junior Sterling Shepard and freshman Michiah Quick. But more often than not, don’t be surprised if Knight has to rely on his legs to move the chains on Saturday.
RB Keith Ford
Entering this season, the sophomore only had 134 yards and 23 carries to his name.
A former 5-star recruit, Ford has all the talent to become the next big running back to come out of Norman. Already a standout over spring and summer workouts, Ford also has a tasty matchup against a Bulldogs run defense that is just begging to be exposed.
Expect a big day from the youngster.
Louisiana Tech Players to Watch
WR Sterling Griffin
New quarterback Cody Sokol will benefit from the return of leading receiver Sterling Griffin this season. The only problem is that the team’s next three leading receivers all graduated.
After hauling in 33 passes for 357 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the pressure will be on Griffin to step it up. But with another year of experience and a more talented quarterback throwing him the ball, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the Opa-locka, Florida, native.
This will be his first true test.
S Thomas McDonald
The Bulldogs will need a spark to slow down the Sooners offense, and that just might be Thomas McDonald.
Playing in all 12 games last year, the Houston native recorded 70 tackles (0.5 for loss), intercepted three passes, broke up five passes and forced a fumble. He’s a leader on a talented secondary and will be looked on to make some stops.
If McDonald can get into Trevor Knight’s head and force some mistakes, Louisiana Tech could find an opening.
What They're Saying
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops had this to say about the wide receivers:
I’ve got a lot of confidence in them. They’ve really stepped up. Durron Neal and Sterling Sheppard have really stepped up, been more consistent making plays. Then a bunch of the young guys have started to come on: KJ Young, Michiah Quick, Jordan Smallwood at times. We’ve got guys we feel will be able to step up and make some good plays.
Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel said:
I feel like we need to play and find out where we are at. We have done some good things, but not played well at certain times. At the end of the day, on Saturday night, we need to play hard, play smart and play physical. If we do those things, we will have the chance to win. We got a lot of young skill players who haven’t been out under the lights, and we're going to find out where they are at.
Running back Keith Ford chimed in on what the running backs have to do on Saturday:
The main thing is that we’re all young and we barely have any experience, so we have to work on the little things. It’s really a trust factor to test this group, so the first game to just see what we can do is going to be a big step for us to see what we can do as a running group corps. We’re young, but we have a lot of talent.
All quotes are courtesy of SoonerSports.com.
While it would be nice to see the Bulldogs keep it close into the fourth quarter, head coach Skip Holtz still has a ways to go before his team can compete with the talent on the Sooners.
Oklahoma is far more talented than Louisiana Tech in all aspects of the game. Even if Trevor Knight were to have a poor game, the Sooners' rushing attack and defense would be enough to carry them through.
This is less of a question of “who’s going to win” and more of “how much are the Sooners going to win by?”
Prediction: Oklahoma 59, Louisiana Tech 13
For complete coverage and everything Oklahoma football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.