This is the first of a two part preview series for our big game this week against the Seminoles. The second "OU vs. Florida State - Why Sooner fans should be confident" will go up in the next day or two. I think by the title they're pretty self explanatory, but just so there is no confusion the intention of this post is to try and take an objective look at legitimate reasons why OU fans should be worried heading into Saturday. Florida State is not undeservedly ranked #5 in the country, so there are obviously legit reasons for Sooner fans to be concerned. So we're taking off the crimson colored glasses and attempting to take an objective look at what those might be. Admittedly, I clearly do not know as much about the Noles as you (their fans) do so if there is something we miss or somewhere you see as having a significant advantage, please feel free to chime in.
First though, a little house cleaning note. Despite the belief of some of our friends (and soon to be frequent visitors) over at Tomahawk Nation, all of us here at CCM are not so blindly confident that we cannot see the threat that FSU presents. Also, while we're clearing things up I've noticed a propensity for some of our visitors to take some of the things written here in a very 'literal' sense. I'll present an example for you to come back and reference throughout the week: When I say/write that Florida State has nothing at WR that overly concerns me when matched up against Jamell Fleming or Demontre Hurst, that does not mean that I believe E.J. Manuel will have zero completions and zero passing yards Saturday. It also does not mean that none of your WRs will catch a ball the entire game, so when it does happen (and it will) you do not need to come here to say "I told you so", deal? Cool. Now let's get back to the point of this.
Reason #A - This is a road night game right?
Look, OU fans don't need any reminders about our struggles in road games during the Stoops tenure. Unfortunately, in order to make my point a reminder is what you're about to get so feel free to skip ahead. 2010 - @ Mizzou, @ A&M, 2009 - @ Miami, @ Nebraska, 2007 - @ Tech. I think you get the point, so for the OU fans still with us we'll stop there. I think it was CCMachine who I remember saying it here, though I'm sure there are plenty of others who were thinking the same thing, that the game against FSU this week seems eerily similar to the 2009 Miami game. A road night game, the year after a blowout win in Norman, a team looking to make a statement on national television due to said blowout. One big difference in my opinion though, this Florida State team is much better than that Miami team.
It's more than just the obvious difference of this FSU team being #5 and that Miami team being #17. While that Miami team had its fair share of talent, this Seminoles team is ridiculously loaded thanks to Jimbo Fisher's dominance on the recruiting trail in recent years. Now understandably some of that talent is very young and it's unsure at this point how large a role they might play on Saturday, but great players step up in big games and this roster is chuck full of potentially great players.
Lastly, despite what some others (myself included) have written here about the fan support/crowd I don't think there is anyone here who actually believes they won't show up in full force. I have no doubt they will be rowdy, they will be loud, and will play a role in the game. The best case scenario for us as OU fans is to get up early and try to take them out of the game, but given the circumstances surrounding this game I'm quite sure if they have even the slightest of chances they'll find a reason to get loud no matter what the scoreboard says.
Reason #2 - E.J. Manuel is not a small man
Cam Newton played most of last year around 6'5" 245 pounds. E.J. Manuel currently checks in around 6'5" 245 pounds. Again, not something we OU fans need a reminder of is the problems we've had defending mobile QBs who can extend plays with their legs. It's not really a matter of if, but when Manuel gets outside of the pocket or eludes the rush Saturday night. And when he does, at that size, he will not be easy to bring down especially when you consider we'll be putting out a LB unit that check in at 219 lbs, 229 lbs, and 199 lbs respectively. If a QB is able to lower his shoulder and deliver a blow on a LB, that doesn't necessarily bode well for the defense trying to stop him. Now can he hold up the entire game if he's having to take hit after hit? A fair question, but at his size he's much more apt to be able to do so than a non-beast sized QB. That's not even taking into consideration how difficult he might be to get down when they do get pressure, just getting to him is no guaranteed sack at that size.
Additionally, the scariest part is given their first two opponents the Noles haven't even had to ask Manuel to do any running with the ball. Just like we all assume OU did in their opener, FSU has surely held plenty back in their first two games in anticipation of this showdown.
