Three weeks ago in Norman, OK, the Oklahoma Sooners raced out to 38-14 halftime lead over TCU. TCU would score a touchdown in the second half, but miss their two-point conversion. That was the only scoring of the second half, and Oklahoma won easily 38-20. Leading up to the game this weekend there has been no shortage of talking points between these two teams. Gary Patterson has called out Baker Mayfield for allegedly and intentionally throwing a ball at his players during pre-game warm ups. Mayfield has shown us his more toned down side since the crotch grabbing against Kansas, and responded with nothing but praise for Patterson and the Horned Frogs.
Additionally, the question looming over this game is “Is this needed?” If this was last year Oklahoma would be the outright conference champion, and sitting in an incredibly strong position for the playoff. Now the Sooners have to rematch a team with one of the best defenses in the country, and one of the best coaches in the country in Gary Patterson. Should Oklahoma lose on Saturday, and TCU fail to make the playoff, there will be no shortage of critics ready to tell the conference what a huge mistake they made.
If none of those grab your attention, then tune in to see Baker Mayfield possibly turn in a Heisman clinching performance. The senior has been the frontrunner for almost the entire second half of the season, and if he can lead the Sooners to a second consecutive Big 12 title, as well as a spot in the playoff. then the trophy will be all but his.
DATE & TIME: SAT, DEC 2, 11:30 AM CT
LOCATION: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
FORECAST: Partly Cloudy and 69 Degrees
BETTING LINE: OU -7
TCU HORNED FROGS (10-2, 7-2)
Entering this season very few people expected TCU to finish in the top two of the Big 12 conference. If you took the pulse of most TCU fans before the season, eight or nine wins would have been a great. Much of the tempered expectations were based around the uncertain quarterback play that Kenny Hill had shown during the 2016 season. In 2016, Hill threw for 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. This year though Hill has taken much better care of the ball, throwing for 19 touchdowns, but only five interceptions. There is no debate that TCU would not be in the Big 12 championship game this year without Kenny Hill.
While Hill has been a strength for the Horned Frogs this year, they will be playing without of their other best players of 2017 in running back Darius Anderson. The sophomore started the year behind Kyle Hicks on the depth chart, but while Hicks was dealing with injuries early in the year, Anderson was able to shine. Anderson rushed for over 700 yards until going out with injury during the Oklahoma game. Coach Patterson speculated this week that Anderson could be back in time for a bowl game, but will still be out for this weekend’s game. Kyle Hicks has stepped up, as well as sophomore Sewo Olonilua. Olonilua had his best game of the season last week against Baylor amassing over 100 all-purpose yards on 13 touches. Olonilua is a bigger back at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. He could be a player to watch this week, as he brings a different style of running than Anderson or Hicks.
One key name to keep an eye on for the TCU offense is center Patrick Morris. Morris has been dealing with an injury since early in the year. Morris recently began playing again the last few weeks, but in limited fashion, only for one or two drives each game. There is a noticeable difference though when Morris is in the game, and if he is able to suit up on Saturday it will be a huge boost for the TCU offense.
Defensively the Horned Frogs will be without one of their senior captains for the first half. Safety Nick Orr was suspended by the Big 12 office for his involvement in an on-field fight against Baylor. Orr is second on the team in tackles, and tied for the team lead in interceptions. His presence will certainly be missed by the TCU defense.
The good news for the TCU secondary though is that starting safety Niko Small will be back in action this week after missing the last two games. Additionally, starting linebacker Travin Howard will return to action as well.
With Orr sitting out for the first half, keep an eye on who fills in for him. With Small, and Ridwan Issahaku holding down the other two safety spots, look out for either Innis Gaines or Markell Simmons to fill in for Orr. Gaines is probably the favorite to step in, as he has been getting a lot of playing time with Small out these last few weeks.
Another player to keep an eye on is Matt Boesen. Boesen set a TCU and Big 12 record last week when he recorded five and a half sacks in one game. Not only is Boesen coming off his best game at TCU, but he will probably have a little extra motivation for this game. Three weeks ago Boesen was ejected in the first half for “kicking” an Oklahoma offensive lineman. There was never a real clear shot of what happened on the broadcast, but you know that Boesen will be fired up to get another shot at Oklahoma after having to miss almost all of the last game against the Sooners.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (11-1, 8-1)
The preseason favorite in the Big 12 has gone virtually unscathed on their way to proving everybody right. Their lone hiccup of the season came against Iowa State. However, that loss has quickly faded from the public’s mind as Oklahoma has victories against Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and TCU to remind everyone why they deserve to be in the playoff.
The Oklahoma offense has become the stuff of defensive coordinator’s nightmares. Before you even factor in the play of Heisman frontrunner Baker Mayfield, you have to account for three running backs with over 500 yards rushing, and three receivers with over 700 yards receiving. Now after all of that, add in Baker Mayfield who, despite how you may feel about him, is the best player in college football.
