NORMAN, Oklahoma – The Golden Hurricane got its first taste of life without Damaris Johnson on Saturday against the Sooners, and it wasn't exactly a pleasant one.
Oklahoma easily handled Tulsa 47-14 to kick off a string of tough games for the Golden Hurricane.
Would having Damaris Johnson have resulted in a win against the Sooners? Not likely.
But would having Johnson on the roster have resulted in a slightly better result and perhaps a little bit more momentum moving forward? Probably.
Johnson was charged with felony embezzlement and is suspended indefinitely from the team, and the Golden Hurricane must learn to cope without him.
He is the NCAA's career leader in kick return yards and all-purpose yards, not to mention the Golden Hurricane's top receiver and second-leading rusher last season.
For comparison, Damaris Johnson averaged 26.5 yards per kick return in 2010.
Tulsa's returners who replaced him on Saturday ran back eight kicks for an average of 19.6 yards per return.
Part of it could have been the fact that they were facing the No. 1 Sooners' special teams coverage instead of Conference USA opponents, but seven yards per return is a monumental difference in the grand scheme of field position.
Johnson accounted for a combined 100-plus yards per game rushing and receiving last season.
Those numbers would have accounted for nearly a third of Tulsa's offensive production against the Sooners.
And if yardage isn't a good enough indicator of a team's reliance on a player, then straight up touchdowns certainly should be. Johnson accounted for more than one touchdown per game last year, which will obviously be sorely missed for as long as he remains out. Even though 47-21 still doesn't sound that great, it's still better momentum than 41-14.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the absence of Johnson was the timing. He was suspended just one week before the opener, leaving the Golden Hurricane scrambling to fill voids left by their most multi-faceted player.
The Golden Hurricane have a tough upcoming schedule, with two more top 10 teams in the next three games. So if Tulsa doesn't pull off a miracle upset it's likely some who don't know better will say, "Johnson wouldn't have made a difference."
But Tulsa had six games last season that were decided by one possession or less.
When those games roll around this season, Johnson's 100-plus yards and a touchdown per game could seem like a world of difference.