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Peter Bean of Burnt Orange Nation and myself engaged in a discussion of all things OU/TX and of course the incredible magnitude of which, Texas Sucks!
PB: Sooo... OU sucks.
Jordan Esco: It's funny you would mention that. I've heard something similar regarding your precious Horns as well. Gotta love Hate Week.
PB: I really do. Love Hate Week, that is. It's an awesome clash of football and culture. We're Good, you're Evil, etc.
Jordan Esco: There is nothing like it. I hear other college football fans talk about how their rivalry is the best and I can't help but laugh. There's just nothing even comparable to OU/Texas.
PB: Agreed. And it doesn't all quite make sense until you go to the Cotton Bowl.
So here we are. A couple weeks ago, it looked like Texas might be the team that entered the game with momentum, and OU was feeling a little insecure -- I believe you even licked your lips a little bit, eyeing some of our coaches. Things change pretty quickly, don't they?
Jordan Esco: I'm not certain things are quite as rosy for OU as some are making it out to be; likewise I don't believe things are anywhere near as dire for UT as some are saying. If there is one thing we know about this rivalry and the magical setting in which it takes place, it's that no matter the issues, either team is always capable of overcoming them just long enough to come away with that coveted Golden Hat.
PB: No, I agree that it's an even match up. But a couple weeks ago, y'all were looking really shaky. As an OU fan, how frustrating is Landry Jones as a quarterback?
Jordan Esco: Wow, I'm not sure we have enough time to delve into that loaded question. For all his stats, all his success, he's been an incredibly frustrating player to watch over these last four years.
Many would use a roller coaster as a metaphor for his play at quarterback, but I'm not even sure that would do it justice. It works in the sense that when he's on few can compare, but when he's off very few are worse. And I think that's the root of why he's so frustrating. Because he'll make a play or a throw where you're like "Woah, how the hell did he do that?" and then almost on the very next play he'll make a mistake you don't see a true freshman make, let alone a fifth year senior.
PB: I like to get a rise out of Sooner fans by suggesting Jones isn't a great quarterback because football isn't the most important thing in his life.
But seriously, what could possibly be more important than football?
Jordan Esco: That's just it. I don't believe there is anything more important for him (with perspective of course). It's the idiots on television or on sports talk radio that focus on his marriage this past summer or his faith. I've just chalked it up to it being the world we live in these days.
PB: I had to poke you with that stick. I'm sure you understand.
Jordan Esco: Of course. I'd be disappointed with you if you didn't.
PB: More seriously, now: what's your early eval on the Stoops Reunion? I'll tell you right now, there is nothing more revolting than watching those two smarmy assholes stomping around on the sidelines, whining at officials, alternately looking constipated or put upon.
Jordan Esco: Mike Stoops' return has made every bit of difference we OU fans were hoping for. There have been virtually zero busted coverages, which was a significant problem last year as you know, and the secondary has looked like one of his best. There are certainly still some issues in the front seven, mainly personnel, but that was expected and will continue until he gets through a recruiting cycle or two. Admittedly, there were/are plenty of similarities to what he and Brent Venables do schematically but he's still missing that top end talent we've come to expect in Norman.
PB: What's Mike's approach been in terms of getting pressure in the backfield? When is he choosing to bring numbers?
Jordan Esco: We're actually still learning that to be honest. Oklahoma was the blandest flavor of vanilla you've ever tasted in their first two games. Against Kansas State, it was almost as if the coaches thought they could get away with it again, designing a game plan that involved zero, literally ZERO, blitzes against Collin Klein. The results there speak for themselves, so following a second bye week adjustments were made and for the first time we saw what Mike Stoops has in mind last Saturday against Tech.
They brought guys from all over the field, using corner blitzes quite a bit as well as zone blitzes where they dropped their defensive tackles into pass coverage. M.Stoops was much more creative than he'd been in the first three games. And frankly, he's going to have to be because Oklahoma's front four is not going to generate pressure against an even mediocre offensive line.
PB: We knew OU didn't have any ends coming into the season, but the interior was supposed to be a strength. How have they been holding up so far?
