The Oklahoma Sooners are at yet another season-defining point in the 2011 season. First it was the "are they for real?" road test against Florida St. in prime time. Then, it was the soul-searching gut check after the inexplicable loss to hapless Texas Tech. OU has seemingly passed those tests and become a better team as a result.
However, running the offense without NCAA career receptions leader Ryan Broyles may be the toughest challenge yet. He simply was the engine that made this offense go. How many times did he get open on third and long at clutch times? Numerous. At Oklahoma State last year and at Florida St. this year, Broyles loomed huge during those final game-winning drives. Prince should write a song for him: "Clutch M-----F------."
Red zone offense? Broyles was the red zone offense. I for one got nervous when OU got inside the 10. Ineffective handoffs netting two yards harkened to the past when OU failed to punch it in when it needed to. Touchdown percentage when in the red zone hovered in the low 60s. What a relief it was when Broyles effortlessly created space when there wasn't any and gobbled up a short pass behind the back shoulder. Irreplaceable.
As such, the Sooners need to compensate for this huge loss. Who's the clutch receiver who will make the big third down play? How will they handle first and goal? Coach Bob Stoops seems to recognize this dire need. The "Belldozer" package has been introduced, and there's even rumors of wildcat formations with high-school running-back-turned-linebacker Ronnell Lewis. How about expanding the role of talented fullback Trey Millard?
OU's strength on offense is its diversity. Expanding that diversity to unforeseen heights may turn out to be the best coaching accomplishment in Bob Stoop's career if it results in bringing home a national title.
Since Baylor currently ranks 108th in scoring defense, it's fair to say even a Broyles-less Sooner offense will be able to put up points in Waco. What will be more telling will be how the Sooners do it. Expect running back Roy Finch and receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds to get their touches. However, it would behoove OU to make a concerted effort to spread the ball around now in preparation for the home stretch.
For the defense, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III needs no introduction. He's third in the nation in passing efficiency and is the Bears' second-leading rusher. OU showed the ability to contain running quarterback E.J. Manuel from Florida St., but Griffin is in a different league. Although no team yet has totally shut down the Bear offense, they have not yet seen a defense with the speed of OU.
Outcome: Bet the over on this game. Both teams will move the ball, but OU's athletic advantage and drive for the national title will prove to be too much for the Bears. OU scores in multiple ways with two 100-yard receivers and over 175 yards rushing. OU prevails, 52-28.
Baylor's only hope is to run with the Sooners, and the Bears have the horses to do it. Running back Terrance Ganaway averages approximately 6 yards per carry and almost 100 yards per game. Baylor has four receivers capable of taking it to the house. We've already talked about Griffin.
The Baylor defense will have to do its best to disrupt an OU offense that will be looking to establish a new identity. This is the best case situation for the Bears. They face an OU offense that has questions for the first time this year.
Outcome: Although the Sooner offense has multiple options, it will take more than a bye week to get used to not relying on Broyles' ability to jump start the offense. Rhythm is hard to find, but the Sooners plod through. Linebacker Travis Lewis has a nagging toe and safety Tony Jefferson is not full speed. OU gives up big plays but musters up enough stops to preserve a 37-31 victory.