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2023 Week 2 Game Preview: SMU Mustangs @ Oklahoma Sooners

Preston Stone and the Mustangs take on the tall task of an Oklahoma team fresh off a Week 1 obliteration.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Louisiana Tech at SMU Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, September 9 at 6:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium — Norman, OK
  • Spread: Oklahoma (-16.5)
  • Over/under: 70.5
  • All-time series: Oklahoma leads, 5-1-1
  • Last meeting: Oklahoma 24, SMU 10 — September 16, 1995
  • Current streak: Oklahoma, 4 (1970-95)

Setting the scene

To get a grip on how drastic the college football landscape is shifting, what is currently a Big 12 vs. AAC matchup is soon to be a meeting between SEC and ACC squads.

But conference realignment aside, Week 1 showed plenty of promise for both transitioning programs.

Oklahoma kicked off year two of the Brent Venables era in the most dominant fashion of any team facing FBS competition in Week 1. The Sooners annihilated Arkansas State, 73-0, leaving zero doubt about their potency on both sides in their most lopsided FBS win since 2003.

SMU began its AAC farewell tour with a convincing non-conference thrashing of Louisiana Tech. The Mustangs’ offense shot out of a cannon to a 31-0 halftime lead before lifting their foot off the gas pedal in a 38-14 finish. But the opponent significantly ramps up in difficulty Saturday, as SMU battles Oklahoma for the first time in 28 years.

SMU Mustangs outlook

One day after news broke that SMU would be joining the ACC in 2024, the Mustangs certainly handled business like most ACC teams did on opening week. SMU took care of business in every facet of the game against Louisiana Tech, establishing a 31-0 advantage at halftime.

The rampage was led by new starting quarterback Preston Stone, the program’s highest-rated recruit in history. The former 4-star gunslinger delivered three touchdowns and 248 yards on a 62 percent completion rate in his second career start. Stone received ample protection all game, refrained from taking a sack, and stepped into some impressive throws — highlighted by a 25-yard touchdown delivery to RJ Maryland over two defenders in the second quarter.

Last season, SMU’s passing game was highly-reliant on wide receiver Rashee Rice, but this year, it seems to be a more even distribution of wealth. Stone found 10 different targets in the opener, and the only receiver to register more than three catches was Maryland — the 6’4”, 233 pound tight end who has a knack for drawing mismatches on the inside. Speed is the theme among the rest of the receivers, as Jordan Kerley, Jordan Hudson, and Key’Shawn all possess big-play potential on the boundaries.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Louisiana Tech at SMU
Preston Stone delivered three touchdown passes in his 2023 debut, which was just his second start with the Mustangs.
Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Mustangs have made a brand out of their passing attack in recent years, but that element of the offense was nicely complemented by the run against Louisiana Tech. SMU landed a pair of transfers this offseason who will spearhead the ground game Saturday in Norman. Former Texas A&M running back LJ Johnson Jr. had a spectacular Mustang debut, accumulating 128 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, while Miami (FL) transfer Jaylan Knighton converted 17 touches out of the backfield into 64 yards.

SMU’s offense has been stellar for quite some time, seeking its fifth consecutive season ranking among the FBS top 15 in scoring. But on the other side of the ball, the unit seeks its first scoring defense better than 75th in the country since 2012. Saturday against Louisiana Tech presented a promising start, as the Mustangs scored on a pick six from defensive tackle Kori Roberson. The Oklahoma transfer made a beeline to the quarterback and picked off the ball before it could even pass the line of scrimmage.

That pick six was one of many examples of how dominant the Mustangs’ defensive line was Saturday. SMU accumulated six sacks and 11 tackles for loss, led by newcomers Elijah Roberts (Miami (FL) transfer) and Alex Kilgore (true freshman), who combined for half of those sacks. Oklahoma’s offensive line presents more of a challenge, but utilizing this defensive line pressure is how the Mustangs can hang with the Sooners as significant road underdogs.

