If you’ve followed the Oklahoma Sooners this season, it probably surprised you to learn that oddsmakers have installed OU as a 6.5-point favorite over the Oklahoma State Cowboys this weekend.
At 5-5 overall and 2-5 in conference play, the Sooners currently sit near the bottom of the Big 12 standings. Their chances of qualifying for a bowl bid hinge on winning one of their final two matchups. They’re riding a two-game losing streak after a dispiriting defeat at the hands of a West Virginia team teetering on disarray. Meanwhile, their Bedlam rivals are 7-3, and starting quarterback Spencer Sanders returned to the lineup in OSU’s 20-14 win versus the Iowa State Cyclones last weekend.
Even playing in Norman, that doesn’t sound like the makings of seven-point favorite. Yet, as Kegan Reneau has noted, analytics ranking systems also haven’t tossed OU overboard completely, either:
Oklahoma in some advanced metrics heading into Bedlam—— Kegan Reneau (@KeganReneau) November 13, 2022
beta_rank: 38@KFordRatings: 23
So how do we square all of that with what the results and our eyes are telling us about this team?
It seems like a matter of the Big Things versus the Small Things. The Big Things in football consist of the fundamental skills: running, throwing, catching, blocking, tackling. The Small Things have more nuance – think field position, clock manipulation, avoiding penalties and the like.
OU still does some Big Things well. The Sooners have a strong rushing attack that churns out consistent gains, ranking 16th in the country in both rushing success rate and rushing marginal efficiency. And although OU lacks an elite passing game, the Sooners still throw the ball efficiently. Overall, SP+ ranks OU’s offense as the 12th best in the country.
Unfortunately, OU doesn’t do enough of the Big Things with the requisite level of proficiency – particularly on the defensive side of the ball – to make up for how often it fails at the Small Things.
Take the Sooners’ 23-20 loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday. They seemingly did whatever was in their power not to win. We saw everything from careless gaffes on special teams to inopportune penalties to equipment malfunctions. The Mountaineers even tried to help OU’s cause by giving the ball away twice – it didn’t matter.
Brent Venables and his coaching staff shouldn’t escape blame for all those miscues. Venables himself has made his fair share of dicey calls in his first season as a head coach. Not to mention, when the players on a team make the same mindless errors time and again, it falls under that saying about coaching it or allowing it to happen.
With two games left to go in the regular season, the Sooners probably don’t have enough time to make much headway on fixing the Big Things that need fixing. (Winning at least one of the two remaining games to secure additional bowl practices might help a little for the future in that regard.) But if the Big Things can’t get fixed this year, Venables and the staff can hopefully find ways to work the Small Things in favor of OU in the next two weeks.
At the very least, they should ensure too many problems with the Small Things don’t pile up and turn into a Big Thing again.