This trip down to Fort Worth on Saturday has become much scarier in recent weeks that it was once believed to be. And that is a direct credit to Gary Patterson and his coaching staff who have overcome a number of unfortunate circumstances both prior to and during this season. On offense alone, after losing their starting quarterback, to drastically alter their offensive approach and manage the production they've achieved is incredibly impressive. In fact, it's that very production on offense that should worry OU fans.
TCU's strength, running the ball, just so happens to be the achilles heel of this Oklahoma defense. Against an admittedly underwhelming Texas defense, the Horned Frogs only attempted ten passes the entire game. TCU knew it was going to run the ball, Texas knew they were going to run the ball, and yet the Longhorns were virtually helpless to stop it. Making it all the more difficult to defense, they don't really have one dominant player in the run game, instead doing it essentially by committee.
While the running backs present a legitimate threat, the guy that should scare OU fans the most is Trevone Boykin. As been documented here and virtually every other OU-centric website in existence, the Sooners (and every other team in America) have traditionally had trouble defending mobile quarterbacks. Boykin is a threat to throw as well and has considerable weapons at his disposal when doing so (we'll get to that), but it's that threat that creates so many problems. While he's far from an accomplished passer, that simple threat of his ability to do so can give defenders that split second moment of hesitation, which at this level is usually all a player of Boykin's abilities needs to make a big play.
When they do pass the ball, which could be more than many expect going in as it wouldn't be the first time Gary Patterson pulled a fast one, Boykin has three of the more explosive options in the Big 12, if not country. Josh Boyce, Brandon Carter, and Skye Dawsom form one heck of a trio at wide receiver. Carter is probably the name most familiar to Oklahoma fans after initially committing to the Sooners only to switch prior to signing day. In a theme well known to those of us who follow recruiting, OU wanted Carter to play defense but he preferred to stay on the offensive side of the ball. So TCU wisely offered him the opportunity to do so and the rest is now history.
The upside of what TCU is expected to do on offense is that it should allow this Oklahoma defense to get back to their more traditional base defense. We're probably never going to see a true 4-3 formation from the Sooners so long as their is a Stoops on staff, but Saturday fairly close to that. Which means you can expect to see plenty of Tom Wort and Corey Nelson at linebacker.
While TCU's offensive strength plays to the weakness of this Oklahoma defense, it's hard not to think even with that being the case it could be a good thing for the Sooners. Sure, TCU will be more creative than just lining up and running it up the middle every down (though they might not have to be given what we've seen this year) it's typically easier to prepare for a running offense than say what Baylor or West Virginia do on offense. Granted, it's not fun if you're getting physically dominated but hopefully that can be avoided Saturday.
Outside of Notre Dame, this will be the best defense an explosive Oklahoma offense has faced all season. The name everyone knows, or soon will, is Devonte Fields who as a true freshman is one of the leading contenders for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Fields is another player who could have wound up at OU were it not for another miss on the recruiting trail. Former defensive coordinator Brent Venables was hesitant to recruit Fields, presumably because he didn't think Fields was big enough to play defensive end for the Sooners, and only started to seriously pursue him late in his recruitment. By that time it was too little, too late for a player happy to be a future Horned Frog. And boy did they get a good one.
But it's not just Fields, the rest of the front four is salty as well, namely Fields' fellow book end in Stansly Maponga. TCU employs a similar 4-2-5 defensive formation as to that which the Sooners use and feature a secondary that boasts an impressive 16 interceptions on the season. Expect that secondary to test Landry Jones and the Oklahoma wide receivers who definitely will not have the free run of sorts we've seen in recent weeks.
All in all, this projects as another difficult game for Oklahoma. Probably for different reasons that we've seen in the last three games, but likely difficult nonetheless.