The stakes could hardly be higher. On Saturday night in Norman, OK the #6 TCU Horned Frogs will face off against the #5 Oklahoma Sooners. The winner of this game will almost definitely have locked their place into the Big 12 Championship game set to take place on December 2nd in Arlington, TX. On top of the stakes of this game though, is the juxtaposition of these two teams. Oklahoma has made its way to 8-1 on the back of its Heisman leading quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Oklahoma offense is the best in the Big 12, if not the entire country. TCU has made its way to 8-1 on the back of its defense. Gary Patterson’s patented 4-2-5 formation has caused fits for everyone opponent this season. To this point in the season TCU has held every opponent under their scoring average for the season. Something will have to give this Saturday, and it should make for one of the best games of the year.
DATE & TIME: SAT, NOV 11, 7:00 PM CT
LOCATION: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, OK
FORECAST: Partly Cloudy and 55 Degrees
BETTING LINE: OU -6.5
TCU HORNED FROGS (8-1, 5-1)
The 2017 TCU season has gone as close to perfect as anyone could have imagined before the season got going. Outside of the offense no-showing in Ames, the Horned Frogs have been perfect on the year.
However, this weekend will provide the biggest challenge to date for the Horned Frogs. Despite playing some powerful offenses in Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and SMU, TCU has yet to face an offense this potent. Many people, myself included, wondered how OU would be able to replace star players such as Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine, and Joe Mixon. With all due respect to those players though, maybe Baker Mayfield was really the reason that the Oklahoma offense hummed last season.
Defensively for the Horned Frogs, this has been one of the best teams ever under Gary Patterson. Heading into Sunday’s matchup TCU is sixth in the nation for scoring defense, sixth in the nation for total defense, and first in the nation for rushing defense. TCU is only allowing 2.1 yards per carry, also the best mark in the nation right now. TCU’s success can largely be accredited to their defensive line’s ability to stop the ground game for opposing offenses. However, don’t sell short the job the back seven have done this season. The TCU defense is only allowing 214 passing yards per game this year.
A key player to keep an eye on this week for TCU’s defense is Nick Orr. Orr is tied for 2nd on the team in tackles, and leads the TCU defense in interceptions. From his safety position Orr will be tested early and often against Oklahoma. Orr has had a great season thus far, but this will be the toughest test for him, and the rest of the TCU defense. How the safeties respond to this potent passing attack will tell a lot about how this game will unfold.
Offensively for the Horned Frogs, things have slowed down a lot since earlier in the year. In four of their first five games, TCU scored over 30 points (the one game in which they didn’t they still got to 28.) However, in their last four games TCU has only gone over 30 points once. Part of that is a step up in the defenses they faced, but part of that has been the offense not being quite in sync. Some contributors from early in the season such as Kennedy Snell have hardly been involved recently.
Likely the TCU offense is going to want to replicate much of what they did against Oklahoma State earlier in the year. In that game the Horned Frogs committed to the run game, and gave Kenny Hill easy to manage 3rd down situations. They also made it a point to sustain drives to keep their defense fresh, and wear down the OSU defense.
All that being said though the Sooners can be passed on. The Sooners currently rank 109th in the nation in passing yards per game allowed. The TCU offense will likely have to trust Kenny Hill to make some throws to win this game. Keep an eye on John Diarse in this game. The Senior wide receiver leads the team in receiving yards, and has been Hill’s most reliable option all year.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (8-1, 5-1)
Oklahoma came into the year as the heavy favorite to win the Big 12, as they do most years, and once again that prediction is right now schedule. Despite the aforementioned losses on the offensive side of the ball, Baker Mayfield has elevated his game, and the game of those around him this season. Right now Mayfield is the odds on favorite to win the Heisman trophy, as well as a whole host of other awards handed out to the top quarterback in the country.
There are a few things that Mayfield excels at on the field, on top of doing almost everything at least pretty well. First, Mayfield is a magician at extending plays. There isn’t really a stat that I know of that measures this, but the amount of plays that Mayfield makes happen, by simply getting outside the pocket or moving around within it, is impressive. Also don’t forget that he is an above average runner. TCU’s defense will likely have to keep a spy on Mayfield for most of the night, because he will pick up first downs running the ball if you allow him to.
