Oklahoma Sooners could win game with pass rush and passing attack

A look at some of the key match-ups in the Red River Showdown

You can’t flip on Texas’ most recent game film and not see a glaring weakness. You just can’t do it.

TCU probably runs an offense more similar to Oklahoma’s than any other team on the Longhorns’ schedule to date. The Oklahoma Sooners aren’t as potent as the passing offense that put up 376 yards last week – and 30 points in the first quarter alone. But they could be soon.

No. 10 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) is at least equal to Notre Dame or Oklahoma State in the air. Both of those teams put up 292 yards against a defense that is allowing a 66.9 completion percentage.

The place to attack Texas is in the secondary.

“They’re always physical, and especially against us, they’re gonna bring their A-game,” Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard said of the Longhorns’ secondary. “We’re gonna have to do the game.”

Texas will try and blitz to balance out a secondary that starts a redshirt freshman and has five players in its top six cornerbacks who aren’t two years removed from their high school graduation.

At 118th in the country in pass defense (296.6 yards per game), the Longhorns (1-4, 0-2) nearly have the worst pass defense that Oklahoma has seen this season. Tulsa, which gave up 487 yards in the air to the Sooners, is averaging less than a yard more per game.

Still, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley insisted that the Sooners have to worry about themselves first.

“We’re not good enough to worry about them,” Riley said. “We’re just trying to stay focused in on us. Everybody has there own sets of issues. We do. They do. Every team in America does. We know the significance behind this game. We know the atmosphere that there will be. We know the intensity that will be in this game, and we know the quality of this game and this one will be no different.”

That is the main battle this weekend. Here’s a quick look at a few other key spots:

When Oklahoma has the ball. . .

Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon vs. Malik Jefferson

A true freshman at middle linebacker is usually a weak spot in the defense. That’s not the case with Jefferson, who is probably Texas’ best defensive player and the first player pointed out by Riley on Monday. It won’t exactly be a one-on-one battle between Perine/Mixon and Jefferson, but Texas’ only chance of winning Saturday might be to force Oklahoma to be one-dimensional. That might not even be enough but Jefferson will need his best game of the season.

Penalty battle (although it’s more of a defensive problem)

There aren’t many teams with more penalties this season than Oklahoma. Texas doesn’t have more, but it doesn’t have fewer, either. Both teams have been penalized 38 times, but the Sooners’ 94 penalty yards per game is third-worst in the nation.

Oklahoma has to clean up its mental miscues. The Sooners have earned more than 80 penalty yards in three of their four games, and Oklahoma hasn’t earned fewer than 65 yards in any game. Penalties alone won’t kill Oklahoma on Saturday, but it’s another one of those things that could stack up. Beyond this weekend, Oklahoma has to commit fewer penalties because it will kill them against TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State.

When Texas has the ball. . .

Oklahoma’s pass rush vs. the Longhorns’ offensive line

Sooners’ defensive end Charles Tapper should be licking his chops. Eric Striker, too. Texas allows 3.4 sacks per game. Only five teams allow more, including West Virginia, which just gave up seven to the Sooners. Devante Bond should be pretty happy, too.

Texas has a pair of seniors on the interior of its offensive line but is likely going to start true freshman Connor Williams at left tackle – lined up in front of Tapper and having to deal with Striker and Bond on occasion.

A great pass rush can disguise issues in the secondary, and Oklahoma is poised for another big day getting after the quarterback. If Texas can’t stop the rush, it’ll be a long day but a good day for Oklahoma.

Sooners’ QB contain vs. Jerrod Heard

Texas’ best offense isn’t necessarily anything scripted by offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. It’s better when Heard gets loose and improvises. Through his first three starts, Heard actually has the most passing yards and the second most rushing yards of a Texas quarterback since Vince Young.

Heard has more total yards (901 through three starts) than Young. Against Cal, Heard set a school record with 527 total yards of offense and became the first Texas freshman quarterback to throw for 300 yards since 2006.

He’s dangerous, and Oklahoma’s defense has made a point of pointing it out. 

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