Date: October 24
Time: 3:30 pm EST
Venue: Memorial Stadium (Lawrence, Kan.)
Vegas Line: OU -8
The hits keep on coming for Oklahoma, which follows up last weekend's loss to Texas at the Cotton Bowl with a trip to Lawrence to face a dangerous Kansas team.
But KU was exposed as a pretender in defeat last weekend at Colorado, right? No, the Jayhawks just fell prey to the classic look-ahead mindset that can overtake an upstart right before a marquee game. If the Sooners think the team that took the field in Boulder will be the same bunch of Fightin' Manginos they'll see tomorrow, they're sorely mistaken.
Meanwhile, Bob Stoops' mash unit of a football team has plenty of its own problems to worry about. With quarterback Sam Bradford, guard Brian Simmons and most likely running back DeMarco Murray out of commission, coordinator Kevin Wilson is using chicken wire, duct tape and bubble gum to hold the Sooner O together.
Bottom line: The Sooners have plenty of reasons to worry about this road trip. Watch:
1. The yardage OU gains when running on first down
As good as the Texas defense is, I figured Oklahoma would at least run for positive yardage in the Red River Shootout. Instead, though, the Sooner ground game essentially turned into an extension of the Longhorn D, routinely pushing Oklahoma backwards to the tune of -16 yards rushing for the contest. Weak production running on first down hurt considerably, as the Sooners routinely faced long-yardage situations on second and third down.
There's bad news and some news that isn't as bad but still bad for the OU run game this weekend. First, the bad: Murray probably won't play. The less bad news is that Kansas' run defense doesn't suck as badly as expected. KU is surrendering 3.17 yards per rushing attempt, tied for 27th in the nation.
Gaining consistent yardage on first down via the ground would take a little pressure off of redshirt freshman quarterback Landry Jones to make things happen on his own. We saw what happened last weekend when the Sooners failed in that respect.
2. OU's kickoff and punt returns
Punt returner Dominique Franks tempted fate one too many times, and it came back to bite the Sooners last weekend when he muffed a punt he had no business even trying to field. Earlier this week, Stoops sounded like he was at his wits end and may move Ryan Broyles to the position. Is it a good idea to put a guy back there who is still recovering from a broken shoulder blade?
One area where OU could earn some important "hidden yardage" is on kickoff returns. Kansas ranks 74th nationwide in yards allowed per kickoff return, giving up roughly 22 yards on average. The Sooner O could use a hand this weekend that the special teamers may be able to provide.
3. How often Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing lines up under center
Both Miami and Texas gashed the Sooner defense by lining up in pro-style formations and calling misdirection run plays. KU coach Mark Mangino loves the shotgun, but if he's as crafty as I remember him to be, he will have picked upon what has worked this year for OU's opponents.
Meanwhile, this may provide an opportunity to see what kind of schemes Brent Venables has cooked up to combat opponents' attempts to neutralize OU's aggressiveness with misdirection.
4. How many passes of longer than 10 yards does Landry Jones attempt?
On the heels of the Miami game, many Sooner fans, myself included, questioned OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson's conservative game plan. The Sooners' passing game primarily consisted of screens and short routes to receivers, preventing OU from getting much going down field. Against Texas, we witnessed why Wilson had played it so close to the vest in prior games.
Landry Jones has shown plenty of progress since being pressed into service earlier this year. However, he's still feeling his way through the OU offense, and the mistakes he made in the second half of the Texas game betrayed his inexperience. The Longhorns shut down OU's run game, forcing Jones to put more of the game on his shoulders. Down the stretch, Jones threw two ill-advised interceptions that pretty much sealed the Sooners' fate. They were the kinds of mistakes that are expected of a green youngster, and a team like Texas will make you pay for them.
Kansas' defense certainly can't measure up to that of Texas. At some point, Wilson should take the shrink wrap off of his playbook and let Jones have a shot to win some games with his arm, rather than using the young quarterback as a last resort. Maybe that will come this weekend?