COLUMBUS, Ohio — Oklahoma’s receiver corps did a pretty great job last week in the Sooners’ season opener against UTEP.
The biggest questions OU had when it opened 2017 were primarily on the quality and depth of the Sooner wideouts. Could quarterback Baker Mayfield play at a Heisman level if his young, inexperienced receivers were unable to get consistent separation from their defensive counterparts? Could the OU running game — also afflicted with youth and inexperience but bolstered by college football’s best offensive line — gain any room to run if defenses didn’t respect the Sooners’ passing game?
In truth, we didn’t learn all that much against UTEP.
Mark Andrews is a walking mismatch for any college football defender, and he’ll probably lead the team in receiving and yards and touchdowns. A couple more outings like last week — seven catches, 134 yards and a TD — and Andrews will be a first-team All-American.
At tight end.
Defenses don’t double-cover tight ends. If Andrews leads the Sooners this season, it’ll be because no other receiver is capable of doing so.
Going into The Horseshoe for Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. showdown with No. 2-ranked Ohio State, that’s a scary prospect.
In their ho-hum win over Big Ten opponent Indiana in last week’s season-opener, the Buckeyes exclusively played press coverage with their cornerbacks near the line of scrimmage locked in man-to-man defense while their safeties were almost always 10-14 yards deep in deep zone coverage.
While Indiana receivers made plenty of competitive catches (quarterback Richard Lagow threw for 410 yards and completed 40-of-65 attempts as the Hoosiers hardly even tried to run), it was clear that Ohio State’s secondary was up to the challenge. Almost every reception was hotly contested. The Buckeye defensive backs had two interceptions and broke up 11 passes.
Simmie Cobbs caught 11 passes for 149 yards against the Buckeyes. Luke Timian caught 10 passes for 72 yards. Donavan Hale caught five for 67.
The question now is, does OU have a Simmie Cobbs? And if so, who is it? Jeff Mead? Mykel Jones? Jeff Badet? Marquise Brown? Ceedee Lamb?
The answer is no. Cobbs is 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds and is functionally fast. He missed last year with a knee injury, but the year before he caught 60 passes for 1,034 yards. Someone in the OU corps may eventually emerge but right now, OU simply does not have that receiver on the roster.
Does OU have a Luke Timian? Well, yes. Probably. The former Oklahoma State walk-on from Southlake Carroll isn’t physically imposing, only 6-0 and 195. He’s not overly experienced, catching 19 passes for 277 yards last season. But Timian caught 10 passes last week because he runs precise routes and has good hands and has gained his quarterback’s trust. So, with Nick Basquine out for the season, does OU have one of those? Not yet.
Does OU have a Donovan Hale? He’s a fast 6-4 and 225, so that’s a scratch, too.
The Sooners do have lots of fast and athletic and talented receivers who were decorated high school players and have loads of potential.
But do they have the weaponry outside to quiet 110,000 Buckeye fans on a Saturday night in Columbus? Do they have wideouts good enough to force defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to replace one of his linebackers with a DB, giving OU more room to run the ball? Do they have dynamic playmakers good enough to go up and consistently win individual battles with a Buckeyes secondary that includes future NFL players like corner Denzel Ward and safety Damon Webb?
The answer is easy: we don’t know. The UTEP game left us with an incomplete picture of the OU receiver corps.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.