While most of the season saw Oklahoma use a running back by committee approach, the last few weeks have seen Rodney Anderson move to the front of the line. In five of his last six games Anderson has gone over 100 yards rushing. Anderson is also a threat receiving out of the backfield. In that same span of six games, Anderson has over 200 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. If he gets going early then there is almost no chance for TCU in this game. An underrated part of Anderson’s game is his ball security. Anderson is the only Oklahoma running back without a fumble on the season. That trait is surely a huge part of what has allowed Lincoln Riley to trust him with more and more snaps as the season has gone on.
The biggest X-factor for this Oklahoma offense is Mark Andrews. The junior tight end has 51 receptions on the season for 848 yards. Andrews is 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, but still has plenty of speed to separate from defenders. He won’t burn past anyone in the secondary, but linebackers can have trouble defending him in open space. Andrews works so well in this offense in part, because of the attention that defenses have to pay towards CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown. Both Lamb and Brown are home run threats on every play, and have to be accounted for. When that happens it gives Andrews plenty of space to operate underneath, and pick up ten to twenty yards on each reception.
Defensively, this is not a world-class defense. For the most part the Oklahoma defense has been middle of the road for most of the season, but have gotten stops when they’ve needed to. The best thing that Oklahoma has going for it defensively is actually its offense. Knowing that your offense is going to go out and score on most drives, it gives the defense a little breathing room to not have to get stops every single drive. The defense can play a little more of that bend, but don’t break mentality that has become common in the Big 12.
The standout for this defense, as it has been all season, is Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. The defensive end/outside linebacker has 17 tackles for loss and 8 sacks on the season. Okoronkwo is one of the toughest edge rushers to defend in the entire Big 12. When he is able to consistently get pressure, this Oklahoma defense performs at their best. Depending on the aforementioned health of Patrick Morris, and how TCU shifts their offensive line, it could have an impact on what Okoronkwo is able to do on the day.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TCU
COMMIT TO THE RUN – In the first meeting between these two teams, the Horned Frogs got down big early. They had to go away from their run game earlier than they would have liked because of the early hole they were in. Also losing Darius Anderson in that game probably changed the mindset of what they were trying to do initially. TCU should give Kyle Hicks and Sewo Olonilua plenty of carries to help give Hill manageable third downs, and to give their defense a breather.
LIMIT EXPLOSIVE PLAYS – I said this in preview before these two teams faced off a few weeks ago, but it is still true again. The TCU defense is one of the best in the nation by almost every metric except one. They allow big plays. Unfortunately, Oklahoma is the best big play offense in the country. If TCU hopes to win this rematch they have to do a better job of keeping Oklahoma’s receivers and running backs in front of them. If TCU misses tackles then this game is all but over.
GET PRESSURE WITH FOUR – In this first matchup between these two teams, Gary Patterson dialed up the blitz on more than a few occasions. The goal seemed to be to try to make Mayfield hurry his decisions, and try to turn him over in the process. It didn’t work out for the Horned Frogs though, as they were unable to get consistent pressure on Mayfield. The Horned Frogs only recorded one sack on the night, and if TCU wants to change the result on Saturday they will have to get more sacks than that.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR OU
FIGHT COMPLACENCY – When you beat a team by 18 points just three weeks earlier, there might be a tendency to think you can go out and just do the same thing again. With Gary Patterson on the other sideline though, that is the quickest way to get beat. Lincoln Riley needs to come up with a number of new wrinkles on both sides of the ball. Oklahoma has more talent than TCU, but that doesn’t mean that Oklahoma shouldn’t still try to out scheme TCU. Riley had a near perfect game plan the first time around, and it will be interesting to see what he does on Saturday.
PROTECT MAYFIELD – TCU leads the Big 12 in sacks on the season, and even though they only had one sack the last time these teams met, I would expect Gary Patterson to have new ways of trying to get pressure on Mayfield. The offensive line needs to keep Mayfield upright, because when he has time in the pocket, there is no one more dangerous in the entire country.
PUT THE GAME ON HILL – TCU wants to run the ball, so Oklahoma should try to force the opposite. Oklahoma needs to shut down the run game, and force Kenny Hill to beat them with his arm. While Hill has been great on the year for TCU, there is still always the chance that he reverts into Kenny Hill of 2016. With added pressure, the chance that Hill throws a bad interception only goes op.
I expect this game to be closer than it was a few weeks ago. TCU is almost fully healthy outside of Darius Anderson, and even though they will be without Nick Orr for a half, safety is one spot where TCU has good depth. Also, Gary Patterson getting a second crack at you is never something you are happy about.
The Sooners are too good though. This Oklahoma offense is historically good. No matter what statistic you look at the Sooners are near the top of the charts on offense.
I see this one playing out differently than a few weeks ago. This should be a good game for four quarters, and I expect it to be close til the end. Mayfield is the best player in college football though, and he will always have enough magic left to get the job done. Give me Oklahoma by six, and they secure their spot in the College Football Playoff.