When the Sooners and Horned Frogs face off this Saturday, it will be between two teams trying to right the ship. However similar their situations may seem, the difference feels like it’s vast.
The Sooners are coming off their bye week after a gut-wrenching loss to the Texas Longhorns in which they were almost able to steal a victory away late in the game. Mostly due to their defensive effort in that game, the Sooners decided to part ways with Mike Stoops at defensive coordinator. In steps Ruffin McNeill, tasked with helping improve a Sooner defense which has been the achilles heel to an otherwise explosive team. The conference championship is still a possibility if the defense is able to improve over the back end of the schedule.
The Horned Frogs are coming off a stinging home loss at the hands of the Texas Tech Red Raiders where their offense only scored 17 points. In fact, Gary Patterson and company can’t seem to muster any offense as of late, scoring 17 points or less in their last three games. Quarterback Shawn Robinson performed well in the loss, but does not appear to be back at full strength as of yet. Whether or not TCU is able to leave its offensive woes behind and attack a vulnerable Sooner defense remains to be seen.
TCU Horned Frogs (3-3, 1-2)
This season looks quite different than what the Horned Frogs probably expected at the outset. Heck, it looks quite different than it did just a few weeks ago after a valiant effort against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Frogs are suddenly reeling without much apparent firepower after racking up two additional losses in their last three games, and three of their last four. The schedule does TCU no favors as the Oklahoma Sooners, winners of their last four head to head matchups against the Horned Frogs, come to town.
To make matters worse, TCU is losing games by hurting itself with uncharacteristic sloppy play and turnovers. In fact, TCU ranks dead last in the Big 12 in turnover margin at -9. The suddenly stagnant TCU offense has been hampered by inconsistent play despite the efforts of quarterback Shawn Robinson. Robinson played well considering his injury last week, but he has thrown seven interceptions on the season and his pass efficiency rating is in the Big 12 cellar. The Horned Frogs must minimize their turnovers and need more production at the quarterback position in order to make strides against the Sooner defense.
Robinson will need some assistance from the running game in order to open up the passing game. Unfortunately, running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua haven’t contributed as expected with both combining for only 694 rushing yards this season. Robinson, who is also the team’s third leading rusher with 230 yards, will need to rely on his running backs to move the ball in order to avoid further injury.
No doubt that the Horned Frogs have a bevy of receivers like KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Reagor, etc., who can make any defense in the nation miserable. Especially one beleaguered by a vulnerable secondary giving up big plays and chunks of yardage like Oklahoma’s. The recipe for success is in this matchup, and the Horned Frogs have to make the most of it.
Defensively, the Horned Frogs possess the conference’s top-ranked scoring defense. The bad news being that they’re facing the top scoring offense in the Sooners. The TCU defense, which is statistically limiting teams to average of 20 points per game, did an impressive job of holding a quick scoring Texas Tech offense to 17 points a week ago. They must again focus on limiting the big play ability of the quick-strike Sooners offense and the extreme mobility of Kyler Murray.
Despite their recent troubles overall, the TCU defense has been limiting their opponents to an average of less than 200 passing yards per game. The task of keeping that stat alive, and holding the Sooners in check, became even more difficult with the news that TCU will apparently be without safety Innis Gaines for the remainder of this season. Gaines has played at a high level and his presence will be truly missed.
Oklahoma Sooners (5-1, 2-1)
Prior to their bye week, Lincoln Riley’s Sooners suffered a stinging loss their bitter rivals in Dallas. As mentioned prior, the defensive performance in that game led to the eventual dismissal of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator. Despite that loss, most of Oklahoma’s goals for the season are still on the table if they can run the table the remainder of the season. Reaching the Big 12 Championship Game, along with a few breaks along they way, and the Sooners are right back in the thick of the CFB Playoff conversation.
First thing’s first, the defense will be asked to show some quick improvement under interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill. McNeill has plenty of valuable experience, but he’s saddled with the unenviable task of trying to turn around a defense mid-season that has not played up to its potential. Take into consideration that the Sooners are allowing an average of 421 yards and 27 points per game. McNeill has plenty of talent to work with but it will be extremely interesting to see if he’s able to make the necessary adjustments needed to change the trajectory of this unit which has been on the field far too long many times this season.
