First off, I’m not a fan of "predictions" as a general rule. Statistics tell us one thing, then you figure in Las Vegas for some reason, then games happen. Sam Bradford went down hard on his shoulder in the first drive versus BYU some years back, and all predictions went out the window in that split second of time. So let me start off by saying that if this game were played on paper like it was Dungeons and Dragons, OU’s offense will torch Texas like a 12th level paladin would smoke a 4th level magic user.
(Fine, I’m a nerd. So what? Shut up.)
Anyway, as a caveat: I’m not Nostradamus, and it’s the Texas game, so expect that a weird thing can happen that makes all of these predictions completely worthless. After all, no one expected the Spanish Inquisition.
1) Expect the run game to *FINALLY* generate the numbers we know they can.
As a fanbase, we’ve been kinda googly-eyed at the numbers Baker Mayfield has produced this year, and not without cause. But since the hire of Lincoln Riley was announced, Sooners fans have wondered, "But this Perine kid? This Mixon kid? This Ross kid?
[This Ford kid?]" There’s no question, we’ve got some silly-good tailbacks, but throughout the season, ain’t none of them close to scratching a Heisman itch so far.
This point is driven home nicely in this Sports Illustrated article, detailing an encounter Riley had with a fan earlier this season:
At a Meet the Sooners event before the season, Riley, a polite, self-effacing northwest Texas native who looks as if he could be (and, according to his adoring old high school teachers, should be) teaching Math 225 in the building next door, was approached by an elderly woman in a scarlet OU T-shirt. "How are you doing, ma'am?" Riley asked. "I'll be doing just fine," she snapped back, "if you run the damn ball this year."
Texas, statistically, has many problems this year. Run defense is among those problems. Through games of October 3rd, 2015, they sit at 108th in the nation in keeping runners from getting yards. Some of this is context – after TCU was up 30-0 in the first quarter, they Horned Frogs’ tailbacks were shining their cleats.
Perine has often struck me as a Big 10 tailback playing in a Big XII system. Behind last year’s O-Line in the I-formation, you’d mistake him for a Michigan State or Ohio State kind of back. His production has suffered under Riley, but I expect him to get more touches in this one than he’s been gotten thus far.
2) Expect Baker Mayfield to have positive rushing yards.
When West Virginia rushed the house, leaving OU receivers one-on-one against a scattered WVU secondary, Mayfield read it and made them pay. So does Texas copy West Virginia? If I were to hazard a guess, I’d think both yes and no. Arsenic or strychnine? Mayfield taking off is the cyanide in that pick-your-poison debate.
Riley has thus far pleased me greatly with his trust in his quarterback to make good decisions, and it’s been a trust that has worked out pretty well, generally. The fourth-down touchdown scramble against Tennessee, for example, was picture-perfect. Against Akron, he showed himself capable of making good decisions about taking off with the football in his hands. I’m not sure it will result in any touchdowns, although I’m not sure it won’t – but I’d be willing to bet you it comes up with a first down or two.
3) Oh, heck, just expect Sterling Shepard.
One of the quarterbacks Mayfield has reminded me of thus far in this young season? Drew Brees. (Did I mention my screen name is "SaintSooner?") Like Brees, Mayfield has thus far done a really good job of doing his checkdowns and finding the guy who gets open, even when it’s his third or fourth option.
But just as Brees has had Marques Colston for forever, Mayfield has Shepard. Before his injury last year, Shep had better numbers than even Tyler Lockett of Kansas State (and now the Seattle Seahawks). Unlike last year, he’s not the only receiver you can count on. (It was nice knowing you, KJ Young.) But through our four victories, Shepard has been the guy you want with you in the foxhole when the enemy is advancing. The kid hasn’t disappointed. Like Tyler Lockett, he’s done his family’s memory proud and made our stadium yell until we’re hoarse. Not expecting at least one phenomenal play from Sterling Shepard would be an affront to logic, to history, to common sense, and to common human decency.
But don’t take it from me, take it from West Virginia:
And then there was a move by Sterling Shepard on a slant and go that almost defied description, beating Chestnut.
"I give Shepard all the credit in the world on that slant and go. There’s not many people in the world who can run that, not in this league. To make that cut and gain ground on the next stride, that’s Tyler Lockett kind of stuff," WVU cornerback coach Brian Mitchell said.
"I had to slow it down. I’ve never seen a guy run a route like that," Mitchell added. "Do that at full speed and not tear an ACL? It goes back to it’s Oklahoma. They have talent."
"Deion Sanders couldn’t have covered that," WVU wide receiver coach Lonnie Galloway said.
And yeah, also? Bob Stoops has been at Oklahoma for a long time, and has been a part of Sterling Shepard's life since Sterling was six years old. Seriously.