The Kent State Golden Flashes continue their challenging non-conference slate in Oklahoma on Saturday night. After facing a 25-point loss at Washington last week, Sean Lewis and Co. hope to show signs of progress against Brent Venables’ No. 7-ranked squad.
Steve Helwick, Hustle Belt: What were your main takeaways from Brent Venables’ debut at Oklahoma last Saturday?
Jack Shields, Crimson & Cream Machine: At the risk of being overly-simplistic, the main thing was definitely the defense’s ability to tackle, which is obviously a bit of a departure from recent years. Yards after contact were kept to a minimum. Gang tackling and just general tackling technique allowed Venables’ defense to take care of business, and it makes you wonder what past leadership had been doing wrong.
Offensively, OU’s return to tempo was apparent from the outset. What was also apparent was Dillion Gabriel’s comfortability in Jeff Lebby’s system, which allowed OU to jump out to a 21-0 lead within minutes of kickoff.
Helwick: The Oklahoma cornerbacks could face a challenge in Kent State’s All-MAC wide receiver Dante Cephas this Saturday, who surpassed 100 yards against Washington last weekend. How do you expect the Sooners’ secondary to fare against Cephas?
Shields: I would expect them to generally do fine, but I’m really excited to watch Cephas match up with OU corner Woodi Washington in a “good-on-good” battle. Washington is a physical corner who plays the ball well, and he certainly won’t be embarrassed on Sarturday. However, I’d expect Cephas to have his moments, particularly if OU’s pass rush fails to get home in a timely manner. UTEP’s Tyrin Smith was frequently able to find some open real estate when this occurred last week.
Helwick: Dillon Gabriel and Jeff Lebby teamed up to create the nation’s second most productive offense at UCF in 2019. What did you like from the duo in Week 1, and what are your expectations this season as the QB and OC reunite at Oklahoma?
Shields: Going back to the second part of my first answer, his command of the offensive tempo was just readily apparent. With that said, the jury is still out on how well this offense will do in, say, 3rd-and-7 situations following an incompletion. Gabriel is undoubtedly a gamer, but I’m interested in seeing how Lebby’s group operates when it is taken out of its element.
One thing Lebby likes to do is incorporate the power running element into his up-tempo approach, and the early returns with Marcus Major have been good in this area. I’d expect to see a heavy dose of him on Saturday and beyond.
Helwick: Oklahoma had to replace Nik Bonitto and Isaiah Thomas this offseason, leaving some vacancies in their pass rush. After the unit generated six sacks in Week 1, is this now one of the team’s strongest aspects or is there more to be desired?
Shields: I think it certainly has the potential to be a strength. Reggie Grimes is a guy who has shown flashes early in his career, and he seemed to be living up to his potential with his 2.5 sacks this past week. What I’ll be watching closely this Saturday is the interior’s ability to cause disruption in the backfield. Former Tulane standout Jeffery Johnson was able to have some success in this regard, and if he, Isaiah Coe and Jalen Redmond can do this fairly consistently, I can see things really coming together for the pass rush and the defense as a whole.
Helwick: What happens Saturday in Norman? How does the game unfold and what is your final score prediction?
Shields: Kent State is picked to be one of the better squads in the MAC and brings a bit more of a challenge to the table than UTEP. With that said, I do expect the OU offense to have a better day than it did last Saturday, as Kent State’s secondary seems vulnerable. Additionally, their biggest offensive strength (its rushing attack) could be neutralized by a group that allowed only 28 yards on the ground a week ago.
I’ll go with Oklahoma 52, Kent State 17
Thank you to Jack Shields and Crimson & Cream Machine for participating in our Q&A exchange. To see the Q&A with Hustle Belt on their site, click here.