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Week 4 Opponent Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

The Horns get their first look at freshman sensation Spencer Rattler.

Texas Tech v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

It doesn’t feel like it but rivalry week is here and the two rivals find themselves licking their wounds. The Oklahoma Sooners (1-2) have dropped their first two Big 12 games but will look to get back on track against the No. 22 Texas Longhorns.

Texas fans will finally get to see Spencer Rattler in action against the Horns after hearing about him almost two years now. Through three games, Rattler has thrown for 977 yards (7th overall in FBS) and is only behind Sam Ehlinger with 10 touchdowns (T2). He also boasts a 73.4 completion percentage (6th) with a QB rating of 187.3 (6th). The worst thing you can say about him is that he’s thrown four interceptions, which is 164 out of 174 FBS quarterbacks. Those numbers compare with the Ehlinger’s and Trevor Lawrence’s of college football but unlike them, Rattler is a redshirt freshman. Let’s take a look at his game along with the rest of the Sooners:

What to expect from Spencer Rattler

The first thing I want to point out is that Rattler doesn’t play like a freshman. Okay, but what does that mean? Well, for starters he has pinpoint accuracy and a quick release that reminds you of Patrick Mahomes.

I mean, that throw is actually absurd. Rattler senses the pressure, rolls out while keeping his eyes downfield, and throws an absolute strike to his H-back. He’s also pretty good with moving his feet in the pocket and doesn’t bail early if the pocket starts to collapse.

Even when under pressure, Rattler still makes great throws, the first one to Charleston Rambo and then second to his tight end Austin Stogner.

One thing to definitely expect from Rattler against Texas is that the freshman quarterback loves to roll out of the pocket. Lincoln Riley ran six rollout plays against Kansas State and then 14 against Iowa State.

Whether it’s designed or improvised, Rattler likes to go to his right when he rolls out and it seems like Riley is going to encourage him to do so with an inconsistent offensive line. But it’s not just because he can’t trust the blockers in front of him, it’s because he’s exceptionally accurate on the move as well.

I don’t think you could ask for a better throw from Rattler even though the pass was dropped by Theo Wease.

What really hurt Texas over the past few years was the ability of Oklahoma’s quarterbacks to extend plays with their legs. Rattler isn’t as dynamic as Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts, but don’t underestimate his ability to run. He ran for a touchdown last week and had a few drive-extending plays with his feet.

Max Duggan ran for 79 yards against Texas and while most of that was from designed plays, Rattler will sill test the Horns linebackers if the pocket collapses and he decides to run for it. The last thing Texas can afford is having Juwan Mitchell or another linebacker ejected for targeting, something Rattler almost drew against Iowa State. Depth is thin at the position with Ayodele Adeoye’s shoulder injury requiring surgery.

Alright, I know what you’re thinking. I’m making it sound like Rattler is going to win the Heisman midseason and that he’s the greatest quarterback Texas will have ever seen. As good as his arm is, Rattler is prone to some underthrows.

You can get away with it against Missouri State, maybe draw a pass interference or two, but it will cost you eventually.

Through three games, Rattler has thrown four interceptions, including two on potential game-winning drives for the Sooners.

What to expect from Oklahoma’s offense

Oklahoma and Texas suffer the same dilemma at wideout — both programs have depth at the position but don’t really have a go-to target for Ehlinger or Rattler. As of now, the 6’6, 262-pound Stogner has been Rattler’s favorite target, leading the Sooners in receiving yards (174) on 11 receptions. Riley likes to line Stogner up as a wide receiver to create a mismatch between him and the smaller defensive back and uses plenty of sets with two tight ends that allow a high level of versatility for the Oklahoma offense.

Stogner’s size will allow him to outmuscle any of the Texas defensive backs, but he also has an underrated quickness that can burn linebackers.

If Oklahoma gets close to the goal line, Riley might look to go to their other H-back, Jeremiah Hall. With the Sooners offensive line not as consistent as were accustomed to seeing (more on them in a second), Hall will sneak out in the flat and burned Iowa State for two touchdowns with the same play design. Another test for Chris Ash’s linebacker unit.

Another thing to keep an eye this Saturday is Oklahoma’s use of motion in their offense. They dialed it back against Iowa State, but used it effectively against KSU in Week 2.

