John Hoover

John E. Hoover: Sooners expected success, but not this much, this soon

John E. Hoover: Sooners expected success, but not this much, this soon

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) carries the ball in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida Atlantic in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NORMAN, Okla. — It feels odd to take a stance after one college football game, especially when that one game is a blowout.

But the Oklahoma Sooners looked significantly different in Saturday’s 63-14 victory over Florida Atlantic.

Don’t misunderstand. This was a mismatch, yes, and it was supposed to be.

But not like this. Not exactly.

Lane Kiffin’s FAU squad won 11 games and cruised to a Conference USA championship last season. The Owls brought back 10 starters on defense and a near-2,000-yard rusher who challenged Barry Sanders’ FBS touchdown record in 2017.

More than a few observers of Sooner football this offseason labeled this game as a potential pitfall.

Instead, it was a mismatch from start to finish. OU led 28-0 after one quarter and 49-0 at halftime.

“It’s never as easy as it looks,” coach Lincoln Riley said. “We just got that initial surge, you know? We just kept the momentum.”

OU entered as a 21-point favorite and had that lead by the 5-minute mark of the first quarter.

Kyler Murray had no problem replacing Baker Mayfield as chief operating officer of college football’s most prolific offense last year. Named OU’s starting quarterback just last week after an offseason competition with Austin Kendall, Murray was spectacular, starting 6-of-6 and finishing 9-of-11 for 209 yards and two TDs before shutting it down in the second quarter.

“I’m not too worried about coming out here trying to (make people forget about) the whole Baker deal,” Murray said. “For me, it’s coming out here and execute and lead the guys.”

“He handled it well,” Riley said. “There were definitely some nerves. I mean everybody has nerves before the first game. … But our guys played well around him. He played well himself — very efficient, played very much within himself. Threw the ball well, I think he only missed one throw the entire game.”

“He’s a very poised guy,” said running back Rodney Anderson. “He doesn’t get rattled. He doesn’t get held up on the small things.”

Again, it’s too early to anoint the Sooners or anyone.

“Everybody wants to come to these conclusions about who you are and what you are,” Riley said. “Did we learn something today? Yes. We’ve got some quality depth. I think we’ve taken some steps on special teams. … We had some young guys step in there and play very well. And the team’s competitive nature I think is very good right now.”

Still, the Sooner defense played with a tempo and a ferocity that has been lacking against opponents like this in recent years. They bullied FAU up front, they swarmed to the ball with an angry mob mentality on every play, and they even covered the deep pass.

“Our depth and our overall physicality I thought was good,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “ … Good start. Was glad to see we were able to control the game that well.”

The fifth-ranked Sooners looked like a playoff team. They certainly jumped ahead as a favorite to win their fourth consecutive Big 12 Conference crown.

Even as good as the OU offense is, as many playmakers populate that side of the ball, this level of dominance was unexpected.

Rodney Anderson rushed the ball just five times and finished with 100 yards and two touchdowns. Trey Sermon averaged eight yards per carry in the first half. And their backups, T.J. Pledger and Kennedy Brooks, were fantastic. Murray, who runs like a wishbone wizard but doesn’t get happy feet, embarrassed the FAU defense a couple of times. Receiver Marquise Brown was better than ever, a safety valve early and a fireworks show later, collecting 133 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

“The sky is the limit,” Anderson said. “Obviously we’ve got to keep working, keep grinding every week to keep improving.”

That’s bad news for the rest of the Big 12.

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. 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. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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