I seem to recall warning readers last week not to overlook OU's dominating performance in Lubbock – that the
Red Raiders are a solid team that would make some noise in Big 12 play. Well, I should have taken that prediction to Vegas this weekend.
Looking ahead, OU has grabbed massive momentum in the last two weeks and should be 5-1 awaiting a chance to knock off ND and have even more momentum heading into November. The last two weeks could not have gone better.
Now to review the Red River Cannae...
(History sidenote: Hannibal's most decisive military victory over the Romans was at Cannae. The term in military history refers to an overwhelming tactical victory. Hannibal destroyed nearly 50,000 Roman soldiers while losing only 5,000 of his own troops)
*I've been speculating about Bob Stoops' level of intensity/desire for the job after 14 years. Maybe it was the loss to Kansas State or his brother Mike's return that has re-energized him, but Bob was his previous aggressive self again on the sidelines, just like at Lubbock. It was a reminder of their first run together watching Bob and Mike
give Corey Nelson the business after he missed an assignment while OU was up by five touchdowns. I don't mind if Bob is "red-assed" with the media as long as he brings that same fire to the game day sideline.
*Heupel's play-calling seems to have found the right balance in emphasizing the power running game of Damien Williams and Trey Millard while giving Landry Jones the passing attempts he needs to get comfortable. There were signs of it versus KSU before getting off track, and it was evident in full force against Texas Tech, which we now know has a pretty good defense. It's the scheme that OU fans have been waiting to see since 2007-08, blending our skill players at running back, fullback and tight end with the abundant talent at wide receiver. Throw in a liberal use of the BellDozer in the red zone to eliminate the primary weakness of the spread and you have an offense that is a total motherfucker to defend.
*OU got very close to redefining Millard into the "Gresham" role for this offense – the no-huddle piece that causes defenses problems since it can mean power football or another spread pass receiving weapon. Millard is not the receiver that Gresham was, but he brings that power running threat that Gresham didn't. Williams and Millard in the backfield together is a serious matchup problem for teams, considering both RBs are excellent receivers as well. Millard's 75-yard catch-and-run is going to be the stuff of OU-Texas lore from now on. He did a great job blocking,
running and receiving.
*Jonathan Gray got the pregame hype from the announcers, but Damien Williams is the next NFL RB from OU. He's going to follow Demarco Murray and AD into the NFL. His 95-yard TD run was a thing of beauty. His moves, cuts and speed were all elite RB level. He's on track for a 1,500-yard season in terms of total offense. That figure could get bigger as he gets more carries.
*I've been saying in this space that the Sooner offensive line is not a real weakness. Depth is an issue, but the top six guys are talented and getting better week after week. The best part of UT's malfunctioning defense is its front four. OU dominated them. UT's NFL-caliber defensive ends made life difficult for Geno Smith, but Jones barely noticed them. You don't rush and pass for three bills without executing at a very high level.
*Mike Stoops might appear in Bryan Harsin's nightmares. Therapy will be needed after Saturday. Mike has OU playing defense at a level not seen since 2003. It's getting better every week, and the front four played out of their minds on Saturday. Bobby Jack Wright needs to convince R.J. Washington that every game is the UT game. Washington acted like David Ash stole his wallet. Jamarkus McFarland nearly killed Gray on some running plays, while Walker was in the backfield all day.
*To continue the military history thread, Hannibal for OU is Tony Jefferson. He's the on-field general that just makes everything click. He quietly dominated the game Saturday. It's not often that I'll quote Barking Carnival's Nickel Rover, but here goes:
"At halftime, Tony Jefferson was leading their team with three tackles and two of them were behind the line of scrimmage. That's my favorite stat for demonstrating their utter domination of our offense. They understood our concepts, as usual, and were well positioned on every snap to completely shut down whatever we threw at them. They got pressure with four rushers and blanketed our receivers with Hurst and Colvin, which is easily the best corner tandem in the nation."
*Jones played an excellent game inside the confines of the new game plan that Heupel constructed for OU. He didn't force things, save for one bad interception. He shook that off and then made some great throws like the first completion to Jalen Saunders. Jones managed an NFL-type game plan with excellent efficiency. He forced some passes downfield at times, but that kept UT from ignoring the deep passing game. If he can play like he has the last two weeks, it will be easy to see an NFL team drafting him in the early rounds. He's finally looking comfortable doing less. However, some team soon is going to badly overplay OU's running game, and Jones is going to just torch them for 400-plus.
*Justin Brown had a great all-around day and just missed the great section due to his drop of a bomb in the third quarter. It would have been a great catch. Brown needed to have a big game with UT bracketing Kenny Stills. Sometimes I think Manny Diaz plays OU under the misconception that OU only has one good WR. Brown is the big possession target to complement the speed of Stills and Co. He's also a great run blocker on the edge. He's making more plays as the season goes on, and I could easily see him having a huge game coming up. He had a big punt return and also made the play that led to OU forcing a safety.
*The linebacker rotation. The stars of the game were the DL and secondary, but the infusion of speed at LB from Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin has really helped. Mike's doing a great job using all of his pieces at LB, even using Jayden Bird in short yardage at times. Bird was the first player tackling Joe Bergeron for the safety. Tom Wort had his best game with limited reps, and Corey Nelson seems to be playing better and better since Shannon joined him in the lineup. This is a position that could be radically improved by the end of the year.
*Both kickoff coverage and the kickoff return game for OU were excellent. UT's returners have been making big plays this year, helping their offense, and OU has given up TDs on returns before in Dallas. Michael Hunnicutt forced several touchbacks, and the coverage team did a great job staying in lanes and making tackles. Brennan Clay had three excellent returns for nearly 100 yards. Clay's generally setting up good field position for OU on kickoff returns.
*OU's OL depth is becoming a huge concern. Right now, OU moves Darryl Williams inside to guard if something happens to Adam Shead or Bronson Irwin.
*OU's botched PAT attempt was pretty bad.
The Potentially Scary (for UT Fans)
Normally, with a senior QB graduating, UT could expect to have a big edge under center to end the Sooners' three-game win streak – this series usually goes to the team with the veteran QB. However, OU's likely starting Blake Bell next year, and he will be surrounded by four returning OL starters plus a part-time starter in Tyrus Thompson. Millard and Williams are set to return at RB, along with Brennan Clay and Roy Finch providing depth, and OU will integrate more elements of the QB run game into base sets. Bell's going to be the best-prepared new OU QB with the most critical playing time experience by a huge margin. All those BellDozer reps will help Bell a lot in taking over the QB spot full-time.
At WR, OU will lose Justin Brown and probably Kenny Stills, but Jalen Saunders (who by the end of this year will be terrorizing Big 12 secondaries), Trey Metoyer and Sterling Shepard will all be back, plus Lacoltan Bester and Durron Neal. In other words, Bell is going to have the best returning receiving corps for any new OU QB since Nate Hybl inherited Heupel's national title group.
Overall, Bell will inherit the best supporting cast ever for a new starter under Bob Stoops.
On the other side of the ball, Mike will lose the front four who just terrorized the Horns. OU will need to reload there ,especially at DT. Jackie Shipp is arranging JUCO help to be in Norman for spring ball. LB could be a strength in 2013, with Shannon taking over at MIKE and Nelson and Franklin manning the outside spots. If Colvin and Jefferson return, OU could have a great secondary again if replacements for Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris are found.
If DL guys step up, there might not be any real dropoff at all on defense.