Drake Stoops (yes, he is the son of Bob Stoops and you will hear that mentioned every time he touches the ball on Saturday) motions across as a misdirection. Oklahoma will run this as a run-pass option for Rattler or pitch it to the wide receiver in motion for a jet sweep.

TCU ran the same sort of plays against Texas last week but instead of passing, either Duggan would keep it himself or hand it off to the tailback.

TCU also iced the game with it on a Taye Barber jet sweep that attacked linebacker Cort Jaquess’s side.

Look for Riley to break out that formation this week, but then again it’s OU-Texa- oh excuse me, Texas-OU week. The Red River Showdown always brings out some creative plays so don’t be surprised if you see T.J. Pledger in the wildcat, some trick plays with the wide receiver throwing, or even a shovel pass or two. Oklahoma is going to do everything it can to avoid a 1-3 start.

Struggles in the trenches

Under Lincoln Riley, the Sooners have averaged over 210 yards rushing every year. Over the past two years they’ve averaged over 240 yards per game. This year? 122. Part of the problem is that Oklahoma lost its four leading rushers from last year (Jalen Hurts, Kennedy Brooks, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Trey Sermon). Another reason is that the Sooners offensive line just isn’t as powerful as it usually is.

Even with just a four-man rush (sometimes three), the entire left side of the line gets pushed back causing a loss. Below Rattler is forced from the pocket into an incompletion as Marquis Hayes once again gets beat.

Right tackle Adrian Early has struggled in pass and run blocking, too.

Iowa State did a great job of sending the blitz against the Sooners offensive line, which had trouble picking it up while also catching the redshirt freshman quarterback Rattler off guard.

The Horns had success getting to Duggan last week and will be able to get to Rattler. The freshman has been sacked a staggering eight times through only three games this season. The trick will be preventing him from escaping the pocket and extending plays.

What to expect from the Sooners defense

Statistically the Sooners are not a bad defensive team as they only allow about 85 rushing yards per game and give up 232 through the air. Those numbers are helped by their Week 1 win over Missouri State. Since the season opener, the defense has struggled — Skylar Thompson had his first career 300-yard passing game against OU on only 15 completions, while Breece Hall rushed for 128 yards and made the Oklahoma defense look like they were trying to tackle soap.

The Sooners defense gave up five plays of 30 or more yards against Kansas State and allowed four against the Cyclones, including this Breece Hall run that should’ve been a gain of no more than one yard but instead set up the game-winning score.

Oklahoma’s defense struggled to match up against Iowa State’s bigger receivers, committing a handful of pass interference penalties. If Ehlinger can get any time in the pocket, he should have no problem finding success against OU’s secondary.

Another stat that’s inflated is the total number of sacks (6) that OU has this year with four of them coming against Missouri State. Texas did a much better job of protecting Ehlinger last week, but still needs to create more movement in run blocking.

Party like it’s 1999?

If you haven’t heard the stat already, Oklahoma hadn’t dropped two games in a row since 1999 before losing to Iowa State and Kansas State back to back. Now the Sooners are on the verge of losing three in a row for the first time since ‘98. So what’s the biggest reason why Oklahoma is struggling so far?

It’s not exactly one thing, rather a multitude of problems that occur in the second half. After holding a double digit lead twice against Kansas State, including halfway through the third quarter, Oklahoma started to suffer uncharacteristic breakdowns on both sides of the ball such as this 78-yard pass that set up a KSU touchdown.

OU also committed four penalties in the fourth quarter, including a pair of holding penalties on third down. Rattler entered the final frame with just three incompletions but went 4-of-12 passing in the 4th with just 46 yards and an interception that sealed the Wildcats upset. He was much better against Iowa State, going 8-of-14 with 69 yards and a touchdown, but also threw another game-sealing interception. Oklahoma also suffered more breakdowns in the loss to ISU, allowing a long kick-off return that set up a touchdown and committed two more penalties that aided the Cyclones upset.

Texas and Oklahoma enter this week as mirrors of themselves. The Longhorns are an onside kick away from joining the Sooners at 0-2 in the Big 12. You could also make the argument that both programs could be 3-0. Missed tackles, careless penalties, missed assignments, turnovers, and a pair of offenses that stall at random times throughout the game. There still is a lot of time left in the season but this week is more than just about bragging rights, it’s win or go home.