Despite the fact that Texas had a bye week and that there weren't too many "big" games, I found last Saturday's games both interesting and sometimes even hilarious. Let's recap a few things, shall we?
-A&M, in their bid for legitimacy, got shellacked by Arkansas in Dallas, 47-19. Ouch.
-Auburn and Tennessee, who put on a display of atrocious offense last season, combined for nearly 900 yards of total offense and 48 points. Good OC hire, Chizik.
-Colorado fans, in their cynicism, were merely hoping for the Buffs to cover the spread against West Virginia on Thursday. They did, but they're still awful.
-Cal went from a Top Ten team two weeks ago to dropping completely out of the polls after being outscored 72-6 in the past two games. Goodness. I'm not a lover of USC, but I've never been a big fan of California who seems to sport an inordinate amount of angry, envious fans. I admit I chuckled at their misfortune.
-Houston crapped the bed against UTEP in one of the most bizarre boxscore turnarounds I have ever personally seen. The Miners gained more than ten times more yards against Houston than against Texas and also posted 58 points, besting their amount of total yards (52) last week. Well, I guess it's goodbye to Houston.
-And of course, last, but not least, Oklahoma dropped to Miami to fall to 2-2. Looks like they need to find new pixie dust for their "Sooner Magic."
This game was important for Oklahoma on many levels (as it was for Miami). This was the Sooners' first big test since their loss to BYU, and they had many questions to answer: Is their defense as good as advertised? Did their offensive line improve? Can this team move the ball through the air without Bradford and without great targets? If they had put these doubts to rest and won this game, the Sooners would have moved further up the Top 10 to set up a huge showdown in Dallas against Texas in two weeks. Instead, based on this game, the answer to all three of those questions was a big, emphatic "No," which, incidentally, also answers the questions, "Is Oklahoma still alive in the national championship hunt?" and "Do OU punters have a shred of masculinity?" Another disappointing loss for the Sooner faithful.
Revisiting Key Matchups:
Before this game, I looked at some matchups that I felt would be deciding factorspppp:
Oklahoma's D-Line vs. Miami's O-line
Miami's offensive line struggles against Virginia Tech were well-documented, and thus it was imperative that Oklahoma take control of the line of scrimmage with their talented defensive line. While Oklahoma did have some success early in the game and in pass rushing, Miami's offensive line held their own. The big thing here was that Miami was able to run the ball well throughout the game, even early on when their drives were killed by bad Harris interceptions. I was very impressed with the holes they were able to open up against this OU line, allowing Javarris James to have a career day. What's more is that they were able to run when they needed to run and when Oklahoma knew they were going to run. On that final drive, after Oklahoma had cut the lead to one point, James gained 38 yards on 4 carries, including a 21 yarder and a 13 yarder . Heck, even if you take away James' longest run, a 50 yard scamper in the 2nd quarter, James had 14 rushes for 100 yards with ZERO runs for losses. Gerald McCoy was silent all night, and sometimes the running lanes were of the "gaping wide" variety.
Jeremy Beal had a big day with three sacks, and OU as a whole was able to pressure Harris from time to time. However, when Harris settled down, it just wasn't consistent enough. You can perhaps put more blame on the scheme and coverage because Harris often released the ball quickly before any rush could get to him. Nonetheless, the overall victor here is Miami's offensive line, who took it to Oklahoma in the run game and did well enough in the passing game for Harris to pick apart OU's soft coverage.
Oklahoma's O-line vs. Miami's D-line
The talk from Oklahoma was that their offensive line was much-improved since the BYU loss. Saturday night, I honestly did not see too much of it. Our favorite player, Cory Brandon, returned to his poor-blocking, penalty-committing form that we saw the first game of the season, including an incredibly stupid and dangerous hit on Miami's Ray Ray Armstrong that he was lucky he didn't get flagged for. Miami fans are still not pleased by the play (link also has an animated image). Starting RT Jarvis Jones wasn't that much better, whiffing on some blocks in pass protection and stinking it up in the run game. In the second quarter, Marcus Robinson simply ran around Jarvis Jones to sack Landry Jones. In fact, the whole right side of the line was just bad. As the game progressed, Miami wisely began to stack the left side of the line that had Trent Williams and Brian Simmons, leaving Oklahoma in a sort of conundrum: Run to the left against an overloaded defense, or run to the right where the line can't block. In the second half, OU repeatedly tried to run to the right side and repeatedly failed, and Kevin Wilson was much too scared to start airing it out with Landry Jones. If it weren't for a bogus roughing the kicker call and a big (and unwise) punt return from Dominique Franks, this offense would have scored zero points after the first quarter.
