- Time and date: Saturday, September 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN2
- Location: Chapman Stadium — Tulsa, OK
- Spread: Oklahoma (-27.5)
- Over/under: 59.5
- All-time series: Oklahoma leads, 20-7-1
- Last meeting: Oklahoma 52, Tulsa 38 — September 19, 2015
- Current streak: Oklahoma, 9 (2001-15)
Setting the scene
When playing in its home state, Oklahoma is typically accustomed to 80,000-fan atmosphere fo Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. But this Saturday, the Sooners take the 120-mile trek northwest to Tulsa, where they’ll square off in front of a sold-out Chapman Stadium crowd of 30,000.
The in-state opponents haven’t met since 2015, and Oklahoma has claimed nine consecutive in the rivalry. The last time Tulsa upended the Sooners was 1996 in Norman, but the last time Tulsa emerged victorious at home was 1942. The Golden Hurricane will look to leverage what they learned after facing a top 10 program the week prior in hopes of pulling off a potential program-changing win.
Oklahoma Sooners outlook
Given the Sooners’ rampant 21st century success, year one of the Brent Venables appeared to be an outlier, as the program finished 6-7. So far, Oklahoma has done an excellent job of proving it to be an outlier, jumping out to a 2-0 record and No. 19 ranking with an aggregate score of 101-11 on the season.
Oklahoma played as close to a perfect game as possible in the season opener against Arkansas State. Week 2 brought a much more challenging opponent in SMU, but the Sooners’ defense — typically an area of struggle — turned into a strength in a 28-11 victory over the Mustangs. The Sooners forced two timely takeaways when backed into their own territory and recorded a pair of fourth down stops to stifle a high-octane Mustang offense to just one touchdown and a field goal.
Outside linebacker Danny Stutsman was the star of the show with a monstrous 17 tackles to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the victory. Stutsman, the reigning Big 12 tackles leader, currently ranks atop the category for the conference once again, and his presence should be well-noted by Tulsa at all times.
Stutsman has anchored an Oklahoma run defense showing major improvements. The Sooners still have strides to make in the aerial defense, but the safety duo of Texas Tech transfer Reggie Pearson Jr. and Billy Bowman has excelled in coverage thus far. But one element of the defense Venables’ squad demands is the emergence of a star pass rusher. Oklahoma has registered just two sacks on the season, and the team looks to defensive end Ethan Downs and others to ramp up that output.
Offensively, the SMU game wasn’t the Sooners’ ideal performance. With under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, they were limited to just 14 points. But two late touchdown drives — one propelled by excellent field position — put the game away. What went wrong? Primarily, penalties. Oklahoma committed nine penalties for 88 yards, many of which forced the Sooners into long-distance situations on offense.
Quarterback Dillon Gabriel didn’t thrive with the deep ball Saturday but he was efficient in short-yardage situations. The Hawaii native fired four touchdowns without committing a turnover, completing 19-of-27 attempts for 176 yards. Most of those yards transpired on the final two touchdown drives, as the southpaw overcame a slow start en route to a strong finish.
A clear No. 1 receiver hasn’t emerged since Marvin Mims left Oklahoma, but Saturday’s greatest contributor at the position was Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony. The junior caught seven passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, and he’ll operate alongside Jalil Farooq and Drake Stoops — other candidates to break out into this top receiver role.
However, a No. 1 running back did emerge against SMU. Tawee Walker split carries with Jovantae Barnes and Marcus Major in Week 1, but Walker received the bulk of the usage in Week 2. He racked up 117 yards on 21 carries, and he’ll aim for another century performance against a Tulsa defense which ranked bottom 10 in containing the run last season.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane outlook
First-year Tulsa head coach Kevin Wilson is facing his former program. Wilson served as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator from 2002-10, leading the Sooners to seven BCS bowls and coaching two Heisman-winning quarterbacks in a prolific tenure.
Wilson’s Tulsa tenure is off to a 1-1 start with a large discrepancy in opponents. Week 1, Tulsa breezed by an FCS opponent in 42-7 fashion. Week 2, the Golden Hurricane traveled to Seattle to battle No. 8 Washington, and the result was flipped as the Huskies emerged in a 43-10 demolition. Oklahoma presents another challenging ranked opponent, but this time, Tulsa has the luxuries of homefield advantage and accrued experience against another elite team.
Who Tulsa’s quarterback is this week remains somewhat of a mystery. Starter Braylon Braxton exited the opener with an ankle injury and was held out of the Washington game. Redshirt freshman Cardell Williams filled in for Braxton with a stellar 13-of-14, 233-yard, 3-touchdown performance in Week 1, but that outing was not replicated against a relentless Washington defense. Either quarterback could earn the start, but Braxton’s availability hinges on the readiness of his ankle.
The Golden Hurricane have exhibited a strong ground game despite the quarterback injuries. It’s not one feature back, but a collective effort by three different faces. Jordan Ford, Anthony Watkins, and Bill Jackson all flaunt over 100 rushing yards this season with averages exceeding 5.0 yards per carry. The current result is the 27th best rushing offense in America, which could be further fueled by the return of Braxton who rushed for five touchdowns in 2022.
Marquis Shoulders is head and shoulders above the rest of receivers in terms of production this season. Shoulders possesses more than double the yardage of any other receiver on the roster at 155 and he is responsible for two of the Golden Hurricane’s five passing touchdowns. The sophomore receiver aims to challenge an Oklahoma secondary which yielded 250 receiving yards last week, and he’ll be assisted by running back/wide receiver hybrid Braylin Presley. Presley totaled a team-high 54 yards last week and Wilson will look for creative ways to utilize the versatile skill player against the Sooner defense.
While Tulsa’s defense won the turnover battle last week, the Golden Hurricane were quickly overcome by the dominant deep ball of Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The second-leading passer from the 2022 season accumulated 409 passing yards and three touchdowns on the Tulsa secondary, and the Huskies averaged a ludicrous 11.4 yards per pass as a result. Penix is one of a kind, but Dillon Gabriel also launches one of the best deep balls in college football, so defensive coordinator Chris Polizzi must be prepared for many similarities this Saturday.
Kendarin Ray is the focal point of the defense. The veteran leader played a key role on a Tulsa team which qualified for the 2020 AAC Championship Game, and three years later, he remains one of the best safeties in the conference. Ray leads all Golden Hurricane defenders with 17 tackles this season, and he’ll be relied upon in a variety of areas to limit an Oklahoma offense averaging 50.5 points per game, albeit in a limited sample size.
This game should play out similarly to Tulsa’s Week 2 matchup against Washington. Like the Huskies, Oklahoma presents an offense with explosive capabilities. While it took a while to ignite against SMU, Dillon Gabriel should see greater success with downfield passing this week. Oklahoma should be able to remain balanced on offense and thrive in the run game, just like Washington did when averaging 5.0 yards per game.
Tulsa’s uncertain quarterback situation leaves some question marks offensively. While the Golden Hurricane should see some wins in the run game, Oklahoma’s Danny Stutsman-led defense is going to get the edge at the line of scrimmage more often than not. Oklahoma defeats its second AAC program in a row, while Tulsa falls to its second consecutive ranked opponent.
Prediction: Oklahoma 45, Tulsa 10