Date: November 6
Time: 7 pm EST
Venue: Kyle Field
Vegas Line: OU -3
The big buzz surrounding Sooner football this week has related to the struggles of "Home Game Bob" Stoops' teams as of late.
Given Stoops' testiness when pressed on the matter this week, Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler has suggested OU's head honcho is in denial about the road woes. Maybe so, maybe not. Whatever the case may be, the numbers don't lie.
With the Sooners listed as a short favorite for this weekend's jaunt to College Station, Vegas clearly has started factoring in an outsized "road effect" on OU games. From a point spread angle, it's a similar situation to what we saw against Missouri earlier in the season. We know how that turned out.
If OU's going to stop the bleeding away from Norman, watch:
1. The Demeanor of the Offense Before the Snap
The no-huddle offense brings plenty of benefits to the table, but order isn't necessarily one of them. Depending on how it is implemented, calling plays can involve multiple checks and signals. A loud, hostile road environment doesn't help.
Against Missouri, OU's offensive players seemed to be looking over to the sidelines and asking for plays to be re-signaled more often than usual. Should that happen again, it could be a sign that either the atmosphere is getting to them and the offense is out of sync.
2. Jeff Fuller Against the OU Secondary
Imagine what could have been had Fuller, who's sixth in the country with 107.3 receiving yards per game, stuck with his original commitment to oklahoma. Instead of Fuller and Ryan Broyles teaming to give Texas A&M's secondary fits, the Sooners are scheming to stop the Aggies' imposing wideout.
Even with Justin Blackmon still to come, Fuller is probably the best receiver OU will face in 2010. The Aggies will undoubtedly try to take advantage of the 6-4 Fuller's size against diminutive cornerback Demontre Hurst if possible.
2. What A&M Does to Establish the Run
Up to this point, the Aggies have utilized a two-headed attack of Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray at running back. With Michael now gone for the season, it takes away the more physical presence in the backfield.
A&M has sprinkled in some quarterback carries in the run game, too, with Jerrod Johnson netting about 20 yards per game on the season. Ryan Tannehill has taken over for Johnson under center, though, so how A&M coach Mike Sherman incorporates Tannehill into the run game is definitely one aspect to keep an eye on.
Like Johnson, Tannehill has the athleticism to be a factor running the ball. The issue may be whether or not a guy who has been moonlighting off and on as a receiver is ready to make all the right reads on option plays and knows when to take off when plays break down.
3. How Tannehill Handles OU's Pass Rush (Assuming There is One)
The Sooner defense's pursuit of the passer this year hasn't exactly lived up to units of the past. The front four has struggled to put much heat on opposing quarterbacks without bringing blitzes, and even when OU does bring extra rushers, it hasn't been as effective as in previous years.
Still, OU's defense poses a far tougher test for Tannehill than those of Kansas and Texas Tech. Factor in that the Aggies are starting two freshman tackles, and Tannehill almost surely will be facing more pressure from OU's pass rush than he has seen in his short time as a quarterback. If he panics, that could lead to some big mistakes.
4. Landry Jones' Second Half
Let's get real, Sooner fans: Jones has yet to demonstrate any real chops in the clutch. You can point to plays he made against Cincinnati or Air Force or whatever, but his folding act late against Mizzou really hurt the case that OU will ever be a legitimate contender for the national championship with Jones running the show.
In all likelilhood, the outcome of this game will still be in doubt deep into the second half. How Jones handles the Kyle Field pressure cooker at that point will likely be the difference for OU between winning and losing.
Frankly, I'd like to see a tight one late, if only to give Jones a chance to develop some confidence in a tough spot. Jones may crack, but that's all the more reason to get ready for an offseason competition.
(Think Norman Dale and Shooter.)
5. What OU Does with the Road Doubts
Say what you will about Bob Stoops and his staff, they are masters of channeling doubt and perceived slights into motivational ploys. They consistently do a good job of using negativity to focus their players.
In that respect, all the talk about OU's problems away from Norman may have given Stoops an unexpected opportunity to fire up his team for the trip to College Station. In fact, if Stoops can't capitalize on the all the questions, Sittler's probably right.