Of all the anticipated things to see on this Oklahoma Sooners team, the running backs and defense were the two most-talked about groups in preseason practice.
Saturday night, both groups were very impressive in the Sooners' 48-16 season-opening romp over Louisiana Tech.
The importance of both units excelling this year is two-fold. One, if those units are good, the Sooners are obviously going to be very good and could contend for a place in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Two—and perhaps more importantly—it takes a lot of pressure off quarterback Trevor Knight, of whom much is expected this year.
Against the Bulldogs, Knight was good, but far from his Sugar Bowl self. He was out of sync with his receivers at times and made some really head-scratching throws, throws that looked like the ones he made at the beginning of the season a year ago.
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The good news is Knight wasn't that guy for the entire game, so there shouldn't be much reason to worry. Knight will continue to get better, but the pressure isn't too immense, thanks to the Sooners' power run game and stifling defense.
Oklahoma ran for 183 yards, but it was how the three new running backs performed that had to make Sooners fans excited for what the season holds.
Samaje Perine, Keith Ford and Alex Ross are all an impressive combination of size and speed. And they're not afraid to lay the wood. The bruising backs laid harder hits on Louisiana Tech defensive backs than the hapless defenders were able to put on the Sooners.
With a veteran offensive line and with constant improvement, the OU ground game could become quite the force this season. That suits Knight's passing abilities perfectly. Knight isn't an upright pocket passer like Landry Jones was. Knight is at his best in play-action situations and without a good run game, that's impossible to achieve.
The Oklahoma defense certainly seems to be for real as well. The Sooners swarmed all over the Bulldogs, allowing just 245 yards for the game, but more importantly, just 89 yards in the first half when the starters played the majority of the snaps.
The depth of the Sooners was also on display on Saturday as 28 different players saw the field for the defense, including seven players making their first appearances as a Sooner. While that obviously won't be a consistent number, the fact the Sooners are making rotation decision from among that large of a pool of players says a lot about the Sooners' depth.
The scrutiny of the offseason has been focused on Knight, but with a power run game and a deep and suffocating defense, the Sooners are doing everything they can to make life easy for their young quarterback.