Jordan Esco: Not sure I'm on board with your assessment of the defensive ends, though I will certainly admit they haven't lived up to our obviously ambitious expectations. As for the defensive tackles, I'd say they've been adequate. Little more than that so far, though Casey Walker did his best last Saturday to recreate his dominant performance from last year's Red River Shootout.
Jordan Esco: The Sooners have missed senior Stacy McGee, who despite the prediction of many a Horn fan will not be returning from suspension on Saturday. Which forced David King to move inside and pretty much demanded a monster season from Jamarkus McFarland, who most OU fans have given up hope of that ever happening. True freshman Jordan Phillips has as high a ceiling of any player at the position who has come through Norman, but is very raw and still learning how to use his substantial physical gifts.
I expect they are going to be tested early and often on Saturday, which could easily prove to be the difference in this game. And yes, you can go ahead and call me Captain Obvious.
PB: I'm sorry, could you repeat that? I missed it. Something about Jamakeout McFarland?
Alright, so what kind of game plan are you expecting to see from M-Stoops on Saturday? Oklahoma State and West Virginia have laid the blueprint for dealing with our interior running game and jet sweep action. Do you expect OU to follow the model?
Jordan Esco: Very much so. I suppose I have to give OSU credit in saying their defense is the more comparable to OU's, so it certainly makes sense for the Sooners to mimic a lot of what worked for them. My confidence in that strategy working is Texas' success in destroying Justin Gilbert where I don't believe the same will happen with Demontre Hurst or Aaron Colvin. That's not to say either can't be beaten on a play here or there, but I do not believe Texas can have the same repeated success they did in beating Gilbert.
Assuming OU does as I expect, where are you most confident in Texas being able to exploit the Sooners defense?
PB: The thing that I feel most confident about is the fact that Bryan Harsin and David Ash have now been given two weeks' exposure to this. There are counterattacks to what defenses are doing, and we've only seen flashes of them from us so far, but with Ash playing as efficient and effectively as he has been, it's just a matter of developing more of it in practice and rolling more of it out in games. I expect we'll see a very directed, aggressive effort to take advantage of those opportunities. There have been a couple great looks in the screen game there for us, for example, but the biggest prize would be pounding defenses over the intermediate middle with the tight ends. If that's something Ash can do consistently? Defenses will have to adjust in ways that will re-open the opportunities in the running game.
Jordan Esco: It's interesting that you would phrase it that way. I say that because I heard earlier this week how the similarities between Oklahoma and Texas' recent opponents could actually be an advantage for the Sooners. The suggestion was that Stoops & company have had a chance to see some of the adjustments Texas had made, what has and has not worked for them, and how OU could use that to develop their game plan. You buying or selling that?
PB: Neither, probably. That's an oversimplification, which is why I was asking you if we'd see OU roll with the same game plan as our previous two opponents. I'd guess Stoops will be ready for some of the adjustments we have shown (you can bet they'll be drilling the screen to Daje Johnson all week, for example), but I'm certain that we'll see Harsin counterattack in ways that we haven't seen much of yet, as well.
Jordan Esco: Yeah, this is that game on both our schedules where we as fans always believe the coaches have been "holding something back." While I've never been a huge believer in that theory, I definitely agree we can each expect a new wrinkle or two.
PB: Yeah, that's one of those talking points that help fans construct an explanatory narrative. But that's not to say both teams won't give each other new looks. In any event, I've always advocated throwing as much out there as you can, to give the defense more to prepare for. Greg Davis did not receive this memo.
Jordan Esco: A lot of fans would tell you Oklahoma is developing their own hate/hate relationship with Josh Heupel very similar to that of the one Texas fans had with Davis. It seems as if Brian Harsin was given a much longer leash than OU fans allowed Heupel, is that because Davis just had you all so worn down or because UT fans realized just how broken of a system Harsin took over?
PB: Both, plus one more: Harsin knows what he's doing, and if you're paying attention at all, you can see it. His method is very visible, and while some find themselves disagreeing with his approach from time to time, you can at least see what he's attempting to do, and why. I'm a big fan, and love watching this whole thing develop. And that's a point I should probably emphasize: it's still very much a work-in-progress. This Texas offense is good. But we aren't seeing it operate at its ceiling. We're good, with solid, young personnel. With older, more developed, and better personnel, I fully believe we'll see some great Texas offenses under Harsin.
