Oklahoma Review and Preview: OU Survives Cincy and the Texas Offense is on Notice

I apologize for the lateness of this post.  I've been swamped with school, but I found time to watch Oklahoma's game against Cincinnati (I didn't watch it Saturday since, well, I didn't feel like watching anymore football after a certain game).  I will do things slightly differently here; I'll spend less time reviewing their performance against the Bearcats and a little more on previewing the matchup against Texas.

Between school and our game on Saturday, it's been kind of a bum week.  It's hard not to get down on how the offense has looked the past few weeks and the prospects of winning the Big 12.  I need a good laugh and a reminder why it is okay to hate Oklahoma...


Now I feel better.

Anyway, I said last week that we would probably not learn much more about Oklahoma against Cincinnati, since in theory, the Bearcats shouldn't be able to threaten the Sooners.  While Cincinnati did end up threatening, I think what I said was true:  None of Oklahoma's struggles and successes were all that surprising.  The defense struggled against a Cincinnati offense buoyed by the return of Isaiah Pead, but the offense was good enough against a pretty unimpressive Bearcat defense.

OFFENSE

Quarterback:  I have said before that Landry Jones is a frontrunner; he can light up bad defenses but crumbles mightily against good defenses.  He deserves credit for his strong game against Cincinnati even though he did face some pressure, but that defense is many orders inferior to the one he's about to face in Dallas.  He still showed a propensity to rush throws under pressure and sail balls, and that interception at the end was a big mistake. 

Jones has decent mobility, but he is not a huge concern keeping the ball himself in Oklahoma's Pistol offense and zipping downfield (then again, Kevin Prince ended up not doing so bad in that department last week).  He is a far more adept passer than Kevin Prince, but our defense matches up a lot better to that.  I remain unconcerned with Jones himself; the guy can make some good throws, but he's not Sam Bradford by any stretch.  If our offense decides to gift Oklahoma with short fields, Jones can be made to look good, but I am skeptical he can find sustained success against our defense as long as they aren't given the field position advantage.  I am curious to see how he reacts to the pressure he will most likely face this weekend.

Runningbacks:  While Texas fans often debate who is more at fault for our dysfunctional run game, the runningbacks or offensive line, it is pretty clear that Oklahoma's problems are not their runners.  Murray had a bad looking stat line coming out of the game, but I have been impressed with him all season.  We have made jokes in the past about Murray's brittleness, but he has shown toughness running the football in addition to being his dangerous self on the edge.  On OU's first touchdown, Murray was met a yard before the goalline by the defense but scored anyway with a nice second effort.  He can create something even if his line doesn't give him much and he is dangerous as a receiver.

Madu is a serviceable #2 back, but the other RBs probably won't be a factor for this Saturday.  This is not a physical run game and they won't run on us quite like UCLA was able to, but fatigue and mistakes can still be punished by Murray's big play ability.

Wide Receivers/ TE:  Ryan Broyles was good again, which is hardly a surprise.  What's more important to look for at this point is the development of other options for Jones, and this is where OU fans may have some encouragement.  Kenny Stills continues to improve into a legitimate #2 option and he has nice quickness and solid hands, and Dejuan Miller had a decent game and presents a big target.  Cameron Kenney dropped a TD pass and probably should be passed up in the depth chart.

The tight ends remain unconcerning, although they have proven to be far more useful than ours so far.  I know that isn't saying much, but they can actually catch balls when they're open.

The reason it is important for OU to find other options this game is because of the elite coverage abilities of Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams, one of whom I think can get a pick-6 this week against Landry Jones.  The guy to pick on is Chykie, who is a solid corner but prone to mental mistakes.  If they can't find that third or fourth option, it may be a frustrating day trying to throw the ball against our corners while facing a mean pass rush.

Offensive Line:  They are not as bad as last year, and they are probably better than ours right now.  That said, they still aren't that great, and the advantage clearly belongs to our defensive line.  They are struggling up front to create holes for Murray and they were not even that great against Cincy's pass rush.  I don't think any of these guys can block our DEs consistently, so Landry Jones will be hearing heavy footsteps if OU is facing too many third and longs.

Right tackle Eric Mensik is the guy I think our defensive ends can really abuse.  They're going to have to help him with a TE or RB, and that can end up just limiting the options they really need against our secondary.

Conclusion:  Our defense matches up fairly well against this offense.  Ryan Broyles is very good but we have corners that can run with him, and while Murray is dangerous he isn't a bruiser.  The offensive line is not nearly as physical as UCLA's, and Landry Jones is not a true dual-threat QB that can frustrate our defense.  The key thing to watch for is how much the other receivers help out, because if it's just Broyles and Murray trying to get them going, it will probably be a rough day for the Sooner offense.

