At 11:00 a.m. CT, No. 3 Oklahoma had moved to a 13.5-point favorite over No. 15 Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston.
At 2:30 p.m. CT, the Sooners were licking their wounds after a 33-23 shellacking at the hands of the Cougars — a final that felt like a wider margin than the final score indicates.
What happened in the three and a half hours in between was an all too familiar sight for Sooners fans. The loss on Saturday in Houston was the Sooners’ eighth loss as a double-digit favorite since 2011, according to ESPN’s Chris Fallica, and it was the third time in Bob Stoops’ tenure that the Sooners have lost in their opener as a preseason top-10 team.
Bob Stoops loses in Week 1 as a preseason top 10 for the 3rd time: 2016 vs. Houston, 2009 vs. BYU, 2005 vs. TCU.
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) September 3, 2016
The Sooners, for whatever reason, have an issue living up to lofty preseason expectations, and this is only the most recent and glaring example of that. This wasn’t a fluky loss, either. Houston flat out beat the Sooners in every aspect of the game after an explosive first quarter from both teams — 148 of the Sooners 396 total yards came in the first quarter.
Once the Houston defense settled down after giving up some big plays early, the Oklahoma offensive line struggled to find answers for true freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver and the relentless pressure from Houston’s defensive line. Cougars’ quarterback Greg Ward Jr. outplayed Sooners’ leadmna Baker Mayfield at his own game, eluding pressure by the Sooners to make big plays in key spots, while Mayfield –a Heisman Trophy favorite — seemed shell-shocked in the second half by Houston’s defensive pressure.
And then there was the Kick Six, where Houston returned a missed 53-yard field goal by Oklahoma 100 yards (officially, it was really 109 yards) for a touchdown to put the Cougars up by two scores. To add insult to injury, coach Tom Herman said after the game that they only got the return play set up because Oklahoma took a timeout before kicking it.
It was a comprehensive victory by the Cougars, who made a statement about being serious contenders to become the first Group of Five team to crash the College Football Playoff. This was Houston’s first and biggest test on their path to an undefeated season and a possible Playoff trip. They passed it with flying colors.
Oklahoma is left to pick up the pieces and must do so quickly as Ohio State will be heading to Norman in two weeks for another huge game. Another loss could end the Sooners’ CFP hopes before the Big 12 season even begins.
As of now, the Sooners can still right the ship. The Ohio State game, while it looks ominous right now, offers them a rare shot at redemption. Playing two ranked out-of-conference foes is a risk rarely taken by college football programs — and not one Oklahoma planned on having to deal with when it scheduled Houston — but that also comes with the opportunity to get a signature out-of-conference win even with a loss.
In order to do that, there are a lot of improvements that must be made to avoid this being a season of disappointment before conference play gets started. Mayfield must find his swagger and confidence that carried him and the Sooners’ offense through the 2015 season, but was missing for much of Saturday. The offensive line has to make significant improvements — which would, in turn, help Mayfield — as they were dominated for most of the game by the Houston defensive front.
The defense needs to improve on the edges, where Houston found most of its success, and find ways to get home when they do get pressure on the quarterback — J.T. Barrett isn’t much easier to bring down than Ward.
All of these things are fixable, but the confidence in the coaching staff’s ability to get this team prepared is not particularly high after this showing in the opener. Stoops and company have struggled to get the Sooners to meet and live up to expectations on multiple occasions in his tenure, and without a dramatic turnaround, 2016 is going to be the latest addition to that list of disappointments.
Source: CBS Sports / Oklahoma lays egg against Houston, a far too common sight under Bob Stoops