Week three for the Texas Tech Red Raiders has the guys traveling out to Norman, Oklahoma to face off against Lincoln Riley and the Oklahoma Sooners. This is a team with all the celebrity and prestige, sure, but we want to know more about the team with the new defensive mind and stronger QB. Who better to ask than Jack Shields of our SB Nation sister-site Crimson and Cream Machine?
1) Oklahoma is, again, a favorite in the Big 12 race and in the CFP. That may be largely attributed to the new quarterback, but it certainly is the same powerhouse character that Oklahoma has curated over the years. What’s the mood or expectation for Sooner fans going forward this season?
(Jack): At this point, it’s definitely a fifth straight Big 12 Championship and a fourth consecutive College Football Playoff appearance. Do fans expect the Sooners to make some noise in a hypothetical 2019 CFP appearance? There’s a bit of a wait-and-see attitude on that front, and that all hinges on the performance of the defense under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. The early returns have given fans reason for hope, but past experiences have obviously kept the OU faithful from completely buying in to a true natty run in 2019.
2) Despite games being (mostly) close over the past decade, Texas Tech’s last win came in 2011 when an untimely storm delayed the match up between Seth Doege and Landry Jones. The Red Raiders shocked the nation by taking down the No. 3 Sooners in Norman - but since then it’s been a gun fight heavily in Oklahoma’s favor. I know Texas Tech fans are looking at this game as an opportunity to figure out the next steps sans-Bowman, but how does this game fit into Oklahoma’s goals for the season?
(Jack): Prior to Bowman’s injury, this game was supposed to be a major barometer for Oklahoma’s new-look defense. We obviously saw what the guy did to the OU D in the first half of last season’s game, so fans were really looking forward to seeing a bit more of what’s changed between this season and the last.
Fans have also seen Jett Duffey, who hasn’t exactly displayed the same arm talent as his teammate. He did have some success downfield against the Sooners when Tech started throwing it deeper in the fourth quarter, but that was honestly more of an indictment of coaching techniques than anything else. In short, fans aren’t expecting Duffey to pose a viable threat this weekend, and they really haven’t seen enough of Jackson Tyner to formulate an opinion one way or the other.
At the current moment, the game is looking more like a footnote, which is somewhat disappointing when considering what we could have learned this weekend against a healthy Bowman.
3) It seems like Lincoln Riley has become a magnet for down-trodden quarterbacks hell-bent on destiny. Jalen Hurts is the latest of that dynasty, and he might be the most high-profile QB to come through Oklahoma in a while. What does Hurts mean to the offense and, more importantly, what kind of offensive gameplan do you think Oklahoma will roll out against a revitalized Tech defense? Who should Red Raiders be aware of at 11am on Saturday?
(Jack): Hurts brings a dimension to this offense that hasn’t been seen during Lincoln Riley’s tenure, and that’s the threat of a high-volume runner at the QB position. Kyler Murray was obviously a major threat with his legs, but he was of a much different mold and wasn’t going to record a ton of rushing attempts in any given game. Riley is now able to consistently throw designed running plays at opposing defenses, which just gives opposing DCs one more thing to think about.
As a passer, he has matured leaps and bounds since being replaced by Tua at Bama. Most point to Lincoln Riley being a “QB whisperer” (and that has a lot to do with it), but a lot of the credit also has to go to Dan Enos and Mike Locksley in Tuscaloosa, who did a great job developing him into a more complete QB during his junior season. When combining all of this with Riley’s ability to put his quarterbacks in situations that accentuate their strengths and veil their weaknesses, you have yourself a damn fine QB situation.
Texas Tech has shown some aggressive tendencies (as has Oklahoma) defensively thus far in 2019, so I suppose I’d expect Riley to exploit that in some form or fashion. Regardless of the particular game plan for this one, OU is averaging 10.5 yards per snap and 8.3 yards per rush, so scheming to force the Sooners to do one or the other likely won’t be to much avail. If this game stays competitive, I’d expect OU to lean on Trey Sermon late as the Tech defense begins to wear down, as this has become customary in close Big 12 contests.
You’re likely familiar with many of the faces on Oklahoma’s offense, including Hurts, Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, CeeDee Lamb and Grant Calcaterra. As far as new (or new-ish) faces are concerned, the guy to watch is redshirt sophomore receiver Charleston Rambo, who actually leads OU in receptions (11), receiving yards (251) and receiving TDs (4). He’s not quite as fast as Marquise Brown, but he’s still a burner and is definitely OU’s biggest threat to take the top off of a defense.
4) On the flip side of that: Texas Tech is at its weakest offensive potential in recent memory. With QB1 Alan Bowman out and QB2 Maverick McIver out from surgery, we’re left with Jackson Tyner and Jett Duffey. Both of which don’t offer much in the way of confidence. Oklahoma hasn’t been the most stellar on defense this year, but they make get off easy this game. Who are the key players for the Sooners defense that we should become familiar with before Saturday?
(Jack): The overall numbers on Oklahoma’s defense are actually a bit misleading, as the first unit has actually done a pretty good job. The defensive front is greatly improved and has some good depth, and they’ve definitely been aided by the switch to a one-gap scheme. As opposed to simply eating up blocks and allowing the linebackers to make plays, the emphasis has been to get into the backfield and cause disruption. So far, it has worked wonders.
Additionally, the linebackers have been much better with gap discipline in the early going, which has been a positive sign. Cornerback play has improved, as the staff has stressed looking back for the ball and breaking on routes. As expected, the weak link is the safety position, where the Sooners are lacking consistent play from the starters or any semblance of quality depth behind them.
Based on what I’ve seen (and who Texas Tech is trotting out at QB), I’m confident in the defense being able to have a good showing.
5) No surprise in the line for this match up; Oklahoma is favored by 27 over Texas Tech. What are the keys to the game for Oklahoma to avoid the upset and march on through the conference? What’s your score prediction?
(Jack): I’m going with a 52-24 Oklahoma victory, but I’d expect the majority of those Texas Tech points to come late in the proceedings. For OU, continuing to effectively apply pressure will be key, as we’ve seen what’s happened in past OU-Tech matchups when that hasn’t occurred. Damn you, Mike Stoops! *Shakes clenched fist in the direction the sky*