OKLAHOMA VS TEXAS TECH: I miscalculated Texas Tech earlier this season when I predicted then-No. 15 OSU would not have much trouble dispatching them in Stillwater. So, maybe I should tread with caution when looking at OU’s game Saturday in Lubbock. But I start where you have to start in any evaluation of a game involving the Sooners. Can the opponent match OU’s established firepower and ability to score a lot of points?
It’s a very short list of people who have a chance to keep pace, and then one, with the remarkable Kyler Murray and his group of gifted skill players. And Texas Tech is not on that list. Credit Kliff Kingsbury for turning around a ship that looked like it was headed under water.
Finally, his offense is balanced with a winning defense. But not enough of a winning D this time around to hold Oklahoma back from a winning number of points.
RILEY AND STOOPS: The two coaches have a lot in common, including the fact that early in their head coaching careers at OU, they were wanted by other teams – particularly now, with Riley’s name atop the list of coaches for open jobs or jobs that could open: Cleveland, Dallas and Oakland. After one of the most remarkable early years in college football history, Stoops had multiple opportunities.
At an early age, it is believed that Stoops could’ve had head jobs with Florida, Notre Dame and the Cleveland Browns. He had turned down the offer by his alma mater, Iowa, before taking over at Oklahoma. That’s five prominent opportunities for a guy who would wind up staying in Norman for all of his head coaching days. At least for now.
Riley will have opportunities. And if he wanted to be an NFL head coach next season, he could. But I don’t see it for awhile. He’s got things rolling in Norman and has a December signing classes that could rank with some of OU’s best-ever players.
Studying up on the group committed and knowing what 18-year-old studs could wind up with Riley, the final piece should be falling into place: Annually signing a number of elite recruits, that would compare with the Ohio States and Clemsons. Note that I didn’t go as far as to say Bama. That run is so ridiculous it’s not worth going there.
The fact is OU signs a few kids every year who were offered by Bama. So obviously, the key is simply to sign more of that caliber of player. BTW, there are several other reasons I believe Riley will be around Norman awhile. But that story is for another time.
RELEVANT STATS: You want relevant stats? I’ve got some relevant stats for you. How about this? 6-5. Six feet and five inches tall. That’s relevant to the OU defense because Texas Tech star receiver Antoine Wesley is not only that tall, but he’s a threat on every down to win one on one battles. Another lanky and productive Big 12 receiver who has dominated shorter DBs.
OU’s secondary is markedly better than the one that allowed Patrick Mahomes to repeatedly light them up in that memorable shootout here in Lubbock two years ago. But they are not world-beaters. And they are not tall, even by DB standards. So, a game key will be limiting the damage done by Wesley against OU’s unusually short secondary.
Kerry Cooks’ bunch must avoid this one becoming Flag Day – excessive flags flung for pass interference, that are more likely on the road, and particularly against a team that has featured the go routes ever since Mike Leach rolled into West Texas with his fresh unorthodoxies and a trunk full of index cards. Sooner fans remember how effective downfield/deep balls were to the tall and long Texas receivers -- 6-5 Lil’Jordan Humphrey and 6-6 Collin Johnson. And the UT chunker is not nearly the thrower Tech’s freshman has been this season.
Alan Bowman ranks 3rd in NCAA with 344 pass yards per game. Throws well and throws often. The Sooners best be prepared for a number of deep balls tests, especially in the man coverage where Wesley has excelled against man coverage. The big guy easily out-dueled an Iowa State DB last Saturday who’d given up 7 inches and 7 points with one of his high-point catches in the end zone.
RELEVANT NUMBER: 19, both the number and its relevance to this OU vs. TT slugfest.
First, 19 has been one of my favorite numbers ever since Lance Alworth wore it with those baby blues of the San Diego Chargers – the unmistakably coolest uniforms ever. Elder statesmen will recall those pass-happy John Hadl, Dickie Lowe and Ernie Ladd Chargers, whose TV games were delivered via the dulcet tones of the white-haired veteran play by play man Charlie Jones. FWIW, Bambi’s favored status with my home-state Arkansas Razorbacks, was the first of my grade school-through junior high obsessions of Hog heroes, including our late-great pal Light Horse Harry Jones, Paul Blevins, and the Frank Broyles inspired QBs, Bill Montgomery and Joe Ferguson. Those were the days, my friends; those were the days.
The obvious other importance to the number 19 is that OU’s true road win streak will extend to that number, if victorious Saturday night – exactly 1,491 days since No. 4 Oklahoma’s four-point loss to 25th-ranked TCU.
BARNES BALLIN’: Safety Robert Barnes is not in that undersized group and has been playing well. The five-star son of former Sooner LB Reggie Barnes is rangy at safety and has played well since being promoted into a starting role. He’s not only laid the lumber on opponents but has covered well. The biggest question this weekend will be whether Bookie is able to play after sitting out much of the KSU game, following his ball-jarring collision with K-State’s 6-6 by 255-pound tight end. BTW, it’s good to see Bookie at nickel, which is by far his best position with Oklahoma.
CHESS VS. CHECKERS: Via Kyler Murray, Lincoln Riley continues his uncanny ability to make teams defend most every inch of the field. Murray had twelve players catch at least one pass in the win over KSU. You don’t need a PhD in mathematics to understand your chances for success go up exponentially if an offense makes the eleven defenders spread out to cover plays that could come their way. Verically and horizontally. By land and buy air. It’s like the expression goes: Riley “is playing chess while others are playing checkers.”
BROTHER BROOKS CAN REALLY RUN: Kennedy Brooks continues to consistently produce explosive plays – defined as runs 12-yards or longer – at a remarkable pace. The redshirt freshman repeatedly picks up almost a first down every time he touches the ball. Ten yards. His 86-yard gallop to paydirt certainly helped that average in the early third quarter last Saturday.
The test will be tougher Saturday night at Texas Tech. But so far, 26 has used terrific offensive line play to provide room for him to make long distance jaunts look as natural as you’d see in a day-before walkthrough session.
This ‘deep’ running back position is now down to just two healthy bodies, with the injury to Marcelius Sutton, reportedly keeping him out for the season.
THE SKARLET AND BLACK: Have nothing less than a pitiful history of knocking off Top 10 teams – and Top 25 for that matter – but they got our attention when they rolled out of Stilly with their first win in Payne County since 2001. OSU looked like the 21st century Cowboys up until that game. And Tech deserved kudos as much as OSU deserved a second evaluation. A rookie star QB was getting help not only from a pair of stellar receivers, but from a veteran defense that has been in Lost and Found for much of the color TV era.
PREDICTION TIME: I always stick with my Blitz pick on Sunday night. I had OU by 11. If I were to alter it six days later, I’d pick the Sooners by more than that.