The level of play in the defensive backfield must be absolutely pristine, however. SMU’s starting secondary is primarily composed of newcomers, and the Mustangs will require lockdown coverage from transfer cornerbacks Charles Woods and Chris Megginson to prevent Oklahoma from another offensive explosion. The Mustangs limited the run with rampant success in Week 1 at 1.2 yards per carry, but they still allowed Louisiana Tech to post 241 passing yards with three 30+ yard completions.

Oklahoma Sooners outlook

Oklahoma’s 73-0 rout over Arkansas State was tied for college football’s most lopsided shutout since Michigan steamrolled Rutgers 78-0 in 2016. And most impressively, the Sooners did it operating under college football’s new clock rules, where first stoppages only occur within the final two minutes of each half.

That’s a testament to how perfect Oklahoma played in its Week 1 opener in Norman. The Sooners registered points on every drive except their final one of the afternoon, cramming 28 points into the first quarter and another 21 in the third.

Quarterback Dillon Gabriel checked out after halftime due to the nature of the scoreboard after a near-perfect outing. The Hawaii native, now in his fifth season as an FBS starting quarterback, completed 19-of-22 attempts for 308 yards and two touchdowns across two quarters. Gabriel delivers one of the most polished deep balls in the country and also adds an element of mobility to Oklahoma’s offense, rushing for 315 yards and six touchdowns in 2022.

Oklahoma distributed the ball across a significant portion of the depth chart Saturday, as nine different ball carriers and 10 different receivers earned touches in the 73-0 result. But with SMU’s defense likely presenting a greater challenge than Arkansas State’s, the Sooners should increase their reliance on a few primary options in Week 2.

Running back will still operate under a committee approach at the beginning of the season, as Oklahoma splits carries between Jovantae Barnes, Marcus Major, and Tawee Walker. All three saw ample first quarter action last week, and some possessions featured a mixture of all three backs. At receiver, Jalil Farooq and Drake Stoops were the returning contributors who were targeted the most last year. But Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony and redshirt freshman Nic Anderson were the receiving yards leaders in Week 1, and those potential breakout candidates present more viable options for Gabriel against the SMU secondary.

NCAA Football: Arkansas State at Oklahoma
Nic Anderson led all Sooners in receiving yards in the Arkansas State opener with 68.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Defense was not Oklahoma’s strong suit in year one of the Venables era, as the team finished 122nd in yards allowed per game. But there couldn’t have been a better start to 2023 than pitching a shutout right out of the gate, and the Red Wolves never even entered the red zone.

It all started with dominance against the run. Arkansas State managed just 2.1 yards per carry with only one sack entering the equation. Oklahoma simply suffocated every rushing attempt, and the Red Wolves never broke one longer than 10 yards. Outside linebacker Danny Stutsman, the Big 12’s reigning tackles leader, was the architect of this with a team-high four stops. The Sooners did not utilize turnovers as a crutch, either. They recovered one fumble and produced zero interceptions — simply getting stops to force an onslaught of punts.

The secondary showed immense growth limiting quarterback J.T. Shrout to a 12-of-26 performance through the air. That unit, which ranked 119th in passing defense in 2022, was bolstered this offseason by the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Reggie Pearson Jr. at free safety. With Pearson manning the back end alongside strong safety Billy Bowman, the secondary hopes to limit the explosive downfield playmaking of a formidable SMU passing attack.


Two programs renowned for sharp offensive play could lead to a fun fireworks show. Both Oklahoma and SMU have their offenses rolling again, but drastically improving upon last year’s defenses are focal points for the Sooners and Mustangs alike. While each team was sharp defensively in Week 1, the offensive competition on the other side significantly amplifies for Week 2.

One year after posting an uncharacteristic 6-7 record, Oklahoma is looking like a juggernaut once again. Dillon Gabriel is a veteran quarterback who has exploded for 600 yards on defenses in the past, and although an All-American caliber star has yet to emerge in the group, he is equipped with deep talent in his running back and receiver rooms. Oklahoma should have no problem piling on the points, but SMU will get a fair share as well. Preston Stone certainly lived up to the hype with some of the throws he made Saturday, and with tremendous support from a transfer-led run game, SMU should make several end zone appearances in Norman.

But in the end, the future SEC program records a few more stops to stave off the future ACC member.

Prediction: Oklahoma 41, SMU 24