3 Sooner Takeaways: Gabriel’s 3 Total TDs Gives Sooners Win In Venables’ Debut

Saturday, September 3rd 2022, 6:58 pm

By: Nate Kotisso


His smile was unmistakable. It often is.

“Oh yeah. That’s got ‘Venny’ written all over it, doesn’t it right there?” Brent Venables said as he donned an OU hat last Dec. 5 on a university-chartered private plane.

The rumors went away. The ink on the paperwork had finally dried. Venables was Oklahoma’s newest head football coach.

“It was meant to be,” Venables beamed.

Later that December night, a gaggle of Sooner supporters hollered and cheered as the private plane carrying Venables and his family descended and then landed at 9:47 p.m. onto a Max Westheimer Airport tarmac in Norman.

It has been endlessly fascinating to observe a fanbase -- one that has enjoyed its status as a card-carrying member of college football’s elite -- endear itself to a brand-new coach so quickly.

Some of those feelings were influenced by how the last guy left. Rumors about Lincoln Riley leaving Norman seemed to swirl for his entire tenure at OU, but he always stuck around.

Until he didn’t.

You would have thought the fans were losing it over an Oklahoma native, but Venables technically isn’t one. He was born in Florida, moved to Kansas as a kid and later played linebacker and later coached at Kansas State.

His 13 seasons as an assistant coach under Bob Stoops, including the 2000 National Championship season, also brought out the good feelings for Sooner fans. Venables feels like an Okie.

“There’s a lot of good football programs that are out there, but there’s only one OU,” Venables said to the crowd after he landed.

The Sooners led wire-to-wire Saturday to give Venables his first win in a 45-13 victory against UTEP.

First Takeaway: Who Are Y-OU?

Perhaps the biggest question coming into OU’s opener was, “What would the offense look like?”

The first quarter, while thrilling, was not what Venables or new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby expected.

The Sooners gashed the Miners for big chunks of yardages in a short amount of time. They ran five plays and scored a touchdown in one minute, 17 seconds.

“This is going to be a run-heavy team,” game analyst Brock Huard said during the Sooners’ opening drive.

Three of OU’s first four plays that led to the 7-0 lead were passing plays. I didn’t believe him.

They gained 93 yards and put another six points on the scoreboard in one minute, 48 seconds. Apparently, that was fast enough for OU because they added another TD on a reverse by Heritage Hall alum and freshman walk-on Gavin Freeman in 30 seconds.

But then the Sooners got cute. They ran three plays on their next drive and punted. Two of those plays were passes. OU went three-and-out on the next drive, too. All passes.

Oklahoma went back to the basics on its next possession, and they ran the ball down UTEP’s collective throat. Eleven plays, eight of them were runs and the drive was capped by Dillon Gabriel’s second touchdown pass to Brayden Willis.

New offense, new personnel, new everything. That’s why Week 1 is for working the kinks out to learn who you are as a team.

And maybe Huard was right after all.

Second Takeaway: Luke’s Legacy

The 2022 season is old hat for UTEP. The Miners started their year with a home loss to North Texas in Week 0 last Saturday.

This Saturday marked the second for UTEP’s new starting quarterback Gavin Hardison. If you watched the game, you noticed Hardison wearing a number and jersey that wasn’t his own.

This season, Hardison is wearing the No. 2 jersey that belonged to former UTEP tight end Luke Laufenberg. Laufenberg, the son of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and current radio broadcaster Babe Laufenberg, died of cancer three years ago.

The younger Laufenberg was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, when he was 19. Despite his diagnosis, Laufenberg continued his football career at a junior college in Arizona before catching on with the Miners in early 2019.

Since his passing, the Miners have carried on Laufenberg’s memory by having a player wear his No. 2 jersey. Wide receiver Justin Garrett, who has since graduated from UTEP, donned No. 2.

The honor was passed to Hardison for 2022.

"For me, it's representing everything this number means: Babe (Laufenberg), all the people I talked to, and Luke,” Hardison told The El Paso Times earlier this year. “Representing him to the best of my ability on and off the field. It's a blessing to get to wear this number and what it means to me."

Hardison fought through five sacks to throw for 244 yards and complete 26 of 43 passes (60 percent) Saturday, among the best games of his UTEP career.

Third Takeaway: Overreacting Time

Two months ago, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas hosted Big 12 Media Days.

Among the backdrop was a large sign with the College Football Playoff logo on it. Next to the logo, a message read: “Most Challenging Path To The CFP.”

There are a few ways to read this. I'm sure the Big 12’s intent was to communicate how difficult it is for a team to play every team in the conference one time, win the conference championship game and then qualify for the four-team College Football Playoff.

I choose to read the conference’s message as “challenging” because Big 12 teams aren’t usually good enough to make the CFP in the first place, much less win the whole thing.

There have been eight years of the CFP. Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to make it that far. The Sooners are 0-4 when they’ve made it to college football’s final four. 

If Week 1 is any indication, 2022 will be more of the same. The Sooners weren’t overly impressive. The 12th-ranked Cowboys had trouble putting away Central Michigan Thursday night. West Virginia let things slip away in a Backyard Brawl renewal against Pittsburgh.

Come back and see me whenever the playoff officially expands to 12 teams.

Related: College Football Playoff Expected To Expand From 4-Team Format


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