I think it's safe to say that Texas Tech fans have had this game circled on their calendars for a long time. The only way this could get bigger for some of us is if the game was at home. Oklahoma brings a 5-1 record back home to face us, with their lone loss being an embarrassing outing against everyone's hated rival Texas. They followed that up with a 55-0 dismantling of Kansas State last week, and look to be back on track.
Oklahoma and Baker Mayfield got a lot of national media attention, and a lot of our fans thought that was undeserved. Well, Texas Tech fans, it's time to come face to face with an uncomfortable truth: Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma are good. Baker especially. Long gone are the once-unpredictable quarterback's days of throwing strange interceptions and fumbling at the worst time. He's emerged as a more than capable operator of Oklahoma's offense, and more importantly as a leader of that team.
This is not to say that Texas Tech fans would want Mayfield back. We are perfectly happy with Patrick Mahomes and everything that he brings to the table. This is a simple admission so that we can move on from squabbling about who's jealous and who isn't. Taylor Swift would have enough material to write a full album of songs if she read any of this tweeting back and forth. Speaking of Taylor Swift, let's jump into this week's preview.
Since U Been Gone - Kelly Clarkson
Survivor - Destiny's Child
Irreplaceable - Beyonce
Foreplay/Long Time - Boston
Gives You Hell - All American Rejects
Malcom Kelly Freestyle - Malcom Kelly
OFFENSE: Balanced Spread
Oklahoma's been running a variant of this offense for years, switching between being slightly running based and slightly passing based depending on the skill set of the quarterback. With Baker Mayfield, they certainly have the ability to pass, but their stable of running backs have gotten the edge so far. They're so deep at the running back position that Semaje Perine, who would start at nearly every school in the nation, has been reduced to a 3rd string role behind Joe Mixon and Daniel Brooks. Oklahoma is not dominant at one thing, but rather very good at many things. Sterling Shepard is having a great 18th year of college in Bob Stoops's system, and all Oklahoma opponents wish that he would graduate already.
DEFENSE: 4-3? 3-4? I'm not really sure.
Is it a 4-3? Is it a 3-4? They run a lot of different base formations, but the one we're more likely to see just based on how our offense works is the 3-4. OU is going to need that extra speed on the edges and in the flats to counteract our sweep and screen game. OU has one of the better defenses in the Big XII with dynamic LB Eric Striker and lockdown corner Zach Sanchez. I would look for Sanchez to be singled up on any veteran on our offense that isn't hurt, like Devin Lauderdale or Reginald Davis. Oklahoma is 23rd in the nation in total defense according to NCAA.com, and will be the best defense we face in the regular season.
WHY I'M WORRIED:
So many reasons. Baker Mayfield has ceased being inconsistent and is maturing into a great leader. Oklahoma's defense is a stout squad that is tailored to beat teams like us. Our inconsistent tackling will be challenged by OU's great running backs. This game is in Norman. There are many reasons not to like this matchup.
WHY I'M NOT WORRIED:
With the exception of maybe Jerrod Heard, OU hasn't played a QB as dynamic as Patrick Mahomes. As much as he struggled last week against Kansas, no one in the conference is better at creating something from nothing. I really do think that Mahomes can get a couple over the head of Zach Sanchez and the OU secondary, and I think that DeAndre Washington has a really good chance to get some solid chunks of yardage on the ground.
HOW WE MATCH UP:
On defense, Oklahoma likes to employ a zone-blitz philosophy, often dropping their corners deep in the zones as opposed to their safeties. They run man a little bit, but nowhere near as often as they run zone. What truly sticks out about Oklahoma is their run blitzing.
Eric Striker is a very effective blitzer because of his ability to disguise and time his blitzes, as he showcases on this play. This is a blitz designed to take out a running threat, as we can see by #10 checking the QB before pursuing the ballcarrier as well. Striker sets up at a relatively normal level for an OLB, making the OT think that he doesn't have to check the backside. Then, timing the play perfectly, Striker jumps into the backfield. To their credit, the rest of the Oklahoma defense squeezes the gaps in this zone based running play into almost nothing, forcing WVU's fullback to move the lead block inside instead of towards the edge. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what gap the running back chooses, because Striker is on him in an instant.
This play is showing of what happens when Mike Stoops's defense is functioning as intended. It's the perfect call against the play from the defense, and the play never had a chance from the beginning. Look for OU to get Striker involved in blitzing, especially in the running game. If OU can eliminate the threat of DeAndre Washington on the ground, it will put their solid secondary in a good position against Patrick Mahomes and his hobbled group of receivers.
I fully expect our youth to be put to the test this week, because Zach Sanchez and this Oklahoma DB corps are very talented.
