Matchups: When Oklahoma Throws the Ball

You can't talk about trying to defend the Oklahoma Sooners without discussing their passing game.

For defenses, it's like a nightmare. The Sooners line up quickly in a fast tempo, and before you know it, the ball is snapped and zoomed into the hands of a game-breaking wide receiver for a big gain. Rinse and repeat. The Oklahoma passing attack churns out 378 yards per game, good for fifth in the country.

It all starts with Landry Jones. He's throwing for more than 360 yards per game, completing better than 71 percent of his passes and has hurled 10 touchdowns. If he has a weakness, it's that he can play a bit loose with the ball at times, as evidenced by his five interceptions thrown in four contests.

In fact, if you take the top 20 teams in the country in passing yards per game, only three teams — Oklahoma State, Florida State and SMU — have worse interception percentages. That number gets worse when you consider that Florida State has had to play with an injured starter, and that SMU's quarterback has since been replaced after throwing early interceptions in the season's first game.

But Jones typically can't be accused of locking in on his receivers. Eleven Oklahoma players are averaging at least one catch per game. Of course, that doesn't mean they're without stars. Ryan Broyles has hauled in 38 catches for 476 yards and six touchdowns so far, averaging 119 yards per game. And Kenny Stills, who has only played in two games, has 14 catches for 205 yards and two scores of his own. Add in Jaz Reynolds, a super-sub who is averaging 78 yards per game, and Oklahoma has a number of weapons to hurt teams with. It also helps that they get back Trey Franks from suspension.

But one of the toughest things about defending the Oklahoma passing game is how often the Sooners get the ball to the auxiliary positions. Running backs Dominique Whaley, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Jonathan Miller have combined to catch 23 passes for 249 yards. Tight end James Hanna can stretch the seams in the passing game and actually averages more yards per catch than Broyles does. And fullback Trey Millard is another reliable target.

That's a long way to say you can't forget about anybody.

Texas will counter with a defense that's ranked 16th nationally against the pass, but more importantly, No. 5 in pass efficiency defense. The Longhorns have picked off six passes in four games, have only allowed two touchdown passes and have forced opposing quarterbacks into a 52.41 completion percentage. This is, so to speak, where the rubber meets the road. Jones has a passer rating of 164.87. Texas has allowed a passer rating of 89.98.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma would seem to be a team that wouldn't fear long third downs (they're ranked a respectable 37th). But Texas is third nationally in third-down percentage, only allowing teams to convert 25.93 percent of their third down plays.

It's worth noting two other things about the Texas defense: First, that they haven't faced a quarterback or team willing to stand in the pocket and look for the long ball as Landry Jones does. And second, the Longhorns have achieved that level of success without hybrid linebacker Demarco Cobbs, an ace in the hole in terms of the speed, coverage ability and blitzing success rate that he can bring. He was listed on Monday's depth chart and is expected to play.

Those factors could certainly help the Longhorns to get pressure on Jones, and when he is pressured, he still shows the propensity to make the big mistake from time to time. Without that pressure, Jones can pick anybody apart. But the Longhorns appear to have the tools to make life uncomfortable for him.

The biggest question for Texas is whether their young cornerbacks — sophomores Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips and freshman Quandre Diggs — are up to the task against players like Broyles and Stills, who far outclass anything they've faced so far this year. Certainly, they'll have help, both from the scheming of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to disguise coverages and from the safeties over the top.

But this could be a case where it's all about the pressure. Get to Jones, rattle him and the Longhorns can slow down an explosive passing attack. Fail, and the Sooners could be lighting up the scoreboard.

Advantage: Sooners

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