- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla.-- Oklahoma got its season off to a terrific start with a 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Here’s how it happened.
How the game was won: Mike Stoops’ defense was simply outstanding in OU’s first shutout victory since 2010. ULM finished with 166 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per play. The Sooners defensive coordinator talked about transforming the OU defense into a more versatile unit and it was on display in the season opener. OU went with a three-man defensive front and used several different blitz combinations to harass Kolton Browning into a subpar showing, as he went 20-of-39 for 128 passing yards in the loss.
Turning point: When the Sooners decided to start running more. OU had seven rushes in the first quarter but they finished the first half with 30. Not surprisingly, all 13 Sooners first-half points came in the second quarter. OU finished with 50 carries for 305 yards as it pounded the ball down the Warhawks’ throats in the final three quarters. It was a stark contrast from the pass-happy Sooners of the past few years.
Stat of the game: 38. The Sooners allowed just 38 ULM rushing yards in their season opener after struggling to stop the run in the final stretch of 2012. Bob Stoops promised a renewed dedication to stopping the run and OU showed it Saturday.
Player of the game: QB Trevor Knight earns player of the game honors because, ultimately, he found a way to get it done. The redshirt freshman had 13 carries for 103 yards and threw for three touchdowns. He struggled mightily with his accuracy but still made enough plays to win.
Unsung heroes of the game: Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon were all over the place for the Sooners defense. OU’s use of its linebackers was under fire all offseason and the Sooners linebacker duo showed why they should have been on the field more often a year ago. Nelson finished with eight tackles including two tackles for loss and one sack, while Shannon finished with seven tackles including one tackle for loss.
What it means: Oklahoma takes a bunch of momentum and defensive confidence into its matchup with West Virginia on Sept. 7. Stoops’ defensive changes should help the Sooners against a Mountaineers team searching for consistency at the quarterback spot.
What Oklahoma learned: Knight is a much better runner than passer, at least right now. Most of Knight’s big plays came on the ground and he looked much more comfortable running around in the open field instead of standing in the pocket. Knight did show signs he could develop as a passer as the season progresses, but expect OU to lean on his legs more than his arm when it matters most in the near future.