Jordan Esco: I know you've been a big supporter of his and for good reason of course. Even as an OU fan, I've enjoyed your take on things and just what he took on (and continues to) in building this thing essentially from the ground up.
PB: This is so very un-Hate Week, but yeah, I admit it: I depend on y'alls coverage to stay on top of OU football too. Y'all do a killer job. You suck, of course, but your coverage doesn't. (This feels gross. Can we stop?)
Jordan Esco: Texas! Sucks! Okay, now we're even and back on track. Let's continue.
PB: Alright, let's flip the field here real quick, because I want to ask you about your take on the OU running game. Texas is struggling with defending the run right now, to put it mildly. Can and will OU take advantage?
Jordan Esco: It's the million dollar question as we head towards Dallas. OU fans have been screaming for Josh Heupel to run the ball more and quit putting the entire game on Landry's seemingly incapable shoulders. If there was ever a game for him to do as we ask, it would be this Saturday given Texas' considerable struggles you just mentioned.
Oklahoma will come into the game with no shortage of options to try and exploit it, but their options have never been the issue. The only thing preventing Sooners running back Damien Williams from being a star is a lack of carries. He has made big plays in every single game this year and I expect Saturday to be no different. OU started to get him involved in the pass game against Tech and that's something I think we see a lot more of Saturday. Both because they had success with it and because it provides a safe and reliable outlet for Landry assuming Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat create the problems I expect them to.
PB: I hate to say it, but I rather agree, at least in saying that Williams looks very good. And because I can't say I think all that much of Finch or Whaley, his arrival has been a bummer. On the bright side, y'alls receiving corps has mostly been as mediocre as it looked on paper coming in. And it would be a downright liability if Shepard hadn't hit the ground sprinting.
Jordan Esco: Not really sure about all of that. While I'd agree it's taken some time for Jones and all the new faces at wide receiver to develop some chemistry, I think mediocre is a little strong. Kenny Stills has been fantastic after many doubted his ability to be a true No. 1 threat. Penn State Justin Brown has proved to be a very valuable addition and of course you mentioned Shepard.
The obvious disappointment has been former five star recruit Trey Metoyer, who thus far has been slower to develop than many had hoped. That said, Oklahoma has a deep roster with which to select from and actually added to that Wednesday night with news of Jalen Saunders' (a talented Fresno State transfer) clearance and immediate availability.
PB: Mediocre may be overstating it, but against the easiest part of your schedule, this group has a single player averaging 14 ypc (Shepard). Y'all had five last year. We're a pretty hyper-critical bunch, though. We eat our own alive when they're anything less than great.
Jordan Esco: That's certainly fair, but (and some would say this is my crimson colored glasses talking) I think a lot of that had to do with the turnover at the position and the hectic nature of OU's early season schedule with those two byes in three weeks. There is only so much you can work on in practice as opposed to the game speed which we all know you can't ever really recreate in practices. But still, you make a valid point.
PB: Well, our defense is getting in the habit of crowning Players of the Week, so it wouldn't be the world's biggest upset if they had a breakout game on Saturday. We made Andrew Buie look like Tony Dorsett.
Jordan Esco: Speaking of offense, there seems to be some doubt as to Malcolm Brown's availability. I think all OU fans no Texas won't be hurting for options with or without him, but just how big a difference in this game will it make if he cannot go?
PB: He's an important player, because of his strength and versatility. You can run him between the tackles, but he has the agility and enough speed to beat defenders to the edge. He's just a half-step slow from being a home run back, but if not quite Special he's as excellent a Very Good back as there is. Texas isn't exactly hurting for options, though, and Jonathan Gray looks like he's just an offseason in the weight room from being Special. The kid has terrific vision, patience, understanding, and -- the part you can't teach -- burst. He just needs to get a little stronger. But he'll play a big role Saturday, and he's getting better and better each week. Gray should get about 15 touches, with another 15 going to Big Joe Bergeron, who we'll use to pound with our inside zone, to make you play honest.
