Date: Nov. 21
Time: 12:30 p.m. EST
Venue: Jones AT&T Stadium (Lubbock, Texas)
Vegas Line: OU -6.5
Road trips to Texas Tech have been a nightmare for the Oklahoma Sooners since 2005, when some questionable officiating snatched a win out of OU's hands.
The next visit to Jones AT&T Stadium in 2007 saw the Red Raiders knock Sam Bradford out of the game in the first quarter, as OU's talented quarterback sustained a concussion while trying make a tackle following a fumble. Little-used second stringer Joey Halzle gave a game effort in trying to rally the Sooners late, but it just wasn't enough.
The Sooners appear to have a good shot at turning their Lubbock luck around this season, though, as Tech is struggling down the stretch to get consistent play from their quarterbacks. And we all know that if coach Mike Leach's air raid attack isn't popping, the Red Raiders are an average team at best.
For OU to reverse the curse, pay attention to:
The turnover battle typically has a big effect on any game, but it should play an especially key role in this one.
Perhaps the most astonishing feature of Oklahoma's record-setting offense in 2008 was its stellar ball protection. The Sooners finished first in the nation at +23 in turnover margin for the year while running more than 1,100 offensive plays, the most in the country. For the season, OU only gave the ball away 11 times in 14 games.
This season has seen a predictable increase in turnovers, as the Sooners have fumbled or thrown an interception 20 times through 10 games. In fact, OU had five turnovers in losses to both Nebraska and Texas, nearly equaling last year's 14-game total in just two contests. Away from Norman, redshirt freshman quarterback Landry Jones has shown a propensity to throw costly picks.
Tech, meanwhile, has had problems holding on to the ball, currently sitting at seven more turnovers lost than gained this year. In losses to Texas, Houston, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, the Red Raiders have given the ball away an average of 3.25 times per game.
Tech's receivers have looked particularly sloppy with the ball in Leach's numerous plays designed to let them make a play in space. Expect OU's aggressive defensive backs to go for strips frequently on screens and swing passes.
2. Tech's Third-Down Conversions
Dink-and-dunk offensive schemes like those of Tech and Missouri require the utmost patience on the part of opposing defenses. In many ways, they're the modern-day version of "three yards and a cloud of dust," aiming for consistent gains that lead to sustained drives. When Tech's offense is really clicking, it's frequently facing short yardage on third down and converting a high percentage of its attempts. After a while, that can really frustrate a defense.
Last season, Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and Co. converted a whopping 55 percent of third-down tries, along with 65 percent of fourth-down attempts. This year, the third-down conversion rate has slipped dramatically, down to 41 percent, good for 51st overall. The Red Raiders have gone a combined 17 of 51 on third down in losses this season. Keep Tech's third-down conversion percentage around 30 percent, and you're sitting pretty.
3. How Big of a Lead OU Has Going Into the Fourth Quarter (Assuming the Actually Sooners Have One)
Oklahoma's recent struggles in close contests are well-documented, and 2009 has done little to reverse that trend. OU has lost four games by a total of 12 points this season.
Whether this is bad luck or a sign of of a team that panics in tight games, the bottom line is that history isn't on OU's side if the Sooners aren't rolling an opponent in the second half. In a way, though, I think there are plenty of Sooner fans who wouldn't mind seeing a close game, if only for the chance to see Bob Stoops' team regain its confidence in hard-fought affairs.
4. Oklahoma's Placekicking
Of course, even fans who want to see OU come through in a tight game would prefer to see a Sooner win. God help them if it comes down to a late field goal.
After watching Jimmy Stevens and Tress Way battle it out most of the season to determine who was less bad, it appears for now as though mystery man Patrick O'Hara has won the job. O'Hara came on against last week against Texas A&M and nailed two extra-point tries and a 26-yard field goal. This year, that's good enough to be the main option until proven otherwise.
(I realize you could throw kicking, offensive line, and penalties up here every time, but O'Hara's presence in the lineup makes this week's adventures in kicking all the more interesting.)
5. The Early Kickoff's Impact on the Atmosphere
However, like Cinemax, Lubbock typically heats up after dark. The Red Raiders' wins over the Longhorns and Cowboys last year came at night, as did the 2007 upset of Oklahoma. In contrast, a trip to Tech seems far less foreboding when the game starts at 11:30 in the morning.
Of course, an early start often means that the visitors come out flat, so it's not like a morning kickoff is all good news for the Sooners. Still, if it's a choice between morning or night, in Lubbock, I'd take the early start every time.