NORMAN – Tennessee Coach Butch Jones thinks Oklahoma is better than what people across the country think.
“I think they’re one of the most underrated football teams in the country,” said Davis, who will host the No. 19 Sooners at 5 p.m. Saturday before 100,000 Volunteer fans in a Top 25 matchup.
OU opened last Saturday with a 41-3 win over mid-major Akron while No. 25 Tennessee blasted Bowling Green 59-30 in Neyland Stadium.
“Obviously, some of the biggest improvements can be made from game one to game two,” Jones said. “We all know what’s coming in to Neyland Stadium Saturday evening – a great, great football team.
“I think they’re going to be a great, great challenge, so we have to get better in a hurry. We have to shore some things up and our players understand that. They know that.”
Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs hit 15 of 22 passes for 205 yards and two scores but the story for the Vols was their rushing attack – 64 attempts for 399 yards.
Running back Jalen Hurd rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns against Bowling Green while Juco transfer Alvin Kamara (who originally signed with Alabama) added 144 yards and two touchdowns.
That’s a switch from last year, when Oklahoma outrushed Tennessee 146 yards to 112 yards in a 34-10 Sooner victory in Norman. OU’s Samaje Perine had 67 yards on nine carries last season against the Vols.
The Akron game was a night of premiers for new OU Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley, junior quarterback Baker Mayfield, freshman placekicker/punter Austin Seibert, freshman Joe Mixon and wideout Dede Westbrook.
Mayfield won a tight battle with last year’s starter Trevor Knight and he made the most of his opportunity.
“I thought Baker played great,” said OU center Ty Darlington. “He was calm and composed and obviously his personality – he gets fired up when we make big plays. I love having him out there. I’m proud of him and the way he played and the passion that he played with today.”
Mayfield set a new OU record for passing yards in a season opener with 388. The record he broke belonged to Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford (now with the Philadelphia Eagles) who threw for 363 yards against North Texas in 2007.
“You don’t set records here every day,” Riley said of Mayfield’s performance. “There have been some good offenses around here. That’s great and I was happy he settled in. I knew he would be pretty amped and I was proud that he didn’t try to make too much happen, even when we struggled early. I thought he, like the rest of the offense, hung in there and I was happy how he finished the game.”
Mayfield joins Blake Bell (2013), Bradford (2007), Heisman Trophy winner Jason White (2001) and Josh Heupel (1999) as the only quarterbacks in OU history to pass for more than 300 yards in their first start.
Mayfield had to sit out last season after transferring from Texas Tech, where he was freshman offensive player of the year for the Big 12.
“It was a little different,” Mayfield said. “Just getting back in to the game preparation mode all week, just getting focused back in to it. Once I got settled back in to it, through practice and scouting stuff, it wasn’t any different. I was back in my regular routine.”
OU had a sluggish first quarter, with some first-game jitters and drive-killing penalties.
“The first five drives, we didn’t have any movement. The first two were penalties,” Mayfield said. “The next two were basic mistakes that we don’t normally make; blocking assignments and dropping the ball. It happens first game when you get the jitters. It took a little bit to settle down, but Coach Riley talks about it, when we settle down, the flood gates open. It happened late and we like for it to happen early.”
Seibert is the first true freshman in OU history to start a season opener as a placekicker and punter. He averaged almost 50 yards per punt and made both field goal attempts plus all the extra points.
“We have been seeing this [in practice] and that’s why he’s our guy,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “He was consistent through camp, very cool. He did a nice job for his first time out there.”
“I loved it; everything about it,” Seibert said. “It was really fun – like a dream come true, honestly. Just the environment and playing in front of that many people, it really was a dream come true.
“I just did my job, did what I’ve been doing in practice. Doing what I’m supposed to do.”
He had no problem handling placekicking and punts.
“I felt fine the whole game,” Seibert said. “I’ve been doing it – kicking and punting – my whole life, so I’m used to the wear and tear.”
Mixon, who was suspended all last season due to an off-campus assault, had 115 receiving yards. He is the first OU back to have more than 100 yards since Trey Millard did in 2012.
“He has a dynamic skill-set,” Riley said of Mixon. “There are a lot of things you can do with a guy like that. Like everybody, and I could see it with him early, a lot of nerves. It was just about getting these guys all settled in. Once he was able to do that, I think everyone was able to see the kind of talent he has.”
The Sooners allowed just 88 passing yards. Defensive tackles Matt Dimon and Matt Romar made their first career starts for OU. True freshman P.J. Mbanasor started at cornerback.
“Anytime you keep someone under 200 yards – I thought they did a great job,” said Stoops. “ What happens sometimes, regardless of who you are playing, you have a missed assignment. The guys were very good with their communication and adjustments. I thought they played really accurate and the other guys, when they did try to pass, there wasn’t a lot of room – so that was positive. When you’re doing everything right and you’re making people beat you, that’s a good thing.”
Linebacker Dominique Alexander led OU with 10 tackles and a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss. Alexander now has eight career games with 10 or more tackles.
“(Assistant coach) Kerry [Cooks] has done a great job at getting our secondary ready to play and reorganized,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “We weren’t really tested. Going against our team daily for the last thirty days helps your pass defense. They wanted to come in here and run the football. I was just really proud of our guys early in the game. We were trying to find our footing with the offense, but the defense kept us in it in the first quarter. We really never gave them anything big. Our offense got their footing and we got rolling. That part was important for us, keeping the game where we could control it.”
The defensive line has improved. “We are getting better,” said Mike Stoops. “Coach [Diron] Reynolds has really done well with getting those guys ready to play up front. It is better competition. We need to get more production up front. We need to be more violent at the point of attack. We need to be on edge. Those guys need to come out of their hips and get penetration. Those are all important elements. We went in with a very vanilla plan. We were very generic. The only thing that caught us off guard was the quarterback-run game.”
Akron coach Terry Bowden, who formerly coached Auburn, said the Sooners had too much for the Zips.
“My hat’s off to Oklahoma,” said Bowden, whose father is Bobby Bowden, retired Florida State coach. “They stuck with their plan and overwhelmed us in the second half and the end of the first half. They’re just a better football team, but our players came to play.”
OU’s depth played a factor.
“I don’t know that we could have lasted with them in the second half,” Bowden said. “Most people know in games where there is a one-sided game, the longer you can keep the game close, the more tension amounts on the home team. Once they got up to about 17 or 24 the tension subsided. They began to relax and go deep and do things they wanted to do. That’s where they took the game over. They have a fine staff and a fine team. This is a pretty good little program here, as we all know.”
The heat took its toll on Akron. “We don’t have this kind of weather,” Bowden said. “Even though it got cooler as it got dark this is still weather we don’t have. We had to sub a lot, and when you take a program like Oklahoma and you start subbing, the difference in the talent level really starts to show when you talk about the quality of your 85.”
“That’s [Oklahoma] a great team; it’s a good front seven they’ve got over there,” said Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl. “We showed some promise, I think, with how we got a couple to pop and then we were able to get over top a couple times.”