NORMAN — Oklahoma’s pregame warmups featured a noticeably smaller group of players than usual Saturday night.
What’s typically an exercise that consumes mostly 50 yards of the south half of the field was much more sparse.
The smaller group was a product of several OU players unavailable for the Sooners’ opener against Missouri State. Although, fewer players are becoming less of a novelty to the ones playing college football amid a pandemic.
“Everything is so strange right now,” OU linebacker DaShaun White said. “It almost feels a little normal.”
OU coach Lincoln Riley opted to not share how many players would miss the team’s season opener due to COVID or injury, but it was quickly apparent which players were unavailable by their absence on the Sooner sideline.
Running back T.J. Pledger, left tackles Anton Harrison and kicker Gabe Brkic were noticeably missing from the starting lineup and not seen at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Marcus Major and Seth McGowan filled in for Pledger, Erik Swenson stepped in for Harrison and Stephen Johnson handled Brkic’s duties.
Also missing from Saturday’s game: defensive back Justin Broiles, defensive back Kendall Dennis, offensive lineman Anton Harrison, receiver Obi Obialo, offensive lineman Andrew Raym, defensive lineman Kori Roberson, receiver Drake Stoops, defensive lineman Marcus Stripling, offensive lineman Stacey Wilkins, H-back Brayden Willis.
• Finally, a shutout: Since Riley ascended to head coach, the Sooners had compiled a 36-6 mark entering Saturday’s season opener, not one of those victories a shutout. Nor did the Sooners land one the year before, in 2016.
The last time OU shut out an opponent, it was Kansas State, even in Manhattan, Kansas, 55-0 on Oct. 17, 2015. Perhaps it will happen again on Sept. 26 when the Wildcats visit Norman.
Kansas State fell 35-31 to Arkansas State on Saturday.
Additionally, Saturday’s final was the first of Missouri State coach Bobby Petrino’s Division I carer, one that spanned 185 games prior to Saturday.
• Absence creates opportunity: While several players from the Sooners’ two-deep depth chart were unavailable, one of the most conspicuous opportunities that created belonged to Stephen Johnson, a redshirt senior from Arlington, Texas.
Johnson filled in for Gabe Brkic, the redshirt sophomore who, last season, made all 17 of his field-goal attempts.
It was only one game, but Johnson was perfect, too, making field goals of 42 and 22 yards, while connecting on all six of his points after.
A year ago, Johnson did not attempt a field goal, kick a point after, or punt the ball even once. In his only real moment, he attempted an onside kick against Kansas State.
• 1 for 1: True freshman running back Seth McGowan had the honors of scoring OU’s first touchdown of the night — and the Sooners’ 2020 season.
McGowan, who has replaced Jalen Hurts as the new No. 1 jersey in OU’s backfield, punched in a score at the goal line to give the Sooners a 7-0 lead with 11:24 left in the first quarter.
McGowan and Marcus Major were OU’s only available scholarship running backs with Pledger not on the sideline and Rhamondre Stevenson serving a suspension.
• Unity: Right before the kick, just as a video played on the big screen above the south end zone featuring Sooner coach Lincoln Riley and several players taking turns reading a statement of commitment to social justice, each Sooner stood arm-locked along their sideline.
When the statement concluded, there was a pause and then cheers from the sparse and socially distanced crowd. No boos could be heard.
Thursday night, during a similar moment at Arrowhead Stadium, shared by members of the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, many boos could be heard from the Kansas City crowd.
• Johnson retires: A day before OU’s season opener, the program announced Merv Johnson’s retirement from his analyst role with OU football’s radio crew.
Johnson has been involved with OU’s football program for the last 41 years. He first came to OU as an assistant coach in 1979. He’s also served a 20-year stint as the team’s director of operations.
"I felt very fortunate to have coached and broadcasted for so many years," said Johnson in a statement. "Year in and year out I've been so proud to be associated with such a great university and football program.
"I'm looking forward to spending time with my family. My family is all around me here. I'm going to love watching the games with them."