Much like the Florida State game earlier this season, the OU offense vs. their opponent's defense will once again be the marquee match-up this Saturday. The Sooners success, especially in this game more often than not, is establishing the run and using that to set up play action pass game. The advantage they have again this year is the multitude of options available to them in the pass game. Texas, under the leadership of new DC Manny Diaz, has proven to be and sure to continue to be just as multiple however. The Longhorns have shown a plethora of looks on the defensive side of the ball all the while surely holding some special little wrinkles back for this game just like both teams do every year.
It will be a match-up of two first year coordinators and two of the most promising young up-and-comers in their respective positions. The chess game between the two Saturday afternoon will be fascinating and will obviously go a long way towards determining who comes out victorious. My perception is that OU fans have been a little underwhelmed with Heupel's performance so far, while Texas fans have been quite pleased with Diaz. So it will be interesting to see, coming out of this game, if those respective feelings remain the same or if things don't change just a little pending the final score.
We'll get much more in-depth with all the match-ups after the jump.
OU Offense vs. Texas Front Seven
The (pardon the pun) Texas sized spotlight for Diaz and the Texas defense is obviously Ben Habern's absence at the center position. A close second will likely be the right tackle position, where the Sooners have either inexperience (in Daryl Williams/Lane Johnson) or a player working their way back from injury and admittedly less than 100% (Jarvis Jones). So OU fans can expect Diaz and his endless variation of blitz schemes to focus and attempt to exploit these two areas of the line, probably on the same play at times, all afternoon long. Oklahoma has not shown the propensity to go max protect when facing this kind of pressure as it takes them out of what they like to do on offense. So if Texas is consistently beating the protection, expect Heupel to make the necessary adjustments in his play calling as opposed to their protection schemes. The scary part in this for OU fans is the handful of times we've seen Landry get pressure so far this year, he still has shown that tendency to panic and look to unload the ball often times leading to a turnover. I don't have to tell OU fans, or Texas fans for that matter, just how huge turnovers can be in this game, so it goes without saying that avoiding them will monumental for Landry. If Texas makes a great play, kind of like the Aaron Williams one a couple years ago, then more power to them for it, but simply giving them the ball like Landry has done at times this year or like Iowa State did last week is another thing entirely.
Texas has no shortage of talent or experience in their front seven and will move them all over the field to try and confuse the Oklahoma o-line. Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor are both more than capable of beating their man off the edge in pass rush and both play the run quite well. We saw last year that Jeffcoat can let his emotions get the better of him which is a problem that has, at times, reemerged earlier this year as well. Now to expect him to give OU multiple drive saving personal foul penalties again this year in Dallas would be wishful thinking to say the least, but that doesn't mean there might not be some Sooners trying to get in his head. That said, I'm sure the Texas coaches will be reminding him of this and reminding him throughout the week to keep his cool. Up the middle, Kheeston Randall is the name to know and his match-up with Gabe Ikard replacing Habern at center will be huge in this game. Habern struggled with Randall at times last year, so Ikard playing a position he's not experienced at could need help depending on what the Sooners are trying to do on offense. Obviously if that's necessary, it just takes away from other areas of protection along the line and surely what Texas is hoping for to help their blitzes.
At linebacker, Texas fields three very athletic guys who are capable of making plays all over the field. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are the names you probably know, but the guy they're most excited about is Jordan Hicks. Robinson, much like OU's Tom Wort, is a tad undersized (from a "traditional" sense) for a MLB but uses his athleticism to overcome any deficiencies and will be a name you hear called often Saturday. Acho is just a picture of consistency and a guy the Texas defense can always count on being exactly where you need him to be. Hicks is a kid who can literally make a play anywhere on the field and plays with a true reckless abandon. His aggressiveness could be an area OU tries to exploit with some play action or on the slip screen to the TE play we saw against Missouri.
