Date: September 11
Time: 3:30 pm EST
Venue: Owen Field (Norman, Okla.)
Vegas Line: OU -7
As evidenced by Homerism's marathon podcast with Bud Elliott this week, there are so many angles to Saturday's Oklahoma-Florida State game that it could take longer to adequately preview it than to actually play it:
- a program trying to earn its way back to respectability, another trying to shake off struggles in high-profile games;
- one quarterback who's hearing whispers about his job security, another being pushed for the Heisman Trophy;
- siblings matching wits on the sidelines;
- a new head coach who's ready to make a name for himself after replacing a legend, another who's already reached legendary status at his school.
And that's without even getting into the matchups on the field.
Jimbo Fisher's young Seminoles boast an explosive offense that has probably had OU coach Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Brent Venables putting in some long nights at the office this week. However, after pasting I-AA foe Samford in Tallahassee last weekend, the 'Noles remain a mystery on defense. FSU couldn't stop a pee-wee team in 2009, and (insert Samford mascot here) don't really offer a measuring stick for the improvements made under new defensive strategist Mark Stoops.
Once you get over all the extracurricular stuff surrounding this game, watch for...
1. How FSU Attacks OU on the Corners
From the bizarre stats department: Utah State quarterback Diondre Borel is seventh in the country in passing yards after a week, but he's 64th in passing efficiency. In other words, despite the perception that Borel and the Aggies tore up the Sooners secondary, OU's defensive backs didn't really play that badly.
As such, the farther we get from last weekend, the stranger OU's performance looks.
USU had some success going over the top against OU's short-ish cornerbacks. Much of that was predicated on the Aggies' option game forcing the Sooner CBs to hesitate, so count on the 'Noles using some play action to try to get the wide receivers an extra step.
2. Whether FSU Can Block OU's Pass Rush Without Leaving a Tight End or Running Back Inside
The Seminoles offensive line is one of the best in the country, so FSU should be well-equipped to keep Christian Ponder upright. However, if Fisher intends to spread OU's defense out by going with four and five wides, he's risking leaving Ponder open to blitzers running free off the edge. As good as Ponder may be, he may not make it through the game if the Sooners can get to him frequently.
The best way to make sure the blitz is covered is to use a running back or tight end as a blocker. However, for Fisher, keeping one inside to help protect the quarterback somewhat defeats the purpose of getting extra receivers on the field in the first place.
3. Offensive Tempo
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson kept the pace relatively slow last week, although the Sooners did take advantage of some quick snaps, such as DeMarco Murray's long touchdown run in the second half. I expect that to change against FSU.
Pushing the tempo this week could force the young Seminoles defense into confused mistakes and wear out a group that is talented overall, but not particularly deep. Also, Mark Stoops may have to keep his looks relatively vanilla to keep up. If Mark wants to get funky, Wilson will have opportunities to give Landry Jones his checks at the line of scrimmage to counteract "exotic" schemes that the 'Noles may throw out.
4. Punt Coverage
This game pits two of the best return men in the country. Kicking to electric sophomore Greg Reid isn't for the faint of heart. Meanwhile, broyles led the country in return average last year. If either side has an edge here, it could be OU punter tress way.
5. How Long Landry Jones Stays in the Pocket
Last week, Jones looked like a quarterback too accustomed to running for his life. He needs to develop some trust in his line to give him time for plays to develop.
If Jones doesn't stay patient when he drops back, we could see the same putrid numbers as last week.
When you spend as much time analyzing a single game as I have this week, paralysis by analysis eventually sets in. You can convince yourself of just about any outcome using almost any angle.
Florida state can't stop OU's run game. OU can't penetrate FSU's pass protection. OU's defensive tackles are small. Florida State's D is too young.
Let's try to simplify things.
OU has been nearly unbeatable in Norman under Bob Stoops. Florida State is trying to run an entirely new defense with inexperienced personnel. To me, that signals a lot of busted assignments in a hostile environment.
Starting next year, the 'Noles will be fearsome. I think they need a little more time to win a game like this on the road.
My guess is that OU gets a couple big pass plays that make the difference.
Sooners 38, Florida State 27.