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Brent Venables, Lincoln Riley shine in OU, USC coaching debuts

Brent Venables and Lincoln Riley are each perfect in their new head-coaching positions.

Oklahoma — which saw Riley leave after last season and Venables take over — got out to a thundering 21-0 first-quarter lead against UTEP on Saturday, helping them cruise to a 45-13 win. 

Venables, who was an assistant with Oklahoma from 1999-2011 before serving as Clemson‘s defensive coordinator from 2012-21, feels that Oklahoma played a “clean” and complementary game.

“I thought our coaches and players really showed that they were prepared and thought we complemented each other really well, particularly in the first quarter,” Venables said. “We really got off to a great start together, and that’s what you got to do.”

A balanced rushing attack led the way for Oklahoma, as the Sooners finished with 259 yards on the ground. Eric Gray logged 102 rushing yards on 16 rushing attempts, while three Sooners reached the end zone on the ground, including UCF transfer quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who ran in a 12-yard score.

Running back Marcus Major had two rushing touchdowns while wide receiver Gavin Freeman broke through UTEP’s defense on a reverse for a 46-yard score. Venables referred to Freeman as “fearless.”

Gabriel had an effective debut in the air, finishing the game with 233 passing yards and two passing touchdowns while completing 15 of 23 throws. 

On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma held UTEP to just 28 rushing yards, while quarterbacks Gavin Hardison and Calvin Brownholtz completed just 60% of their combined passes.

Oklahoma will host Kent State on Sept. 10 in the second full week of the college football season.

Meanwhile, Riley and USC had some fun of their own on Saturday, defeating Rice 66-14.

After a back-and-forth start, the Trojans got in a groove, scoring 24 points in the second quarter. After halftime, they assumed control, putting up three touchdowns in the first six minutes of the third quarter.

Riley was just one of a few new faces that debuted for the Trojans. Oklahoma transfer quarterback Caleb Williams and Pittsburgh transfer receiver Jordan Addison were among the others, and both college stars found the spotlight fast. 

Williams finished with 249 passing yards and two passing touchdowns while completing 19 of 22 throws. The quarterback also logged 68 rushing yards on six rushing attempts.

Riley said that “the defense was the story” for the Trojans and felt their offense played a well-rounded game.

“We were decent,” Riley said of his offense. “We played pretty mistake-free for the most part. I think we stayed in front of the chains. The guys did a really good job protecting Caleb. He had a lot of time. We made some plays. We left a few things out there on both sides. It’s a typical first game. There’s gonna be an overreaction no matter what happens, especially at USC. There’s a lot of good, certainly.”

Addison finished with 54 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. USC put up 28 points in the third quarter and forced four interceptions, three of them returned for touchdowns by Calen Bullock, Shane Lee and Ralen Goforth.

USC will travel to Stanford on Sept. 10.

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