In stating that OU establishing the run will go a long way towards them winning this game will definitely not be the last time you hear that this week. It's a popular fact for the announcers to reference every year in this game, but they do so for very good reason. History has shown that whoever wins the run game more often than not comes out on top. So the fact that Oklahoma has shown a very improved run game, specifically with their new found weapon Dom Whaley, bodes well heading into Dallas. Against the only two front sevens the Sooners have faced that are even remotely comparable to Texas' (FSU and Mizzou), OU hasn't run wild but have been more than effective eclipsing the century mark in both games. OU will have no shortage of options to throw at the Horns Saturday whether it's in the form of Whaley, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, or even now possibly Brandon Williams. And that's without even taking into account Trey Millard who repeatedly burned Texas last year on inside run plays for first down after first down.
From an OU fan perspective, I think Whaley needs to be the primary ball carrier and have a big game while they spell him with Finch and Williams. It's not meant to be a knock on Brennan Clay as I think he can definitely bring some things, especially in the pass game, but Finch and Williams are just much better change of pace guys to what Whaley brings in my opinion.
OU Offense vs. Texas Secondary
No matter how confident Texas fans may be in their secondary, this is the obvious advantage for Oklahoma and the aspect of this game they have by far the best chance to try and exploit. That's not to say Texas doesn't have plenty of talented players in their back four, but both corners are first year starters (one a true freshman) and both safeties are suspect in coverage. Behind those two inexperienced starting corners is more inexperience and behind those two starting safeties is a guy even more suspect in coverage and a true freshman. So forgive me if as an OU fan and the thought of Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills matched up on a true freshman and/or a first year starter or for that matter Blake Gideon matched up on anyone isn't a match-up we're all incredibly excited about.
Last year in this game, the Texas defense was able to essentially take Broyles out of the game limiting him to just 36 yards on five receptions. However, as we've just discussed, the talent on corner that was there last year in the three NFL players they had in 2010 is clearly not the case in 2011. So where they were able to match-up Aaron Williams on him last year and occasionally provide help over the top, how do they have to do things differently this year without that kind of individual talent and how does that force them to change their defensive game plan? Then you move to Stills, who was the leading receiver for OU in this game last year, and another year seasoned with a propensity for making big plays in big games and no matter the rankings they just don't get much bigger than this game every year. But we know about those two guys, so the real question is whether or not the Sooners will have a third WR step up like we saw Dejuan Miller do last year. If it's Miller again, or Jaz Reynolds, or if Trey Franks is back from suspension, or a true freshman like Kameel Jackson in his first RRSO. A viable third threat at WR just makes OU's offense so much more difficult to defend.
We talked previously about how often and from how many different places Diaz will bring the blitz and while it has worked out very well for them, I'm sure even Texas fans would admit they haven't faced anything even close to what OU will be bringing to Dallas on offense. I doubt I'm telling any of you anything you didn't already know, but when you bring the blitz that often it leaves some guys open and others in one-on-one coverage. Now clearly it's up to the QB to recognize this and get rid of it before the blitz gets there, so while it could certainly give OU fits that doesn't mean it couldn't also turn into an advantage and something they're able to exploit. Blitzing as often as they have and are likely to do is an obvious risk vs. reward scenario. If they're able to get to Landry or force some errant throws then clearly it will be worth it. However if Landry is able to pick them apart with the short stuff, which has clearly been the OU m.o. in this game in years past, well then it could quickly force Texas and Diaz to adapt. For all it's aggressiveness, this Diaz defense is little more than a bend but don't break approach. They'll let you have what you can get in between the twenties while trying to limit the "big" plays, then try to bow up in the red zone and limit you to three instead of six. If OU can get more break than bend then they can absolutely find success against this defense despite all their talent.
This aspect of the greatest CFB rivalry in the game will be the one that draws all the headlines, as it should. It's not fair to say it's Heupel's first big test considering the Florida State game, but I'm sure we can all agree that while that was undoubtedly a big game but there is just something different about Dallas. It's something you can't put into words and with it comes an indefinable pressure. How Heupel and this offense respond to both that pressure and the pressure Texas is sure to bring will arguably be the single biggest factor in determining whether or not OU can come out of Dallas with a win.