Oklahoma vs. Western Carolina: Game preview, storylines & predictions

Oklahoma v Tulane
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

After last week’s scare, OU should be ready to make a statement against the FEROCIOUS Catamounts.

Despite a rough showing in the season opener, the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners are 1-0 and looking forward to the next challenge that awaits. In this case, that would be the Western Carolina Catamounts out of the FCS. There’s plenty to work on for this championship hopeful team, and with that comes plenty of opportunities to make those improvements.

In case you missed it, the game plan for fans in attendance this weekend is to stripe the stadium in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Additionally, the OU Athletics Department plans to hold a number of special events throughout the day to honor and recognize emergency services personnel, frontline workers and military members.

Date, Time & TV: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. CT on Pay-Per-View

Line: Oklahoma -49.5 (as of Friday at 7 p.m. CT)

O/U: 65

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Major Storylines

Will the real Oklahoma please stand up?

Now that we’ve all had some time to process the surprisingly close result of last weekend’s game against Tulane, I think most OU fans would agree that this team can play to a much higher standard than whatever that was in the season opener. The question is — will this team take that lackluster performance personal, or will this be another ho-hum showing that leaves a lot to be desired?

I’m inclined to believe that OU will use a business-like approach to this game, and it will show both on the field and the scoreboard. There has been some talk going around concerning a select contingent of players who either weren’t dialed against the Green Wave or simply checked out before the game was done. Whatever the case was or wasn’t, this team should be all-in on making a statement after all the noise that has come their way. Is this a top five squad? Dominate WCU, then let the results speak for themselves.

Will Alex Grinch tighten up his defensive rotations?

If it seemed like there was a lot of subbing and rotating going on when Oklahoma’s defense was on the field last week, it’s because there was. Third year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch explained to reporter’s during his weekly press conference that a total of 31 Sooners checked into the game on Saturday. Think about that, folks, 31, all from just one side of the ball in a one score game.

Something has to change going forward, because although it’s a good thing to have experienced depth, at the end of the day, it’s the coaches’ job to put their best players on the field. Fielding the best 11 means building cohesion as a unit and as a group. If this game against Western Carolina plays out the way it should, there will eventually be a good reason to dive deeper into the depth chart, but doing so any other time just invites unnecessary confusion and disorganization when the meat of the schedule is right around the corner.

Will the Sooners’ offense be more balanced?

From a total snaps standpoint, the split between OU’s passing and running plays was nearly even against Tulane — 40 to 35 plays, respectively. However, there was a significant difference in the effectiveness of those plays that needs to be addressed before more capable teams line up against Oklahoma.

However the passing and running plays are divided up in the future, it would probably be in Lincoln Riley’s best interest if the Sooners aren’t throwing for 200 hundred yards more than they’re rushing for in a given contest. Ideally, those statistics ought to be far closer, and if anything, you’d like to see the ground game lead the charge in that regard. Of course, the shallow RB situation is an ongoing predicament that has surely limited these efforts, but it’s time to start building that position up while the opportunity is set up perfectly to do so.

Can the defense disrupt the backfield consistently?

Too often last week, the Sooners weren’t able to consistently disrupt the Tulane QB Michael Pratt in the backfield. With how deep and talented this team is along the D-line and its EDGE rushing corps, recording no more than four sacks is underwhelming to say the least.

Against the mighty Catamounts of Western Carolina, I expected the chaos to increase, and not just because the level of competition is projected to take a step back. Guys like Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto, Perrion Winfrey and Jalen Redmond should be foaming at the mouth after the team’s season opening performance. What that should look like from a total sacks and tackles-for-loss perspective is anybody’s guess, but it should be clear and apparent to the casual observer that wreaking havoc is what this OU team does. The aforementioned bunch and their teammates need to show more of that starting this Saturday.

How much can OU learn about itself in a game like this?

In all honesty, the most anybody would be able to learn about Oklahoma in a game against a building FCS opponent is a killer instinct, because that’s still an issue that, for whatever reason, has continued to plague the Crimson & Cream in the second half of games. If OU is up by more than 20 points by halftime, that should be a sign that the opposition is clearly overmatched, and such a lead should never decrease but rather increase or at the very least maintain itself. This problem starts with Lincoln Riley, and the solution lies within him, as well. He cultivates and drives the mentality going into each game, and however he operates throughout 60 minutes, his players feed off of that energy. Long story short, stop blowing big leads. That (hopefully) isn’t too much to ask for in a game like this.

Prediction

After the way the season opener played out, I expect to see Oklahoma’s offense start extremely fast with everything it has from the first snap. Additionally, I predict that the defense will look like an almost completely different group than it did a week ago, and that will show itself in several plays for negative yardage and an early takeaway or three. I also expect the running game to pick up tremendously from where it was against Tulane, and if Lincoln Riley isn’t just joshing us, we should finally see a healthy dose of backup RBs Jaden Knowles and Todd Hudson throughout this contest. I don’t envision a world where WCU puts up much of a fight, and by the time this game is done, the sky won’t be as close to falling as it was last Saturday.

Oklahoma 66, Western Carolina 3

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