Oklahoma Football: Sooners Midseason Review and Second Half Preview

Through six games, the Sooners look like the class of the Big 12

At the midway point of the 2019 season, the Oklahoma Sooners have provided strong answers to all the major questions about the program.

 

Could Jalen Hurts continue an unprecedented run of stellar quarterback play in Norman? So far, so good.

 

Could new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch pump some life into a beleaguered defense? The Sooners have climbed from 101st in the nation in scoring defense last season to 31st this year.

 

Could OU replace four starting offensive linemen selected in this year's NFL draft? The line's performance has dipped slightly, but you wouldn't be able to tell from OU's offensive production.

 

With six games remaining in the regular season, the Sooners appear to have solidified their status as the favorites to win another Big 12 crown. After bowing out in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff each of the last two years, OU fans are probably wondering if the 2019 team has an even higher ceiling.

 

Offensive MVP: WR CeeDee Lamb

Jalen Hurts had this honor locked up until the Sooners took the field against Texas at the Cotton Bowl. Head coach Lincoln Riley clearly made it a priority against the Longhorns to put the ball in the hands of his best offensive player as often as possible – Lamb rewarded his strategy with 10 receptions for 171 yards, three touchdowns and a series of back-breaking offensive plays. Even though Lamb has had his fair share of quiet games this year, but riding on his back in such a key spot proved who is OU's top man on offense.

 

Defensive MVP: DT Neville Gallimore

As a fifth-year senior, Gallimore is living up to the hoopla that accompanied his arrival in Norman. He is currently tied for the team lead in sacks with three, but he is doing the most damage just by controlling the middle in the trenches. Gallimore is consistently collapsing the pocket and disrupting opponents' flow on offense. That makes everything easier for OU's defense.

 

Best Moment of First Half: Flea-Flicking Texas

Midway through the third quarter, OU was dominating its rival Texas on the stat sheet, but the Longhorns had just tied the game on the scoreboard. With the ball at midfield, Lamb came in motion across the field behind Hurts. On the snap, Hurts handed off to running back Kennedy Brooks, who headed for the middle of the offensive line. Instead, Brooks wheeled around and pitched the ball back to the QB.

 

Hurts tossed the ball to Lamb running free 20 yards down the sideline. After securing the catch, Lamb eluded six UT defenders en route to the end zone for a 49-yard touchdown that gave the Sooners a lead they would not relinquish.

 

 

Best Newcomer: QB Jalen Hurts

Hurts is making his only season with the Sooners one to remember.

 

The Alabama transfer is leading the team in rushing, gaining an average of 8.5 yards every time he totes the rock. More importantly, Hurts ranks second in the nation in passer rating, ahead of Crimson Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa and trailing only LSU's Joe Burrow.

 

If Hurts keeps it up, he'll likely receive an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York.

 

Biggest Surprise: Cornerbacks

OU's corners have made significant strides in their first year in Alex Grinch's defense. To call their technique and awareness in 2018 dismal would be an understatement. Freshman Jaden Davis, senior Parnell Motley, and junior Tre Brown have formed a dependable rotation capable of doing battle with the dangerous bunches of receivers they draw on a weekly basis in the Big 12.

 

Three Things to Watch in the Second Half

 

1. Hurts' progression as a thrower

The big knock on Hurts when he left Alabama was that he couldn't tax defenses with his arm. He has clearly taken big steps forward throwing the ball. However, Hurts has yet to really face a situation in which OU is relying on him to win games as a passer.

 

2. Depth at safety

Safety was arguably the weakest position group on OU's team prior to the start of the season. So far, Alex Grinch has found three players he can count on: free safety Patrick Fields, strong safety Delarrin Turner-Yell, and nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles.

 

Given Grinch's preference for rotating multiple players at all positions on defense, he'd likely prefer to find a few reliable backups who can contribute.

 

3. Where are the turnovers?

Grinch made takeaways a priority for the OU defense prior to the season. So far, the Sooners have just six turnovers to show for themselves. That must be a sore spot in team meetings.

 

Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule

 

1. Nov. 30 at Oklahoma State

OSU might not be the best team left on the schedule, but Bedlam constitutes the stiffest test left for Oklahoma this season. Weird things happen when the two in-state rivals square off, and Stillwater will be electric for the regular-season finale.

 

2. Nov. 16 at Baylor

Before the season, pundits circled OU's visit to Waco as a potential landmine on the schedule. Nothing has changed since then, with the Bears racing out to a 6-0 start to the season. Baylor tends to raise its play a few notches when the Sooners are in town.

 

3. Nov. 9 vs. Iowa State

Following back-to-back blowouts over Big 12 foes, the Cyclones are starting to hit their stride. A gutty quarterback like Brock Purdy and ISU's sturdy defense make for the kind of team that could spring an upset on the Sooners, much like the 2017 game.

 

4. Nov. 23 vs. TCU

An iffy situation under center has hamstrung TCU in the early going. If head coach Gary Patterson can stabilize the QB position, the Horned Frogs will turn into one of the most dangerous teams in the Big 12 in the back half of the season.

 

5. Oct. 26 at Kansas State

The Wildcats have come back to earth after roaring out of the gates. KSU is struggling to score enough points to keep pace with conference foes in light of the squad's unimposing passing game. First-year head coach Chris Klieman has the team heading in the right direction, but upsetting OU would be asking a lot.

 

6. Oct. 19 vs. West Virginia

The Mountaineers may find some early success on Saturday against an OU team still intoxicated from a win in the Red River Showdown. WVU lacks the firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Sooners for four quarters, though.

 

— 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.

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