Game week is long and hard, tense with anticipation of the weekend's sweet release, and never more so than during conference play. That's why we're here, scraping and clawing our way over that midweek ridge so you can start the smooth coast toward kickoff with a better understanding of what awaits you at the bottom. This week's guest is Allen Kenney, proprietor of Blatant Homerism.
(Our interview begins in the hours preceding the Astros’ glorious return to the postseason.)
Ulysses S. Cocksman: Sorry to keep you waiting, I've been pacing in circles around my desk all morning. Do you have a rooting interest in the playoffs? If not, would you be willing to root against the Yankees?
Allen Kenney: Actually, the only rooting interest I do have in the playoffs is rooting against the Yankees. I hate Billy Crystal.
[throws out all challenging questions] GREAT TO MEET YOU, NEW BEST FRIEND. Let's start on offense – OU has a new coordinator in Lincoln Riley and a new quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Honestly, building around a pair of former Texas Tech walk-ons seems inadvisable, but it looks like it's working out so far. Tell us what to expect, other than carnage.
Trust me, I was as skeptical about those moves in the beginning as anyone. Damned if they haven't clicked, though.
Riley has really impressed me in a number of ways. Whereas Josh Heupel spent four years learning on the job as OU's offensive coordinator, Riley cut his teeth for five years at East Carolina before joining Bob Stoops' staff. Riley came in with a well-defined plan to overhaul the scheme to fit with more of a classic Air Raid flavor in the Mike Leach mold, and Stoops clearly felt comfortable handing him the keys to the offense. Heupel was solid when it came to the Sunday-to-Friday stuff, but four games into the season, I have far more confidence in Riley's ability to adjust and develop an offensive rhythm on game days.
As for Mayfield, with the offensive line still gelling, his ad-lib skills and elusiveness have played a big part in OU's strong start. He throws well on the run and has shown an ability to take advantage of single coverage with passes down the field. He isn't forcing throws the way that he did in his one season at Tech. Maybe most importantly, he has a great feel for the Air Raid and is reading the field well before and after the snap.
All in all, the transition has been smooth at both coordinator and QB.
West Virginia came into last week ranked near the top of the FBS in team defense (albeit against some garbage-ass competition). Texas is currently ranked… let's see… oh no. Oh God. That's not good at all.
Do you worry that maybe the Texas defense will provide too little resistance? Is that a thing? Please tell me that's a thing.
Oh, yeah, definitely a thing, in the sense that I've seen it attempted before. Mack Brown himself tried it in this very game a few times.
Damn it, that stings. One area that I have some hope is the Texas offense versus the Sooners D, because Mike Stoops is clearly the brother who ate the most paste and paint chips as a kid, and Jay Norvell has double super secret inside info he's itching to deploy. Unless he's a plant! Shit, I really hope he's not a plant. How do you think the defense will hold up against Texas? Please explain it slowly, as if to a child.
You're absolutely right that Norvell is a big wildcard in this game. He knows OU's defensive personnel well. He also has insight into OU's scheme and how the staff prepares.
Or does he?
Anyway, I do think Texas could find some measure of success moving the ball against Mike Stoops' defense. Like most teams, the Sooners tend to struggle with mobile quarterbacks a la Jerrod Heard. Last week, the D was particularly godawful defending the zone read, so I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Longhorns come out and try that early in the game. Mix in some jet sweeps to keep OU honest.
West Virginia also showed that offenses can push around OU's front seven. Given the state of UT's offensive line, though, it's tough to imagine the Longhorns dominating many teams in the trenches right now.
Let's talk rivalry for a second. Can we all agree that this is still the Red River Shootout? We've lost so many good fans in the latrine dungeons of the Cotton Bowl, and it dishonors their memory to submit to the demands of cowards in the ivory towers of AT&T and Dr. Pepper marketing.
Even if I wanted to change it to Red River Rivalry, I couldn't say it. Literally. Try that one three times fast.
[tries it, is impossible]
As for the optics, rivalry connotes something like a permanent state of competition or dislike. We're talking about a once-a-year event. It doesn't makes sense.
I'll live with any foregone personal endorsement opportunities and stick with Red River Shootout.
Agreed entirely. With that settled, can we get a Kickstarter going to fund development of a proper hand sign for you guys? Inverted horns are genuinely, viscerally infuriating, and I need it to stop for my own cardiological well-being.
I'd be completely in favor of this (although I had no idea this irked Texas fans so much). I find the horns down thing about as annoying as "Bonghorns," "L(OU)ser," "Asstin," etc. It's the sports equivalent of people who use stuff like "sheeple" when they're talking politics and think it's really clever.
Of course, all this raises another issue: How many hand signs are left out there for OU to co-opt?
I can't speak for all Texas fans, but it makes me feel irrationally stabby. I'm just spitballing until we get this thing fully funded, but maybe we can explore an elaborate two-handed thing that forms a covered wagon? Or maybe one hand is a parcel of land, and as you come closer you see that the other hand is a tiny person who has somehow already claimed it.
Back to the football, special teams for Texas is currently the smoldering crater left behind by a meteor flattening an overstuffed clown car. How does OU look there?
The Sooners lost a one-time Groza Award candidate and a veteran punter to graduation, but I actually feel better about the kicking game now than I did a year ago. Freshman Austin Seibert, the No. 1 high school kicker in the country last year, has been nails so far, drilling all seven of his field goal attempts and all 21 extra points. He's doing a great job handling the punting duties, too.
OU's coverage units have yet to give up any big plays, but they will be without special teams ace Stanvon Taylor this weekend.
The kickoff and punt returns have been a little meh to this point. Teams are very careful in kicking to Alex Ross now, limiting his opportunities for big kickoff returns. Sterling Shepard just looks awkward returning punts, although he seemed to be coming along last week against West Virginia. (Frankly, I hate having arguably OU's best offensive player returning punts, but no one asked me.)
OK, time to take this thing home – let's hear a prediction for the game. And for a bonus point: in a parallel universe with no limitations, boundaries or consequences, invent the perfect State Fair fried foodstuff. Please show your work.
The last two games have made me a little gun-shy. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I worry that OU might have started taking Texas a little too lightly. On top of that, the Sooners' penchant for penalties and struggles along the offensive line make them susceptible to the kinds of negative plays that can swing a game like this to the underdog.
Rivalry-game dramatics aside, though, I haven't seen much from the Longhorns to make me think they can move the ball consistently. The Sooners' front six/seven will probably give Texas' offensive line the blues and force some mistakes out of Heard. OU will have its own problems with UT's defensive front, but Mayfield and all his weapons at the skill positions will ultimately be too much.
As for fried foodstuffs, my favorite food in the world is Chicago-style pizza. Take a pepperoni and spinach stuffed pie from Edwardo's, throw it in a deep fryer and let's make some Lipitor prescription-inducing magic.
Equal parts horrifying and fantastic, which is everything novelty fried food aspires to be. Well done. Thanks so much for dropping in, and here's hoping that you're really shitty at predictions.