Date: Nov. 14
Time: 7 p.m. EST
Venue: Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium (Norman, Okla.)
Vegas Line: OU -20
The Oklahoma Sooners are in disarray with three regular-season games remaining in 2009. Singling out specific aspects of their play to watch this weekend almost seems futile.
For Sooner Nation, the issue has gone from "how" OU wins to simply "if."
Despite the chaos in Norman, the oddsmakers still seem to think the Sooners should have no trouble with Texas A&M, installing OU as a 20-point favorite. Tell that to nervy Sooner fans wondering how a team that once had national championship aspirations now could miss out on a bowl game.
If Oklahoma is going to reach the magic six-win plateau, watch:
1. The Interior of the Offensive Line
With news coming down this week that guard Brody Eldridge and utility man Jarvis Jones sidelined for the rest of the season, the Sooners' offensive line is clearly losing the war of attrition in 2009. Guard Brian Simmons also is still out of commission, so the interior of the line continues to be the spot to watch.
All-star Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh caused the inside guys fits last weekend, wreaking havoc in the OU backfield. The Aggies don't have a particularly strong front four, but Stephen Good, Tavaris Jeffries, and anyone else who fills in at guard needs to show some improvement over last week.
Tress Way's ability to fulfill the simplest of placekicking duties, the extra point, remains a mystery after last weekend's touchdown-less exercise in offensive ineptitude against Nebraska.
However, the fact that he missed three medium-range field goals speaks poorly of his ability to come through in more challenging situations. After Way's last miss in the second half, it appeared as though the deposed Jimmy Stevens would take the job back. If so, how will all the shuffling affect Stevens' confidence?
3. The Rotation at Defensive End
This week's news that Auston English would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury was a sad, but somewhat fitting, end to the star-crossed defensive end's career at Oklahoma.
While English's absence is disappointing, it does open up opportunities for some youngsters who have been biding their time behind the Sooners' established core of defensive ends. Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander will start and see the lion's share of snaps. Sophomore RJ Washington, a highly touted recruit out of Texas, may finally have a chance to show off his pass-rushing skills. The same goes for David King.
4. How Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson Utilizes DeMarco Murray
As the season has progressed, Wilson has increasingly lined Murray up in the slot, putting both Murray and running mate Chris Brown on the field at the same time. In some ways, the move seems to have rejuvenated Murray by getting him out in space more often, as opposed to running between the tackles.
With Murray gutting through yet another season slowed by injuries, it's no certainty that the fourth-year junior will head to the NFL in April. Even if he's back in Norman next season, a permanent move to the slot seems unlikely. Still, what Wilson does now could offer some hints about Murray's potential role in the OU offense in 2010.
5. Playing Time Allotted to Freshmen Jonathan Miller and Jermie Calhoun
Speaking of the outlook at running back for 2010, how does Wilson plan on using these two young pups next season? Neither have seen as much action as expected this year. Hopefully, that's more a function of the Sooners' inability to put teams away than a statement about the young runners' development. Of course, this is more of a concern when it comes to Calhoun, who redshirted last season.
6. A&M's Run-Pass Balance
With a putrid defense and high-scoring offense, the Aggies are playing a 2008 game in the new-look Big 12 of 2009. This team wants to put lots of points on the board, because the defense just can't get stops on a consistent basis, allowing 30 points per game.
When A&M has had success this year, coach Mike Sherman has run a balanced attack that successfully mixes the run and the pass. In contrast, the Aggies have lost games when opponents have shut down their run game and forced them to become a one-dimensional, pass-first offense. Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Kansas State, and Colorado all held A&M well below its per-carry average of 4.34 yards.
So far this year, A&M has run the ball about 10 percent more frequently than it has passed. If that ratio is skewed more heavily to the pass at halftime of the game, that should bode well for OU.