The devastation in the wake of Hurricane Ida has forced the Oklahoma Sooners and Tulane Green Wave to relocate their opening game from New Orleans to Norman. The development has put a damper on the excitement surrounding an OU team that has national championship aspirations.
Tulane head coach Willie Fritz and his staff will have their hands full trying to keep the Green Wave focused amid so much upheaval. Unfortunately, OU isn't a fun team to face when players’ minds are elsewhere.
Here’s what to watch in what should be a subdued atmosphere at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium.
Oklahoma vs. Tulane
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 4 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma -31
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
For the first time in recent memory, the Sooners are facing more questions on offense than on the other side of the ball. First, what will the rushing attack look like? OU lost a stunning total of six scholarship running backs from last year’s team. That leaves Tennessee transfer Eric Gray and veteran Kennedy Brooks in line to shoulder most of the load. Count on plenty of interest in Brooks after he sat out the 2020 season. Gray may prove to be the more dangerous option of the two, though, given his receiving ability.
Second, does the offensive line have the necessary chemistry to thrive? Andrew Raym is stepping in for stalwart Creed Humphrey at center, putting pressure on the sophomore to take charge of calling protections and making sure the other linemen are on the same page. Meanwhile, word is that the right tackle position has been in flux throughout preseason camp, prompting speculation that the Sooners could rotate up to three players at the spot as part of the first team.
Even with the questions surrounding the OU offense, slowing down the Sooners will pose a stiff test for new Tulane defensive coordinator Chris Hampton. Job 1 will be keeping OU quarterback Spencer Rattler and an explosive group of receivers from tearing up a soft secondary that ranked 101st in passer rating allowed last year.
When Tulane Has the Ball
Once Southern Miss named Will Hall head coach, Fritz quickly tabbed Chip Long as Tulane’s new offensive coordinator. It’s easy to see why. While serving as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, Long received a nomination for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant. Moreover, he and Hall share similar offensive philosophies, suggesting the Green Wave could enjoy a seamless transition between coordinators.
Long has a proven commodity at QB in sophomore Michael Pratt, whose game fits well in Tulane’s spread-based, run-oriented attack. The Green Wave also have a productive running back at their disposal in Cameron Carroll, who averaged 6.1 yards per rush in 2020 and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Pratt and Carroll won’t have much room to maneuver if the Tulane offensive line can’t block OU’s deep defensive line, including defensive end Isaiah Thomas and nose tackle Perrion Winfrey. Long may prefer trying to test OU’s inconsistent secondary with a group of experienced wideouts such as Duece Watts and Jha’Quan Jackson.
Tulane would have struggled to hang tight with Oklahoma at Yulman Stadium. Moving the game to Norman makes that even tougher.
Don’t expect the Green Wave to find much success moving the ball on the ground against an OU defense with ample athleticism. On the other hand, a one-dimensional offense trying to hold off the OU pass rush isn’t a formula for success, either. Avoiding obvious passing situations has to be a priority for Long and the Tulane offense, but that is easier said than done against the Sooners.
Head coach Lincoln Riley probably wants to see how the OU offensive line performs opening running lanes, an aspect of the offense that left something to be desired last season. However, in light of OU’s diminishing numbers in the running back room, the Sooners won’t want to tax their backfield too much in the opening game of the season. Rattler should put up some big numbers through the air as a result, with OU’s backups playing most of the second half.
Prediction: Oklahoma 49, Tulane 14
Podcast: Week 0 Recap
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.