Every Big 12 team has only four conference games left on their slate, and what happens in November will decide who makes it to the championship in Arlington.
Despite a loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma is still in control of their ability to make that game, and maybe more. The Sooners are a Top 10 team in the CFP rankings and could once again be playing for big time trophies if they win out the rest of the way.
Things got choppy for the No. 7 Sooners at midseason, as they fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops in early October, just before their bye week. Since then, they’ve reeled off two straight wins and appear to be improving as they head into November. A win on the road would keep all of the Sooners’ goals in front of them, and further solidify Oklahoma as one of the best teams in college football.
Texas Tech, on the other hand, is coming off a tough loss to Iowa State in Ames. That game was a disappointment for head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who has struggled to best Iowa State head man Matt Campbell.
Against the Cyclones, the Red Raiders struggled on offense and ultimately fell 41-30 on the road. A victory over Oklahoma would give Texas Tech new life in the Big 12 race, however, and represent a signature win for Kingsbury. Halloween has technically passed, but the Red Raiders hope to have something scary on hand for the visiting Sooners.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (7-1, 4-1)
The offense steals the show for Oklahoma, especially with the always-dangerous Kyler Murray at quarterback for the Sooners. Murray, who is an accurate passer and has lethal speed carrying the ball, has weapons around him.
Wide receiver Marquise Brown is a smaller player, but is probably faster than any other wideout in the Big 12 and always dangerous. Cee Dee Lamb makes catches every week that seem to defy logic, so he’s always difficult for teams to cover.
Running back Trey Sermon is a strong runner behind probably the best offensive line in the Big 12. Fellow ball carrier Kennedy Brooks is also prolific, averaging 11.9 yards a carry.
Of course, a major storyline for the Sooners this year has been their firing of long time defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Stoops’s defenses seemed to decline every year since his return to Oklahoma in 2012, but under interim coordinator Ruffin McNeil they seemed to have progressed since early October.
Oklahoma has had two fairly strong defensive performances the last two weeks, giving up 20.5 points per game in those contests. This week will be their biggest test yet under McNeil, who coincidentally held the same title at Texas Tech under Mike Leach before Leach’s departure in 2009.
The Sooners were frequently gashed in the secondary under Stoops, but they’ve only allowed 271 yards through the air to their last couple of opponents, so things may be turning around. McNeil seems to want to get more athletes on the field than his predecessor, and is not afraid to go with a light box in order to have more support on the back end.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (5-3, 3-2)
For Texas Tech, the focus is usually going to shift to the offensive side of the ball, and there’s some justification for that. With true freshman Alan Bowman – “The Showman” – at quarterback, the Red Raiders appear to be as prolific as ever offensively.
What sticks out about the Texas Tech offense is the degree to which they’ve managed to achieve balance over the course of 2018. They are averaging about 40 rushing attempts per game this season, which accounts for just under half all offensive plays.
The Red Raiders can sling it, though. Wideouts Antoine Wesley, T.J. Vasher, and Ja’Deion High have been the go-to guys for Bowman in the passing game. All are long receivers who pose mismatches for most any defensive backfield.
On defense, Texas Tech has showcased some improvement over years past. The defensive strength for the Red Raiders lies more with their ability to stop the run. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs has this unit playing downhill very well, and linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen are two of the Big 12’s best.
Pass defense has been a problem for the Red Raiders, however, who are prone to giving up the occasional big play through the air. They are currently giving up more passing yards per game than any other Big 12 team at 283.4.
Still, the Red Raiders are the best defense on third down in the Big 12, allowing opponents to convert just 32.5 percent of their tries.
OKLAHOMA KEYS TO THE GAME
Stay Balanced – The Sooners are at their most dangerous when they are running the ball well and setting up their deep shots downfield. Forgetting to run the ball against a team that is more vulnerable to opposing passing attacks could stymie the offense.
Get Pressure On The Quarterback – Sitting back and playing coverage against a team like Texas Tech is a recipe for disaster for most defenses. Oklahoma should try to avoid that as well, because even though Alan Bowman’s only a freshman, he knows how to carve up opposing defenses that just sit back in coverage.
Stop The Run – Last week, Texas Tech was held to only 30 yards rushing, and they had one of their worst offensive performances of the season. If you’re a defensive coach at Oklahoma, that should tell you that the key to slowing the Red Raiders down is to make them more one-dimensional and predictable. That starts with stuffing the run on early downs.
TEXAS TECH KEYS TO THE GAME
Test The Sooners With Misdirection – Oklahoma has a new defensive coordinator and a defensive unit looking to prove that they’ve turned over a new leaf. I would expect to see them putting pressure on Alan Bowman throughout the game on Saturday and trying to be very aggressive. Add in some misdirection to try and take advantage of that over-aggressiveness.
Make Kyler Murray Uncomfortable – There’s not a “weakness” per se to the Oklahoma offense, which is probably the best in college football. The only time teams have really had success in trying to stop them is with making Murray scramble in the pocket. Kyler Murray can still make plays, no doubt, but if you are Texas Tech on defense, you want passing plays to happen fast so they don’t have long to develop into something bigger.
Dominate The Game On Special Teams – Texas Tech’s punt unit has really come far in the past few weeks, and it really needs to be on point this weekend. Pinning the Sooners deep in their own territory when they’re on the road in Lubbock at night might yield some good things.
Overwhelmingly, I think that the majority opinion here is that Oklahoma will have just enough defense and too much offense for Texas Tech to keep pace. Both of these teams score into the 40s on the regular, but a two score line for this game suggests to me that most people believe the Sooners to just be the better team on both sides of the ball.
At the same time, I think this game represents a serious upset threat for Oklahoma. It is a road game at night that will be a particularly hostile environment. This will be the toughest game away from Norman that the Sooners have played up to this point, and you would like to have a veteran team going into an environment like that.
The Sooners are still very young in that respect, however, while the Red Raiders have much more of a veteran presence on their squad. Youth on the road can often show up in the form of a slow start, and it’s hard for me to not feel like Texas Tech will come out of the tunnel fired up for this game.
Because of their home field advantage, I will take the Red Raiders to come out on top. If the offense can get going early, I can see this game turning into the kind of track meet that the Sooners really haven’t had to face yet. Give me Texas Tech by three points in a shootout.