Houston finished the 2015 season with a 13-1 overall record while the Sooners finished the year at 11-2 overall culminated with a playoff loss to the Clemson Tigers.
The Cougars flourished with new head coach Tom Herman and averaged 40 points per game in the 2015 season. The Cougars had a very balanced attack that rushed for 236 yards on the ground and passed for 248 yards through the air last year. Houston thrived in 3rd down situations converting 50% on 3rd down and scored 50 points in four of the team’s 14 games.
The offense will be led by quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who is a dynamic play maker that can put pressure on opposing defenses. Last year, Ward Jr. completed 67% of his passes for 2,828 yards with 17 passing touchdowns and 6 interceptions. In the first 8 games of the season, Ward. Jr. passed for over 200 yards per game and completed 70.8% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. On the ground, Ward Jr. rushed for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns and will need to be able to run the football on the Sooners defense if the Cougars are to pull out the victory.
Leading rusher Kenneth Farrow (958 rushing yards 12 TDs) graduated and puts pressure on a young offensive line to open up running lanes for the offense. The Cougars have three sophmores starting on the offensive line this year.
Leading receiver Demarcus Ayers (1,222 yards 6 TDs) moved on, however, the wide receiver corps is very strong. Chance Allen, Steve Dunbar, Linell Bonner and (tight end) Tyler McClosky combined for 126 receptions for 1,608 yards with 15 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cougars thrived off of turnovers last year. The unit finished +21 in turnover margin which ranked 2nd in FBS (1st San Diego State +22). The Cougars recorded 21 interceptions and forced turnovers down the stretch with 15 interceptions in the team’s last 8 games of the year.
The defense gave up 20 points per game and was very solid in run support yielding 108 rushing yards to their opponents. The secondary allowed 274 passing yards per game, but played very well in third down situations and held opposing offenses to 33% on third down conversions.
Houston recorded 36 sacks as a front seven last year and will need to get pressure on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to pull out the victory. Last season, Oklahoma allowed 41 sacks as an offensive line and Houston must take advantage week one from a defensive scheme.
The Sooners had a prolific offense in 2015 averaging 43 points per game. The offense rushed for 222 yards per game and passed for 308 yards through the air. The offense will be led by quarterback Baker Mayfield who had a great season completing 68% of his passes for 3,700 yards with 36 touchdowns. Mayfield made plays with his legs as well and added 7 rushing touchdowns in the 2015 season.
The offense is loaded with weapons at every position. Running backs Samje Perine and Joe Mixon form a solid thunder and lightening duo that can wear down opposing defensive fronts. Last year, Perine led the team with 1,349 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns while Mixon added 753 rushing yards with 7 touchdowns.
Last season, wide receivers Dede Westbrook and Durron Neal combined for 90 receptions for 1,302 receiving yards with 7 touchdowns. Westbrook returns while Sterling Shepard (team leading 86 receptions for 1,288 yards with 11 touchdowns) and Durron Neal have moved on to the NFL.
In Oklahoma’s two losses to Texas and Clemson last season, the offense failed to run the football consistently. Ironically, in both losses, the offense scored 17 points in both games and rushed for 67 yards in both games. The offensive line did not play well which made the offense one dimensional and put pressure on Mayfield to make plays single handily. That cannot happen in this match-up against the Cougars.
Defensively, the Sooners allowed 22 points per game in 2015 and gave up 161 rushing yards per game along with 203 passing yards to their opponents. The unit was very opportunistic and finished the year with +9 in turnover margin. The defense recorded 40 sacks but lost linebacker Erik Striker and Charles Tapper who combined for 14.5 sacks.
In the Sooners two losses to Texas and Clemson the defense was beat at the line of scrimmage. In almost identical performances, the unit allowed 313 rushing yards to Texas and 313 rushing yards to Clemson. Both of those teams have mobile quarterbacks (Jerrod Heard, Tyrone Swoopes and DeShaun Watson), who put pressure on the perimeter of the Sooners defense in the running game. Oklahoma must contain Ward Jr. or this could be the key to the outcome of the game.