The last time Oklahoma Sooners faced TCU, they rolled the Horned Frogs in a game that felt like a fun pit stop on the way to Pasadena. It was also the game where Baker Mayfield clinched the 2017 Heisman Trophy with another memorable performance. That 38-20 victory for the Sooners was really the last time the Oklahoma defense played a good game for 60 minutes. They held TCU to 20 points on the day and even scored a defensive touchdown.
As Oklahoma faces TCU this Saturday, their defense will look to rebound after an embarrassing performance against Texas in a 48-45 loss a couple weeks ago. Although Mike Stoops is now gone, the Oklahoma defense has a lot to prove going forward with interim DC Ruffin McNeill now calling the shots.
On the TCU side, the problem is much more offense than defense. QB Shawn Robinson has struggled to find rhythm for most of the season so far. Since hanging with Ohio State in the first half of their Week 3 matchup, TCU has been stagnant offensively. They will be looking to turn things around on that side of the ball Saturday. Luckily for Shawn Robinson, the Oklahoma defense has a bad habit for making opposing QB’s look like Heisman contenders. We will see if that happens again on Saturday at Amon G. Carter stadium.
Date: Saturday October 20th
Time & TV: 11AM CT on ABC
Spread: Oklahoma -8
Here are a few key storylines to look out for on Saturday!
TCU turnover problems
One of the biggest reasons TCU sits at 3-3 going into Saturday’s contest is their turnover problem. Nationally, TCU ranks near the bottom of all FBS programs with an astonishing 15 turnovers. In Big 12 play alone, the Horned Frogs have a turnover margin of -8. A lot this can be attributed to sophomore starting QB Shawn Robinson, who has eight interceptions and only nine touchdowns on the season. Although Robinson has shown some promise, he has had a lot of trouble taking care of the football in addition to dealing with injuries. On top of that, the TCU defense has not been forcing a lot of turnovers this year compared to years past. The defense only has three interceptions and three fumbles recovered on the season.
On the Oklahoma side, the Sooners have done a much better job than TCU of taking care of the ball but are struggling to force takeaways as well. Oklahoma currently has four interceptions on the season and one fumble recovered compared to three interceptions thrown and three fumbles lost. This creates an overall turnover margin of -1 for the Sooners, which needs to be improved going forward.
In this matchup, a few turnovers could turn the tide of the game — as was the case in the OU-Texas game. Hopefully the two turnovers by Kyler Murray against Texas were simply an aberration rather than the start of a trend (I’m leaning towards the former). Look for TCU to disguise coverages to force him into making some bad decisions. For the Oklahoma defense, they need to exploit a struggling TCU offensive line to get pressure on Robinson. If they are able to force a pick or two, it could bring new life to their defense with Ruffin McNeill. Turnovers will likely play a huge part in this matchup either way.
Oklahoma defensive changes
Since Mike Stoops is finally gone, we can now focus our attention on either praising or critiquing the interim Oklahoma DC Ruffin McNeill. With McNeill in charge, it will be interesting to see what changes are made to the OU defense in the coming weeks.
One change that I could see happening is the utilization of more four-man fronts to get pressure on opposing QB without having to dial up heavy blitzes. With Tyreece Lott and Marquise Overton now back from injuries, Oklahoma seems to have the bodies up front to be able to do this and rotate guys in and out. On top of that, Oklahoma has the benefit of having Ronnie Perkins. Perkins has been great spelling Kenneth Mann and has a real knack for getting after the QB and disrupting plays in the backfield. Look for Perkins to get more reps as the season goes on, especially if more four-man fronts are utilized.
In the secondary, I expect to see some changes, as well. With McNeill in charge, Tre Brown could get the start at one of the corner spots and either Tre Norwood or Parnell Motley could get demoted or form a rotation. Both starting corners have shown some good flashes but have been inconsistent overall. While Motley is the better tackler (not saying much), Norwood has looked stronger in coverage this season. There is a reason opposing QB’s look to Motley’s side early and often. I expect — or at least hope — to see a starting duo of Norwood and Brown emerge over the next few weeks, and that could start on Saturday in Fort Worth. Tre Brown has looked great when he has received chances this year. He is really the only corner on the roster that can consistently get his head turned around and locate the football in the air. While I do not really trust any of our corners on an island, I think Brown is best suited for that role if need be. He’s also the best tackler of the bunch.
One major wildcard to watch in this game on defense is true freshman DE/OLB Jalen Redmond. Redmond was recently cleared to play and has been practicing with the team over the last couple of weeks. Since he is coming back from a dangerous blood clot condition, I expect McNeill to ease him back slowly. Look for him to be utilized on third and long passing situations if the coaches think he’s ready to play on Saturday.
Oklahoma Ground Game
Even though a loss to Texas is never a good thing, one of the silver linings in the loss was that the Oklahoma offensive line started to put some things together in the run game. They did a great job run-blocking for Kyler Murray and the running backs in the game to the tune of 221 total rushing yards. Granted, a lot of that came in one chunk.
Although he has yet to have a dominant game so far this season, Trey Sermon looks like he is ready to truly be the feature back for the Sooners. Luckily for Sermon, he also has the help of Kennedy Brooks and Marcelius Sutton. Both backs provide a nice change of pace and have the speed to rip off long runs.
A strong rushing attack will allow Oklahoma to keep the TCU defense guessing and wear them down as the game goes on. Pounding the rock will also allow the Oklahoma defense to rest, which they have not been able to do in most of the games this year. This is due to a combination of the defense not being able to get off the field and the Sooner offense scoring quickly on big plays.
To be successful against a TCU rushing defense that is ranked 38th nationally, Oklahoma will obviously need to be physical at the line of scrimmage. I see Trey Sermon going for over 100 yards in this contest.
After his rushing performance against Texas, the TCU defense will be the most worried about Kyler Murray burning them for big runs. This will only help Sermon and the other backs, who will hopefully be able to run through some big holes created by the Oklahoma offensive line.
Even though the TCU offense has struggled on the season, they still have some serious offensive weapons at their disposal that can tear up any defense. These playmakers include senior WR Kavontae Turpin and sophomore WR (and former OU commit) Jalen Reagor. Turpin is used all over the field for TCU and is an absolute burner at 5’9, 157 pounds. If he gets matched up with a slower Oklahoma linebacker, look for TCU to exploit that matchup. Turpin is averaging an impressive 14.5 yards per reception on the season and could break off some big plays against the maligned Oklahoma defense.
While Turpin is more of the home-run threat in the TCU offense, Reagor is the talented all-around receiver. He runs great routes, can create separation with his speed, and has the ability to go up and get balls with his sure hands and impressive leaping ability in the red zone. Simply put, Reagor is an absolute stud. While I enjoy watching him dominate for my College Football Fantasy team, it’s painful to watch him knowing that he was pretty close to being part of OU’s 2017 recruiting class. Having said that, both parties ended up just fine, as Marquise Brown joined OU’s class just a few months after Reager’s flip.
If Oklahoma doesn’t have an answer for Reagor in this one, it could easily turn into a shootout. TCU QB Shawn Robinson has the arm talent to find Reagor all over the field, and OU has struggled defending the pass all year. Reagor is averaging 11.8 targets per game and is also an important security blanket for Robinson. If OU wants to get off the field on third down, they need to key in on Reagor. Ruffin McNeill will likely throw a couple different corners at Reagor and see what works best. Some safety help will also likely be a necessity.
As much as I am hoping that this is the game in which the OU defense turns the corner, I think it will take some time. I see them making incremental improvements in this one and getting enough stops to win.
Prediction- Oklahoma 45, TCU 30