Through the first five games of the 2013 season, nearly everything about the Oklahoma Sooners looks the same as in recent years:
- Bob Stoops on the sidelines;
- An uptempo spread offense;
- A defense that emphasizes hybrid skill sets and speed over size;
- A big, strong-armed quarterback;
- Talent at the skill positions.
Watching this team play, on the other hand, has been the college football equivalent of one of those movies where someone gets a completely new personality after undergoing an experimental face transplant. (OK, the one.) The Sooners may be wearing the duds of devious Castor Troy, but they’re playing like by-the-book Sean Archer.
For years, OU built its game plan around overwhelming opponents. The Crimson and Cream would strafe defenses with precision passing, then push the tempo to create confusion and exploit matchups. On defense, OU was all about forcing offenses into mistakes by stopping the run on early downs and bringing pressure in passing situations. When the Sooners were firing on all cylinders, few teams could keep pace – overmatched opponents were likely to find themselves on the business end of a blowout.
In the last two installments of the Red River Shootout, OU worked the strategy to perfection. The dam burst early on both sides of ball for the Longhorns, and bucket loads of points spilled out in favor of Oklahoma.
With those memories of Texas-sized beatdowns seared into the college football consciousness, the oddsmakers in Vegas have made OU a two-touchdown favorite in Saturday’s game. Given how poorly UT has played this year, a blowout seems inevitable.
Nowadays, though, OU is riding a methodical running game behind burly QB Blake Bell and an unyielding defense. Whereas coordinator Josh Heupel had Landry Jones throwing the ball on 57 percent of the team’s offensive plays in 2012, OU has run 60 percent of the time in ‘13. Seeing as, on average, the Sooners are converting every pass attempt into about one fewer yard and each rush into roughly one more yard, that makes sense. After a rocky start with Trevor Knight behind center, they’re also taking pains to protect the ball.
(Note: All data courtesy of cfbstats.com.)
That translates into more keep-away. Through the first five games of the year, the Sooners are enjoying a seven-minute advantage in time of possession per game, compared with a two-minute edge in ‘12.
It also means some diminished explosiveness. Despite running roughly the same number of plays per game on offense as last season, 70, OU is producing one fewer TD (31.2 points per game versus 38.2).
Of course, OU’s new rugged identity has made a difference on D, too. Mike Stoops’ unit is allowing a measly 13 points per game so far, down from 25.5 in 2012. Not surprisingly, the Sooners are giving up one fewer yard per play. Turnovers forced? Those are up, too, climbing from 1.2 per game to 1.8.
We can expect some of the stats to look a little less rosy after OU gets into the heart of conference play. However, we have a pretty clear picture of the Sooners then and now. The Oklahoma of 2008-12 was like a tech stock, prone to volatile swings between highs and lows. The new-is-old OU of today is just going to keep pumping out dividends.
What does that mean for Saturday? I’d let go of the idea of another Bevo beatdown on the order of 63-21. Sooner fans probably won’t get to enjoy that sight of patrons clad in burnt orange streaming for the exits at halftime, hoping to drown their sorrows out on the midway in cold beer and warm corndogs. (It sounds like there won’t be that many Texas fans there to begin with.)
Yet, while the method might look different, I expect the final result won’t.
Oklahoma 27, Texas 17.