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Coach Brent Venables puts No. 9 Oklahoma up against UTEP

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OU football coach Brent Venables speaks during media day Tuesday morning at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman.cover main
Credit: SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK

Nearly 30 years after his coaching career began, Brent Venables will make his head-coaching debut Saturday when No. 9 Oklahoma hosts UTEP in Norman, Okla.

“It’s finally here,” Venables said, referring more to the past nine months since he took over from Lincoln Riley as the Sooners’ head coach. “It’s game week and … this doesn’t ever get old. The excitement, the anticipation is real. This is what you work for.”

Venables, 51, is plenty familiar with his counterpart, UTEP’s Dana Dimel.

When Venables played at Kansas State in 1991-92, Dimel was the Wildcats’ offensive line coach.

“(Former Kansas State coach) Bill Snyder’s one of the best offensive minds in the history of college football, in my opinion, and Dana, that’s his root system,” Venables said. “He’s done a nice job wherever he’s been. He’s got his guys believing.”

The Sooners, finished 11-2 last season under Riley, who now the head coach at Southern California. Now, they will debut new systems on both sides of the ball and will have a fair share of new players as well, led by quarterback Dillon Gabriel, a Central Florida transfer.

At Oklahoma, Gabriel has reunited with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who was UCF’s offensive coordinator in 2019. That was Gabriel’s standout season as a freshman.

“I think what we’re about to do on offense is going to be really exciting and definitely going to be aggressive,” Gabriel said. “That’s something we pride ourselves on too is setting the tempo of the game.”

Though Ted Roof is the Sooners’ defensive coordinator, the defense will take on Venables’ character.

During his long stint as a defensive coordinator with the Sooners, and then a decade in the same role at Clemson, Venables gave his defenses a reputation for their aggressive, varied attack.

“Now it’s just time to go out there and prove it,” Oklahoma defensive end Reggie Grimes said. “Can’t wait to see the fans again, can’t wait to just see all my guys make big plays, and I can’t wait to feel the electricity in Norman, Oklahoma, again.”

All of the change with the Sooners has made preparations a bit more difficult for the Miners.

“Brent will have a lot of influence on the defense (and) what we’re expecting to prepare for is Clemson’s offense,” Dimel said. “Their offensive coordinator was at Ole Miss, so we’re studying Ole Miss’ offense. Their special teams coordinator (Jay Nunez) was at Eastern Michigan, so there’s a lot of film that has to be gathered.

“And we watched a bunch of game tape from Oklahoma last year to evaluate their talent, the skill set of each player coming back. So this is an unusual preparation for us.”

While the game is the season opener for the Sooners, UTEP already has played.

The Miners are coming off a 31-13 loss to North Texas last week and are looking for their first win over a ranked opponent since 2009.

Oklahoma has won five consecutive openers and hasn’t lost a home opener since 2005.

–Field Level Media