During the off-season, the Oklahoma front office spent a considerable amount of money on free agent RB Thomas Rawls in hopes of bolstering the Roughneck’s running game. Through two games this season, it’s been quarterback James Franklin who’s led the rushing attack. On Saturday, in Lincoln, Nebraska, Franklin rushed 26 times for 122 yards, a 4.6 average per attempt. His rushing prowess wasn’t enough though, as the Roughnecks lost a tight contest to the Express 19-10. With a 1:37 remaining in the game, and the Roughnecks trailing 16-10, the Oklahoma defense came up big and stopped Omaha on the 43-yard line. Instead of punting and giving the Roughnecks a chance to get the ball down downfield for a possible winning touchdown, Omaha instead opted for a 61-yard field goal attempt. The Brett Maher attempt was good, sealing the victory for the home squad.
What went right: The defense, much-maligned after week 1, had an improved game, holding the Express to 281 yards, a 147-yard decrease from Omaha’s home opener. Defensive coordinator Jackie Shipp focused all week on implementing a game plan aimed at stopping Express quarterback Terrelle Pryor. His efforts were moderately successful as Pryor threw for 230 yards, no TDs and was held to 29 yards rushing. The defense also managed to put pressure on the Express QB, recording 3 sacks and 8 hurries. The Oklahoma defense went from 8 missed tackles in the first game to just 1 missed tackle on Saturday. Kenny Vaccaro continued to show that he is a man among boys on the field, recording 7 tackles, 2 deflections, a stuff and a hurry. DE Jimmy Bean remains the surprise of the season. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy barely made the final roster, but now has 9 tackles and 2 sacks for the year.
On offense, QB James Franklin continues to impress with his feet, as he is currently tied for 11th overall in the league in rushing yards. Tight end phenom Mark Andrews had a productive afternoon as he had five receptions, including his first touchdown as a pro.
The special team rookies of Shane Tripucka and Lane Clark continue to impress during their inaugural campaign, as Tripucka is grossing 45.7 yards per punt and Lane Clark is 2-3 in field goal attempts, including a 49-yarder.
What went wrong: Thomas Rawls, where have you gone? The high-profile free agent signing has a mere 50 yards rushing for the season, with an average of 3.1 yards per attempt. While Franklin has run all over the field, Rawls has yet to get involved other than through screens out of the backfield. Marquis Wilson and Brandon LaFell, both wideouts who were expected to play a significant role in the Roughnecks offense, have been anything but significant. The duo has 5 total catches between them. Franklin was never going to be asked to air-it-out all that much, but the team will need him to improve productivity through the air if they hope to stop the 2-game slide.
While the game was tied 10-10 going into halftime, and even though the defense came away with some big stops, the offense grinded to a standstill. The second half possessions were turnover on down, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, interception. Coach Eric Morris and his offensive staff need to address these breakdowns immediately.
Analysis: Although the Roughnecks came up short, in a game owner Alberto Garcia desperately wanted to win in Husker Stadium, there are many reasons for optimism. Coach Morris called out the defense after game one and they responded in a big way. The defense gave up just one touchdown for the afternoon. This game was quite frankly similar to one of those old Big 8 matchups that Lincoln used to host. The offense is struggling to get on track, as Coach Eric Morris’ unit has just two touchdowns over the first two games. The Roughnecks were able to put together a number of sustained drives, including a 18 play, 72 yard drive that took 9:09 minutes off the clock. Unfortunately, like most drives for the afternoon, the result was not a touchdown. The offense right now is James Franklin running, running and then running some more. While that has been surprisingly effective, there will have to be a diversification of offensive weapons as the season continues.
What’s next: Oklahoma has a very tough contest on the horizon as they host Atlanta this Saturday. The Firebirds are 0-2 but are still considered a top 10 team in the league. They will be hungry for their first win as they travel to Norman following a 36-13 defeat by Michigan.