No. 9 Oklahoma beats UTEP 45-13 in Venables’ coaching debut

UTEP v Oklahoma
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NORMAN, Okla. – New Oklahoma coach Brent Venables got emotional when athletic director Joe Castiglione presented him with the game ball and the players loudly celebrated his first career victory as a head coach.

Dillon Gabriel passed for two touchdowns and ran for another and No. 9 Oklahoma rolled past UTEP 45-13 on Saturday.

Venables was a full-time assistant for the previous 26 years in stints at Kansas State, Oklahoma and Clemson. He took over for the Sooners after Lincoln Riley left to take the Southern California job last December and brought energy and hope to a stunned fanbase.

Then came the waiting.

“In some ways, it went by really fast in that last nine months, and then in many ways, it seemed like dog years,” he said. “It’s like `When are we going to get to play a game?’ But everything has its time.”

Now, the Sooners have taken a significant step forward.

“At the end of the day, it was going to be about Oklahoma re-establishing the soul and the spirit of this program,” he said.

Gabriel, a transfer from Central Florida, connected on 15 of 23 passes for 233 yards. Eric Gray rushed for 102 yards, Brayden Willis caught two touchdown passes and Marcus Major rushed for two scores.

Oklahoma held UTEP to 316 total yards.

“For the most part, we played a really clean game on both sides of the ball,” Venables said.

Gavin Hardison passed for 244 yards, Tyrin Smith caught eight passes for 71 yards and Reynaldo Flores caught seven passes for 76 yards for the Miners (0-2).

Oklahoma jumped out to a 21-0 lead just over eight minutes into the game. The Sooners gained 301 yards to take a 28-10 halftime lead. Gabriel passed for 164 yards and two touchdowns before the break. Reggie Grimes led the Oklahoma defense with 2 1/2 sacks in the first half, including one on the final play of the second quarter to snuff out a scoring threat.

“I thought after we handled the first onslaught, the 21-0 run, I thought we played better,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. “From that point on, it was 24-13. We executed and did some things better.”

Oklahoma then held UTEP to 99 yards and three points in the second half.

Dimel said it wasn’t all bad.

“I really feel like we’re a better team leaving the field,” he said. “We played a really good football team today. They executed at a high level and they did some really good things. But I feel really comfortable about our football team and what we gained.”

Venables appreciated the win but won’t be celebrating for long.

“I want them to enjoy this one,” he said. “But on Monday, we’re going to strip this thing down to the studs and start over again.”

THE TAKEAWAY

UTEP: The Miners couldn’t get anything going. They had just 28 yards rushing on 31 attempts, and the Sooners finished with six sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.

Oklahoma: The Sooners rushed for 259 yards and passed for 233. Oklahoma averaged 8.1 yards per play and 6.8 yards per carry and did not commit a turnover. The Sooners were balanced offensively and protected Gabriel relatively well.

GRAY SHINES

In his first game as the clear No. 1 back, Gray turned in his first 100-yard rushing performance for the Sooners.

Gray transferred from Tennessee before last season, then split time with Kennedy Brooks. With Brooks gone, Gray finally got the kind of work he wanted. The senior had 16 carries and caught two passes, including a 35-yard run and a 24-yard reception.

WHAT A START

Oklahoma true freshman receiver Gavin Freeman took a reverse 46 yards for touchdown on his first collegiate touch.

Freeman attended Heritage Hall School in Oklahoma City, the same place that produced NFL great Wes Welker.

LAUFENBERG TRIBUTE

Hardison will wear former Miners tight end Luke Laufenberg‘s No. 2 jersey throughout this season. Laufenberg died of cancer in 2019. Hardison is the second Miners player to wear Laufenberg’s jersey. Players also have worn black stickers on their helmets in his honor since the start of the 2019 season.

QUOTABLE

Dimel, on playing in a hostile environment: “It was a fun experience. It was a good game for us. It’s what you want to get out of a non-conference game if you’re not going to win.”

UP NEXT

UTEP: Hosts New Mexico State on Sept. 10

Oklahoma: Hosts Kent State on Sept. 10.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.