A 6-7 year one was most likely not how Brent Venables foresaw his inaugural season going as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. After starting the season 3-0, injuries across the board derailed the promising season as they went 3-6 in the conference. Despite an auspicious effort in the Cheez-It Bowl against Florida State, 2022 was a season Oklahoma fans will want to forget. What better way to close that chapter and start fresh than with the Oklahoma Spring Game?
Oklahoma Spring Game Preview
There’s a lot to look forward to in year two of the Venables experience. For starters, they bring in the fourth-ranked 2023 class in the nation via the 247Sports Composite. A class that only trails Alabama, Georgia, and Texas respectively, and a class that brings in three five-star commits. To further wash down the sour taste of the 2022 season, Oklahoma is hosting its annual Spring game, this Saturday.
The Oklahoma Spring Game gives fans an early glimpse of what they can expect from the 2023 season. Here are some things to keep your eye on as you tune in to Saturday’s scrimmage:
The New Format
Most people know the Spring game as essentially a scrimmage. The program is split into two teams, usually red vs white, and fans get to witness a game, unlike the normal 60-minute affair we’re used to in the regular season. Ever since COVID-19, Oklahoma has been switching up its format for the Spring game every season.
In 2021, the last Oklahoma Spring Game under Lincoln Riley, the offense wore white while the defense wore red. It was a game that consisted of two 15-minute halves, with the defense starting with 21 points. All scoring for the offense was standard, but the defense received additional points for turnovers, fourth-down stops, and missed field goals.
Last season, Venables switched back to more of a traditional format. Demarco Murray coached the Red Team while Miguel Chavis coached the White Team in a game that consisted of four 12-minute quarters. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel played for both sides.
This season, the trend of changing formats continues, with maybe the most radical set of changes to date. It’ll still be the Red Team taking on the White Team but the scoring system has been completely revamped. The Red Team, which will be offensive players, has a traditional scoring system. Except for the fact that punts now will be worth two points each. The White team, consisting of defensive players, can score in a variety of ways. For example, a defensive touchdown is worth 12 points. Simply getting a turnover will warrant them seven points, while each sack and pass breakup are worth points as well. It’ll be intriguing to see how this year’s contest will look in relation to years past.
🔴🔴🔴 vs. ⚪️⚪️⚪️
We’re introducing a new scoring system for this weekend’s Spring Game between the offense and defense. The two teams will also have opportunities to earn points throughout the week as we get ready to #PackThePalace on April 22.
Which team are you rocking… pic.twitter.com/Yj3W0ZiOut
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) April 18, 2023
New Look on Defense
Venables was brought in largely in part to fix the defense. Oklahoma squads under Riley were notoriously known for an electrifying offense, yet putrid defense. Last season, however, the Sooners ranked 123rd in total defense and 90th in scoring defense. Each mark was worse than their 2021 rankings under Riley. It’s an alarming sign when a head coach who specializes in defense, can’t even succeed there. To be fair though, it was year one of a brand-new system for all of the players.
The second-year coach has already made it clear that he expects improvement on defense. Oklahoma lost several key players including NFL Draft prospect Jalen Redmond and experienced safety Justin Broiles among others. However, the emergence of third-year safety, Billy Bowman, as well as a strong incoming class can help lead to immense improvement.
On Saturday, Sooners fans will finally get to see if 2023 will bring some improved change or more of the same.
The Incoming Freshmen
The 2023 class marks the first top-five recruiting class for Oklahoma since 2010 according to the 247Sports Composite. Much of the hype around this incoming class comes from the trio of five-star commits, all ranking in the top-16 nationally.
Quarterback Jackson Arnold enters Norman with a ton of hype as one of the best signal-calling prospects in the country. The Texas native led Denton Guyer High School to a semifinal appearance in the 6A D2 State Championship bracket. In 15 games played as a senior, he put up 3,383 passing yards with 855 rushing yards, 55 total touchdowns, and just three interceptions.
He’s joined by his high school teammate and fellow five-star commit, safety Peyton Bowen. Rounding out the five-star commits is the best player in the state of Missouri, edge rusher Adepoju Adebawore.
In total, the 2023 Oklahoma recruiting class brings in seven top-100 players in the 247Sports Composite. Getting a chance to see the new faces that could lead Boomer Sooner to the promised land is reason enough to tune in on Saturday.
Parlayed with its high-ranked recruiting class, Oklahoma will also welcome 13 transfers. Of the 13 transfers, six are offensive players, six are defensive players, and one is a special teams player. Much like how fans want to see the incoming freshmen, seeing players who are already proven commodities donning Sooner red will be a sight to see.
Among the top transfers are edge rushers Dasan McCullough and Rondell Bothroyd from Indiana and Wake Forest respectively. Fans will also see the return of Austin Stogner who spent his first three seasons with the Sooners before leaving for South Carolina with former Quarterback, Spencer Rattler, last season.
Voids are Being Filled at Running Back and Wide Receiver
While last season was surely seen as a disappointment, there were some bright spots. Marvin Mims Jr. was a First-Team All-Big 12 selection last year at wide receiver while running back, Eric Gray, ran for over 1,300 yards on an impressive 6.6 yards per carry. Both will undoubtedly have their names called in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The annual Oklahoma Spring Game should provide a little clarity as to who will try and fill the voids left by these impactful players. In last year’s Cheez-It Bowl loss against Florida State, a pair of freshmen each eclipsed 100 yards. Gavin Sawchuk and Jovantae Barnes. Will one of these two break out to replace the production of Gray? Or will they create a running back by committee with incoming freshman, Kalib Hicks?
The same question will be asked about the wide receiver position. Not only is Mims Jr. gone but so is tight end Brayden Willis, who was second on the team in terms of receiving yards. This could potentially open the door for Jalil Farooq. The third-year receiver finished last season with 37 receptions for 466 yards and five touchdowns.
Oklahoma will also have some fresh faces at the position with Michigan transfer, Andrel Anthony, as well as former defensive back turned wide receiver, D.J. Graham.
Photo courtesy: NATHAN J. FISH/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK