image via HolaKyle
Trying something different this week. Instead of doing keys to the game, we’re trying out this format as far as previews go. If you enjoy it, be sure to let us know and we’ll continue to put this format out.
What Oklahoma Does Well:
Control The Line Of Scrimmage: You’ve heard it before, you’re going to hear it again and again. Oklahoma has one of the most dominate offensive lines in the country. Are they flawless? No. Their worst games of the season have been these past two games. Even then, they continued to open up lanes in the running game and have kept Baker Mayfield relatively clean. Outside of the quarterback position, this is Oklahoma’s deepest group — and arguably it’s most consistent.
Offense By Committee: Lincoln Riley has one of the better designed offenses in the country as it has hardly skipped a beat since losing Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon, and Samaje Perine. So far Oklahoma has 11 different receivers with over 50 yards, 5 over 200 yards. That bodes well for any match up, as it is simply difficult to plan against. The Sooners have shied away from this somewhat, as some names have begun to separate themselves. But the playbook still exists — and if one had to guess, hasn’t been completely opened yet.
Defend The Run: Despite Oklahoma’s defense taking the brunt of the criticism from last week’s loss, an aspect that has been overshadowed in all the talk is the Sooners ability to stop the run. Oklahoma is currently sitting at 33rd in the country in rushing defense and, to their credit, they’ve played some decent running offenses. While their big bodies in the trenches don’t necessarily get in the backfield, they do effectively clog up the line which slows down the ball carrier if he continues inside. If the running back chooses to bounce it outside or it is a designed outside run, Oklahoma’s speed on edges keeps the running going east/west rather than north/south.
What Oklahoma Doesn’t Do Well:
Staying Consistent: Since Ohio State, Oklahoma hasn’t played with any consistency on either side of the ball, but most notably on offense. The Sooners often strike quickly on the first few series, but after that play calling becomes erratic and somewhat complacent. Instead of keeping everyone involved, which is when Oklahoma is at it’s best, they force the deep ball. Up 14-0, a big strike would take the fight out of the opponent but on the flip side, it can also be very empowering if it doesn’t work. As stated above, the short to intermediate throws are the bread-and-butter of Oklahoma’s passing game. Coupled with a commitment to the run game, good things happen. However, over the past two games this hasn’t been the case. Oklahoma became predictable, and thus became stoppable. Fortunately, this is the easiest problem for the Sooners to fix.
Rush The Passer: Oklahoma’s pass rush, anchored by a potential NFL edge rusher, Obo Okoronkwo, has been inconsistent at best. Statistically, the Sooners aren’t in a terrible spot sitting at 47th in team sacks. The rate at which they occur is the issue. Oklahoma currently has 12 sacks on the season with 10 QB hurries. For a potential playoff team you’d expect better numbers, but they are somewhat understandable. Oklahoma played Tulane, a team that almost exclusively ran the ball. The problem here is again consistency. Part of that is play calling, part of that is on the players. Last week the Sooners failed to record a sack or aQB hurry.
It will be hard to go into individual player performance, but schematically Oklahoma needs change. For starters, it is a given that Okoronkwo is going to blitz of the edge. You cannot be that predictable if you’re going to bring effective pressure. When the Sooners bring pressure up the middle, whether it be Murray or Beal, it has been effective. However, the willingness to mix that pressure from situation-to-situation just hasn’t been there. It is compounded by what has been a very underwhelming defensive line that has really only been able to eat up blocks rather than make plays in the backfield.
The positive part in all this? Texas’ offensive line isn’t that dominate, and their best offensive lineman, Connor Williams is listed as out with a torn MCL & PCL. This is a big rivalry game, so expect Texas to put up a fight but Oklahoma should be able to find some success in the trenches.
Defend The Pass: Really not much to put here as it is pretty obvious this has been a big issue for Oklahoma over the past two games. Schematically, the Sooners can adjust — and they’ll need to. Safeties haven’t been bracketed. One DB against a trips formation. The X’s and O’s simply need to improve.
That said, even when in position to make a play, Oklahoma has not been able to capitalize. At some point players will need to make plays. Until the Sooners prove they can do that, teams will continue to test them through the air.
