NORMAN — After an offseason filled with questions and doubt, Oklahoma left Saturday's 34-0 rout of Louisiana-Monroe with plenty of reasons to feel optimistic.
Sure, many of Trevor Knight's early passes were erratic. And yes, it's impossible to know how good the Warhawks really are after one game.
Still, one would be hard pressed to view Saturday's season opener as anything less than a good, positive start. Best of all? The next few weeks set up quite nicely for a promising, if inexperienced, team featuring a first-year quarterback and several new defensive starters debuting brand new schemes.
The Sooners host West Virginia in their Big 12 opener Saturday, then get Tulsa at home and a bye before a huge test at Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
Oklahoma's defense looked much more aggressive than it did much of last season against Louisiana-Monroe. The Sooners' 3-3-5 scheme worked well, allowing five defensive backs to counter the Warhawks' passing attack while keeping linebackers on the field to stuff the run game.
Everyone remembers Mike Stoops' disastrous late-2012 schemes that involved no linebackers, but the unit actually lost its playmaking ability early last season, when it was ordered to fill gaps and filter tackles to defensive backs.
Judging from Saturday's performance, Oklahoma's linebackers look like playmakers again. Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon combined for 15 tackles, and Nelson recorded a sack.
The Sooners' defensive line, thought to be the team's weakest link, played well, applying strong pressure to ULM quarterback Kolton Browning.
Still, OU's defenders reiterated that they weren't completely satisfied with the shutout performance, the first since 2010.
“We did a good job today,” said senior cornerback Aaron Colvin. “We still have work to do and we still have some good offenses to face. I feel like we played well, but we can always be better.”
On the offensive side, Oklahoma finally showcased its new system that puts an added emphasis on the run game.
Knight displayed the athleticism everyone has heard so much about, rushing for a team-high 103 yards, many of which came on designed quarterback runs.
But the passing attack wasn't great, with Knight missing on several throws that coaches insist he nails in practices. He completed only 11 of 28 passes for 86 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Based on the season-opening performances of West Virginia and Tulsa, though, the Sooners don't appear to be in any imminent danger the next couple weeks. The Mountaineers needed a second-half rally to sneak past lowly William & Mary at home, and Tulsa was routed 34-7 at Bowling Green.
Two home games against struggling opponents and a bye week should allow Oklahoma to work out the kinks in its new offensive and defensive systems before that late-September showdown with the Fighting Irish, which beat the Sooners in Norman last season on its way to a national-title game appearance.
“We haven't done anything dramatic,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “Last year we had a lot of good games early too, right? You guys were bragging on them and bragging on them, then you wanted to throw them under the bus.
“It's ‘What have you done for me lately?' But lately it's pretty good.”