The Brent Venables era began at the Oklahoma Spring Game this Saturday. I have been following Oklahoma and college football for over a decade, and I can confidently say that I have never seen anything like that in my lifetime.
After Lincoln Riley left and went to USC, everyone thought that the Sooners would fall off. They have a completely different coaching staff and an overhauled roster, and this was the most crucial Spring Game in the history of Oklahoma Football.
Hundreds of alumni, recruits, people watching online, and 75,360 Sooner fans surrounded the players and coaches at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for the first time since last November. The one thing going through my mind since the departure of Lincoln Riley has been, what now?
I have been wondering and asking the same questions every other Sooner fan has been asking. how will the culture change, will the new players step up, how will Sooner Nation react to these recent changes, and what will the Brent Venables era look like?
I was lucky enough to be at the game, and I can say that, at least for me, The Spring Game answered every question. For the first time in my life as an Oklahoma fan, I was speechless.
As soon as Brent Venables grabbed that microphone and stood at midfield to address Sooner Nation, you could tell there has been a complete culture shift. The first thing he did as head coach was to pull every former Sooner player at the game to midfield and thank them for building Oklahoma Football into the college football empire that it is today.
The next thing he did was acknowledge every other Oklahoma sport ranked number one in the country this year. You can tell that Venables cares about the football program and just the University of Oklahoma in general. You usually don’t even see coaches talk to the whole crowd with a microphone before the game, let alone go to the lengths Venables did to thank the alumni, fans, and other sports.
There was even a story going around after the game that Marvin Mims and Dillon Gabriel were almost late to the second half because they were cleaning the locker room. Little things like this show how the culture of Oklahoma Football is changing.
Seventy-five thousand three hundred sixty people went to the game. That set a program record for attendance at a Spring Game and officially set the highest attendance in the country for Spring Games this year.
The Spring Game went viral on social media as people everywhere acknowledged the record-setting crowd, as there were more people there than most teams have at games during the actual season.
The atmosphere felt like a conference game. I remember turning to another fan during the game and telling him, you know, there are a lot of people at a game when the upper deck is filling up.
Baker Mayfield Tribute
At halftime, Baker Mayfield walked out of the tunnel to thousands of screaming fans and even started waving his hands in the air to get the crowd even louder at one point.
Mayfield got emotional when talking about how much the university and fans mean to him. He spoke about how OU will always be his second home and thanked everyone for getting him to this position.
He then assured the fans that the team is in excellent hands with Venables and mentioned a conversation he had with him where he said, “Venables made him want to run through a wall.”
They then played a tribute to Mayfield on the big screen to highlight his career at OU.
In the actual game, the newcomers shined. Freshman Jovantae Barnes lived up to the hype as he had 17 carries, rushing for 60 yards and two touchdowns in his Spring Game debut. Freshman Jayden Gibson had a 95-yard touchdown catch in the 3rd quarter. Junior college transfer Tawee Walker had 83 total yards and a touchdown.
The newcomer everyone came to watch was lefty gunslinger QB1, Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel did not disappoint, as he was 19-of-28 for 250 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His play on the field was impressive, but his leadership and control of the offense were even more special. You could tell that he is confident and knows how to run Jeff Lebby’s offense efficiently.
Marcus Stripling had an excellent day for the defense with four tackles for loss and two sacks. Ethan Downs also looked great with two sacks and four tackles, and redshirt sophomore Kendall Dennis had an interception.
The defense looked good in its first game under the Brent Venables era and new defensive staff members Todd Bates, Ted Roof, Miguel Chavis, Jay Valai, and Brandon Hall. Everyone knew what they were doing on each play, and there was only one bust defensively when Jayden Davis scored the 95-yard touchdown.
Micheal Turk also stood out on special teams, punting five times for 252 yards (50.4 avg.), with one punt going inside the one-yard line.
In the end, the red team took the game over the white team, 21-17.
My takeaways from the game are that this team still has the talent to beat anyone in the country even with all the transfers. Sooner Nation is one of the best fan bases in the country, and Oklahoma Football is in great hands under Brent Venables.
I will never forget when Venables walked into midfield and started talking on the microphone. I remember sitting there looking around the stadium as it began to roar and getting chills, thinking to myself, this is insane.
After the Spring Game on Saturday, I can confidently say that Oklahoma Football is not going anywhere.
(Writing by Austin DeSpain; Editing by Robbie Robertson)
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