Jordan Esco: Yeah, Beregon is a freaking monster. His ability to wear down the OU front seven scares the ever loving you know what out of me. What's the contingency plan though if OU is able to slow down the run game and take away that play-action Ash has been so successful with? I know you're confident in Ash right now, but are you so confident that he can win this game with his arm if need be?
PB: Can he win it all by himself, if we have no ability to run the ball at all? That's a tall order, but yeah, he's capable of it, if things go his way. But you and I both know that the team that struggles to run the ball loses this game. Pretty much without exception. Ash having to throw it 45 times would be as bad a sign for Texas as would be Landry doing the same for OU. In this game, if you can stop the other team's run, you're forcing too much onto the shoulders of the quarterback.
Alright, we're just about at the end of our time here, but let's wrap up with a lightning round: three predictions for Saturday.
Jordan Esco: Prediction #1 -- Oklahoma will negate Texas' pass rush with short, quick passes to wideouts and more importantly, with dump offs to the running backs out of the backfield.
Prediction #2 -- Sterling Shepard is going to have a big game. The kid can do everything Ryan Broyles ever did and he's an even better athlete on top of it all. Now, don't take that to mean he and a Broyles in-his-prime are an equal footing because that's not what I'm saying. What I am saying is he has the same kind of play making ability and could also terrorize Texas out of the slot for the next four years. I just have one of those feelings about him in this game. The Cotton Bowl setting has made stars of out young players in the past, I'm taking a shot that Shepard is next in line.
Prediction #3 -- Michael Hunnicutt will be OU's MVP. I'm not making a score prediction here, but based on that 'prediction' alone you can probably infer I expect it to be a close, hard fought game. This may be the one and only spot on either roster where Oklahoma has a clear cut advantage and given how I expect the game to play out, that advantage could very well prove to be the difference in the game. To borrow a line from your favorite chin-less head football coach, "in the end" I think Hunnicutt is the difference and the Sooners win by a field goal.
PB: I bet you do. Of course, you also said that Sterling Shepard can already do everything Ryan Broyles ever did, as if Broyles didn't just finish a jaw-dropping three-year run where he averaged 9 catches, 13.5 yards per catch, and a touchdown per game. Man, am I glad that guy's gone... (Although, now that he's gone I suppose I can admit: I found the kid impossible not to like. How such a quirky, mellow cat wound up a Sooner, I'll never understand.)
Alright, my first prediction is that you're right... sort of. Sterling Shepard scares the hell out of me, but I'm going to put my money on Quandre Diggs to help keep him from making a decisive difference, and suggest instead that Saturday's game will make a hero out of a different freshman: Jonathan Gray. He's been getting better and better each week, and flirting more and more with delivering a game-winning performance... I say this week he does it.
Second, I'll predict a frustrating afternoon for Landry Jones, who -- let's face it -- was great with the nation's best receiving corps, led by Ryan Broyles -- and an exemplar of unevenness without him. So far this year, it's been much the same, even with Sterling "Already Ryan Broyles" Shepard. After killing Texas the last two years with brilliant performances, Landry exits this series like he came in: lots of throws, not nearly enough to show for it.
And third, I'll go out on a limb here and project that Sooner fans experience a fair amount of discomfort after the game when it starts to sink in that OU just got beat by a young, rapidly improving offense -- that David Ash, Jaxon Shipley, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are all just sophomores, Gray is a freshman, and Texas' offensive line is starting to look good again, with lots of room to grow.
What do you think? Can I get a hook 'em? You know you want to....
Jordan Esco: As always, I enjoyed it, PB. And I really would wish you luck... but you know I'd be lying. So I'll simply conclude by wishing you a miserable Saturday and, of course, the requisite...
PB: No exclamation point(s) on the Boomer Sooner? There's no need to be shy, Jordan. Say it with a little emphasis... No, scratch that -- sing it, Jordan. Sing it like the OU Anthem that it is...
PB: One final prediction: that video is one misdeed that the football gods will not allow to go unpunished: this year, the pendulum swings back towards the light: 33-29, good guys. Because OU (still) sucks.