The last few weeks have gone without incident as the Sooners took care of business at home against Kansas and pulled through a tense but never-too-worrisome Thursday night road win in Ames while missing numerous starters on both sides of the ball. Though the scores aren’t much to celebrate or rue in concern to the competition, the experience gained by younger players who were forced to step up in the face of injuries, specifically on defense, will prove invaluable for this season’s stretch run.
Ten defensive players on the season's initial depth chart have combined to miss 35 games due to injury, and OU has featured 22 different starters on defense through this season. Coach Stoops mentioned in his Monday presser that the Sooners were down six players on the two-deep on offense and down eight on defense against Iowa State. Good news is finally on the horizon, though, as Matt Romar (leg) and Kapri Doucet (groin) are expected back against Baylor, while the coaching staff remains optimistic that Matt Dimon, and to a lesser degree Charles Walker, could possibly return as well after being assessed though the week.
Stoops has also been impressed with the contributions of D.J. Ward and Austin Roberts on the defensive line, as well as Jordan Wade whom he said has been “very consistent all year, he’s been awesome.” At linebacker, stud frosh Caleb Kelly seems to be finding a flow with increasing game time and with a healthy Doucet could finally begin developing into the pass-rushing duo Mike Stoops has been hoping for to complement Obo Okoronkwo. The talent is beginning to show from the touted young stars, and the emerging depth up front will (hopefully) encourage Stoops to stay aggressive and consistently dial up pressure on the somewhat-erratic Seth Russell who loses some accuracy when throwing on the move. Corralling Russell in the run game is also key as the quarterback has added 436 yards and eight TDs of his own on 82 carries on the season.
The cornerstone of the Briles’ spread is to use the run game to set up the deep pass. It’s crucial the Sooners utilize what looks to be new-found depth on the defensive front to help the still-vulnerable secondary contain the explosive playmakers they’ll face through the next three games. Baylor enters Week 11 averaging 278.5 rushing yards per game, good for first in the Big 12 and sixth nationally after a joke of a non-conference schedule and two straight losses to in-state rivals Texas and TCU. With Shock Linwood out on suspension, sophomore Terrance Williams, who has 691 yards on 121 carries and eight touchdowns on the season, will have to carry the ground game against an OU defense that is the conference’s second-best against the run and is gaining back health, experience and depth at the right time.
Though Seth Russell is still a talented quarterback when given time to throw to a speedy wide receiving core capable of big plays at any point, if the Sooners stop or stifle the Baylor run game, the statement performance Mike Stoops has been searching for all season could come in extremely gratifying fashion this Saturday in Norman.