Are the Sooners tough enough to win a game on the road against an excellent team? Can this young team with only seven seniors listed on the top 22, two-deep roster continue to improve and beat a nationally ranked, well-coached team in one of the more hostile environments in America?
Being the Oklahoma Football loyalist that I am, my answer is not a surprise...it's "yes we can win." But I am not pounding my chest with that declaration. The Oregon Ducks having been laying in wait for the opportunity to avenge the Holiday Bowl loss after they were snubbed by the BCS and then "upset" by the underdog Sooners in San Diego. This Saturday's game has all the trappings to perhaps be the toughest road game the Sooners will have all year, and I realize we travel to College Station and to Stillwater for more important Big 12 contests later in the season.
After talking to several friends, including Josh Wilcox, son of NFL Hall of Famer linebacker Dave Wilcox, who played tight end at Oregon a few years ago and whose games I broadcast in the old XFL, the Ducks have had this game marked on their calendars since arriving back in Eugene from San Diego and the Holiday Bowl. This game seems to have a tremendous sense of urgency for Oregon, especially considering it is a non-conference game and is so early in the season. I don't know if the Sooners are looking at this outing with the same sense of urgency, because it is a non-league game and it is so early in the year.
It seems like the Sooners' greatest sense of urgency is to simply improve and play better on both sides of the ball, especially the defensive side.
One has to respect coach Bob Stoops inasmuch as no one is "safe or protected" if they are not playing up to their capabilities and are not making plays.
Lendy Holmes looked excellent during the many August workouts that I witnessed, and it looks as if he will replace D.J. Wolfe at cornerback against Oregon. Marcus Walker, the highly recruited DB out of Waco who gave up his redshirt year during a crucial period against A&M in College Station his freshman year two years ago, is finally free of shoulder issues and is back in the hunt. Plus, Wolfe isn't going to go in the witness protection program. D.J. can play, but it was obvious that he did not play his best against UAB or Washington.
Jenks' Jason Carter has been a special team's phenom and will most likely replace Keenan Clayton at safety, but Clayton and Nic Harris have too much talent not to see significant playing time. Plus, Harris is close to 230 pounds and has been compared at times, correctly or not, by some close to the program with former Sooner great Roy Williams, who redefined the position at OU.
I will say that I have seen both Clayton and Harris deliver sick blows in practice that made them appear "Roy-like" as far as laying a lick on someone. The encouraging aspect of this team's secondary is that it is physically gifted. Reggie Smith and Darien Williams have both had excellent opening games in the secondary from my vantage point. This area of concern could end up being one of the team's strengths by seasons end.
As we mentioned last week, the evolution at the D-tackle position continues and DeMarcus Granger will be seeing a little more playing time and using his 300-pounds to better hold up on the inside than perhaps a smaller defensive lineman physically can do. Defensive tackle Carl Pendleton, at 265 pounds, is actually smaller than defensive end C.J. Ah You, who was a stout 282 days prior to the first game. That's one reason the Sooners went with three down linemen in passing downs against Washington and had C.J., the Defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl, at a tackle position along with Larry Birdine and Calvin Thibodeaux at the ends.
Bottom line, the defensive tackles, no matter who is in there, need to continue to improve and start to make some plays. Stopping Oregon's running game is a key factor in winning the game on Saturday. With every week that passes it appears that all-world recruit Gerald McCoy, who does wear Lee Roy Selmon's old No. 93, will be redshirted. But that was the plan for Marcus Walker two years ago as well. McCoy, nonetheless, is going to be a potential star, especially once he has had a winter with strength and conditioning guru Jerry Schmidt.
Oregon loves to run the option with speedy QB Dennis Dixon, who is fast and has the moves to make Sooner defenders miss. Those of us that watched Dixon in person last year in the Holiday Bowl can attest to his elusiveness and pure athletic ability, much like some of the more athletically gifted, run-oriented OU QB's back in the day. Tackling Dixon is a key to winning against Oregon.
Another key is stopping the 5'11' near 240 pound tailback Jonathan Stewart, a 5-star recruit out of high school. Stewart is the most highly sought after tailback to sign with the Ducks in years and is a big-time player in the making. Let's just hope Stewart doesn't decide to have his "breakout" game this Saturday on ABC.
