By Michael Kinney
In his first game week press conference as head coach, the 33-year old Lincoln Riley seems fit for the role he has been inserted into. With less than three months under his belt as Oklahoma’s head coach, he has shown no signs of his life being any different than before he assumed the position.
But now things get real for Riley as games start to be played. It all begins this week when the No. 7 Sooners host UTEP in the season opener.
“It’s been a long camp and our guys are really, really excited to go play somebody else,” Riley said. “It’s so unique. We don’t have scrimmages like you do in high school. We don’t have preseason games like you do in the NFL. I feel like we did some things creatively to change up the schedule to keep our guys fresh and excited. They have certainly been counting down towards this week. We are all looking forward to getting the season kicked here at home.”
Kick off is set for Saturday 2:30 p.m. at Owen Field. This is the fourth all time meeting between the teams. The Sooners lead the series 3-0 and has outscored the
Miners 147-21 in those contests.
UTEP is coming off a 4-8 season. But Riley says the Miners were getting better down the stretch.
“We’ve had a chance to take a look at and start preparing for head coach Sean Kugler,” Riley said. “That guy has been there a few years. He’s got an NFL background, offensive line background. He is doing a nice job for them there.”
For the Miners, opening up the season against a talented and highly ranked team like the Oklahoma is a challenge Kugler hopes his squad will rise to meet.
“I’m hoping that everybody in our program gets to play in this game, and I talked to the coaching staff about that, not only for the experience but also it’s going to be a hot and humid game, it’s going to be 86 degrees and humid,” Kugler said. “We train in the heat but not the humidity. Especially on defense, we’re going to have to rotate guys and keep them fresh so everybody can go out and play 100 percent at all times. You talk about newcomers, we’ve got 44 guys in our two-deep and 26 are new to the program and have not stepped on the field as UTEP Miners.”
Kugler is especially impressed with what he has seen from Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. He heaped high praise on the OU signal caller Monday during the UTEP press conference.
“We’re playing an outstanding team and an outstanding program. They are loaded on both sides of the ball, in particular offense,” Kugler said. “I feel like they have probably the best returning quarterback in the country. He is one of the leading Heisman candidates. This guy is a 71 completion percentage quarterback. He threw for close to 4,000 yards, but his efficiency is what sets him apart with 40 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. So he makes great decisions with the ball. He can hurt you multiple ways, he can scramble, he can make plays with his legs. He had six touchdowns rushing last year.”
This will be the first game Mayfield has played at Oklahoma where he doesn’t have the services of Sterling Shepard or Dede Westbrook.
But it does seem two players have stepped to the forefront in terms of becoming Mayfield’s go to receivers. They are veteran tight end Mark Andrews and true freshman CeeDee Lamb.
While Andrews was expected to be out front, Lamb’s is a different story. Even though he didn’t participate in spring football, he has already made a name for himself.
“He is a very talented, natural athlete,’ Mayfield said. “It just kind of has that it factor. Has the ball skills to be able to go up for a ball and attack it. He is a guy who is going to be able to make a lot of plays. The thing that I most respect out of him, he has the dog in him. CeeDee just has that dog factor. When he steps on the field, it’s straight business.”
For fans who have made it a ritual to tailgate before Oklahoma games, things have changed this season. OU officials have eliminated all tailgating along Lindsey Street.
Some of the reasons officials have given include security concerns at new residential housing, planting sod in renovated areas and not allowing tailgating near student housing.
Tailgating is still allowed along Jenkins and parts of Asp and Brooks. But overall, the tailgating areas have shrunk by a great amount over the past two seasons.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com