The other thing that Mayfield does so well is spread the ball around. Three different receivers (Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb) have over 30 receptions on the season. Two more players in Jeff Badet and Dimitri Flowers are over 20 receptions on the season. It makes it nearly impossible for the defense to key in on one or two guys. You have to play against the entire offense at all times, because so many different people can beat you. It’s telling that of those five players listed above that three are receivers, one is a tight end, and one is fullback.
On top of that though is the three-headed rushing attack that the Sooners have in Abdul Adams, Rodney Anderson, and Trey Sermon. All three are over 6 yards per carry, and once Adams gets another 29 yards then all three will be over 500 yards rushing on the season. There is death by a thousand paper cuts, but this offense is more like death by a thousand bombs. They are so explosive, and the weapons are everywhere to be found.
Defensively the Sooners have struggled for large stretches of the season. I mentioned above that the Sooners are 109th in passing yards allowed per game this season. Defending the pass will be much tougher on Saturday due to some injuries and suspensions. Earlier in the week Lincoln Riley announced that starting safety Kahlil Houghton will be out for the game. Starting corner Jordan Thomas is questionable after sustaining an injury against Oklahoma State, and to round it all out Will Johnson will miss the first half against TCU for a targeting call against Oklahoma State. There is a chance that OU is starting three freshmen in the secondary in Robert Barnes, Tre Brown, and Tre Norwood.
The player to watch for OU’s defense is Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound defensive end/linebacker has been the heart and soul of this defense for OU. Okoronkwo is the second leading tackler for OU with 53 tackles on the season, 14 of those for a loss. Okoronkwo also leads the OU defense with 8 sacks. If he is able to consistently get pressure on Kenny Hill then the OU defense should do very well. Hill can be prone to not stepping into his throws when pressured. Okoronkwo could be the key to making that happen.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TCU
LIMIT EXPLOSIVE PLAYS – According to Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings, Oklahoma is the 8th most explosive offense in the entire country. Despite TCU’s incredibly strong defense, they actually struggle to stop explosive plays. According to the same ranking TCU’s defense is 115th in the country in stopping explosive plays. If TCU wants a chance to win they have to force OU to actually drive, and not score in one or two plays.
SUSTAIN DRIVES – I touched on this above, but TCU needs to follow their blueprint for Oklahoma State. TCU should try to lean on their run game, and keep drives moving. Don’t worry about trying to pick up all the yardage in one play. The last thing TCU wants is to get into a track meet with OU.
GET KENNY HILL IN RHYTHM – It’s going to be vital for TCU to get Hill in rhythm early. On the road, in an incredibly hostile environment, if Hill is shaky early that could only get worse as the game goes on. Sonny Cumbie should work to get Hill some easy passes early to build his confidence, and get him in rhythm.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR OU
STOP THE RUN – OU can’t allow TCU to get their ground game going. If the running game is working for TCU it will only make the play action pass that much more dangerous. OU should try to make Kenny Hill beat them with his arm.
NO MENTAL MISTAKES – We saw last week against Texas that if you give TCU any help then they will capitalize. Texas gave TCU 45 yards of penalties within the first two drives of the game. TCU was then up 17-0 before halftime. OU needs to limit penalties on both sides of the ball. TCU is too good to give them help like that.
KEEP BAKER CLEAN – The TCU defensive line showed out last week with 7 sacks against Texas. TCU is averaging just over 3 sacks per game this season. Mayfield is the engine to this offense, and if he is getting planted into the ground then everything comes to a halt for them. It will be imperative to keep him upright this game.
I’ve gone back and forth through the week on who I like better in this game. Oklahoma’s offense is so talented, and can beat you in so many ways. The TCU defense is for real though. They have the size up front to hang with the OU offensive line, but also the speed in the back seven to hang with the receivers.
With the teams being so evenly matched, my tendency is to go with the best player on the field, and that’s Mayfield.
I think that TCU will cover the spread, but that Mayfield is going to have enough magic in that right arm of his to pull out a tough victory at home. OU by 3.