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Oklahoma Football: Reviewing The First Quarter Of The Season

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Through the first quarter of the 2013 season, the Oklahoma Sooners have been both impressive and surprising. Not many people were expecting big things from the Sooners this year, but strong performances in the first three games have altered the expectations of most people. As the Sooners enter their first bye week of the season, we're taking a look at the Sooners and how they have surprised so far this season.

Offense: Everyone knew there would be growing pains and a lot of differences this season with a new quarterback that had the capability to run as well as pass. However, few expected the offense to suffer as much as it did in the first two games. With Trevor Knight at quarterback, the passing game was virtually nonexistent In games against Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia, Knight threw for just 205 yards with three interceptions and a 43.8 completion percentage Against Tulsa, Blake Bell took over the starting job and threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns, resurrecting the passing game.

The run game has been impressive through three games, as the Sooners are averaging 271.7 yards per game, including two 300-yard performances in the first two games. OU has added a zone-read option to make use of the quarterback run game, and it's paid huge dividends for the OU running backs. Four OU players, including Knight, have already rushed for over 100 yards this season. Coming into the season, the Sooners had all the tools to have a dominant run game and so far, they haven't disappointed.

Defense: The Sooners have improved drastically on the defensive side of the ball. Granted, OU has yet to play a ranked team or a high-caliber opponent, but the strides the defense has made from the end of last season can't be ignored.

OU has given up just nine points per game through the first three games, including a shutout of ULM to open the year. There's more speed at every level of the defense, particularly along the defensive line, where defensive end Charles Tapper and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips have been performing at a high level.

At linebacker, Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon have played very well for OU after being taken off the field last year thanks to OU's different schemes. In the secondary, redshirt freshman Zach Sanchez has been a very nice surprise. Sanchez started the first game in place of the suspended Cortez Johnson and has held onto that spot for all three games. Johnson is a proven commodity, so the emergence of Sanchez gives the Sooners three excellent cover corners including senior Aaron Colvin. Safeties Gabe Lynn and Quentin Hayes have also been impressive in their first year of starting.

Things aren't perfect for the Sooners, and there is still plenty of room for improvement. However, for a unit that came into this year surrounded by doubts, the defense has performed extremely well.

Special teams: Michael Hunnicutt is already 8-for-9 on field goal attempts and kickoff specialist Nick Hodgson has put 15 of his 22 kickoffs out of the end zone. The return game isn't quite where it was a year ago, especially on kickoffs, but Jalen Saunders has been very impressive in the punt return game. After a poor showing in the spring game, Jed Barnett has been solid with his punts so far, averaging just over 44 yards per punt.

Offensive surprise: Brennan Clay

Clay really began to shine last season against Iowa State when he rushed for 157 yards. This season, he's taken it to another level, gaining 262 yard through the first three games. Many expected this kind of production when he came to Norman as a four-star recruit out of high school, but injuries prevented Clay from ever being consistent. Now he's completely healthy and showing everyone what he's capable of doing.

Defensive surprise: Eric Striker

The Sooners have been using the sophomore as an edge rusher most of the season, and he's already had a big impact. He has one tackle for loss so far this season, and while he doesn't have a sack, he does have two quarterback hurries. West Virginia even altered their blocking scheme specifically to account for Striker rushing off the edge. The linebackers are playing a big role in the defense's resurgence and Striker has been a big part of that.

Most exciting aspect: Potential improvement

The Sooners have won three games—two of them convincingly—to start the season and still have a ton of room to improve. Overall, the team is fairly young, especially on defense, where the most improvement could happen. OU doesn't have any major problems on either side of the ball, especially now that Blake Bell seems to have steadied the passing game. However, that doesn't mean there isn't room to improve, and the potential for the Sooners is really high.

Worrisome trend: Schedule

The only thing that should cause OU fans to worry is the fact that the Sooners haven't played a single tough opponent yet this season. That obviously will change quickly as the Sooners travel to take on Notre Dame in the first game after the Sooners' bye week, which will provide a more accurate measuring stick for just how good this OU team really is. How the Sooners perform on the road will give fans an idea of what to expect for the rest of the year.

Current ceiling: Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth

Oklahoma has shown it's capable of competing for the conference title, but there are too many unknowns to speculate beyond that.

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