By Michael Kinney
NORMAN – The University of Louisiana Monroe could easily have been a trap game. Sandwiched inbetween a pair of top-15 opponents, a bad showing could have easily been on the table for No. 14 Oklahoma.
However, the Sooners dropped the hammer early on the Warhawks then cruised to a 59-17 victory in the home opener at newly revamped Memorial Stadium..
“We just wanted to play harder,” Samaje Perine said. “Last week we started kind of hard, but it fizzed out early on in that game. It was just a matter of playing harder throughout the whole game. I feel like we did that for the most part. But, like I said, we still have a lot of work to do. We are starting off on the right path.”
Even though Oklahoma announced a new record of 87, 037 for the attendance, there were hundreds of empty seats inside the stadium. But that didn’t seem to matter to the players who were looking to get the taste of last week’s loss out of their mouth. So they took out their frustration on the Warhawks.
“We just had a hard time stopping them in the first half,” ULM coach Matt Viator said. “We could not stop them in the first half and we couldn’t convert on third down. That was really the summary of the first half. We knew they would be tough to stop if they were clicking, and they were clicking. Give them credit, they’re obviously a really good football team and they played well.”
Oklahoma started the game just like they wanted. Running the ball with Joe Mixon and Baker Mayfield hitting short passes to move the chains. That led to the defense sucking up to near the line of scrimmage and Mayfield making the Warhawks pay with a 39 yard touchdown strike to Mark Andrews down the middle of the field.
The Sooners followed the same game plan on their next possession. This time it was Perine who did most of the work on the ground before Mayfield connected with Dimitri Flowers for another touchdown pass.
Perine added a touchdown late in the quarter in which he seemingly ran over half the ULM defense to put Oklahoma up 21-0.
As efficient as the Oklahoma offense was to start the game, their defense was just devastating. They held the Warhawks to a total of 75 yards in the opening quarter. Their tailbacks was often swallowed up by the entire OU front four before reaching the line of scrimmage.
By the time Mayfield hooked up with redshirt sophomore Nick Basquine for a 62-yard scoring bomb early in the quarter, ULM’s heart had been ripped out of the game.
“I thought he was really good,” OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said of Mayfield. “He responded like we all expected and made some of the small corrections that we needed to make from game one. He lead us, he was patient, had a great mindset all week and really took some steps forward.”
The Sooners ended the first half leading 42-0. But it was their 459 total yards to the Warhawks 129 that told the story of the half.
“Defensively, in the first half, we were excellent,” Stoops said.
The Sooners defense finally cracked on the first possession of the third quarter. A busted assignment in the secondary led to a 74 yard touchdown catch for the Warhawks.
Some of the same issues that plagued OU against Houston started to appear and ULM took advantage. They outscored Oklahoma 17-3 in the third to cut the OU lead down to 28 points.
But that would be as close as the Warhawks would get the rest of the way. Austin Kendall tossed a touchdown pass to AD Miller to extend lead to 52-17.
“I liked what the young guys did,” Stoops said. “I thought Austin Kendall was excellent.”
It was the first touchdown of the young career for Kendall, who is a true freshman.
Mayfield played only the first half and still racked up 244 yards and three touchdowns. Mixon led all rushers with 125 yards on 14 carries while Abdul Adams added 95 yards. Perine tallied two touchdowns.
With Ohio State coming to town next week, the Sooners hope they have knocked the kinks out of the system. They know they will see a much different team in the Buckeyes.
“I just know we’re going to keep getting better,” Jordan Evans said. “Going to practice, keep executing our calls, no mental busts, and keep winning games. You can’t really judge how good you are after two games, we just know we can get better.”