The Oklahoma Sooners are looking to win their sixth straight game in the Bedlam rivalry when the Oklahoma State Cowboys travel to Norman on Saturday night. We’ve already previewed the challenges posed by OSU’s stellar defense. Here’s a look at the other side of the ball, where the Pokes have witnessed a dip in their offensive potency.
*The Cowboys rank 45th nationally in Offensive SP+ this year. They’ve fallen from 26th in 2019, when they dropped from seventh in 2018. Looks like a trend.
You can trace the decline this season in large part to the ground game and its attrition-ravaged offensive line. The Cowboys are popping off 3.9 yards per carry, a decline of nearly 30% from ‘19. They’re down from 13th nationally to 85th.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys are throwing the ball along the lines of what they have done in recent years. They’re averaging 8.1 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 144.83. Relative to the rest of the Big 12, we’re probably talking about the conference’s third-best passing attack.
*OU didn’t get a chance to see Spencer Sanders last season after an injury shut down OSU’s quarterback. Similarly, a high ankle sprain put him out of commission for an early chunk of the ‘20 campaign, but he hasn't shown any real signs of it slowing him down since he returned.
Sanders calls to mind former OU QB Trevor Knight in more ways than just his injury history. “Frenetic” seems like a good way to describe his presence on the field. Sanders possesses decent arm strength, although he has a tendency to spray his throws. He tends to get loose with the ball when defenders are pursuing him.
One area of clear improvement for Sanders in ‘20: avoiding interceptions. He tossed 11 picks in 247 attempts a year ago, which works out to about one per 22 passes. Sanders has cut that rate down to one in 33 throws this year.
Sanders looks most comfortable when the Cowboys turn up the tempo. Importantly, putting opposing defenses on their heels by playing fast opens up opportunities for Sanders to exploit the chaos with his legs. He can motor when he tucks and runs. Don’t be surprised if the Sooners decided to put a spy on him.
In sum, Sanders is a boom-or-bust type of QB. The flashes of brilliance come with plenty of head-scratching decisions.
*You can trace much of OSU’s offensive struggles this year to an underwhelming line. The big uglies aren’t protecting the QB well, surrendering about three sacks per game. Overall, they’re allowing an average of more than nine tackles for loss per game this season, which is legitimately awful.
Frankly, the OL issues make it difficult to even say much about a running game that features two of the best running backs in the country, Chuba Hubbard and LD Brown. The running lanes tends to close up quickly for both this year.
Three weeks ago, the Texas Longhorns made mincemeat of the Pokes in the trenches. This week, the Cowboys get an OU defense that is one of the best in the nation at forcing negative plays. The Sooners average more than 8.1 TFLs per game this year, 12th best nationally. The return of defensive end Ronnie Perkins to OU’s lineup has made the defensive front even more disruptive.
OSU coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn have taken evasive measures to keep their QBs from getting hammered by opposing pass rushes, such as rolling pockets and quick throws to the receiving corps.
Speaking of which...
*Tylan Wallace should give OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch nightmares. Now in his third season at OSU, the star receiver has established himself as one of the most dangerous pass catchers in college football.
The last time Wallace took the field against the Sooners in 2018, he caught 10 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Coming off a 2019 knee injury, he hasn’t slowed down this season, averaging 17 yards per reception. He tormented the Texas secondary with 11 receptions for 187 yards and two scores.
The Pokes like to move Wallace around in their formations, and they frequently send him in motion pre-snap to set up timing routes and favorable matchups. As good as he is going downfield, Wallace might be at his best working back to the ball and finding holes in the defense when Sanders is improvising.
Look for Grinch to devise ways to keep Wallace bracketed at all times with a high safety.