The Sooners begin conference play against TCU today at 4 p.m. CT. While the Big 12 is no cake-walk, the first four weeks of the season showed that many teams have major flaws that can be exploited by whomever wants to win the conference. TCU comes into this week with a loss, but that’s more than Oklahoma can say after dropping games against Houston and Ohio State. However, if I had to bet, I’d say Oklahoma winds up winning the conference. OU may have proved they aren’t top-five worthy, they will not face another opponent in the regular season that comes close to resembling the Cougars or Buckeyes. This is an important game for the Sooners to show what they’re capable of against a ranked team.
Let’s start with some questions Sooner Nation would like to see answered today. Interestingly, after three games, this is the first time the Sooners will play a Power Five opponent who isn’t ranked in the top five nationally. We’ve seen them play elite teams and a not-very-elite team, so it’s been incredibly hard to gauge Oklahoma’s talent or preparation. Today some of that will change.
Who is Oklahoma’s best running back?
As I typed that sentence, I immediately wished I could go back and delete it, but I can’t. Samaje Perine (a.k.a. “Optimus Perine,” my favorite nickname in sports) has firmly established himself as a historic running back at the University of Oklahoma. He currently ranks eight all-time in rushing yards, and sixth in yards per attempt. With nine games left in the regular season, he’d only need 101 yards per game to pass Billy Sims as the all-time leader in OU history. He’s incredible.
But this season, he hasn’t been the best running back on the team. With five less carries, Joe Mixon has amassed 86 more yards than Perine, giving Mixon a ridiculous 8.4 yards per carry. Mixon is also tied for third on the team in receptions, and fourth in receiving yards. As much as Oklahoma loves to utilize its two-back-scheme, Mixon is making it difficult for Lincoln Riley to do anything other than give him the ball every single play. As the season progresses, who’s going to be the primary back? If you look at the numbers this year, you have to give the nod to Mixon. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out, but keep in mind that Perine had an incredible game against TCU last season, possibly saving the Sooners season in the second half as he rattled off a 72-yard touchdown despite a bum ankle. Will he show today that he’s still the top dog in the backfield, or will Mixon continue to outshine the man who holds the record for most rushing yards in a single game?
Who will round out the receiving corps?
Two things are abundantly clear in the passing game: Dede Westbrook is Baker Mayfield’s favorite target (seventeen catches, with the next closest receiver having only nine), and Mark Andrews is a mismatch nightmare for every team (four touchdowns already with only nine catches, and he leads the team in receiving yards). But after that, everything else is uncertainty. A.D. Miller is likely establishing himself as the next best option, but freshman Mykel Jones has shown flashes of excellence that have some clamoring for him to receive more playing time. Geno Lewis and Jarvis Baxter figure to be in the mix as well, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the Sooners deal with the rotation of receivers.
Last year Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal were almost always on the field, with other players shuffling in and out. This year it seems that Mayfield will be looking for Westbrook often, and Andrews is simply too good to take out (despite a missed opportunity for a touchdown against Ohio State). Does Riley think Miller has earned himself a permanent spot, or will he continue shuffling the third receiver spot, even if the other options aren’t as productive?
Will we see defensive adjustments?
The last time we saw Oklahoma on the football field, we watched the cornerbacks get repeatedly torched in the end zone. Oklahoma has tried a variety of options opposite Jordan Thomas, and none of them have been able to find consistent success. The blame is not theirs alone, though, as none of the members of the Oklahoma defense have managed to register an interception on the season so far.
With Parrish Cobb possibly unable to play today, Michiah Quick will likely be seeing a lot of action. Will he be able to establish himself as a play-maker in the secondary? Will anyone? Kenny
Trill Hill has thrown some costly interceptions for TCU, but he’s also looked very good at times. Will Oklahoma be able to adjust a defense that’s been beaten up quite badly thus far, or will the pass-happy Big 12 teams expose even more flaws? After what I wrote about last week concerning my fears with Mike Stoops, I’m not optimistic. But I am hopeful that someone will have figured something out over the bye week. KaVonte Turpin is injured for TCU, so OU may get opportunities to pounce, but first they’ll have to prove they’re capable of playing better.
I’ll be looking to see if those questions are answered today. Here are some other things I’ll be watching:
- Will the offensive line be able to protect Mayfield long enough for him to get comfortable? He’s capable of being both great and terrible, and the difference is usually whether or not he feels frazzled in the pocket. Make no mistake, some of the blame falls on Mayfield, but he needs some help from his friends to get him back on the right track.
- Oklahoma lines up to face yet another very mobile quarterback today. They’ve historically had problems with mobile quarterbacks under Mike Stoops (all four of Oklahoma’s losses dating back to last year have come against mobile quarterbacks), and Kenny Hill is no exception. The defense will have to avoid missing tackles, or Hill will either take off running or extend the play long enough to find someone open down the field.
- Oklahoma moved the football pretty well against Ohio State, but they repeatedly stalled on drives and had to settle for field goal attempts, or bad fourth-down conversions. A team with two great running backs and a monster tight end slash wide receiver needs to be able to finish drives. I’m curious to see how they’ll do in the red zone today.
- How good is TCU? The Horned Frogs come into the game ranked 21st nationally, but they haven’t always had the look of a ranked team. South Dakota State University gave them far more trouble than they should have, and TCU followed that game with a loss to Arkansas. They bounced back by beating Iowa State and SMU, but if you watched them play SMU, the game was much closer than the final score. TCU held a mere 6-3 lead at the half. I don’t really know what to make of TCU, but I believe Oklahoma is much better than anyone else they’ve played yet (with all due respect to Arkansas). This TCU team looks beatable to me.
- Will TCU try to get the edge on OU’s defense? It sure worked well for Ohio State...
- Lastly, this is OU’s first true road game of the season (even though their neutral-site game against Houston was in...Houston). None of the new starters this year—of which there are several—have actually played in a totally hostile environment, yet. Hopefully this causes no issues, but crowd noise could cause confusion when Oklahoma has the ball. I’m interested to see if the Sooners can impose their will against a good team on the road. If they can, OU fans can breathe a little easier. If not, I don’t think this season is going to be any fun.
Score Prediction: Oklahoma 41, TCU 32.
I don’t think Oklahoma will be able to shut down Kenny Hill, but I do think they’ll finally force a mistake. TCU’s offensive line isn’t great, so Oklahoma should be able to pressure him early and often. Perine will bounce back (he didn’t start strong last year, either), and Oklahoma will look fresh off the bye week.