After pantsing Florida State, Oklahoma faced a much more disciplined Air Force team last Saturday. It was a fairly entertaining game all-around, surely more fun to watch than the Nebraska game (which I watched later on ESPN3, and I now understand why so many posters were offended by Washington's defense). While Oklahoma never trailed during the contest and gave themselves a three score cushion by the 4th quarter, they had to hold on for a three point win as the Falcons stormed back. It was an up and down game for the Sooners at home, but most importantly they got the win and sit at 3-0.
This is a tricky game to analyze for a couple of reasons. One, as noted above, the Sooners flashed some real potential on both sides of the ball but also had stretches where they did nothing on offense. Two, Air Force runs an offense that Oklahoma will not see again this year. It is easy to be encouraged by the fact that Air Force rolled up 351 rushing yards on the Sooner defense, but it's not exactly an offense that Texas is going to use in Dallas.
In any case, breakdown after the jump.
Quarterback: Landry Jones had a decent game, but his inconsistency and inability to handle pressure can sink the Sooner offense. He started the game relatively well and led OU to a touchdown on their first drive, but the overall performance was uneven. He missed some open targets and got pretty jittery in the pocket as Air Force brought the heat, unloading throws early or failing to set his feet. For example, when OU was leading 27-17 and attempting to convert a 4th down to practically clinch the game, Jones prematurely sailed a ball over Ryan Broyles, who would have been open a moment later. Also, almost the entire second quarter, Jones looked very uncomfortable, which, to be fair, had a lot to do with his O-line as well. His stat line isn't bad--26/40 for 265 yards and 1 TD--but I was hardly impressed with his performance. I don't think he's a bad quarterback, but I described Jones as a frontrunner on the live game thread; he can go off on some bad defenses or when he's not faced with adversity, but any sort of pressure tends to rattle him easily. It's true of most quarterbacks that their play drops if pressured, but Jones' play goes south in a hurry and can kill the entire offense.
Runningback: Demarco Murray is having a fine year so far, and he had a strong performance with 148 total yards and three scores. He broke 100 yards rushing without any big runs, and he is running tougher and stronger than years past. He remains a great threat in the screen game and easily took one into the endzone from 17 yards out.
Madu wasn't used much and no one else carried the ball after those two. Murray continues to help carry the Sooner offense, and I would expect him to have another strong game against Cincy this week.
Receivers/TE: Murray's fellow playmaker, Ryan Broyles, also turned in another good game. The Falcons had a rough time covering him, and from what I can tell, if the Sooners didn't have him their passing attack would probably grind to a halt.
Kenny Stills continues to progress as a promising young receiver, but that was about it. Dejuan Miller and Cameron Kinney only had one catch each, although that is not all their fault as Jones has failed to get them the ball. Kinney did have a couple of drops though. The tight ends remain mostly nonfactors in the passing game unless they're against a team with a bad secondary, which actually might fit Cincinnati.
Offensive Line: Jarvis Jones got the start due to Stephenson's minor injury, although Stephenson still played. The line often struggled in pass protection against the undersized but quick Air Force D-line, but they were fairly strong in the running game. On Oklahoma's last drive, the line helped Murray grind out some tough yards to help seal the game.
This line is vulnerable on the edge but pushed around Air Force's smaller line up front. They haven't really shown assignment screw-ups like last year's unit at this point of the season, but it's not a line that I'm convinced can hold up to our defensive line for four quarters.
Verdict on the offense: More of the same. Landry Jones is hit or miss, Broyles and Murray continue to carry the bulk of the load, and the Sooners are continuing to look for other players to help out. One thing that Oklahoma can still do well is the screen game; Murray is great at it while the offensive line does a decent job getting upfield. Even so, I would send the heat if I were a defensive coordinator, because Jones has shown little ability to handle pressure well.
For some odd reason, Venables decided to roll out a defensive scheme more suitable against a Big 12 passing attack than a triple option offense. That meant not playing Ronnell Lewis at linebacker and resorting to a 4-2-5, which didn't make Lewis very happy. It was a decision that didn't help the Sooners one bit as Air Force ran for 351 yards at 5.6 yards per carry.
Defensive Line: The defensive line wasn't that impressive and OU remains weak in the interior. Adrian Taylor is still not fully healthy and probably won't be for the season, or at least he won't be in Dallas. The interior had a tough time getting any sort of penetration and Air Force hit them several times in the middle with the fullback. Jeremy Beal had a nice game and remains a force, but otherwise, this is a line that has some talent but is struggling to get healthy. Air Force's O-line is undersized like their D-line, but they executed well and had extended moments of success pushing Oklahoma's line where they wanted. They still have a matchup advantage over our offensive line in my opinion, but they certainly don't look anything like ours.
Linebackers: Tom Wort struggled in the middle a bit although he did finish with nine tackles, which is understandable for a freshman trying to figure out Air Force's offense. Travis Lewis once again did his dirty work, finishing with 13 tackles and a half sack. It wasn't, however, a very strong overall performance by the LBs, but they were hampered by scheme because Venables didn't put Ronnell Lewis on the field.
Secondary: Tony Jefferson had a rough time handling the option, and so did Jonathon Nelson's replacement Javon Harris. Nelson reportedly had an injury but returned to the game appearing fine, but he wasn't perfect either. Granted, they won't see this offense again, but the safeties did a pretty poor job at containing the option.
Air Force's Tim Jefferson only threw 14 times but hit one a couple of a passes over 20 yards. Otherwise, the corners were fine but weren't exactly challenged.
Verdict on defense: I'm not sure what to get from this. The Sooner defense struggled against Air Force's punishing attack, and while no Air Force player eclipsed 100 yards, four different players broke fifty and two broke ninety. Then again, this experience may not be relevant in the Big 12 save maybe against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, and that's pushing it because neither team runs an offense close to this one.
In a nutshell, Air Force may have found success on the ground against OU, but that sure doesn't mean that Texas will. At this point, Texas getting a third of Air Force's rushing yards against OU would be a pleasant surprise.
Kicking: Jimmy Stevens hit on both field goal attempts including a 41 yarder while filling in for the injured O'hara. Good news for the Sooners as field goal kicking was one of their chief concerns going into the season. Tress Way continues to be a huge asset in the punting game and averaged 50 yards per kick.
Coverage: Strong all around.
Returning: Murray and Madu both had good kickoff returns, with Madu's being critical because it helped OU immediately answer after Air Force tied the game at 10 apiece.
Conclusion and Looking Ahead
Brent Venables messed up and that contributed to his defense's struggles against Air Force, while Landry Jones and the offense were inconsistent. The Sooners did have reliable success on the ground, but this offense remains heavily dependent upon Murray and Broyles. Jones can be pressured to becoming an outright liability for Oklahoma and the offensive line has been merely adequate overall. The offensive problems are probably more informative for Texas fans than the defensive struggles, since Air Force runs such a unique offense. That said, problems with the interior line can still be an issue in Dallas.
Next week, they face the Cincinnati Bearcats on the road, which should be a win. Cincinnati has struggled so far and almost gave up 500 total yards to NC State. I expect some more big days from Broyles and Murray, and I don't think Cincinnati's offense should present that big of a challenge either. Of course, I'll be more than happy if the Bearcats prove me wrong.
It's hard to believe that the RRS is just 1.5 weeks away, and in many ways both teams may wish that the game was a little farther down the road so we could work on our respective issues. That said, our defense still convinces me that we have the edge in that game, despite the fact that Oklahoma is a bit ahead of us on offense because they have a couple of go-to players. I doubt the Cincy game will be that informative, so we might know all the important things we need to know right now about Oklahoma.