The Houston Cougars were vastly outplayed by the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman on a special Sunday night college football showcase.
Two Heisman candidates — D’Eriq King and Jalen Hurts — were featured in this one, but only one of them is on the right track after Week 1. Hurts and the Sooners dominated the action, winning 49-31 over the Cougars.
Here’s a look at the biggest winners and losers from the action.
Winner: Lincoln Riley has Jalen Hurts looking better than ever
When Hurts starred for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, he ran a tight ship but never was utilized like you’d expect to see from a top-flight quarterback. Now that he’s in Norman being coached by quarterback whisperer Lincoln Riley, he’s soaring.
Hurts had Oklahoma’s offense humming like a well-oiled machine Sunday night. Everything the Sooners did looked effortless. From the game’s opening drive until he was ultimately pulled in the fourth quarter, up by 18 points, Hurts was on point. He finished with 508 total yards, six touchdowns and completed an absurd 20-of-23 passes.
The only mistake he made was a fumble in the second half as he attempted to gain a few extra yards. Otherwise, he had a flawless debut for Oklahoma.
Granted, Houston’s defense isn’t elite. But neither are the ones Hurts and Co. will face all year in the Big 12.
Loser: Shaky debut for Dana Holgorsen’s offense
We’ll focus on King specifically in a bit. What really stood out aside from the quarterback’s play was just how poorly the entire offense played Sunday night in Dana Holgorsen’s first game at the helm in Houston.
Unlike what we saw last year from the offense under Major Applewhite, Holgorsen is much more deliberate with his playcalling and isn’t pushing the pace nearly as much. King thrived in Houston’s offense last season, piling up 50 touchdowns in 11 games. He seems to be struggling to adapt to Holgorsen’s approach.
Of course, making things even worse is the simple fact that Houston’s offensive line was a huge problem. The guys up front were getting dominated by Oklahoma’s front seven. The run game suffered, and King often didn’t have a lot of time to find his playmakers.
Given the way Houston’s offense started to click in the fourth quarter, perhaps the Cougars will shine the rest of the way. But for most of Sunday night’s game, it wasn’t as good as advertised.
Winner: Oklahoma appears to have a stronger defense this year
The Sooners aren’t known for fielding a dominant defense. Last year, they allowed 33.3 points per game on average, ranking 101st in the FBS.
Perhaps things are finally turning around under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who was hired away from Ohio State in January. Oklahoma’s defensive line was constantly in Houston’s backfield, and for the most part coverage was rock solid downfield.
The only real mistakes came on some bone-headed plays that resulted in penalties that extended Houston’s drives. All told, the Sooners allowed 408 total yards — much of that coming late in the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand.
Loser: How do you forget about CeeDee Lamb?
Last season, Sooners star receiver CeeDee Lamb caught a lot of balls for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns — 65 receptions for 1,158 and 11 touchdowns, to be exact. He’s not only a player you need to pay attention to, he’s the focal point of Oklahoma’s big-play passing game.
So, it was pretty alarming when, in the second quarter, Houston’s defense left Lamb completely undefended down the field. By the time Hurts found his star receiver for a touchdown, there wasn’t a Houston defensive back within 15-plus yards of Lamb.
Just an embarrassing lapse in coverage that pretty much epitomized Houston’s night on defense.
Winner: Rambo coming into his own
Last season, Charleston Rambo caught just eight passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore appears to be headed toward a monster season in 2019, however, as the No. 2 option in the Sooners’ passing game.
CeeDee Lamb demands attention on every play. While defenses focus on him, Rambo can run wild. We saw that on Sunday night as he caught three passes for 105 yards, and his 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter was simply electric.
Loser: D’Eriq King’s Heisman campaign takes early hit
Last season, King was lighting in a bottle. Every time he stepped back to pass or took off running, all you could do was hold your breath and wait for the fireworks. That was not something we saw much of Sunday night against the Sooners.
King looked uncomfortable in the pocket. He was oftentimes under siege, so that’s somewhat understandable. Yet he made poor decisions and ran directly into pressure at times, and he struggled with accuracy down the field. King completed just 14-of-27 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Not awful, but not great, either.
When it was time to run, King predictably had a few highlight moments, and his fourth-quarter touchdown pass was pretty. Yet for a guy that racked up 50 touchdowns in 11 games last year, the only way to describe his opening weekend of action is that it was underwhelming.