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Texas-Oklahoma Football Preview: Sooner Offense

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My preseason preview has held up pretty well, but there are definitely some modifications to be made.

The Sooner offense is the dominant unit in this football game and the one area where either team holds a decided advantage. 42.5 ppg and 555 yards per contest speak to that. The Texas defense's ability to handle their tempo, limit easy scores, and keep few enough points on the scoreboard such that our offense can work on OU's defense for four quarters will be the story of the football game.

The Sooner O is very good, but they are defensible. They're getting by on dominant WRs and good QB play and, by forcing tempo, they're able to magnify defensive cracks into chasms. Florida State's defense offered teams some glimpse of how to caulk that up. It starts with hitting Landry Jones and turning their tempo back on them.

Last year, Texas went down 14-0 before the game even started because we couldn't line up, extended Sooner drives with idiotic penalties, and generally lost our minds. OU didn't expose our defense so much as expose a lack of on-field leadership and poor game prep. Leaders on the field on every level of the defense - specifically smart, mature guys like Okafor, Acho, and Gideon - have to vocally seize control of the defense, calm people down, and line people up. Staring at the sideline imploringly won't help us. Playing the wrong defense hard is preferable to bewilderment. Get a few stops and the Sooner fast break starts to walk the ball up the court. That's when Diaz can start to dial up the exotica and our Cuban can go Scarface.

Personnel

OL

The Sooner OL suffered a blow when it lost Center Ben Habern and 27 career starts to injury. They slid over starting guard Gabe Ikard to center and elevated back-up guard Stephen Good (who has 10 career starts) to the starting line-up to compensate. LT Donald Stephenson has 14 career starts and he has been solid for them this year after an up and down 2010. The right side of the line is a concern for them and it features OG Tyler Evans (20 starts) and Junior RT Lane Johnson/Daryl Williams. Lane Johnson is a JUCO who started his career as a QB(!), went to TE, and eventually ate his way to OT. He's athletic, but very raw. He wasn't expected to start this year, but the Sooner staff was underwhelmed by RS FR Daryl Williams in their opener and they've been sharing time since. Perhaps a Sooner will shed light on how this is working out.

The Sooner OL struggles run blocking at times more than their statistics suggest (fear of the Sooner WRs gives them some favorable fronts), but the real test against Texas will be their cohesiveness. If we can only manage pressure outside, late, and with numbers, we're in a lot of trouble. Get some quick pressure and confound them a little and we've should be able to bat Jones around without putting people on islands.

RB

The Sooners use a group of backs, each with a different skill set, and, not entirely satisfied with the current crop's play, just burned Freshman Brandon Williams' shirt against Ball State. Williams is a pure running talent and a potential X factor in this game. Former walk-on Dominique Whaley (70-379-7tds-5.4 ypc) is a local boy and currently their leading rusher. His two biggest games have been Tulsa and Ball St, with Florida St and Missouri holding him to a combined less than 4.0 ypc. Whaley's dominant skill is best defined as tough-to-bring-downness, despite unremarkable size (5-10 200). He has strong hips, won't stop at first contact, and is pretty good at maximizing his carries. Good hands and very solid out of the backfield. Getting a starting halfback out of your walk-on program is pretty remarkable.

Brennan Clay has a similar size profile to Whaley, started the season as the Sooner's #1, but he hasn't gotten it done yet (3.8 yards per carry). We'll certainly see him though. Roy Finch gets some play as a tiny scat back, but all of the Sooners runners factor into the passing game. You can bet that the Sooners will screen the heck out of us.

Trey Millard is considered the best blocking FB in the league and he'll touch the ball every now and again. Jamison Berryhill, the gauntlet has been thrown!

WR/TE

This is the best unit we'll see until next week, but given that the Okie units are #1 and #2 in college football, that's not much of a slight. BUT THE SOONERS WILL TAKE IT AS ONE ANYWAY!

I don't need to extoll Ryan Broyles' on-field virtues (38-476-6tds) and he's averaging over 9 catches per game. He can take you over the top and he's ridiculously quick in space after the catch. There's track speed and there's football speed. Broyles runs the same 40 in pads as in gym shorts. Let's concede him 8 catches and aim for 80 instead of 160. That's what Florida State did and they took him out of the game... while allowing Kenny Stills to gash them.

