What I’m Watching For: UTEP

When Vegas puts a 40+ point spread on a game, they’re sending a message:  “The favored team is better, but maybe not as thoroughly dominant as you think.” If Vegas was certain an epic thrashing was on the way, there’d be no line.  A 45 point spread tells us that Vegas thinks there’s money to be made on either side of the line.  Bill Connelly at SBNation would have you take the under, as he’s got a projected margin of about 43 points.

So I’m looking for weaknesses and shortcomings.  Much like a spring game, an early non-conference game against an over-matched opponent won’t show you a team’s true strengths.  Those only become clear against better opponents.  It will show you (and future opponents) where your weaknesses are.  This is where I think those shortcomings might be.

  1. Short Yardage Offense.  OU has had trouble for years in short yardage situations.  Even with Bedenbeast upgrading the OL’s talent and technique, it wasn’t until Samaje was out there cracking skulls that OU became reliable in short yardage.  He’s gone.  OU’s best current RB has injury issues, and they can’t just say “Eff it. Baker, go do…something.”  That’s how Kyler Murray ends up starting.  So I want to see how the OL does when UTEP knows what’s coming.  How does Riley use Mark Andrews in red zone and short yardage?  Does Grant Calcaterra see time? Do they throw the (shudder) fade route to Jeff Mead?  Can Oklahoma impose their will when they absolutely should be able to, or will the Sooners settle for kicking field goals against a mediocre D?
  2. Kicking.  While we’re on the subject, I’m okay if Seibert takes a few shots in the 35-45 yard range.  Either OU can trust him, or they need to limit his range of responsibility (i.e., find a replacement).  This is college football, and #collegekickers can turn 11 wins into 9 or vice versa.
  3. Run Defense.  UTEP’s offense is awful.  There’s literally no reason why OU shouldn’t be able to give plenty of guys play over the 2nd half.  With the new four man front, how does the DL hold up?  What about LB?  Is it Caleb Kelly and “just some dudes” or are they ready for their new responsibilities?  Run fits and containment responsibilities are going to be worth a watch.
  4. Wide Receiver.  Poor routes, drops, and pretty much everything we saw go wrong in 2009.  With Dede Westbrook trying to make lemonade out of Blake Bortles, OU will lean on Mark Andrews and Jeff Badet.  Badet, a transfer from Kentucky, has enormous potential in Riley’s offense.  His speed and deep ability gives OU a reliable option.  And maybe gives them enough time for CeeDee Lamb to get used to the speed of the D1 game.
  5. Linebacker. Because obviously.

Those are the issues I’m concerned about.  Why isn’t RB in there?  Because with OU’s line, I think any competent D1 talent could average 5 ypc this year.

This is where I invite you into the comments to to discuss with me whether I’m right (I am) or wrong (you are). You can also reach me via twitter: @nateheupel

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