I'm pretty sure that we'll see a lot of this Cover 2 or Cover 3 Sink look from OU, as that's the defense Kansas used to slow down Mahomes last week. The keys to figuring out this defense reside with Zach Sanchez. He's an excellent deep defender, and Stoops likes to keep him over the top. If we can use slant patterns effectively, we might be able to score a couple of big catches in the areas underneath his deep coverage, as WVU does here. It doesn't end up being enough for a first down, but it's still a substantial chunk of yardage. The WVU outside receiver runs Sanchez deep, and based on the Oklahoma blitz from the same side, there's a space that has no one in it. The WVU slot receiver has to wait and break off his route deeper than he wants due to the field positioning, but it's still a victory in reading the defense and play calling from Dana Holgorson and Skyler Howard of WVU.
On offense, this week's matchup boils down into making the correct decision. By the aggressive, blitzing nature of their defense, OU will leave space on the field somewhere. The big questions lie with our young WRs getting playing time. Will they find these spots? Will Patrick Mahomes find the blitz and adjust accordingly? We know Mahomes is a great college QB, but this week we'll find out if he's viable for the NFL too. Adjusting to blitzes and unveiling disguised coverages is a huge part of what NFL QBs are asked to do, and Patrick Mahomes will be asked to do so as well.
When we look at OU's offense, we find a truth that's hard to swallow: Baker Mayfield is a good quarterback.
I don't want to talk about the pump fake, even though it was fantastic. I don't want to talk about the play action ball fake, which was kinda subpar. I want to talk about this throw. This is a frozen rope. A dart, straight to the only place on the field where an Oklahoma receiver could catch the ball and no WVU defender had a remote shot at it. At first it looks like a bad pass, but the more you watch it the more you appreciate the combination of touch and velocity that Baker puts on this football. It's a beautiful pass. It's a play that got completely shut down by the WVU secondary that still got completed because, shockingly, Baker Mayfield is a very good quarterback.
He made those kinds of plays at Texas Tech, but he would follow them up with a fumble or a bad pick. Not anymore. Mercurial Baker Mayfield is a thing of the past. This version of Baker Mayfield is a football playing Gundam, executing the offense with a murderous efficiency. I cannot say enough about how Lincoln Riley and his staff have absolutely transformed this young man into a consistent player. However, it's not all Baker. He has a very intelligent group of wideouts to work with.
On this play, his two inside receivers run a ridiculously effective option route pattern against a WVU Cover 3 Robber. West Virginia's Robber safety is sitting in the middle of the field, but not exactly deep. He's right there in that intermediate area, close enough to the flat to make a big hit on anyone waiting in the middle of the field, but far back enough to take away the deep middle. The receiver on the right side runs a stop route, dragging the Robber forward. If the Robber doesn't jump forward, the ball either goes to the stop route or the slant route from the right inside receiver. But that right inside receiver is watching that Robber from the beginning of the play. The second he sees him jump inside, he breaks his route off into the vacated space. It's a picture-perfect option route, and the OU receivers are very good at running it.
The thing that makes Baker Mayfield good at OU is the same thing that frustrated Tech fans 2 years ago: his quick trigger. The receivers he has to work with at OU are simply better in different ways than Tech's. Tech's are more explosive and better at getting open at the beginning of their routes. OU's get more open as the play extends. That's why the blueprint to beating OU is very simple. The Texas Longhorns lit the way. Pressure Mayfield, don't allow those routes to develop. This is why OU isn't really classified as an Air Raid, they don't thrive when heavily blitzed. They also have a pretty good running game as well.
The Sooners really like their zone-run plays out of the Pistol formation. The Pistol is a widely misunderstood formation, it's thought to be a style used in Air Raid and passing situations. In reality it's just a screwy version of a Strong or Weak I-Formation. As we mentioned before, Oklahoma has running back talent in spades. If they can hit the edges effectively on us. we are going to crash and burn under the weight of defending both Baker Mayfield and a good running game.
I'm not sure we can defend one of Oklahoma's dimensions, much less two. We're going to need some big help to come out of Norman with a win. We'll need David Gibbs to break his mold and bring some heat (or get pressure with the front 4) and Mahomes to get back to his blitz-beating self. Either way, we cannot be one dimensional this week. Expect Kliff to start out with a heavy dose of the run game, go back to the passing game to wear the OU defense out, then return to a relatively fresh DeAndre in the 4th quarter. Defensively, I don't know. We need to pressure Baker Mayfield into making mistakes. The only problem is, he doesn't make many these days. It won't be easy by any means, but I see Oklahoma winning the breakup fight based on the progression of Mayfield and home field advantage.
Oklahoma 45, Texas Tech 35