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Oklahoma should see plenty of wins sweeping down the plain in ’18
August 25, 2018 ▪ By Ray Dozier
Stealing a line from the state song, “You’re doing fine Oklahoma!” I believe the Oklahoma Sooners will be fine in the upcoming football season--at least on offense.
Kyler Murray was tabbed as the starting quarterback in a heated battle with Austin Kendall. Either would be fine as the starting QB because the Sooners have a solid group of linemen to protect them, and a bevy of talented receivers and running backs returning.
Let’s start with the front wall, which returns three starters, but the positions are going to be jumbled a little bit. Bobby Evans will shift from right tackle to the left side, and Cody Ford mostly a backup left guard last year is taking Evans slot on the right tackle position. Ben Powers and Dru Samia return to left and right guard slots respectively. Those four have combined for 89 total starts in their careers.
The only question mark is at center where redshirt freshman Creed Humphrey is battling veteran Jonathan Alvarez who, redshirted last season, and has played in 21 career games at center and left guard, making 13 starts. Humphrey has received rave reviews from coaches and players.
Murray will have many talented receivers back as his targets. Marquise Brown, Cee Dee Lamb, Mykel Jones, and Grant Calcaterra combined for 129 catches for 2,374 yards and 18 scores. Calcaterra was a backup to Mark Andrews (2018 John Mackey Award winner) at tight end. A.D. Miller, Myles Tease, and Lee Morris saw action last year. Nick Basquine, who battled an injury a year ago, returns after showing a productive season in 2016.
Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon are the two who will get most production at running back again this year. Anderson, who rushed for 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns, didn’t get his engine revving until the second half of 2017. He picked up 1,075 yards and scored 11 times in the final eight games of the year. Sermon added 744 yards and 5 TDs. Marcelius Sutton, who saw limited action a year ago, will join redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks and freshman T.J. Pledger for playing time this season. Pledger was an early enrollee who went through team drills last spring.
The big question mark in the backfield will be who will replace Dimitri Flowers at fullback. Senior Carson Meier played in 40 games the last three years, and he will be pushed by redshirt freshman Jeremiah Hall, who also enrolled early.
The defense ended on a sour note in the second half and overtime of last year’s Rose Bowl by giving up 37 points in the second half after holding the Bulldogs to 14 in the first half.
Noseguard Marquise Overton and tackle Neville Gallimore lead the pack up front. Overton played in all 14 games last year and started in the last seven. Gallimore played in the dozen contests starting in five of them. Overton led the down linemen with 43 tackles while Gallimore logged 28 stops. Dillon Faamatau saw some action in every game of 2017 will vie for the rotation along with Arthur McGinnis, a converted linebacker.
Amani Bledsoe and Kenneth Mann will compete for the end slots and should see plenty of action depending on whether the Sooners use a three- or four-man front. Ends Ronnie Perkins (early enrollee) and Ron Tatum were U.S. Army All-Americans last year and could figure to see some action this year.
A good pass rusher is what’s needed at linebacker. Oklahoma finished 62nd in sacks with 1.9 per game and had just 23 quarterback hurries (no national stats found). The two returning linebackers are Kenneth Murray and Caleb Kelly. The latter moved to the inside from the Sam to Will slot. Both need to be a disruptive force this year. Battling for the outside positions are Mark Jackson Jr., Levi Draper, and Addison Gumbs. This lineup depends upon whether Mike Stoops uses a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment. Regardless, the defense must improve on tackling technique.
Parnell Motley and Tre Norwood have the cornerback slots locked down. Motley started in 13 games last year and logged 63 tackles along with two interceptions, nine pass breakups and 4.5 tackles for loss last year. Norwood played in all 14 games (starting in the last five) and finished with 30 tackles and eight breakups.
Both safety positions are a battle among Khalil Haughton, Jordan Parker, Robert Barnes and Justin Broiles. Haughton has played in 35 games in his career and Parker, who missed ’17 with an injury, is pushing him on the strong side. Barnes played in 10 games a year ago, but Broiles redshirted and is pushing Barnes for the free side.
Freshman Brendan Radley-Hiles, a five star in high school and an early enrollee, is expected to be a force at nickelback. Freshmen Patrick Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell are getting rave reviews and should see some action in the secondary this season.
Kicking is no problem for OU this year as senior Austin Seibert likely will be pulling triple duty again as the team’s punter, kick scorer and kickoffs. Seibert has averaged nearly 42 yards punting in his career along with 77 percent of field goals and 98 percent of PATs.
The Sooners were not electric in the return game in 2017. They ranked 97th (6.8-yard average) on punt returns and 99th (19.3) in kickoff returns last year without a touchdown in either return game. The jury is still out on who will be the return specialists in ’18.
Look for the Sooners to capture their 12th Big 12 Championship and fourth straight. The last time OU won four consecutive conference crowns was 1985-88 under Barry Switzer. Oklahoma also has a good chance of making another College Football Playoff. 2018 will be another exciting season.