The one thing that can help alleviate some of the pressure from the shoulders of McNeill and his defense is the high-octane Sooner offense. If there is even modest successful change on defense, the Sooner offense is good enough to win most games. As witnessed in the Texas game, Kyler Murray was almost single-handedly able to change the outcome of a game in the blink of an eye in a game in which the Sooners were being dominated. Behind a solid offensive line, Murray’s presence alone causes defenses to have to allocate more resources to the threat he provides which then opens up big-play possibilities for his teammates.
The offense will need to keep playing at an extremely high level until the defense comes along further. The Sooners face a meaty back end of the schedule, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Sooners must start with the talented Horned Frogs and their solid defense. OU’s ability to quickly move the ball will be tested by the Frogs defense at least initially. On the flip side, the Sooners defense will be facing an offense struggling to find its way. It must do whatever possible to not be the cure for TCU’s offensive ills.
Keys To The Game For TCU
Hold On To The Ball – This is as elementary as it can possibly get. With an already struggling offense, TCU must make the most of their given offensive sets. The Frogs must maximize every opportunity they get. Handing the ball over to the dynamic Oklahoma offense for extra scoring opportunities is an ensured recipe for destruction.
Tick-Tock – The Horned Frogs would be best served by keeping the Sooner offense on the sideline. A good offensive game plan involving a healthy mix of run-pass will go miles in advancing the Frogs’ cause. Running the ball as effectively as possible is a must this week. At the very least, time of possession and the battle of field position can help the Frogs and their strong defense keep this one within striking distance.
Be Yourself – Defensively, you’re already aware of what you’re going to be facing. TCU has seen similar offensive talent from Ohio State earlier this season and shouldn’t be overwhelmed by this Sooner offense. The defense must do its best to try and contain Murray from beating them with his legs. Overthinking this process will lead to overpursuit and missed tackles, which will be damaging.
Keys To The Game For Oklahoma
Come Out Strong – The Sooners offense will face a strong and tested TCU defense. Coach Riley should focus on attacking the defense and wearing it down. If the Sooners can put up plenty of points early and grind down the TCU defense, it will be extremely difficult for TCU to fight back offensively with its current limitations.
Feel The Flow – The run game’s integration for the Sooners will be important. If the Sooners can effectively run the ball, then it serves them greatly in a couple of aspects. It allows them to keep the TCU defense on the field for longer periods of time, thereby accomplishing the goals of the first key. Secondly, it limits the offensive opportunities TCU and its hindered offense will receive. If the Frogs aren’t able to capitalize on the limited offensive sets they do receive, then this game is effectively over.
Patience – Defensively, the Sooners must focus on fundamentals. Limiting big plays and proper tackling will go a long way in this matchup. They can be aggressive in spots to force TCU into possibly making mistakes or turnovers, but these chances must be measured. The Sooners will be successful defensively if they can play effective pass defense and force the Frogs to win the game on the ground.
This matchup may have lost some of its initial luster due to the recent struggles that TCU has had, along with the unexpected OU loss to Texas. However, it provides plenty of drama as both teams are looking to make the most of the opportunities they have remaining. As aforementioned, the Sooners still have plenty to play for and it all starts with making a statement on Saturday. The same can be said for the Horned Frogs as they envision bowl eligibility and perhaps a bit more in the hierarchy of Big 12 bowl selections if they can get back on winning track.
The two strongest sides of the ball will face off against one another when Kyler Murray leads the Oklahoma offense against the TCU Defense. These two units will shadowbox for the first couple of series in this game, but eventually the dam will break. Oklahoma’s offense is simply too strong for TCU to overcome with an offense not playing at its optimal level. The Frogs will score points, and most likely more than 17 total, but it won’t be enough.
The game will remain close for about a half and then the Sooners will begin to pour it on. I like the Sooners easily.