Expectations are a way of life in college football. Especially, when you think of the rich and storied tradition of a school like Oklahoma. Whether it’s fair or unrealistic, competing for championships year in and year out has become the expectation the administration has put on themselves. Winning ten conference championships and playing for three national championships in the last twenty years will do that to a program. This week we will look at how those expectations will manifest itself this week.
How Do You Feel Now?
The landscape looks a little different for the Sooners than it did a week ago. At this time last week, Oklahoma was a promising top ten ranked team with many question marks. Now, those question marks have quickly turned into exclamation points. The entire college football world is still buzzing about the Sooners in some capacity. Whether it’s the focus of the on the field performance against the Buckeyes or the flag planting (albeit premature) Heisman front-runner there are plenty of distractions. The Sooners must now put that game behind them and focus on the job at hand which is not letting complacency set in.
Recent History as a Top Two Team
Believe it or not, this is relatively new territory for the Sooners over the last few years. The Sooners come into this week as the No. 2 ranked team according to the Associated Press. In order to find out the last time that has occurred, you would have to go all the way back to 2011. Interestingly enough, that was also the last time Oklahoma defeated a top five team on the road. The Sooners defeated Florida State that year 23-13 in the second game of the year. However, as well as that season started, it’s a season that Sooner fans would most like to forget. After a 6-0 start to the season, Oklahoma would go 3-3 over the next six ball games to complete the tailspin at the end of the year.
Previous to that was in 2008 when the Sooner were the top ranked team in the county and lost to Texas 45-35. That squad had a better fate as they came back and won the remainder of their games. Oklahoma earned its way to the National Championship and a date with the Florida Gators. The Gators would go on to win the game to become the champions.
How Can This Be Different
There are three keys for this team to not allow complacency to come into play and ruin what could be become a special season.
Don’t get too high or don’t get too low
The college football season has many peaks and valleys. There will most certainly be times where the game comes easy and the Sooners are clicking on all cylinders. Inevitably, there will also be times where individual units struggle and games that might have been a foregone conclusion are all of a sudden a fourth quarter battle. Consistency will be the key as it’s easy to pat yourself on the back and rest on your last victory, feeling like it’s as easy as just showing up and winning. They will need to come into each game with the same sense of urgency and focus as they did against Ohio State.
Sometimes, It’s Easier to be Lucky Than Good
It’s a long, grueling season. If things go well, the Sooners will have the opportunity to play in 15 football games this season. Throughout those 15 games, whether it be injuries, turnovers, or the kicking game, the difference between a championship team and a top five team can be a little bit of luck. Oklahoma will need to have a few bounces of the ball or a clutch kick or a key turnover go their way in those games that they aren’t at their best. Injuries are almost a given, but will need to be fortunate that a serious contributor is not sidelined for an extended period of time.
Block Out Distractions
The Sooners have many first-year players contributing right now. At some point, freshman usually realize they are freshman. How well those young kids stay grounded with the success will be instrumental. It remains to be seen, but the flag-planting controversy could serve as a distraction. How they perform and put that behind them this week against Tulane will be a key indicator on how the remainder of the season could play out.
Scouting the Tulane Green Wave
When preparing for this article and watching some game film, it’s very apparent that Tulane has some athletes on both sides of the ball. This is not a prototypical directional school, easy win game that gets scheduled each year. Oklahoma will need to come to play.
The Green Wave bring in an offense that is difficult to deal with. Head coach Willie Fritz, who is his second year, brings a triple option attack to Norman. This will look different than a normal triple option game as this is a Zone Spread offense. This will bring an interesting test to a young Sooner defense, most specifically because teams run this so infrequently it’s difficult to prepare for.
There will be a little uncertainty behind center for Tulane as their starter, Jonathan Banks, went out in the first half against Navy last week and did not return. Look for Johnathan Brantley to potentially get the start on Saturday. Banks was quite serviceable for Tulane in the second half of the 23-21 setback to Navy. The quarterback run is a big part of the Tulane offense, but the Wave also have talented back Dontrell Hilliard who comes into the game with 104 rushing yards in two games.
Over the last year and two games, the Green Wave go to the air about 30% of the time. When they do, they often look to Terren Encalade at the wide receiver position. He was the leading receiver a year ago with 36 catches for 500 yards and six touchdowns. Oklahoma has a history of being aggressive, so it will be interesting to see if Fritz tries to take advantage early.
Tulane may not have the best athletes on the field, but as you watch them, they are very opportunistic and consistent defensively. Over the last 14 games, Tulane has only given up over 500 yards on two occasions. That was against Temple and one of the best offensive teams in the country a year ago in Tulsa.
The biggest impact looks to be from defensive end Luke Jackson. Luke has two and a half sacks on the season. This should prove to be a nice test for the Sooner offensive line to keep him from being disruptive.
The Green Wave also bolsters an impressive kickoff returned. Speedster Sherman Badie has averaged 27.3 yards per return. He is a threat to take it to the house at any moment. Aside from that, Tulane has had a rough start special team wise. They have missed three extra points and only averaged 37 yards per punt.
Tulane’s game plan will be very simple coming into this game. Ball control. The Green Wave will look to run clock and keep the game close. They have the personnel on both sides of the ball to keep this game close for at least a half. Unfortunately for the Green Wave fans, this game will be more predicated on the mindset of the Sooners coming in. If Oklahoma comes in focused, they will be able to name the score. If not, this could a three touchdown or less game going into the fourth quarter. Tulane is much improved, but this has the look of a completely different Oklahoma team. The Sooners dominate early and lead 28-3 at halftime and cruise to a 45-10 victory.