There’s one more stop for the No. 24 Oklahoma Sooners (3-2, 2-2) on their prolonged road trip — a tilt against the Texas Tech Red Raiders (2-3, 1-3). In the past, a night game in Lubbock on All Hallows’ Eve would have had all the makings for a classic college football upset, but with reduced crowds limiting home field advantage in 2020, that gourd isn’t as ripe for the picking this time around. Still, this is a critical contest for OU’s season if it wants to remain within realistic striking distance of claiming a sixth consecutive conference title.
Date, Time & TV: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. CT on FOX
Location: Jones AT&T Stadium — Lubbock, Texas
Line: Oklahoma -14.5. (as of Friday at 9 a.m. CT)
Links of the week:
- Lincoln Riley Week Eight Presser Notes
- C&C Machine Q&A with Albie Shore of Air Raid Podcast
- Allen Kenney’s Good News, Bad News for OU Football halfway through the 2020 season
Again... who will be available for the Sooners this week?
Ronnie Perkins, Rhamondre Stevenson and Trejan Bridges have served their respective suspensions, but Riley has been mum as to why the situation is still murky at this point.
Basically, the three players in question have been required to clear certain hurdles in order to be reinstated, and results have varied between the three. What we can tell you is that Stevenson has the best chance of the three to see the field on Saturday.
Outside of the suspensions, there are reports out there that a pair of starters — one offensive, one defensive — will be out due to positive Covid tests. With the absences being of this nature, we’ll refrain for including the names, but you probably know who I’m referring to if you have a Twitter account or are active on message boards.
Finally, we probably won’t see Jadon Haselwood this week, but his return is looking like it will come sooner rather than later.
Will the OU defense pick up where it left off a week ago?
Against TCU, Alex Grinch’s ‘Speed D’ unit turned in its best performance of the season, holding the Horned Frogs to just 14 points of offense. This weekend, Matt Wells’ Texas Tech squad has a few more explosive players than Gary Patterson’s bunch did, but Oklahoma’s defenders should be eager for another opportunity to demonstrate their collective improvement over the course of the current winning streak.
Generating sacks might be tougher to come by for the Sooners because TTU likes to get the ball out quickly, but Tech’s offensive line has had some recurring issues when attempting to contain aggressive D-line play. Watch for guys like Perrion Winfrey and Isaiah Thomas to flash early and often in the backfield as they win their one-on-one matchups more times than not.
Can OU exploit the passing game mismatch?
If football is a game of matchups (and it is), perhaps the greatest statistical mismatch on Saturday will wind up being Spencer Rattler and the Oklahoma passing attack versus the Red Raiders’ secondary. Through five games, OU leads the Big 12 with an average of 353 passing yards per game. Conversely, Texas Tech ranks dead last in the league, surrendering 338 yards through the air per contest.
It’s never a good sign when a team is last in a stat category and has yet to even play the team that’s the best at producing said stat. If Tech wants any chance at all in this game, it will have to find a way to flip the script. Takeaways are the ultimate equalizer, so creating turnovers would obviously yield the most immediate results for TTU’s defense. Otherwise, this could be a clinic of epic proportions from Rattler and company.
Can TTU succeed if its offense becomes one-dimensional?
One area this OU defense can certainly pound its chest about is its ability to stop the run. Oklahoma currently leads the Big 12 in rush defense, giving up a mere 92 yards on the ground per game in conjunction with a solid 3.3 yards per rush average. Redshirt sophomore RB SaRodorick Thompson is a highly capable threat for Texas Tech with the ball in his clutches, but his health coming into this game is currently in question after suffering an injury last week against West Virginia.
With all of that said, if the Sooners indeed shut down the Red Raiders’ running game, it will be up to Utah State transfer QB Henry Colombi to move the chains with his arm and scrambling ability. In his three appearances this season, he’s shown flashes of efficiency, but against a hungry Oklahoma defense, he’ll have to play especially poised under pressure.
Will Marvin Mims finally house a punt for six?
Take this next ‘storyline’ as a kind of equation. First, you’ve got true freshman WR Marvin Mims, who’s been absolutely electric for Oklahoma through the first half of the 2020 season, both as a receiver and a returner. As a pass catcher, he leads the Sooners with 19 catches for 328 yards and six touchdowns. On punts, three of his eight returns have gone for 34, 36 and 38 yards. Going into this weekend, he ranks second in the Big 12 with an average of 18 yards per punt return.
That leads me to the second part of the point I want to make. Enter Texas Tech’s punter — sophomore Austin McNamara. Against the Mountaineers last week, he bombed two punts for 74 and 87 yards. Both resulted in touchbacks, but they each still proved to be major successes thanks to flipping field position.
You wanna talk about being #ForTheBrand @PatMcAfeeShow? Feast your eyes on Texas Tech sophomore punter Austin McNamara's first two punts today against West Virginia...— Eric Kelly (@EricKellyTV) October 25, 2020
The first one went 74 yards.
The second one....went a school record 87 YARDS. pic.twitter.com/ddohxosOCI
When adding together Mims’ ability as a punt returner and McNamara’s prowess as a punter, I can’t help but wonder if this is setting the stage for the strongest leg in Lubbock to outkick his coverage and give OU’s true frosh a prime chance to finally take one the distance. Strange things happen inside the Jones, so stay alert at all times, you ghosts and ghouls.
How much will time of possession factor on Saturday?
Another interesting stat difference I uncovered in my research for this game preview is time of possession. Sure, in this day and age of college football, holding the ball for longer than your opponent means next to nothing in many cases, but check this out. Oklahoma currently leads the Big 12 in TOP at 34:26, while Texas Tech is last in TOP at 27:49.
Lincoln Riley wants the Sooners to establish the run more so than they have this season, and in turn that has typically led to longer drives. As an added bonus, the defense stays fresh for longer throughout the game, allowing them to limit the drive length of opposing teams. In total, if OU has the ball for 35+ minutes on Saturday, chances are it means the offense and defense have both done their jobs.
From the jump, I see Oklahoma coming out passing all over the field, eating up yards by the chunk. Texas Tech’s secondary won’t have an answer for Rattler as he finds Mims, Austin Stogner and Theo Wease with ease. On the other side, I think Colombi will struggle with the speed of the Sooners’ defense at first, but he’ll settle in after a quarter or so and make some plays through the air and on the ground. OU will build a sizable lead with its aerial assault in the first half before running backs T.J. Pledger and Seth McGowan grind the clock out in the second half.
Oklahoma 45, Texas Tech 21
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