Oh, and penalties? Oklahoma's line gave us more personal fouls and holds, several of which were declined. Even Berry Tramel, blogger for NewsOK.com, had harsh words for the offensive line, actually using them to try to excuse Kevin Wilson's poor playcalling in the game:
You’ve got a young quarterback, in his first road game, against a really good team, suddenly without his favorite receiver, an offensive line that tends to hold a lot and doesn’t block great when it doesn’t hold, and the solution is to open up the playbook? (emphasis added)
Note to Berry: They held a lot last year too. Just so you know.
In any case, not even Trent Williams was all that great. He committed a personal foul and on one play he got straight up roasted by Allen Bailey, who sacked Jones and caused a fumble. Williams struggled with Miami's speed and was not at his best when somebody tried to beat him around the corner. He is the best guy on the line but he has not looked like an All-American.
At least Cory Brandon didn't commit 6 penalties by himself again.
Miami's receivers vs. Oklahoma's secondary
Perhaps I should have included Oklahoma's linebackers as well, seeing as how Brent Venables insists on keeping three linebackers on the field almost all the time. It seemed OU's secondary had the upper hand early in the game as Jacory Harris made some bad decisions, but after that, Harris took advantage of a few Sooner mistakes, most notably Travis Benjamin running behind Oklahoma's secondary for an easy score that set off Bob Stoops on Dominique Franks. Also, I noted the importance of Miami's tight ends, seeing as how successful BYU's tight ends were against OU's linebackers and secondary, and their big TE Dedrick Epps had a good day. He only caught three passes but they were all big ones: A touchdown, a 19 yarder on a touchdown drive, and a big third down conversion on Miami's last drive that ultimately allowed them to run out the clock. Tight end Jimmy Graham also had a very good catch for a touchdown right after Miami recovered a fumble. When Harris adjusted and started to attack Oklahoma with short and intermediate throws, the results were immediate.
-In my preview post, I noted the lack of weaponry the Sooners had besides Ryan Broyles. When Broyles went down early, I knew it was big trouble for Oklahoma. He only caught one pass, but it was for 37 yards... good for second most on the team for the entire game. Yep. Brandon Caleb caught 4 balls for 26 yards and Cameron Kinney had the only good day, finishing with 72 yards and a touchdown. Now Broyles is out 4-6 weeks. Go figure.
-Kevin Wilson and Brent Venables are not endearing themselves to Sooner fans at the moment. Wilson is understandably shackled by injury, but when Miami adjusted, Wilson refused to do anything about it. He called three draw plays on third and long for some oddball reason, repeatedly tried to run to the right side, and did not test Miami's injury-depleted secondary most of the game. Miami did a good job forcing OU into passing downs, and Oklahoma faced 10 third and longs, which is way too many. Small wonder their conversion rate was a pedestrian 33%. As far as Venables is concerned, as I alluded to above, he seems offended by the idea of the nickel package. Even Oklahoma fans are starting to wonder what the heck Ryan Reynolds is doing out there trying to cover the middle of the field. Before I put too much blame on the OU linebackers and secondary, I don't think Venables put them in the best position to succeed
-Here's a very interesting statistic: Apparently, Oklahoma has not come back from more than a three point deficit in the fourth quarter in nine years. Well. Big Game Bob?
Kindle and Acho: Watching with glistening eyes
If you have not read PB's excellent post on Sergio Kindle's speed and "freaky leg plant," go do so now. Then you will see the massive problem Oklahoma faces. When I watched Jarvis Jones and Cory Brandon get burned or otherwise reduced to desperately holding the DE, I went from amusement ("Wow, they're so bad") to elation ("I can't believe these guys are going to try to block Sergio!") to genuine concern ("Oh my God, Sam Bradford might die in Dallas"). Both of those big hits delivered by Kindle came against the opposing teams' right tackles. Jarvis Jones and Cory Brandon should be working extra hard these next two weeks. Furthermore, when Landry Jones got whacked for the game-changing fumble, Oklahoma had the TE Brody Eldridge (remember, the best ever) and FB Matt Clapp there to help on the right side, and somebody messed up to allow the blitzer to run in untouched. Either the line needs to make an adjustment or Clapp needs to do a better job picking that up, because he was totally lost on the play. Stuff like that will not make life easy for a quarterback.
Oklahoma has a host of problems to address. Offensive and defensive coaching adjustments. Players stepping up among the receivers. Offensive line playing smart, sound football. Oklahoma's season is on the brink, and if they want to avoid falling off the ledge, they are going to need to put together a heck of plan to topple Texas. Their entire season now hinges on the Red River Shootout.
Because of that, however, Oklahoma is still dangerous. Yes, they are not a championship caliber team this year. Yes, they have a lot of holes to plug. Nonetheless, they still have a Big 12 title to play for, and that starts with a win over Texas. Rivalry games are tricky to predict to begin with, and if you add that factor to it, it becomes even more dangerous. I expect Oklahoma's best, desperate shot on October 17th in a last ditch effort to salvage a season that was supposed to a title-contending one.