1. Game Details
Opponent: Oklahoma Sooners
Last Year’s Record: 11-2
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Returning Starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)
Date: October 22nd
Time: To be determined
Location: Jones AT&T Stadium | Lubbock, Texas
Things very much got back on track with the arrival of Lincoln Riley and I think that when most of us saw that Bob Stoops hired Riley, the Sooners would return to offensive prominence and that’s exactly what happened. With the arrival of Baker Mayfield for the Sooners, it simply all aligned perfectly as Riley had his spread quarterback, one that essentially knew the system (there is no doubt that Riley and Kingsbury’s systems differ, but conceptually, they are similar) and it certainly didn’t hurt to have Sterling Shepherd catching big passes and Samaje Perine along with Joe Mixon at running back and it’s an absolute killer of a combination.
|Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards with 36 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, while completing 68% of his passes and over 8 yards per attempt. On the ground, Mayfield ran for 608 yards and 7 touchdowns.|
The biggest loss for Oklahoma is Shepard and he was absolutely terrific last year and caught many big passes for the Sooners. I tend to not worry all that much about guys stepping up in these sorts of offenses. Someone eventually does step up at receiver, whether it’s Texas Tech, Oklahoma or TCU, the ball finds some receiver looking for the ball. Dede Westbrook was the second leading receiver last year, catching 46 passes for 743 yards. As an aside, Shepherd nearly doubled that production as an indication as to how good Shepard was. There are a slew of unproven and young receivers, from WR Geno Lews (6-1/201) (who is actually a senior, so he’s not young, just unproven really), TE Mark Andrews (6-4/244), WR Michiah Quick (5’11/183), WR A.D. Miller (6-3/189) and Dahu Green (6-4/201).
The Sooners lose three starters on the offensive line, but there are a slew of 3-star and 4-star options ready to replace them. Orlando Brown, Jonathan Alvarez and Dru Samia are your returning starters, which is your tackles in Brown and Samia, with Alvarez at center. That’s probably just fine in terms of returning players and finding someone to fill in at guard is probably pretty easy.
The running backs is, at least for me, what makes this offense go from okay to a pain in the arse. Perine is as good a running back I can remember and at 5-10/234, he’s not your prototypical spread running back, but that doesn’t matter. Perine is a joy to watch run the ball, just as long as it’s not against Texas Tech. He finished with 1,349 yards on 226 carries for 16 touchdowns. Given the recent article that ###LINK GOES HERE### came out about the assault victim in the Joe Mixon case, it’s incredibly tough for me to cheer for him. Maybe it’s because of the way that this tape of the situation has been lost, destroyed and buried is what bothers me. The difference between this and Nigel Bethel’s situation is that Texas Tech was out in front of the situation as quickly as you can imagine, released the tape, let the justice system run it’s course and brought the two parties together to come to an equitable punishment for both given the situation. Despite my personal dislike for Mixon, he was still incredible in spot duty, running 113 times for 753 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Baker Mayfield is the leader of the offense and he really was terrific for the Sooners, passing for 3,700 yards on 68% completion percentage, with 36 touchdowns and 7 interceptions to go along with 102 carries for 608 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground, it’s tough to get more from that. I’ll be interested to see how Mayfield adjusts to life after Shepard and I don’t think Shepard’s graduation can be understated. It’s a bit different than with Jakeem Grant because guys like Shepard who played on the outside are tougher to replace than guys like Grant, at least in my opinion. Granted, Grant is going to be tough to replace too, but if given a choice, I’d rather replace a really good inside receiver than a really good outside receiver. The problem with Mayfield isn’t with him at all, but that there’s no other really good option behind Mayfield, just a true freshman in Austin Kendall and walk-on Connor McGinnis. You also wonder how Kendall feels about joining the Sooners knowing that Kyler Murray is waiting in the wings to take over that spot.
The big issue with the defense is that the Sooners are having to replace a ton of talent on the front seven, namely Charles Tapper, Erik Striker, and Dominique Alexander, who were all all-conference type of players for the Sooners last year. Of course, there are highly regarded, but unproven options. Charles Walker does return and he’s pretty good at tackle, finishing with 6 sacks and 30 tackles at the defensive tackle spot. Also returning is Marquise Overton also at defensive tackle, Jordan Wade and Matthew Romar. They’ll be covered pretty well at defensive tackle. At defensive end, D.J. Ward could get a look at one end, or the coaching staff could go with Amani Bledsoe, who is just a freshman, but one of the best players from last year’s recruiting class. Last year’s redshirt freshman, Neville Gallimore or Gabriel Campbell, could also make an appearance.
|Walker accounted for 30.5 tackles last year, including 10.5 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 1 pass break-up and 1 fumble recovery.|
At linebacker, there are more questions, but lots of options. With Alexander and Striker gone, guys like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (6-2/238) is looking to take one starting spot as is Ricky Deberry (6-2/250) is looking to take the other. Also in the mix is likely Arthur McGinnis and one of the better players from last year’s class, even better than Bledsoe, is Caleb Kelly (6-5/225) a 5-star outside linebacker.
The biggest question in the secondary will be replacing long-time starter Zach Sanchez at cornerback. He was really pretty terrific and his 7 interceptions will be where his impact is felt the most. Like everywhere else, the roster is littered with 4-star players who just haven’t seen the field just yet. Jordan Thomas does return at one cornerback spot while Dakota Austin saw plenty of time there, although he’s a bit slight, only 5-10/160 and could see him more of a nickel back. At safety, the Sooners return Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker. Thomas accounted for 62 tackles, 3 picks and 3 pass break-ups, while Parker had 50 tackles and 4 pass break-ups. I don’t see much of a drop-off here from last year to this year in the secondary.
4. Miscellaneous Thoughts
Statistically, the Sooners were in the top 5 of every statistical category on their NCAA page. Every single one of them. Every one of them. I usually try to talk about something unique or abnormal here, but when a team is top five in everything . . . I got nothing.
5. The Matchup
Obviously, this game is going to focus on the return of Baker Mayfield to the sideline in a playing capacity, not getting kicked out of Chimy’s because he’s under 21. It seems that Texas Tech has let things go, voting both times to allow Mayfield to have that extra year of eligibility. For Sooner fans, they’ve always wanted to paint Texas Tech as this bad guy, but Texas Tech was playing within the rules established and the even sought to change the way the rules were played, but they played within the rules. I think most Sooner fans still don’t believe that the Texas Tech side of things opted to give Mayfield the extra year of eligibility an it’s something that’s probably a bit underplayed.
Even by this point, the Sooners should be terrific offensively and the Red Raiders will need to figure out a way to stop Perine and Mixon along with Mayfield spreading the ball around. I very much believe in Lincoln Riley and think he’s on the short list to being a head coach very soon and I think he’ll have the offense humming along. The defense won’t be as good as they were last year, but I’m not sure how much that will matter given how good I think they offense will be, even if they don’t have the deep threat like they did with Sheperd last year.