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Crimson and Cream Machine Q&A: Sooners need to lean on the run

With the questions at quarterback, the Sooners will rely on Eric Gray and the ground game.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners are ready to square off with a lot on the line, but in a much different way than years past.

Both teams come into the game unranked and needing a win in a major way to keep the season from going completely off the rails. The Sooners have lost back-to-back conference games, putting them at the bottom of the Big 12, while Texas, with one loss, could keep themselves alive in the conference race and effectively eliminate their chief rival in the process

To help give some insight into what the Sooners are bringing to Dallas, we reached out to Jack Shields of Crimson and Cream Machine.

Burnt Orange Nation: One of the big storylines this week is the health of OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who left the TCU game with a concussion. His backup, Davis Beville, struggled to move the offense when he came in. What differences in the game plan will we see between the two quarterbacks?

Jack Shields, Crimson & Cream Machine: Dillon Gabriel hasn’t exactly been a world-beater, but you’d obviously see the offense take a few more risks downfield with him out there. As far as the actual scheme is concerned, however, there likely won’t be much variation if it ends up being Beville. Now if they end up throwing a curveball and trot Nick Evers out there at any point, it would likely indicate a bit more of a zone-read-heavy scheme. If OU gets desperate and needs to change things up, this scenario wouldn’t shock me.

BON: One of the highlights of the offense has been running back Eric Gray, who is knocking on the door of 700 rushing yards in five games. What has been the secret to his success?

CCM: His patience and ability to make people miss have really set him apart. He really doesn’t have a ton of straight-line speed, and he isn’t a thumper, but the first guy with an opportunity to make a tackle regularly loses his shoes. After showing flashes of that ability last year, he’s really gained confidence as “the guy”. With most of the offseason hype revolving around Marcus Major and Jovantae Barnes, he has indeed been the highlight for this team in the early going.

BON: The defense over the last two weeks has left much to be desired. It seems as if they’ve regressed from a year ago. What has been the big issue for the unit?

CCM: I’m not sure where to begin, but we’ll go with the blown assignments in both the run game and the passing game. Brent Venables doesn’t run the simplest scheme, and his defenses are often multiple, so some of these guys have appeared to be in over their heads as of late. You see guys looking at the sideline with their hands in the air as the ball is snapped, which is usually a solid indicator that things are about to go poorly.

Additionally, his best defenses have been highlighted by elite talent along the defensive front, and he simply doesn’t have that this year. It’s trending in that direction on the recruiting trail, but OU fans must be patient. Losing Perrion Winfrey, Isaiah Thomas and Nik Bonitto to the draft is tough to overcome for any staff.

BON: What is the one thing that has to happen for OU to win on Saturday?

CCM: Establishing some early success in the run is key because if that doesn’t happen, this will be over quickly. This would hopefully allow things to open up downfield for Marvin Mims & Co., and it would then be up to whoever is playing QB to not overthrow it (which has happened a lot this year).

As far as the defense is concerned: Keep the f***-ups to a minimum, I guess?

BON: What is your prediction?

CCM: I’m not particularly confident. OU is exceedingly vulnerable, and Texas is looking to make a statement.

*Stephen A. Smith voice* BUT

It’s worth noting that this game tends to get weird in these situations. 2013 and 2015 certainly come to mind. My only hope is for OU to pull one of those.

I’m not banking on it. I’m picking Texas, but I’d be thrilled to be wrong.