Force Turnovers: Oklahoma is currently 115th in the nation turnovers gained, 114th in the nation in interceptions, and tied for 66th (with 26 other teams) in fumbles recovered. On the ground, poor tackling technique almost eliminates the possibility of forcing fumbles. Simply put, arm tackles don’t jar the ball loose; a shoulder in the stomach or helmet on the ball statistically gives you much better odds.
As far as interceptions go, outside of Parnell Motley, Oklahoma’s seasoned secondary can’t seem create turnovers. Jordan Thomas, after a really strong 2015 sophomore season, has only forced two interceptions since. Steven Parker has just two interceptions on his career. The Sooners simply need more out of these two seniors if they truly have Big 12 Championship aspirations.
Can Oklahoma force turnovers this weekend? Sure.
Texas doesn’t quite protect the ball as they’re sitting at 82nd in turnovers lost. True-freshman QB Sam Ehlinger has thrown 3 interceptions in his last two games played. The stats suggest Oklahoma should have their opportunities. Maybe the better question is — will they take advantage of them?
What Texas Does Well:
Defend The Pass: Texas’ ability to defend the pass was well documented after their near upset of then #4 USC. Schematically, they don’t do anything special or outside-of-the-box. The Longhorns defense has been playing at a different level than their offense. There aren’t a lot mistakes in coverage. Players have gotten better week-to-week and, maybe most importantly — capitalize on the other team’s mistakes.
Rush The Passer: This may not be something that Texas does well, but they aren’t necessarily bad at it either. Texas has shown some ability to get the passer with 12 recorded sacks so far this season, averaging 2.4 sacks per game. The issue here is the depth. Texas lost a lot of bodies due to transfers. This means there may not be enough bodies to rotate to get a consistent pass rush from their defensive line.
Control Time Of Possession: Texas doesn’t have a prolific offense, but what it lacks in firepower, it makes up for by controlling the clock. The Longhorns are currently sitting at 10th in the nation in time of possession, which is actually a big stat for this upcoming match-up. The longer Texas can keep Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense off the field, the better chances they’ll have tomorrow.
What Texas Doesn’t Do Well:
Run The Ball: As stated above, Texas’ offense isn’t prolific. There are a few reasons for this, but one is their inability to effectively run the ball. They currently sit at 57th in the nation in rushing offense. That number may be skewed a bit due to their trampling of San Jose State. Chris Warren hasn’t quite shined, and if it wasn’t for Sam Ehlinger’s ability to run, Texas would be almost stagnant in the running game.
Protect The Passer: This one is obvious. Talent and depth along the offensive line has been an issue for Texas this season. It is the reason Texas can’t establish a solid run game. It is the reason they sit 92nd in the nation in sacks allowed. The saving grace here is Sam Ehlinger is a very mobile quarterback, but even then, you can’t scramble around all game and expect to win.
Run Up The Score: Again, Texas’ offense has very mediocre and their winning margins against FBS opponents hasn’t been spectacular. Their best win of the season came last week against K-State, and that only ended up being decided by 6 points. Texas simply doesn’t have enough offense to prevent opposing teams from sticking around. If it wasn’t for their ability to control the clock, Texas may be sitting at 2-3 and not 3-2.
It would be easy to define this match-up by comparing strengths and weaknesses. However when you talk about Oklahoma and Texas, you cannot solely rely on statistics and trends. To some extent, those can go out the door. That isn’t to say what I wrote above doesn’t matter, because it does. However it is to say that there are some important variables you just can’t measure. Some that you can’t account for. Some you won’t discover until they actually happen. That is the beauty of rivalry games and why they are so unique. However for the sake of making a prediction…
This will be a tough one. Texas certainly has something going under Tom Herman, but there are a lot of backs against the wall for Oklahoma. With playoff aspirations on the line, play-makers emerge. Glaring issues in both the defensive line and secondary won’t be resolved, but patched up. Receivers like Collin Johnson and Lil Jordan Humphrey still find some success, but the secondary will make enough plays at the end of the day. Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield, in his final appearance in the Cotton Bowl, should be more poised than in previous weeks. Texas’ depth along the offensive line will come into play, and their inability to get a consistent run game should be worrisome for Longhorns fans.
Oklahoma wins in Dallas 38-28.