There’s only one statistical category where Kansas is better than 40th in the nation. It also happens to be a place where Oklahoma’s style of offense has been known to have some trouble – even though the Sooners haven’t had much this season.
It’s also a possibility that the Jayhawks red zone defense is ranked so high because most teams can score on them from further out than the red zone. No matter the case, these next two weeks are about working on things for Oklahoma and ideally, walking away with an easy victory.
Within the offense, red zone success is still a high priority. The rest of the offense is sure clicking, though.
“I don’t know if you ever just get there,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “I mean, it’s the hardest thing to understand. You wanna feel like you get to a point where you’ve got that, but it’s such a week-to-week deal.”
Mark Andrews has been a great red-zone target for the Sooners (6-1, 3-1), and the way running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are playing, the ground game is moving forward.
Kansas red-zone defense ranks second in the Big 12 at 78.7 percent despite 47 chances. For perspective, Oklahoma has allowed only 24 red-zone chances. The Jayhawks have forced five red-zone turnovers.
This season, Oklahoma’s red-zone offense is scoring 89.7 percent of the time (23rd in the nation). That number needs to stay up in November. It’ll be key to not settle for field goals then in the final stages of big drives.
A tune-up is never a bad thing.
“This game will present a totally different scenario, different players,” Riley said. “You just never know how things are gonna play out so hopefully we can get it going again like we did last week.”
That is the main battle this weekend. Here’s a quick look at a few other key spots:
When Oklahoma has the ball. . .
Oklahoma offensive line vs. Kansas front seven
The Jayhawks best defensive weapon is their pass rush, which ranks fifth in the conference despite Kansas trailing for the vast majority of its games – when their opponent would likely run the football.
Outside of red-zone defense, it’s the only statistic where Kansas doesn’t rank in the bottom half of the league.
Baker Mayfield vs. temptation
There will be a lot of it out there: The temptation to go deep, the temptation to force passes, the temptation to put up a big highlight.
In all likelihood, the Oklahoma offense will be clicking just within the scheme offense. Mayfield won’t have to do anything special, and he might not have to do much outside of turning around and handing the ball off.
But if Mayfield forces throws into tight windows, tries to make hero plays or checks into bad options, it won’t be good for Oklahoma. It won’t make them lose, but it won’t be good.
Don’t expect Mayfield to break character though. He’s been smooth all season.
When Kansas has the ball. . .
Oklahoma’s secondary vs. Kansas’ passing game
The Sooners defensive backfield needs to be sharp every game. They don’t have much to prove but need to remain crisp. They can’t get overconfident either, like Oklahoma might have been against Texas.
The secondary depth will be challenged to step up. Freshmen Kahlil Haughton and P.J. Mbanasor should see extensive snaps, and Marcus Green needs to get back in game rhythm after missing a game-and-a-half with a sprained ankle.
Charles Walker vs. Jayhawks’ interior line
Walker quietly is tied for eighth in the Big 12 Conference with four sacks – and he’s tied with Baylor stud defensive end Shawn Oakman. Walker actually leads all defensive tackles in sacks.
He’s provided the perfect complimentary pass rush to the Sooners edge attack, which has helped Oklahoma average 3.6 sacks per game (third in the nation).
This is a chance for him to feast. Kansas has experience on the interior of its line, but look for Walker to find redshirt freshman Jacob Bragg.