Welcome to Bruins Nation’s opponent preview series for the UCLA Bruins 2018 football season! Each week we will be taking a look at an upcoming opponent this year, examine their strengths and weaknesses, and make a bold prediction regarding the outcome.
This week, we take a look at UCLA’s Week 2 opponent: the Oklahoma Sooners.
In June of 2017, then-Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops suddenly announced his retirement, turning the team over to his offensive coordinator/head coach-in-waiting Lincoln Riley. This would normally be cause for concern, but Oklahoma took it as a challenge, putting together a fantastic season behind their new head coach and Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. Mayfield was a bit of a lighting rod for controversy throughout the season, what with his planting the OU flag in Ohio State’s stadium (this was good) and single-handedly setting Kansas football back 100 years, grabbing his crotch in the process (not as good), but it’s hard to say his play wasn’t exceptional.
But now he’s gone, having been taken #1 overall by the Cleveland Browns (good luck with that, Baker). That’s about the only good news you can take here.
With Mayfield leaving, the Sooners will turn the QB position over to Kyler Murray, the #9 pick in the MLB draft, who is also getting paid $200,000 less than his head coach this season (the NCAA rules remain dumbbbbbbbb). Murray originally started his career at Texas A&M before transferring, and he saw some playing time last year in two-QB sets. With that said, Murray is the only real question mark for a Sooners offense that had the #1 ranked offensive S&P+ the past two years.
Rodney Anderson took over as the Sooner’s go-to back midway through the season, and ended up with over 1000 yards rushing in 8 games. He’s back.
Murray himself has run for 559 yards over his career, so he’s no slouch in that department, which is good because UCLA has never had any issues with a running quarterback before.
Their line features 3 all-conference selections, and is welcoming back another lineman who redshirted last year but has starting experience.
Marquise Brown was one of the best home-run receivers not named Jordan Lasley last year, averaging 20.1 yards per catch over the final 10 games of the season. He’s back.
There’s a host of ultra-efficient receivers in CeeDee Lamb, Mykel Jones, and Grant Calcaterra who existed to keep the offense moving forward. They’re all back.
(Oh yeah, and if Kyler Murray falters, they have a 4-star sophomore who is more than capable of taking over.)
No matter how you slice it, this will be the best offense UCLA faces all season. Maybe it’s a blessing to get it out of the way early, and you have to assume that if things go sideways, other teams will try to duplicate Oklahoma’s plan of attack, but without the pieces that make it so potent. But this one could hurt. A lot.
If there’s some good news, Oklahoma’s defense will not nearly be as good as their offense. That should make some sense - after all, Oklahoma has had the #1 ranked offense for 2 straight years. But last year’s defensive unit ranked 101st in defensive S&P+, and was wildly inconsistent throughout the year. Makes sense considering former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops is still the defensive coordinator. To add on to this, Oklahoma is losing a good amount of production from last year’s team, so things could potentially be worse this year.
Oklahoma fans would probably be ok with that though, for the simple reason that this unit is young and full of talent. In fact, the 2018 Oklahoma defense may have the most talent this unit has seen in years, and it doesn’t possess a single senior. And there’s depth, talented, playable depth, that the Sooners haven’t had in years. If this team suffers some injuries, as all football teams do, there shouldn’t be such a steep drop-off.
The good news for the Bruins is that they’ll be playing this young defense early, You have to assume that Chip Kelly has some ideas of how to exploit a Mike Stoops defense, and can theoretically keep the Bruins in this game.
New coach, new system, on the road for the first time against a team that returns a boatload of talent from a squad that had just made the College Football Playoffs the previous year.
Yeah, I’m not super optimistic about this one.
But I also don’t think UCLA loses too badly. I think they keep things relatively close in the first half before Oklahoma pulls away, which would give the Bruins some things to build on going forward.
Oklahoma wins 45-31.