Quite simply, the Sooners must play fast defensively, albeit under control, and tackle better than we have tackled at anytime this season beginning with the first play until the gun sounds to head back to Norman with a win.
Offensively, for OU to be successful there isn't any magic formula. It is simply the old adage that it starts up front with the men with the big appetites. The better the O-Line plays the better chance we have in winning. False starts are the kiss of death. We had five or six false starts against Washington, which is a function of not concentrating. With the Autzen Stadium crowd being at a frenzy Saturday, the potential for false start penalties increases tremendously. Too many 1st and 15's will kill us.
I loved the way AD ran last Saturday. It was as if he was a man on a mission and ran like the best running back in college football that he is. AD will no doubt get his chances this Saturday to tote the pigskin 25 or more times, but what I find intriguing is the fact that Adrian Peterson is "almost" as viable when he doesn't have the ball as when he does.
Remind you I said "almost". Play-action passes are money in this offense with No. 28 pulling the wagon. So are bootleg-type plays. Will we see those new wrinkles in Eugene on Saturday? It wouldn't shock me.
What about the passing game out of the I-formation? That's doable. And it's not been overplayed this season. I think we have seen one QB draw from Paul Thompson and perhaps we will see another one at a key moment on Saturday. By the way, out of the "I", No. 28 can run a draw as well. We have to throw long some for AD to have room to run.
I did not hate the fact that we had a pair of near 260-pound "fullbacks" in Joe Jon Finley and Brody Eldridge leading Peterson into the line last week, but Matt Clapp, who had an excellent blocking day against UAB, should be back against the Ducks.
Hopefully, all three of our tight ends will touch the ball this week. The integration of the right ends in our offense is a viable weapon and Finley and Gresham, especially, have great hands.
Oregon runs man coverage defensively, so if Thompson HAS THE TIME our dynamic set of receivers could have a great game, especially in play-action situations.
Malcolm Kelly turned heads last week after being somewhat silent versus UAB, and don't discount Juaquin Iglesias, who has been "this close" on more than one occasion from making some big point producing plays the first two games.
This also could be the game we see Reggie Smith get more involved in the offense. Reggie running a reverse or running some sort of counter doesn't hurt my feelings because No. 3 is a natural born playmaker. Having AD and Reggie in the same backfield is a challenging combination for any defensive coordinator to deal with.
Reggie, with the ball in his hands "in space" is scary. And then there is AD with the ball in his hands "in space" which becomes a borderline felony as we saw on his touchdown reception against UAB.
But again, it all starts up front with the big men and how well they block and how few penalties they get, especially non-contact fouls like false starts and lining up incorrectly. Those are the kinds of mistakes that makes one physically ill, much like seeing too much of burnt orange lover Mathew McConaughey on TV roaming the Texas sideline like he was Darrell K. Royal from Hollis, Okla.
This will be the only Sooner game I will miss seeing in person, as I have to broadcast a WWE pay-per-view event in Toronto on Sunday, and Saturday is my travel day. My gameplan is to fly to DFW Saturday morning, check into the hotel in the airport, watch the game, check out and then take a 6:45 p.m. flight from DFW to Toronto.
I had thought about flying to Buffalo, N,Y. and watching the game there and then driving up to Toronto ,but the Buffalo ABC affiliate is carrying the Miami-Louisville game. The OU-Oregon game is on ABC in about 2/3 of the country from what I understand. That may mean Dan Fouts, a former Duck, may be doing the play-by-play. Ugh.
Last week, I mentioned that Garrett Hartley's leg could be the difference in the Washington game. Whether it was or not is arguable, but the accurate junior did 3-for-3 in field goals against the Husies. And Hartley's leg might be THE difference this week in a nail biter.
I am a big believer in this coaching staff and the talent on this team. Plus, Adrian Peterson has the God-given ability to literally carry us to victory if we give No. 28 some help. Turnovers have to be eliminated. Long drives will eat time off the seemingly ever running clock and will take the loud and rowdy Oregon crowd out of the game.
Simply put, several long drives feels like the perfect recipe as we attempt to cook some Oregon Duck.
(I would make a gratuitous J.R.'s BBQ Sauce mention here, but it's just too easy.)
Ross: Are they tough enough?
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