Coach Lane Kiffin and his FAU squad is in for what looks to be a high-scoring affair in Norman tomorrow, as both the Owls and Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma Sooners ranked top-five nationally in total offense last season.
It’s the dawn of the Kyler Murray era for Oklahoma.
The dual-sport star comes into the year with sky-high expectations after spending 2017 as the heir apparent to Heisman Trophy-winner Baker Mayfield. This will be Murray’s final collegiate season before joining the Oakland Athletics, so the pressure is on for him to pick up where his predecessor left off in taking the Sooners to the College Football Playoff.
Oklahoma’s passing game should be deadly once again this season after ranking third in the country in yards per game (361.8) in 2017. Receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb are bonafide stars on the outside, and Rodney Anderson is one of the most productive pass catchers from the running back position in all of college football — averaging 16.5 yards a catch on his 17 receptions.
FAU may have an advantage defensively over No. 7 Oklahoma, which gave up 27.1 points per game in 2017, but will be tested in front of an explosive offense and raucous crowd in Norman for the season opener.
THE FILE : FAU (0-0, 0-0) vs. Oklahoma (0-0, 0-0)
Riley led the Sooners’ offense to the top spot in the nation in his first year at the helm, but loses some key pieces that helped make that possible. Stalwart left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., an All-Big 12 selection each of the past two seasons, is now a Baltimore Raven, no longer protecting the blind side in Norman. A player who was seemingly Oklahoma’s glue-guy offensively is gone as well in H-back Dimitri Flowers. Flowers’ versatility in being able to open up lanes as a run blocker as well as working as a dependable receiver is gone, and there isn’t a clear replacement in line. Schematically, Riley spreads the field – often playing four wide – to both open up an aggressive vertical passing attack and lighten the box for his running game.
Offensive Players to Watch:
- 24 Rodney Anderson, R-Jr, RB: After splitting the rushing workload with Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams early, Anderson exploded in the latter half of 2017, finishing with 18 total scores on seven yards a touch. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound workhorse back is a true three-down talent that is capable of both running nimble routes out of the backfield and burying would-be tacklers with power.
- 71 Bobby Evans, R-Jr, OT : He resided under the massive six-foot-eight 345 pound shadow of the aforementioned Brown Jr. the past two seasons, but his strong play shouldn’t have been overlooked. Evans possesses the same physicality of his former bookend tackle, Brown Jr., but is more polished in technique and can move better when dealing with speed rushers and getting the second level in the ground game. He allowed only 13 pressures a season ago per Pro Football Focus, second best among returning Big 12 tackles.
- 80 Grant Calcaterra, So, TE: With standouts Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb lining up wide, defenses can’t afford to pay much attention to the middle of the field. Tight end Mark Andrews feasted on that opportunity last season. He amassed 958 yards and eight touchdowns in his final year as a Sooner, and his understudy, Calcaterra is next in line to replace that production. Riley’s offense treats tight ends like an extra slot receiver, and the athletic six-foot four 240 pound California native is tailor made for that role.
In true Big-12 fashion, the 2017 Sooners were largely pedestrian on defense – ranking No. 67 nationally in yards allowed per game (394.9). They look to turn it around in 2018 behind the growth of linebacker Kenneth Murray, who became the heart of the unit as a freshman. The Sooners are multiple defensively but tend to lean toward a four man front.
Defensive Players to Watch:
- 9 Kenneth Murray, So, LB: Murray burst onto the scene in his first collegiate season of 2017, quickly becoming a stout run-stuffer for the Oklahoma defense – ranking third on the team in tackles (68) as a freshman. His immense sideline-to-sideline athleticism helps him both snuff out opposing ground games and keep up in pass coverage.
- 44 Brendan Radley-Hiles, Fr, DB: It may be asking a lot for a freshman to take lead in the secondary, but given Oklahoma’s lack of talent in that area and Radley-Hiles tantalizing talent, it is definitely in the cards. The Bradenton product was rated the No. 5 cornerback in the nation coming out of high school this past recruiting cycle and figures to make an immediate impact from his nickel cornerback spot.
- 19 Caleb Kelly, Jr., LB: A top recruit in 2016, Kelly’s play at Oklahoma hasn’t quite lived up to expectations thus far. He is transitioning to inside linebacker after playing outside his first two collegiate seasons, giving him a better opportunity to chase the football and use the speed and downhill instincts which made a blue-chip high school prospect.