Then again, if OUR offense plays anything like they have the past two weeks, it probably won't matter because this offense will be finding themselves starting at our 35 yard line every other drive. 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line:  This unit has some good players but it is banged up and it lacks depth.  They got pushed around a bit against Air Force and they struggled to keep Cincinnati's run game under control.  The interior of the line has been less than stellar in their gaps and Adrian Taylor is predictably still battling to get regain his previous form.  The only guy who has remains consistently dangerous is Jeremy Beal.

They are thin at defensive tackle and they are very susceptible to a sustained, physical run game.  Isn't that nice to know?  Too bad we really haven't shown the ability to do that.  Our offensive line also likes to turn opposing players into All-Conference stars, so somebody like Frank Alexander should consider this a stat-padding game.  It is conceivable that, in the event of a long, hard-fought game, we can insert Cody Johnson and attack a weary defensive front with success.  However, given what we have seen, it is hard to believe that we will have consistent success on the ground.

Linebackers:  Tom Wort is a weakness at MLB.  He enjoys going downhill at the run game but he is shoddy in pass coverage and he does not recognize plays quickly enough to be a factor.  Travis Lewis has been strong which is no surprise, but while Ronnel Lewis has impressive athleticism and can hit like a freight train, he looks raw, especially in coverage.  We may still allow him to take at least one potshot at Garrett Gilbert when we randomly tell him to run the ball.

If we had a tight end to work the middle of the field, that would be great.  But we don't, or at least not one that will catch with any consistency.  And we're not even sure Greg Davis will allow Gilbert to throw around the neighborhood of Tom Wort after that pick against UCLA.

Secondary:  The corners are still not a strong group, although they have shown improvement.  From an athletic standpoint, our receivers have the advantage.  From a schematic standpoint... I have no idea.  It hasn't been that difficult to defend our offense.  Hurst is a tough player but he's small, and Fleming got a little roughed up during the game.

The safeties are okay but can get sucked in with playaction... which they should not even bother to respect against us, if they're smart.  Jonathon Nelson had a strong game with a pick and a forced fumble, but they strike me as safeties better in run support than in coverage.

This would be a nice game for Davis to try to test the secondary on deep throws.  Maybe Gilbert throws five picks, but trying that sad horizontal passing game will help Oklahoma hide their weaknesses here.

 Conclusion:  Our defense is clearly superior to Oklahoma's, but our defense is obviously not playing their defense.  The Longhorn offense has been so abysmal lately that it more than makes up the difference between the qualities of the defensive squads.  It is a bit frustrating because there are many holes that we can identify in this Sooner defense, but it is questionable if our offense is even capable of exploiting those weaknesses.  We haven't shown the ability to run inside effectively, we haven't connected on very many long balls on playaction or otherwise, and we don't have a tight end that can stretch the seam or work the middle of the field.  Fantastic.  Our 2008 offense would probably tear this defense to shreds despite a so-so offensive line, but our 2010 offense might make them look like the '85 Bears for all I know.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicking:  Tress Way may be the most underrated factor of this game.  It is bad enough that our special teams and offensive errors switch field position on us.  Now add in a punter who can boom it and it can get uglier for our offense.  While both Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams are athletic returners who can make plays, they've also shown very poor awareness on when to catch the football to preserve field position and they haven't taken care of the ball either.  It sure was nice seeing Curtis field that punt within the five yard line, and it was doubly amusing to see AW subsequently let one he should have fair caught sail over his head.  Punt returning may be very important this game and our returners cannot give Oklahoma any free gifts and also need to help out our offense anyway they can.

Field goal kicking remains our advantage, although Stevens has been okay.  At the very least, if Oklahoma is gifted good field position, our defense can try to hold for field goals and we can hope for a couple of misses.

Returning:  Ryan Broyles and Murray are dangerous returners in their respective areas.  Our coverage has been generally good this year, but again, field position will probably be a big deal this game and we can't afford silly mistakes that allows OU to start at midfield.  Our defense should be able to hold if we force OU to go 65-80 yards every drive.

Looking ahead:

Not much more to say.  Our defense is the best unit that will be on the field Saturday for both sides, but our offense has been a self-destructive mess.  While OU can't run physically like UCLA, they have enough talent and competence on offense to punish the Longhorns if we play anything like we did in Lubbock or last week in Austin.  I don't expect sustained success running the ball from OU, but Murray can be slippery and between him and Broyles Oklahoma might be able to muster enough points to outscore the flailing Texas offense.

Oklahoma's defense is flawed, but it remains to be seen if Texas can do anything about it.  If we magically find success running the football (don't hold your breath), we probably win.  If we hit a few big plays, we probably win.  If we get a special teams score, we probably win.  If our offense continues to treat first downs as unimportant and gives the ball away, we will lose, and we might lose by three scores again.  This game is about the Texas offense vs. the Sooner defense, with a smaller emphasis on special teams.  Time to step up to the plate, Greg Davis.

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