By Tanae Fletcher
We are just about two weeks away from seeing Team 129 step onto the field and start the
2023-2024 football season. The Sooners football team has a lot to prove after coming back from a 6-7 season, the first losing season since 1998. With camp ending, the question is do the Sooners have what it takes to not only meet expectations for this upcoming season, but exceed them? In all facets of the game, it is necessary for OU’s football team to make drastic changes if they want to see a winning season or if they want a chance at winning a Big 12 Championship.
At the starting quarterback position Dillon Gabriel seems to be healthy and ready for the season. Gabriel ended the season with 229 completions (62.6%) and threw for 3,163 yards, but he also threw 6 interceptions and was sacked a total of 25 times last season. This season, with it being his second year, Gabriel needs to be more relaxed in the pocket which will allow him to have more opportunities for better decision making. Gabriel will also positively impact his team if his run game has improved from last season. Last season he had 298 rushing yards and had 5 rushing touchdowns, which is the most he has had in his career. Not to say that his run game and footwork weren’t good, but if training camp has helped him improve in that area in any way it could take him and his team’s game to a whole other level.
On the receiving end of the ball, OU took some major hits by losing Marvin Mims and Theo Wease. Fortunately, the Sooners have some hope in returners Drake Stoops and Jalil Farooq who combined for 76 receptions and 8 touchdowns, but experience is still lacking in the wide receiver position. OU did receive Anthony Andrel Jr, the transfer from Michigan who can bring some winning experience to the Sooners after being a part of the Big 10 Championship
team last season. Brenen Thompson, the transfer from the University of Texas, will also be joining the Sooners and while he may have not had a breakout season with the Longhorns, he still brings quickness to the position which is what OU’s football team needs. The thing that might be a hindrance to the Sooners is lack of experience within the wide receiver position. Transfer students who are coming into a whole new system and rising sophomores like Jayden Gibson and Nic Anderson, who didn’t get as much playing time last season will have to step up and make big time plays to see success in the receiving position.
On the other hand, the Sooner’s run game has the potential to be really good this season. The return of Marcus Major is huge for OU as he made up most of their run game production with 56 carries and 4 touchdowns. The Sooners should also find a lot of success in relying on returning sophomores Jovantae Barnes and Gavin Sawchuck, who both had great freshman seasons. Barnes finished last season with 116 carries and 5 touchdowns and Sawchuck finished with 17 carries, 105 rushing yards and 1 touchdown, which all came from just playing in two games. Although production from the running backs seems to be headed in a positive direction, they have got to be aggressive and efficient on third and fourth down conversions. When it counts, OU’s running backs must be able to convert and get the Sooners down the field. However, with the main rotation of Major, Barnes, and Sawchuck with occasional help from junior Tawee Walker, who also had solid production last season, the run game can be truly special this season and be a main part of the Sooners success.
The biggest key to OU’s success this season is, to no one’s surprise, the defense. The defense on this team has the chance to set the tone for how this season is going to go and it needs to improve BIG TIME if the Sooners even want a fighting chance. Fortunately, the Sooners get some reinforcements from the transfer portal that have the potential to do some damage on the
defensive end. Dasan McCullough, who finished with 48 tackles and 4 sacks during his 12 games and 4 starts at Indiana, can bring more intensity to the linebacker position alongside Danny Stutsman who had a stellar year last season. Rondell Bothroyd, the transfer from Wake Forest, will give the Sooners not only size but quickness as he finished last season with 30 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 6 sacks. OU has defensive backs Billy Bowman and Woodi Washington returning, but it is imperative that the Sooners have some improvement and add some depth to this defense if they really want to stop opponents. Last season the Sooners were the worst in the Big 12 at containing opponents by allowing 273.5 passing yards per game. There were also 5 out of 7 games lost last season that the Sooners lost to opponents by one touchdown or less. Throughout the season defense had a hard time stopping opponents and even at times allowing them to come back into the game. The defense must do a 180 if OU football team wants to have a winning season.
Sooner football is what fans across Oklahoma look forward to every fall and Team 129 has the chance to turn the narrative around and prove that the Sooners have what it takes to be a winning team and a title contending team. Hopefully with some new faces, a summer worth of training, and changes made the Sooners will be able to not only meet but exceed all expectations.