It’s been a rough two weeks for Texas Tech fans, specifically, a rough six quarters. Opinions from the fan base went from utter elation to bitter disappointment. It’s no secret that Kliff Kingsbury has been coaching for his job this season, but I don’t think any of us saw this coming. Of all things, our offense has morphed into something anemic? How is that even possible? It’s almost a shock to type this, but we don’t have an identity on that side of the ball.
The good news is that Oklahoma has struggled to stop potent offenses this year, and historically the Red Raiders have played the Sooners relatively well. If Tech had beaten WVU, and at least played competently against ISU, I’d likely be optimistic for this one. But, I don’t think our offense can hold serve...who’d have thought we’d ever say that.
I’ll stop my rant - let’s dive into the questions!
1. I've been really impressed with the OU running game this year. Specifically, I recall watching Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams average something like 14 yards/carry against Baylor. How does OU rotate these guys and who is likely the best of the bunch?
Jack: Lincoln Riley has shown a willingness this season to simply go with the hot hand, and it's worked out pretty well for Oklahoma. The guy with the hot hand right now is definitely Rodney Anderson, who rushed for 147 yards on 19 carries last week against a very good Kansas State rush defense. Even though he didn't make an impact early in the year, he seems to finally be himself again after suffering season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons. The guy is incredibly powerful and possesses an explosiveness that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. But is he the best of the group? It's hard to say, because they're all very multidimensional but still have very different styles. Adams is the smallest of the three, but he's probably the best cutter of the group and has some serious wheels. Sermon is probably the strongest, but he's also an incredibly patient and tactful runner for a freshman. All of them can catch the ball out of the backfield and can pass protect, so all of them are equipped to take a lot of snaps in a game.
2. Baker Mayfield is averaging a ludicrous 11.6 yards attempt, and has been extremely accurate. Do you feel like he's improved as a passer this year? How have teams successfully limited him this year (if at all)?
Jack: It's hard to say that he's improved as a pure passer considering how efficient he was a year ago, but I do think he's been making better decisions this season. One of his two interceptions came on fourth down and wasn't very impactful, and the other wasn't really his fault. Iowa State was sort of able to keep him in relatively check by dropping eight and forcing him to go through a bunch of progressions, but he's been able to burn others who have done that.
3. It seems like solid offenses have gotten to Oklahoma this year. How are teams putting points on the board against OU? Via pass or run? Big plays or stringing drives together?
Jack: Offenses have taken advantage of Oklahoma's defense in multiple ways this season. At times, Oklahoma has been ineffective at applying pressure -- sometimes due to the fact that they've chosen to drop eight into coverage at times. At Kansas State, Oklahoma's struggled with being out of position in the run game in addition to simply not bringing the intensity. In the second half, everything seemed fixed, but Oklahoma still hasn't been able to put together a complete game defensively since it went to Columbus in early September.
4. Has Lincoln Riley lived up to fans expectations thus far? Or, do people miss Bob Stoops?
Jack: Yeah, I'd say he's lived up to expectations. His coaching ability was on full display up in Columbus. Most people outside of the state of Oklahoma (and many such as myself within the state) thought Oklahoma would lose to Ohio State and have at least one loss at this point. And although the fan base isn't exactly thrilled right now, any frustration that exists is very rarely thrown in the direction of Riley. I think everyone is pretty satisfied with the way he carries himself and runs the program, so his image is pretty solid at the moment.
5. Who do Tech fans need to keep an eye on that we're not already aware of?
Jack: On offense, Marquise Brown is definitely a player who has emerged as of late. Standing at 5'10" (probably generous) and 162 pounds (also probably generous), the highly-touted JUCO product is small but incredibly quick. After not doing a ton early in the season, he had a breakout game against Kansas State, gaining 126 yards on six catches, including a 66-yards catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter. On defense, Kenneth Murray is a name you may not have heard but will be hearing for years to come. On Sept. 2, he was the first true freshman to start at middle linebacker at Oklahoma since 1975, and he's done a fairly solid job considering how difficult that position is to grasp. He's a big kid with freakish athleticism, and you'll definitely hear his name on Saturday night.
6. What are the best matchups for OU heading into this game?
Jack: Oh, I'd say OU's tight ends, receivers and H-Backs vs. Texas Tech's linebackers and defensive backs. OU will definitely have to establish the run to be successful in this one (as is the case in pretty much every game), but Texas Tech has been far better against the run than the pass this season -- at least on paper. The Red Raiders are allowing only 3.7 yards per carry (tied for 30th nationally) compared to 7.2 yards per attempt in the passing game (tied for 70th nationally). Texas Tech's defense has improved across the board this season, but I anticipate OU having a slightly easier time in the passing game than the running game. Part of the reason that OU's passing game is so dangerous is the presence on guys like Mark Andrews and Dimitri Flowers, and Riley has been great at finding ways to get these guys open. People haven't really been able to do much about it.
7. Any key injuries/suspensions to track?
Jack: Abdul Adams has missed the last two games but was actually available against Kansas State. I think he'll likely get some carries this week. CeeDee Lamb was knocked out of the Iowa State game with a shoulder injury that has sort of bothered him ever since, but it's not bothering him as much as it was, according to Riley. Defensive tackle Matt Romar has been out for quite some time and likely won't be back this week. However, the Sooners will likely have backup safety/regular contributor Kahlil Haughton back for this one.
8. Score Prediction?
Jack: I think OU will take care of business on the offensive side, but the defense has been unreliable and obviously worries me as an OU fan. However, I think they'll find way to limit the damage this time around and hold Tech to somewhere in the 31-point range. I'm going with a 52-31 win for the Sooners.