Behind Enemy Lines: Sooners

DALLAS — In Part II of our Behind Enemy Lines series before the Red River Rivalry, Kevin Flaherty from Longhorn Digest asks Joey Helmer from Sooners Illustrated for some insider scoop on No. 1/3 Oklahoma.

Kevin Flaherty: Talk about the maturation of Landry Jones. He's always had a reputation as a guy you can rattle. Is that still accurate?

Joey Helmer: One of the things that comes with a youthful quarterback is the tendency to struggle in pressure situations. You saw that in his redshirt freshman season back in 2009 when he was very inconsistent at times on his way throwing 26 touchdowns but also 14 interceptions. But as he has matured, Jones has become a much more consistent signal caller. The improvement was obvious last year when he threw for more than 4,700 yards and 38 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions, greater than a three-to-one ratio.

He has continued that into this season, where he has already thrown for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns with a 71.6 completion percentage. With that increased production and consistency has come a greater sense of confidence, and he is now much more difficult to rattle. Most of the poor throws he makes are not necessarily of a guy that's rattled in the pocket but rather from bad reads when receivers aren't open. So, that perception that he's a guy who can be rattled at any time may have been true earlier in his career, but it isn't really true anymore.

KF: How does Oklahoma plan to deal with the trick plays and multiple looks that the Texas offense can present?

JH: Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has orchestrated some of the most difficult offenses to defend in recent memory. Sooner fans beg to forget the 2007 Fiesta Bowl when Harsin whipped out a number of trick plays against the Sooners as his Boise State Broncos defeated OU in a 43-42 thriller in Glendale, Ariz. But in an ironic turn of events, Harsin is now a part of OU's biggest game of the year as the offensive coordinator for the Longhorns.

Because of that, the Sooners have been forced to prepare for the plethora of trick plays Texas has in its arsenal. They have been talking all week about the multiplicity of the Texas offense and how they plan to see a number of looks. The biggest thing is for everyone to read their keys effectively, especially the secondary, who likely will be forced with covering a couple trick plays on deep passes. But there's truly no way to know exactly what Harsin will throw at them offensively until they get out there and experience it. The key is to stay at home in the defense, and that's what they have been working on.

KF: What is the Sooners' biggest point of emphasis this week?

JH: I think the biggest point of emphasis has been playing fundamentally sound. As cliche as it sounds, most times huge games are decided by the team that plays the most effectively and efficiently without making a number of mistakes. That means taking care of the ball, executing their offense, not giving up big plays on defense, etc.

It can't be stressed enough how important it is for teams to be sound on both sides of the ball. A turnover at any point can wreck momentum or just field position and give the other team the edge. Not executing offensively puts the defense in a bad spot. And giving up big plays puts the offense behind the eight ball in terms of doing what it hopes to do.

KF: The team to win this game has typically been the one to run the ball most effectively. How confident are you that that team will be Oklahoma Saturday?

JH: So far, OU has out-rushed its opponents 709-516 in four games, and they've won the rushing battle in three of its four games, all but the Missouri contest. That includes a team-leading 379 yards and seven touchdowns from walk-on running back Dominique Whaley. Brennan Clay has added 161 yards and a touchdown, while freshman Brandon Williams and Roy Finch have combined for slightly shy of 100 yards themselves.

Fullback Trey Millard also presents a viable option to rush the ball as a fullback, so the Sooners have plenty of options. Plus, they have a very experienced offensive line, although center Ben Habern is out several more weeks with a broken arm. But they have been blowing people off the ball early this season and the backs have been taking advantage of it. The Sooners should have the edge here not just because of the number of backs they have, but because of the push up front. However, that's not to say UT freshman running back Malcolm Brown isn't a very talented back that makes UT's ground game formidable.

KF: If you were Mack Brown, how would you attack the OU offense and defense?

JH: Offensively, Texas must get OU off-balance early, and they will most easily do that by establishing Brown and the run game early. The Sooners will be banking on getting pressure on youthful quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy, but running can alleviate some of the pressure on those two in the passing game.

As for defensively, they have to turn the table and get pressure on Jones. If he has all day to sit back there and throw the ball, then he will pick the UT secondary apart. If not, then it could be a long day with him throwing on the run, where he's most prone to making mistakes.

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