Welcome back to Bruins Nation’s opponent preview series for the 2019 UCLA Bruins 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.
After a few weeks off, we return this week to take a look at UCLA’s third opponent: the Oklahoma Sooners.
In last year’s preview, I said that Oklahoma would be the toughest team on UCLA’s schedule, and, hey! Guess who finally turned out to be correct about something? True, last year’s game also happened to feature UCLA compounding the difficulty, what with it being Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s first collegiate start and with a few players still suspended like center Boss Tagaloa and with a few other players not really seeing the field like Joshua Kelley. Despite all that, UCLA had the kind of game that could be considered as a moral victory as the team kept on fighting despite the fact that Oklahoma could have really blown out the Bruins whenever they felt like it.
From there, Oklahoma proceeded to make me look smart by winning the Big 12 and qualifying for the College Football Playoff. Along the way, Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray went on to become the second straight Oklahoma QB to win the Heisman Trophy. The season ended with a close loss to Alabama in the playoff semifinals, but the game did prove that Lincoln Riley’s offense was more than capable of hanging with the big boys of college football. The defense....well, we’ll get to them.
Kyler Murray is gone. Not only did he become the second-straight Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman, but he also became the second-straight Oklahoma quarterback to go #1 overall in the NFL draft. Not a bad bit of evidence for recruiting. Weirdly, though, Oklahoma’s quarterback recruiting has not been as strong as you’d think given this success and, once again, Lincoln Riley will turn the keys of the offense over to a new transfer quarterback: former Alabama QB Jalen Hurts.
- Here is the part where I make a lot of Oklahoma and/or Alabama fans angry, but I don’t think Hurts is a great quarterback. Now, he’s perfectly fine—you’d have to be to make a national title game—but he’s nowhere near the level of Murray or Baker Mayfield, and Oklahoma fans really shouldn’t be expecting the same level of output from Hurts that they’ve been accustomed to in recent years. Throw in an offensive line that is having to essentially rebuild after losing a lot of experience to graduation and you have the makings of an offense that should take a step back.
That said, if they can get past those two issues—and those are two big issues— the makings of another excellent Oklahoma offense are here. Marquise Brown is gone, but CeeDee Lamb is back to lead a loaded wide receiver group. Grant Calcaterra is also back to terrorize opposing linebackers and the rushing attack welcomes back original #1 RB Rodney Anderson, who injured his leg against UCLA last year, to a group that already has Trey Pastor and Kennedy Brooks.
Oklahoma’s defense was bad last year. Like, they were “fire the defensive coordinator midseason because they gave up 48 points to Texas” bad. But, then again, you probably shouldn’t have retained Mike Stoops in the first place, Lincoln Riley. Lesson learned.
Taking over for the defense is Alex Grinch. Grinch will be familiar to UCLA fans as he had been in Washington State for three years before spending last year as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator. Grinch managed to create a defense in Pullman that actually qualified as good and the thought process is he should be able to do the same thing with Oklahoma’s personnel, which at the very least has experience. Again, with Oklahoma having the 84th ranked defense by defensive S&P+, there really isn’t much farther they can go down considering the talent level.
The downside for Grinch is that there isn’t any huge name to build around at the start. Corners Tre Brown and Parnell Motley were extremely boom and bust last year, so maybe you hope for a bit more consistency from them. Grinch’s defenses at Washington State made great use of attacking linebackers. So, maybe junior linebacker Kenneth Murray becomes a major defensive piece, considering he had 12.5 tackles for loss last year.
Oh, sorry, this is Bold Predictions. Let me see....
Ok, so UCLA still loses. Sorry, the only way I see this game going well is if UCLA plays the game of its life while things go terribly wrong for Oklahoma. The talent disparity between the two schools is fairly significant and Lincoln Riley is a good coach who can take advantage of having a talent advantage, unlike some coaches I can think of.
But with the game being at home and with UCLA being a year into Chip Kelly’s system, I expect the game to be closer. It will be helpful to have had two games to work out some kinks at this point and, hopefully, the personnel usage makes more sense this time around.
Still, this is a game Oklahoma should win, probably 38-24.