With a crowd of over 42,000 fans cheering them on, the Oklahoma Roughnecks took the field for the first time in 8 years. A Terry Williams 86-yard punt return electrified the fans late in the 1st quarter. It was all downhill from there, as the Roughnecks porous rush defense was no match for Houston’s running game, with the Wranglers rushing for 195 yards. In the end, the Roughnecks lost 31-17, falling to 0-1 for the season.
What went right: Quarterback James Franklin had a solid afternoon, completing 22 of 30 passes for 214 yards, 1 TD and a QB rating of 104. The Roughnecks were expected to rely on their running game, but falling behind early, Franklin was forced to air it out much more than was anticipated. Franklin’s initial performance goes a long way to proving last season was not a fluke, and coaches leave opening day with more confidence in his ability to air it out when needed. Franklin also showed a willingness to spread the ball around the field, as 4 players had 4 catches are more. On defense, Kenny Vaccaro showed why he is one of the top safeties in the league. Along with cornerback Zach Sanchez, the Roughnecks’ pass defense held Matt Nichols to a 53% completion rate and 200 yards passing. Coaches were also impressed with defensive end Jimmy Bean, as the former Oklahoma State Cowboy was a disruptor all afternoon, forcing a fumble while notching a deflection, sack, and stuff. On special teams, Terry Williams was the lone spark for the team most of the afternoon, as he averaged 23.4 yards during his 5 punt returns.
What went wrong: Where to start? The rush defense was horrendous and needs to be addressed quickly or this will be a very long season for the Roughnecks. One of the factors contributing to Houston’s big rushing numbers was the horrendous tackling by the Oklahoma defense, who had a whopping 8 missed tackles. While Houston was able to run all over the field, the Roughnecks’ running backs did not do the same. Highly sought after free agent acquisition Thomas Rawls had a mere 23 yards on the ground, as the Roughnecks combined for 73 total yards rushing for the afternoon. On the line, tackle Cyrus Kouandjio had a miserable day, missing numerous blocks and generally being beaten by the Wrangler’s front four.
Analysis: All the excitement in the world for opening day couldn’t overcome the talent differential between the two teams. Houston simply has better players and that was apparent on Saturday afternoon. All is not doom and gloom though, as the Roughneck’s showed numerous bright spots as they head into the second week of the season. James Franklin had a solid afternoon and showed he has the ability to lead the team. The pass defense held up against Matt Nichols, one of the better quarterbacks in the league. Special teams played well, with the rookies Lane Clark and Shane Tripucka having impressive afternoons and Terry Williams showing he can change a game as a punt returner. For all the positives, Coach Morris and defensive coordinator Jackie Shipp are going to have to address the run defense immediately. Whether it’s a formation adjustment or rotating in different players (or making a roster transaction), giving up an average of 5.4 yards per rush is not going to cut it.
Up next: Oklahoma goes on the road to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the Omaha Express. The Express won a 38-31 shootout over Iowa in week one, racking up 404 yards of total offense.