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5 Questions: Oklahoma

RaiderPower.com caught up with SoonersIllustrated.com publisher Bob Przybylo for the inside scoop on the Oklahoma Sooners ahead of their matchup with Texas Tech 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Norman (Okla.).

1. What's your theory on why OU showed up flat for the rivalry game against Texas and then blasted Kansas State the following week?

OU’s rallying cry through the first month of the season was about playing with a chip on its shoulder. From starting at No. 19 to getting back into the top 10, it carried the day.

But against Texas, there was no chip. OU was back to being talked about as a playoff contender. The Sooners were 17-point favorites against the Longhorns.

No chip, no edge, no victory. Add in a terrible game plan on both sides of the ball, and OU left the Cotton Bowl embarrassed.

The loss did, however, lead to a lot of significant changes. Some of those were well on display in Manhattan. If OU doesn’t lose to Texas, then the Sooners don’t wipe out the Wildcats. It took that loss for everybody to take a look in the mirror and realize what they need to do.

Players, coaches, everybody seemed more accountable against the ‘Cats. The question is will it continue during the second half of the season?

2. Has the offensive line showed any signs of improvement? What has OU done to help mask some of the problems with the group?

Up until last week, nothing. That terrible game plan against Texas included doing nothing at all to make life easy for Baker Mayfield with a subpar offensive line.

The line, well, they are who they are this year. It’s not the dominant group from last year. You feel like every time there is sign of progress, something happens that has you shaking your head once again.

OU is rolling with the young guys now, which sounds better than going with two seniors who have been borderline disappointments the whole time. So the group will try to come of age together.

Three of the starters will be a sophomore (Jonathan Alvarez), a redshirt freshman (Orlando Brown) and a true freshman (Dru Samia).

3. How good is OU's defense this season? Some of the numbers show significant improvement, but then I look at the schedule and they haven't exactly played against explosive offenses such as Baylor, TCU and Tech.

Exactly. Don’t get fooled just yet into believing the Sooners have fixed their issues. This is still the same defense that allowed 600 yards to Tulsa last month.

Couple of qualifiers, though. Cornerback Jordan Thomas was suspended for that game. Since coming back, he has three interceptions in three games and is arguably OU’s No. 1 corner, supplanting Zack Sanchez.

No. 2, after the Texas loss, OU made some changes in the secondary. The big one being moving Will Johnson to nickelback and moving Steven Parker over to safety.

The odd man out is Hatari Byrd, a former Scout 300 prospect. But what this gives OU now is more guys in the secondary who are going to be able to cover receivers. Byrd was a hitter, but he made some mistakes.

Against these type of offenses, you need guys who can cover the field. The addition of Johnson in that role should help as he set the tone early against Kansas State.

4. Tech has really struggled against some of the better receivers in the conference. Which receiver do you expect to really exploit the Red Raiders' secondary?

Too easy to say Sterling Shepard. He’ll get his yards, catches and maybe a touchdown or two. So the one to watch is Dede Westbrook.

It’s tough to gauge where Westbrook is halfway through the season. He has made some nice plays but also hasn’t made a lot of those competitive catches you have to have. A big drop against Texas in the end zone is still fresh in fans’ eyes.

OU used him in a different way last week. Instead of long routes, OU went short with Dede and let him do what he does best. The end result was Westbrook having a team-high in receiving yards.

Shepard has been his usual self, but Westbrook has to start becoming the 1a. to Shepard instead of the distant No. 2.

5. Where does Tech rank on OU's schedule? How big of a game (or not) is this week to Sooner fans?

The game itself is a mystery, but it has turned into a major recruiting weekend for the Sooners. OU’s last two home games have been at 11 a.m. CST so it wasn’t able to bring all of the top targets it has wanted to in the last month.

That’s not a problem this week with the 2:30 p.m. CST kick. OU is bringing the big guns and could get a commitment or two out of it.

Tech feels like a gatekeeper this season in the Big 12. If you beat ‘em, you’re in the hunt. If you don’t, you’re not top tier. Patrick Mahomes is going to give this OU defense so much to think about the entire game. He’s going to put up numbers and points, but the key will be if he has any turnovers and if OU can capitalize on that.

Again, it’s going to be about that edge, that chip. A 55-0 win combined with Tech’s uninspired 30-20 win at Kansas has a lot of people downplaying how tough of a matchup it will be. What we’ll have to see if it has a trickledown effect to the players.


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