Date: Sept. 19, 2009
Time: 8 p.m. EST
Venue: Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium (Norman, Okla.)
Vegas Line: OU -15
In 2005, TCU rolled into Norman as a 21-point underdog for the season opener against OU and left with a huge upset win. A week later, everyone expected the Sooners to pound out their frustrations on an undermanned Tulsa squad, but the scrappy Golden Hurricane gave OU all it could handle before succumbing in a 31-15 game that was much closer than the final score indicated.
The parallels between that game and this week's matchup should have Sooner Nation taking notice. After the stunning loss to BYU in week one, OU's scrimmage with Idaho State last week gave the team an opportunity to work out a few kinks. With all the problems that came to light during L'Affair Cougar, though, the Sooners still have plenty to sort out. Watch:
1. How TU attacks the middle of OU's defense
The tried-and-true formula for hurting the Sooner defense is capitalizing on the holes in the middle of the field left vacant by blitzing linebackers and safeties. BYU victimized OU repeatedly with shallow crosses, hooks and drag routes, picking up first downs and catching speedy receivers on the run for long gains. Lately, just about any offensive coordinator worth his salt has tried to hammer the Sooners in the center of the field, so expect Tulsa's Herb Hand to do the same.
2. The number of balls thrown to the tight ends
Jermaine Gresham's absence obviously leaves a huge hole in the OU lineup, and none of his understudies have shown enough chops yet to fill the void. It's asking way too much of one--or all--of them to replicate Gresham's
production. However, the group has one catch combined in the first two weeks of the season. The most accomplished of the remaining tight ends, Brody Eldrgide, is playing with a broken hand and is better known for his blocking prowess. If someone can't step up to at least give Landry Jones and Sam Bradford a reliable outlet in the passing game, the Sooners may have to re-evaluate their most basic offensive sets.
3. What defensive coordinator Brent Venables does to contain Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne
Mobile quarterbacks who can move around when plays break down are another big bugaboo for the OU D. Part of that is probably attributable to sloppy tackling, with aggressive Sooner defenders going for the kill, rather than focusing on just bringing the QB down. Whatever the cause may be, the Sooners are going to face a number of signal callers this season who can make plays with their feet, including Kinne. So far this season, the Texas transfer is averaging 5 yards per carry on 26 attempts. While Kinne presents a challenge on designed quarterback run plays, his scrambling ability outside the pocket should concern Venables even more.
4. OU's offensive tempo
Like the Sooners, Tulsa played at one of quickest tempos on offense in the country last season under departed offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, averaging 22.82 seconds per play. The Golden Hurricane has slowed it down a bit through the first two weeks of 2009, but the hurry-up remains part of TU's offensive arsenal. The 2008 Oklahoma team probably would have loved the opportunity to push the pace with the 'Cane, but this is a different squad--one that doesn't seem as prepared for the helter skelter of the no-huddle. If Tulsa starts going light speed, will the Sooners try to keep up? Or, will they go the opposite way and try to work the clock?
5. DeMarco Murray's yards per carry
Is the Sooner speedster really back at full strength? Murray had an outstanding 2007, but he definitely showed some tentativeness last season. It showed up in his stats, as the Las Vegas native's average yards per carry dipped from 6.0 in '07 to 5.6 in '08. Murray appears to be running well so far in 2009, gaining a little more than 7 yards per carry. OU needs Murray and all of his explosiveness this year to offset some of the lost production in the passing game from last season.
6. The OU wide receivers' hands
The Sooners' new receiving corps is off to a disappointing start to the season. Last week, out of Oklahoma's 18 completions, only three went to receivers who are seeing their first significant action this season (DeJuan Miller, Brandon Caleb and Cameron Kenney). The new guys seem to be dropping catchable balls left and right. If the Sooners want to have any hope of winning another conference title, someone other than Ryan Broyles needs to step up and become a threat in the passing game. Just holding on to the rock would be a good start.