Reason #D - No Travis Lewis
Let me qualify this by restating my opinion, since the day his injury was announced, I still think Lewis plays in this game. I could be proven wrong, but until I see him come out of that tunnel Saturday night without his pads on I'm sticking with my belief that there is no way he doesn't suit up. He might not be 100% or the Travis Lewis we've all become accustomed to, but if he's able to play his presence is more than worth it. All that said, it would be foolish not to consider the (likelihood?) possibility that he won't be able to go. So under that premise, you have to consider how big this game is and what missing him might mean for this defense.
Without Lewis, this is a pretty young defense without a true, established leader. Do some of those younger, inexperienced players get overwhelmed with the magnitude of this game? Do they get caught up in the atmosphere and get caught out of position? Can FSU play on their aggressiveness and capitalize? These are all things that worry me about Saturday night.
Reason #4 - Landry's happy feet
You have to take into consideration the opponents, but through two games the Noles have tallied seven sacks. For whatever issues we might question their defense under Mark Stoops, the front four and their ability to get pressure on the QB is not one of them. It's also highly unlikely that Stoops has shown, in their first two games, a tenth of what he has planned for Saturday night. I'd expect them to try and exploit OU's inexperience at the right tackle position, whether it's Daryl Williams or Lane Johnson in there.
With respect to Landry, obviously it was only one game but he appeared to be improved under pressure in the opener against Tulsa. His throw away balls were well out of reach of defenders, as they should be, and he didn't really come close to an INT that night. Now to be sure, FSU will have considerably more talent up front than Tulsa did so it's just not feasible to presume that the o-line can keep Landry as clean as they did that night. Landry's ability to make smart decisions with the ball under said pressure will be HUGE in this game. Controlling the momentum of the game, especially by avoiding something like a pick six, will be incredibly important if OU wants to win this game.
Reason #Cinco - What if we need a game winning field goal?
To put it simply, this is a nightmare scenario. If, god forbid, this game came down to an OU field goal attempt to win, well I shudder at the thought. Actually, paralyzed by fear would probably be a more accurate way to describe it. Heading into the game, we're not even sure who will be sent out there to take the first PAT or FG. Will it be Jimmy Stevens after missing an XP and not finishing the game last week or his replacement that night Michael Hunnicutt, who was perfect in all his attempts? We don't know and to be perfectly honest, right now I'm not sure Bob Stoops does either.
Reason #6 - The Wheel Route
This one is kind of in jest at least with respect to one individual type of play, but there has to be concern about big plays on busted coverages after what we saw against Tulsa. Clearly we hope it's something they can correct during these last two weeks of practices, but don't think FSU won't try and include something in their gameplan to play off the issues the OU defense had defending that play. Having re-watched that Tulsa game several times, I don't think it's as simple as replacing Javon Harris either. Despite his issues in coverage, he was very good in run support and I think he brings too much in that part of the defense to simply take him out. I fully expect him to be in the starting eleven on Saturday and won't be surprised if he has a really good game either.
Reason #7 Costanza - Greg Reid will want to redeem himself
What better one to close with right? I'll let you know this will appear here and on the reasons we should be confident post as well, but for now let's focus on why G5 should make us nervous. Look It's no secret we've had some fun at the expense of the talented young man and the frequency with which he got beat last year in Norman. We already know the kid doesn't need any reminding from us and has used it as a motivator all offseason. Add to that he'll be coming off a one game suspension with even more reason to make a statement. To be clear, I'm talking more about him in the return game but I'm not arrogant enough to think he won't have improved in coverage (though if you're reading this Greg, please feel free to prove me wrong).
So while I think we have one of the better punters in the country (hint, hint to the confidence post), I also think any chance (no matter how small or even non-existent) Reid has to return one he takes it. Now could that come back to bite him, like with a muffed punt, maybe. Could that also lead to a game changing punt return for a touchdown? Sure, why not. The point is, not matter how much fun we've had, the guys is a serious threat with the ball in his hands. Now if he plays as poorly again as he did in Norman, then I'm quite sure he'll maintain his special place amongst Sooner Nation but I don't think we should just assume that happens.
So there it is, part one of two is done. Is there something you think I should have included and didn't? Is there something you think I shouldn't have included? As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.
Putting this together, I've come to one inevitable conclusion. Man, it's gonna be a long wait all week for this one!