In the first six games of the 2018 season, the Oklahoma Sooners:
- Saw superstar running back Rodney Anderson go down for the season in week two;
- Found a new offensive sensation in quarterback Kyler Murray;
- Nearly lost to the Army West Point Black Knights;
- Did lose to their bitter rivals, the Texas Longhorns; and
- Parted ways with longtime defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
Other than that, pretty first quiet half of the year.
Head coach Lincoln Riley has to be hoping for more fireworks (of the good kind) in the next six games if he and his team want to get back on track toward a Big 12 title and potential bid to the College Football Playoff. Whether or not they can may come down to what interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill does to stabilize a unit that appears to be regressing since the start of the year.
Offensive MVP: QB Kyler Murray
You could make a strong case for wide receiver Marquise Brown here, but Murray is the headline for the Sooners on offense to this point. He’s making sure that his one year as a starting college signal-caller is a doozy before heading off to join the Oakland A’s.
Murray took the loss to Texas hard. How he responds when the Sooners get back on the field bears watching.
Defensive MVP: LB Kenneth Murray
Few players have stood out during a generally lamentable first half for OU’s defense. Murray has been a bright spot, providing leadership and energy. His 28 tackles in the Army game marked one of the better defensive performances of any player in the country this season.
Best Moment of First Half: Mann’s Big Pick
As a 31-point underdog, Army was on the verge of an upset for the ages in its Sept. 23 game at Oklahoma. After taking over at their own one-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Black Knights had drained more than 10 minutes off the game clock and were driving for what looked to be the final score to break the tie in a 21-21 game. A pass from Army QB Kelvin Hopkins was deflected at the line of scrimmage, however, and floated down into the paws of defensive end Kenneth Mann at the OU 38. The interception gave the Sooners new life in a game they eventually won in overtime.
Best Newcomer: DE Ronnie Perkins
Classmate Brendan Radley-Hiles made waves when he earned a starting spot in OU’s defensive backfield, but fellow freshman Perkins arguably has made a bigger impact in his first year. Perkins already has three sacks and possesses athletic ability that has been lacking lately in the Sooners’ defensive front.
Look for Perkins to play a bigger role on D in the second half of the year.
Biggest Surprise: WR Lee Morris
Does any school in the country have a track record that can match OU when it comes to converting walk-ons into productive contributors? Morris is a clutch receiver who makes the most of his opportunities: He is averaging more than 25 yards per reception and has scored four touchdowns this season despite catching just eight balls so far.
Three Things to Watch in Second Half
Among the many faults of OU’s defense this year, tackling has to be number one. Opposing ball carriers and receivers routinely drag Sooner defenders for extra yardage or slip away from would-be tacklers to turn meager gains into explosive plays. Interim coordinator Ruffin McNeill and the rest of OU’s defensive staff have to clean that up quickly.
The situation at safety is so dire that Brendan Radley-Hiles has to play there instead of his natural spot at cornerback. Meanwhile, even though senior Kahlil Haughton is third on the team in tackles, he has struggled in run support and is frequently late with help in coverage. Some of the back-up safeties will get their shots soon.
The Sooners have to bounce back from a disappointing defeat against their biggest rival and adapt to changes to the coaching staff. Some teams might use those as turning points in a successful season, while others might implode.
Lincoln Riley faces the biggest test of his young career now in keeping his squad on track.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 23 at West Virginia
WVU has yet to beat the Sooners since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers have come tantalizingly close a few times, though. They will look to break through on Black Friday in Morgantown.
2. Nov. 3 at Texas Tech
The last time these teams tangled in Lubbock, it produced a shootout for the ages. After upsetting TCU last week, the Red Raiders seem to be hitting their stride.
3. Oct. 20 at TCU
Flip this with the Tech game if you’d like because they’re roughly even teams. The Horned Frogs might even pose a more difficult matchup personnel-wise. TCU QB Shawn Robinson’s propensity to turn the ball over is limiting his team’s ceiling at the moment.
4. Nov. 10 Oklahoma State
The Cowboys always bring a little something extra to the Bedlam game, even though they’re currently approaching a low point in head coach Mike Gundy’s distinguished tenure. OU shouldn’t take the Pokes lightly, especially if Gundy decides to get freshman QB Spencer Sanders on the field.
5. Oct. 27 Kansas State
Wily Bill Snyder will have a week off to strategize on how to upset the Sooners. This KSU team has played so far like a pale imitation of his past squads, though. OU can’t overlook the Wildcats – a focused bunch of Sooners should roll.
6. Nov. 17 at Kansas
Would upsetting OU save KU head coach David Beaty’s job?
Spoiler alert: We’ll never know.
— 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.