NORMAN, Okla. — There was plenty to unpack in Oklahoma’s 40-35 win over Tulane at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, with rough stretches from both sides of the ball and moments of brilliance as well.
Expectations for the Sooners’ defense were through the roof coming into the season. It was a rough start for the group, though.
Tackling was an issue, which isn’t exactly shocking in a season opener with the limited number of live tackling drills most teams go through in preseason camp. But more concerning early was the defensive line’s inability to be very disruptive early, allowing Tulane’s Michael Pratt plenty of time to work.
The Green Wave led 7-0 and then 14-7 after Tulane’s first two drives went for touchdowns, with a combined 130 yards on 12 plays in the two scoring drives.
Then the Sooners defense started showing its teeth. Over the next five Tulane drives, OKlahoma forced three Green Wave turnovers — all on fumble recoveries — as Tulane managed just 36 yards on 21 plays.
It was the third consecutive game where OKlahoma has forced three turnovers and the first time with three fumble recoveries in a game since the 2016 win over West Virginia. The Sooners hadn’t forced multiple turnovers in a season opener since forcing three by Tulsa to start the 2011 season.
But Tulane got to Oklahoma’s defense some after that, helping keep the Green Wave in the game. Tulane drove 80 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth, to pull within five, 40-35, then recovered an onside kick to keep their upset hopes alive.
But the Sooners’ defense came up big, with Perrion Winfrey and Nik Bonitto teaming up for a sack on third down after a pair of incomplete passes. On fourth down, Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt scrambled, but was tripped up just short of the first down by Delarrin Turner-Yell to virtually put the game away.
Here are four other takeaways from Oklahoma’s win:
Spencer Rattler, Sooners’ offense shaky
Spencer Rattler’s Heisman candidacy got off to a rough start when he was picked off by Tulane’s Jadon Candy on just the second play of the game.
Rattler had his moments through the game — especially with his throws to Marvin Mims — but also showed some uncharacteristic throwing woes.
Midway through the second quarter, after the Sooners got the ball at the Tulane 39 following a turnover, Rattler threw back-to-back incompletions that were well overthrown, leading Oklahoma to settle for a 51-yard field goal.
Rattler finished with 304 yards and a touchdown on 30-of-39 passing.
The biggest bright spots in the Sooners’ offense were Marvin Mims — who finished with five catches for 117 yards — and Kennedy Brooks.
Brooks, who returned after opting out last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
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Caleb Williams debuts for Sooners
It didn’t take long for freshman quarterback Caleb Williams to see his first action.
And he took advantage of it.
Late in the first quarter, a review overturned what would’ve been a 51-yard Marvin Mims touchdown catch and instead gave the Sooners first and goal at the 1.
After Brooks was stopped for no gain, Rattler jogged off the field and Williams took his place.
Sooners coach Lincoln Riley dialed up a zone read call for Williams, who after a bit of a stutter step, charged into the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game at 14.
Riley figures to pick his moments to use Williams, but the freshman’s running ability figures to make him a candidate to see action in similar situations at various points throughout the year.
Gabe Brkic with the big boot for Oklahoma
Sooners kicker Gabe Brkic was already having a big first half, with a pair of second-quarter field goals, before the Sooners got the ball back with 30 seconds left before halftime at the Tulane 41.
After two passes, gaining a combined two yards, Riley sent Brkic out for a 56-yard field goal.
Brkic drilled the kick, easily putting it over the crossbar.
The kick was tied for the third-longest field goal in Oklahoma Sooners’ history, behind Tony DiRienzo’s 60-yarder against Kansas in 1973 and Uwe von Schamann’s 58-yarder in the 1977 Bedlam game. DiRienzo also had a 56-yarder in the 1975 Bedlam game.
Brkic’s 51-yarder earlier in the second quarter was already the Sooners’ longest in a season opener.
Brkic has now kicked multiple field goals in eight consecutive games.
In the third quarter, Brkic added a 55-yard field goal to tie the FBS single-game record with three field goals of 50 or more yards.
It was the first time in Oklahoma history a kicker had made multiple field goals of 50 or more yards in a game.
He later missed a 31-yard attempt.
Brkic’s previous career long was a 54-yarder last season in the Big 12 Championship Game against Iowa State.
Blue on red
With the game officially being a Tulane home game — though for statistical and records purposes, it will be considered a Sooners’ home game — the uniform matchup offered a unique look.
The Sooners wore their traditional home uniforms — red tops with white pants.
Tulane, though, also wore their home uniforms, with light blue tops to go with white pants.
Tulane’s “Angry Wave” logo was painted on each 25-yard line.