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The Oklahoma Sooners will look very different when they take the field at the Alamodome on Thursday night. They’ll be without star quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who transferred to Oregon, breakout freshman offensive lineman Cayden Green, who transferred to Missouri, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who took the head coaching job at Mississippi State, and a few other departing players.
So, that means that Joe Jon Finley and Seth Littrell will now be on co-offensive coordinator duty, and five-star freshman Jackson Arnold will be manning the helm at quarterback for the Sooners. That leaves a lot of Oklahoma’s offensive outlook up in the air entering the final game of the season.
The Alamo Bowl: Previewing the New-Look Oklahoma Offense
Welcome to the dance, Jackson Arnold!
Without a doubt, the number one topic that most Sooners fans are discussing in the lead-up to the Alamo Bowl is Jackson Arnold. The highly touted signal-caller saw limited action in his first year donning the crimson and cream, but he looked every bit as talented as coaches and recruiting experts believed he had.
Over the course of five games, Arnold attempted 24 passes, completing 18 of them for a stellar 75% completion rate. He tossed two touchdown passes, one of which was a 50-yard strike to Nic Anderson against Tulsa. Arnold, a native of Denton, Texas, also scrambled 20 times for 78 yards and one score.
It would be very easy to get carried away with the Arnold hype train, but he has shown good patience in the pocket and doesn’t appear to be rattled by Division One college football. But come Thursday, he’ll face the first real test of his career against a very underrated Arizona defense.
Arnold will also be working with Seth Littrell as his new play-caller, and while Littrell said that the offense would remain the same for the bowl game, that new dynamic will also play a factor in Arnold’s play.
All signs point to Arnold playing well against the Wildcats, and if he can show flashes of a star in the making, Brent Venables and his staff and the fans will probably walk away from this game immensely hopeful, regardless of the outcome.
Remember the Alamo! (and the ‘Zona defense)
You have no doubt heard tell of the fearsome Wildcat offense, but their defensive counterparts are no slouches. They ended the season allowing just 20.8 points per game, good enough for 27th in the country.
They defend both the run and pass well but aren’t a very disruptive group. They managed just six interceptions and seven fumble recoveries while sacking quarterbacks 31 times, which is respectable but not eye-popping.
Oklahoma should look to establish the run early with Gavin Sawchuk because their offensive line should handle the Wildcats’ defensive line well. If the Sooners can get Sawchuk going, he’ll not only be able to wear the defense down, but the rushing attack will open up more throwing lanes for Jackson Arnold.
Arizona’s defense is led by another Servite Friar and high school teammate of Noah Fifita and Tetairoa McMillan, linebacker Jacob Manu. Manu paced the entire Pac-12 in tackles, with 108, putting him at 28th in the nation in that stat. He was second on the team and seventh in the conference in sacks with six-and-a-half and also picked off one pass this season.
Taylor Upshaw is another standout from the Wildcats. The 6’4, 262-pound defensive lineman racked up eight-and-a-half sacks this year, which led the team and was fourth in the Pac-12. He also led Arizona with 11.5 tackles for loss and is the team’s best disruptive force. Oklahoma will need to slow him down if they want to run the ball effectively and protect Jackson Arnold.
Analysis and Prediction
This really should be one of the most entertaining bowl games of the entire season if both teams bring their A-games. Arizona’s defense could be the most impactful unit in this game because if they can’t pressure Arnold or contain Gaviin Sawchuk, this game could turn into a shootout fast. Oklahoma’s defense has its hands full, but Brent Venables has had ample time to prepare for the Wildcats’ offense and has almost all of his starters slated to play.
The Sooners are two-and-a-half-point underdogs, but they have better talent and a higher ceiling. If Jackson Arnold shines and the defense plays up to its abilities, Oklahoma should leave San Antonio with a convincing victory and the Alamo Bowl trophy.
Prediction: Sooners 37 – Wildcats 31
Main Image: BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK