Oklahoma week comes early this year, as TCU's second Big 12 road trip of the season sends the Frogs to Norman to take on the Sooners. For the preview we'll be breaking down OU's offense and defense so you have a good idea of what to expect from our foes this Saturday. For a refresher on how TCU stacked up against OU last year, feel free to watch any part of last year's game again here on Frogs O' War.
As you might expect from the place where Mike Leach got his start Oklahoma is primarily a spread team, though they have added some pistol formations as well the past few years. The OU attack is traditionally balanced but leans a bit toward the passing side, but in 2013 we've seen Oklahoma feature the run a great deal more, particularly in their surprisingly close game with West Virginia where the Sooners rushed fifty seven times compared to twenty one passes. On the other hand, that was an entire starting quarterback ago, as though Trevor Knight won the starting job out of camp, Blake Bell seized the reins in week 3 and restored balance in a big way by matching a very efficient passing game to go along with the blistering pace the Sooners have been setting on the ground. As a result, Bell's Oklahoma's offense against a supposedly stout Notre Dame defense was higher than the games against either of Knight's performances against West Virginia or tomato can Louisana-Monroe, and Bell's performance against a bad Tulsa defense was exemplary, accounting for almost 450 total yards all on his own. Throughout the two games Bell has started this season he's also yet to throw an interception, which (though impressive) does have some caveats due to level of competition. Despite the fearsome reputation of last year's defense, Notre Dame has collected just three interceptions on this season- one by a defensive lineman thanks to one of the worst football plays of all time and one on a pass from Michigan State wide receiver R.J. Shelton, leaving the Irish secondary to collect just one interception thrown by a quarterback. Given how generous Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has been with delivering the ball to the opposition in the weeks since Notre Dame, it's fair to raise questions if Bell has seen a legitimate secondary yet, and for all of the questions the first few weeks have raised about this TCU team, the secondary is still unquestionably skilled at coverage and forcing turnovers. If Bell's interception free streak continues, the frogs will have a very difficult time winning this game.
Blake Bell has been spreading the ball around well, distributing completions to ten different receivers in the Tulsa game and eight against Notre Dame, but his favorite target has been Sterling Shepard with thirteen receptions for 206 yards through Bell's two games at quarterback. Sadly for Shepard, this will likely result in the Jason Verrett experience this week, and our dreadlocked hero has been rarely tested and never beaten this season. Oklahoma is far from a one man show though, as six Sooners have had receptions of over 25 yards, meaning that TCU is going to have to be solid in coverage throughout the secondary time and time again or it could result in huge gains.
The hits just keep coming, as wouldn't you know it, Oklahoma is stacked at running back as well. Similar to their receivers, Oklahoma spreads carries across a large number of backs with at least five players taking multiple carries in each of OU's games so far. This stops any one back from gaining insane numbers (just one OU back has gone over 100 yards this season) but keeps everyone fresh and ready to keep pounding into defenses who are defending the fiftieth rush of the night. Senior tailback Brennan Clay has been the first among equals in the Sooner backfield, rushing for over 300 yards at a 6.1 yards per carry clip with a run of nine yards or better in each of OU's games to date- TCU is going to have to keep swarming the Sooner ball carriers, because when a team is as dedicated to running the football as Oklahoma has been so far this year, they will eventually break a long run no matter how well the defense has played to that point (See TCU vs. LSU, where the Frogs repeatedly stuffed the tigers on the ground, only to be gashed on one long run in the second half).
I hope TCU's defensive line has regained some of its swagger after the repeated forays into the SMU backfield on Saturday, because the Oklahoma offensive line will be at least as big a test for them as LSU's was (and TCU failed the pass rushing portion of that test). The OU line is led by first team all-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard and is especially good in pass protection, allowing just one sack a game and keeping Bell sack free against Notre Dame's three monstrous down linemen. Patterson is sincerely hoping that Devonte Fields can play and be effective against OU, because if things bog down like against LSU and the only way to pressure Bell is by bringing extra rushers, the Sooners have the weapons to exploit the gaps in the defense, wherever they may be.
Overall, Oklahoma is the toughest offensive test that TCU has faced this season (and possibly will face all season), as they have similar talent to LSU with a scheme built to spread it around. The key factor will be Blake Bell- TCU's secondary is the best that Bell will have faced, so the potential for turnovers is there if TCU can manage to generate pressure. It would also be nice if TCU could move the ball on the ground to shorten the game and keep OU from wearing down the TCU defense with wave after wave of running backs and receivers- and at least personnel wise there's reason to hope there, as we check out...
Oklahoma has been running varied fronts, but primarily switch between the 4-3 and a nickel variant somewhat similar to the 4-2-5. On the plus side, it's not a lot that TCU won't have seen before, and that familiarity may do a great deal to help the TCU offensive line. Also helping the offensive line is the fact that the OU defensive line has been poor in pass rush so far, collecting just one sack a game even against pass happy West Virginia and Louisiana-Monroe outfits who threw forty times each against the Sooners. The Sooners lost five linemen from their two deep last year, including three starters, but there were struggles in pass rushing for OU last year as well. Additionally, the Sooners have struggled a bit defending the run, allowing a poor West Virginia rush that couldn't average over 4 ypc against a bad FCS team in William and Mary to run for over 7 yards an attempt along with Notre Dame going for over 7 ypc- a team that's previous best rushing the ball was against we-just-lost-to-the-Idaho-Vandals-no-seriously Temple Owls. TCU's running backs will be the best OU has faced this year, and the TCU OL has a substantial size advantage over OU's d-line who have just two players over 300 lbs on their two deep. The Sooners do return last year's best pass rusher, however, in Chuka Ndulue who had five sacks last year before a DUI sidelined him for OU's opener. Happily, this does not appear to be a line that will totally outmatch the TCU OL, but there is still a great deal of talented depth lining up for the Sooners with four start recruit after four star recruit so they're still not a group to take lightly.
In the back 7 (lumped together because OU will play multiple fronts) OU returns Jason Verrett's partner on the all-Big 12 team backfield, cornerback Aaron Colvin who had two sacks, four interceptions and eleven pass breakups in 2012, which will likely lead to another substandard performance from the beleaguered Brandon Carter. The rest of the Sooner secondary is new, however, which should mean that Boykin may be able to find a groove if he keeps spreading the ball around as he did against SMU and this could be another game for Ja'Juan Story and Ty Slanina to shine. Despite the lack of returning starters the OU secondary has been making plays so far however, collecting three interceptions against Notre Dame and at least one in every other game, something that has to be causing Patterson some angst with a quarterback who has a reputation for being generous with the ball like Boykin running the offense.
Overall the Sooners have a lot of question marks on defense. They got run over on the ground by a Notre Dame team that struggled to run against anyone outside the cellar of the American Athletic Conference but forced three interceptions and held the Irish to about 100 yards passing and that's about all we know of the Sooners facing legitimate offenses. Now the question is does TCU have a legitimate offense? They should, but the proof has been lacking all too often this season, but OU is going to score some on offense, meaning TCU is going to have to put up points if the Frogs have any hope to come out on top.