Oklahoma hoping for better start against Tennessee
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — No. 19 Oklahoma is hoping for a better start when it visits No. 25 Tennessee on Saturday.
Coach Bob Stoops thinks cutting down on penalties will help.
The Sooners were held to a single field goal in their first six possessions against Akron on Saturday, a slower-than-expected start for Oklahoma’s heralded “Air Raid” offense under new coordinator Lincoln Riley. But it went on to a 41-3 season-opening victory against the Zips.
Stoops is chalking up the early issues to penalties. Three of those six drives included a penalty — two false starts and one holding call — and there were two other penalties on early punt returns by the Sooners.
“We emphasize it constantly,” Stoops said. “We constantly are talking about it when we watch practice tape and what kind of discipline and technique they are using and what would constitute a foul and what wouldn’t and we need to stay away from it. And I thought, and I’m not being critical, there were a couple that you’re wondering where it was. That’s OK. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying that’s going to happen sometimes.
“But we are constantly trying to teach our players what’s going to be a foul and what isn’t and we need to avoid it.”
The good news for the Sooners is they were dominant in the second and third quarters against Akron, scoring five touchdowns. Baker Mayfield passed for 388 yards and three touchdowns, breaking Sam Bradford’s school record for yards passing in a season opener and validating Stoops’ decision to name him the starter over Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas.
“I think this offense when executed well and without penalties has a chance to do that on occasion,” Stoops said. “For a period of time, we executed really well and avoided penalties that hurt us and operated like we feel we can. This style of offense can lead to that.”
The Sooners started two freshmen — Orlando Brown and Dru Samia — at offensive tackle against Akron, with Brown committing one of the false starts, on Oklahoma’s first series. Stoops said their youth shouldn’t be an issue.
Somewhat lost in the excitement over Mayfield’s performance was Oklahoma’s ineffective showing on the ground. The Sooners rushed for only 100 yards against Akron — their lowest single-game production since 2012.
Stoops said he wasn’t worried.
“We’re aware every part of the game needs to keep improving but I believe in what we’re doing and we’ll be able to run it,” he said.
Considering the state of Tennessee’s secondary, another pass-heavy game plan might be in order for the Sooners. While the Volunteers beat Bowling Green 59-30 in their opener, they allowed Matt Johnson to throw for 424 yards without an interception.
Injuries also have ravaged the Volunteers’ defensive backs, who are coached by Willie Martinez, a former Oklahoma assistant. Martinez served a one-game suspension during the Bowling Green game after committing an NCAA recruiting violation.
But the Volunteers had bigger issues than just Martinez’s absence, Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Monday.
“We had too many mental errors and to play winning football you can’t have the amount of mental errors that we had,” Jones said. “Again, first game, going fast, a lot of things happening, but that’s inexcusable. And we understand that as coaches, that’s on us. Our players understand it as well. And it’s everyone taking accountable to fix it, correct it.
“We’ll get it corrected, but we just had way too many mental errors. I thought we didn’t tackle particularly well in space and we didn’t leverage the football very well in space.”
Stoops downplayed the significance of the game-day environment at Neyland Stadium, noting the Sooners have visited traditional powers such as Notre Dame and Florida State in recent years.
“I have a hard time understanding these questions about going to a stadium,” Stoops said. “We go to stadiums every week and generally when we show up, it isn’t half empty. It’s always full, so no, we don’t do anything different. Like I said, we’ll put the music up for every away game we’ll play this year. So we don’t do anything different for this game than we do for the others.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee contributed to this report from Knoxville, Tenn.