Oklahoma’s bid to return to the College Football Playoff didn’t exactly get off to a rousing start with last weekend’s 33-23 loss to Houston.
The Sooners’ early offensive onslaught didn’t faze the Cougars, who counterpunched effectively behind quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and their attacking defense. Meanwhile, sloppy miscues prevented OU from getting back in the game after UH took a halftime lead.
Despite the disappointing result, recent history has shown that one loss doesn’t end seasons anymore. In fact, OU is facing three teams presently ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll in the next four games. That opens the door for the Sooners to get right back to about where they started the season in the rankings by the middle of October.
A gimme on Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe gives Bob Stoops and his staff a little extra time to work out some kinks before the team begins its Ohio State-TCU-Texas gauntlet. Here are five tasks that should definitely be on their to-do list.
1. Get Baker Mayfield chilled out
Mayfield received plenty of due credit last season for his role in sparking OU’s offensive renaissance. This week, however, he has shouldered his fair share of the blame for the Sooners’ stalling out against the Cougars.
OU’s star quarterback often looked as though he was hell bent on beating UH on his own — passing up easy completions in hopes of landing long bombs and bailing out of the pocket early to scramble. As a result, the Sooners struggled to move the chains consistently and get into an offensive rhythm.
It’s possible that Mayfield felt pressured to do more on his own with star receiver Sterling Shepard now in the NFL, or his new targets might not have his complete trust. Whatever the case may be, OU has too many weapons and too good of a coordinator in Lincoln Riley for its QB to be doing so much outside the confines of its offense.
2. Keep finding touches for Joe Mixon
As a freshman, Mixon averaged a combined 11 receptions and rushes per game, matching his total against Houston. That number should be higher. With apologies to backfield mate Samaje Perine, Mixon is OU’s most dynamic offensive player.
In fact, putting both stud RBs on the field at the same time should create more room for each to operate. With Perine serving as Mr. Inside, Mixon can find more opportunities in open space. Win-win.
3. Identify a new cornerback to play opposite Jordan Thomas
Thomas, OU’s stud cover man, saw little work against Houston as the Cougars picked on his counterpart. Ward and lanky wideout Stephen Dunbar (6-3, 210) repeatedly went after diminutive senior Dakota Austin (5-10, 170) to capitalize on the size mismatch. The strategy paid off to the tune of seven receptions and 125 yards for the junior pass catcher.
Austin drew praise from coaches and teammates for his toughness and dedication in earning the starting nod in preseason camp. Unfortunately, he won’t be growing any taller overnight. So long as he’s manning one side of the field, OU can expect the spread-heavy offenses of the Big 12 to isolate and attack Austin.
Secondary coach Kerry Cooks already has a number of younger players pushing for playing time at the spot. Look for heralded freshman Parrish Cobb, who got some burn versus UH, or converted receiver Michiah Quick to make a move up to the first line of the depth chart, possibly as soon as this weekend.
4. Learn how to play Obo
Ogbonnia “Obo” Okoronkwo had an uneven game in his first start at outside linebacker. A coverage bust gave away a touchdown to the Cougars in the first half. Later in the game, a careless roughing the passer penalty extended a UH scoring drive.
On the other hand, Obo terrorized Ward and Houston’s offensive line in the second half. He finished the game with nine tackles, a sack and three QB hurries, according to the official stats.
Obo’s ability to wreak havoc in opposing backfields represents easily the strongest part of his game. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops might consider tinkering with his scheme to keep the talented rusher almost exclusively in search-and-destroy mode.
(Consider this one more of a “maybe do” than a “must do,” given the highs of Obo’s performance after halftime.)
5. Give Mykel Jones a look at slot receiver
Jarvis Baxter has made solid contributions as a slot receiver since arriving in Norman just prior to the start of preseason camp last year. As of now, he appears to be pushing up against his ceiling.
In contrast, Jones is nothing but potential. He may not be ready to move into the starting lineup ahead of Baxter just yet, but there’s no reason not to give him some plays on Saturday in a glorified scrimmage against Louisiana-Monroe.
At some point this season, Jones will see the field. The four-star recruit and Rivals100 prospect out of Louisiana is too talented not to. No time like the present.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.