Oklahoma Football: Venables era opens with 45-13 win over UTEP

Syndication: The Oklahoman
BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK

OU cruised in the first game of the 2022 season behind a productive running game and stingy defense.

The Oklahoma Sooners got the 2022 season off to a solid start in Brent Venables’ first game as head coach, spanking the UTEP Miners, 45-13, at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

OU built a 21-0 lead about eight minutes into the game and never looked back. The Miners threatened to make things interesting late in the first half, but a 28-yard scoring pass from quarterback Dillon Gabriel to tight end Brayden Willis with 55 seconds left in the second quarter snuffed out any signs of life on the opposing sideline.

Gabriel played solid football in his first start behind center for the Sooners. The transfer from Central Florida completed 15-of-23 pass attempts for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored the game’s first TD on a 12-yard run on OU’s opening drive of the game.

Meanwhile, OU’s uptempo offense bullied UTEP’s overmatched defense on the ground. The Sooners rushed for 259 yards on 38 carries. Eric Gray led the way with 16 carries for 102 yards, while backup Marcus Major chipped in seven attempts that produced 54 yards and two touchdowns.

UTEP head coach Dana Dimel clearly wanted to keep the OU offense off the field with a game plan that produced a significant disparity in time of possession. The visitors held onto the ball for nearly 40 minutes of game time and ran a total of 82 plays. UTEP’s total offense of 316 yards translated into just 3.9 yards per play.

The Miners eschewed their typical boom-or-bust mentality on offense in the first live action for OU’s new look defense. They tried to mount extended drives that capitalized on quick, easy throws to UTEP’s dangerous wideouts, Reynaldo Flores and Tyrin Smith. The strategy resulted in drives of 14 and 10 plays in the first half, both of which ended in points.

UTEP asked QB Gavin Hardison to throw a bevy of short routes, which meant the Miners’ longest completions of the game went for only 24 yards. UTEP couldn’t afford to look downfield very often, though, given the disparity between its offensive line and the OU defensive front. The Sooners racked up six sacks on the day, with defensive end Reggie Grimes accounting for 2.5 of them.

Overall, it was a strong showing for an OU defense looking to erase its much-maligned reputation under Venables, who’s widely considered one of college football’s defensive gurus. The coaching staff rotated players in and out of the lineup from the start of the game. Two players who seemed to see more action than most, inside linebacker Danny Stutsman and safety Billy Bowman, paced the squad with nine total tackles each.

Now 1-0, OU will host the Kent State Golden Flashes on Sept. 10. Kickoff set for 6 p.m. CT.