I detest Kenny Stills, but he's got skills. He gives off the perfect punk ass Sooner vibe, but he will come up huge if you're overly concerned with Broyles and might do so even if you're not. He missed two games this year because of concussions or he was suspended for excessive bad tattoos. Hard to know definitively. Best #2 WR in the league.

Jaz Reynolds was suspended last year when he tweeted that he hopes everyone in Austin kills themselves after a gunman committed suicide last year on campus, so he has that going for him. When you're named Jaz, you should focus your rage on your parents. His Jaz hands have accounted for 10 catches for 234 yards. He and big body DeJuan Miller (7-66) are options 3 and 4 and the Sooners just added speedy Trey Franks back to the mix. These guys have depth, experience, and talent.

OK, maybe they are the best WR group.

TE James Hanna hasn't been much involved in the passing game this year after an expected up tick based on last year's promise, but I suspect he can thank the Sooner OTs and the multiple options at WR for that. He scored his first TD of the year against Ball St.

QB

The (coloring) book on Landry Jones (378 yards passing per game, 10-5 TD/INT ration, 72% completion, 9 yards per attempt) is pretty simple: In a clean pocket, he's a starting NFL QB who can place the ball anywhere on the field with timing and accuracy, placing immense pressure on your defense. When he's comfortable and in receive snap-rhythm drop-scan-deliver mode, it's surgical. "In a clean pocket" is the operative phrase. All QBs degrade when the pocket breaks down (the Vince-Colt Greg Davis Career Prolongation Exception is duly noted, counsel), but Landry declines more than the average redneck when you force him to move, make him throw out of rhythm, or ask him stretch the boundaries of his muscle memory. His problem is not immobility per se - it's athletic inflexibility.

OU knows this. Landry knows this. So they stress inside-out protection, surround him with great pass catching options long and short, put a clock in his head (literally - they had Jerry Schmidt insert a Casio in his brain stem), and let the defense know that there's a price to pay for bringing the house. If that house is in Oklahoma, three bedrooms costs you $61,000. But you can park it wherever.

Thankfully, Jones can't hurt you with his feet unless he throws a cleat at you. That means Texas can bring unbalanced pressure and overloads without any real consequence, the DEs can pass rush without containment worry, and the pesky task of honoring the running QB is no more. This is kind of a big deal for what Manny Diaz wants to do. The great pencil eraser in the college game is the super-mobile QB. OU writes their protection schemes in ink.

If Texas can pressure Jones without having to go zero down on an all interest mortgage with prudent fire zone deception, we've got a shot at turning the Sooners over, inflicting some negative plays, and getting the OU offense to take the pedal off of the gas without offering up a young secondary to the wolves.

Landry Jones and OU passing game vs. Texas pass defense - this is the matchup of the game.

Overall

Although OU is comfortable in anything from two back/one TE sets to five WR empty sets, we're going to play the bulk of the game in a base nickel with all three of our young corners on the field and we're going to play a lot of bodies (Dravannti Johnson, Reggie Wilson, Chris Whaley, DeMarco Cobbs all have expanded roles to play in this game). As a fan base, we should enter the game with the expectation of a lot of yardage allowed and an end goal of turnovers, being strong on 3rd down, and red zone buckle downs. That should be a treat to read real-time on our game thread.

OU's passing yards in this game are irrelevant if we can stymie them in the red zone, make them abandon the run, gradually work the passing risk calculus in our favor, and force them to achieve those yards with a lot of attempts. If Jones throws for 355 but it takes 54 throws to get there, we're OK. If Jones goes 24 of 35 for 320, we're getting our asses handed to us. If.

I'm not really that worried about OU's running game. I'm convinced we can generally stop it when we need to do so, an inability to line up or general exhaustion excepted. Famous last words of a fool, I'm sure.

If we have a secret weapon in this game, it's Kenny Vaccaro. Think of a modified box and one in which Vaccaro takes away the Sooner slot by himself and allows us to protect over the top and double up on some of their outside guys. That also allows us to bring Kenny off of the edge and he's in the mix in run support too. As he did against UCLA, I think Kenny has a knack for removing players from the game when he decides to make them a special project.

My greatest fear is a total inability to pressure Jones in our base defense when OU's tempo keeps us from running blitz packages. A four or five man rush that can't get hits, can't make him shuffle his feet, and allows him to take a picture in the pocket. If Jeffcoat and Okafor have been waiting for a game to cut it loose and show their skills without fear of a mobile QB breaking contain, well, here it is. This is the game where they can answer the critics.

Hook 'em.