Welcome, friends, to another edition of “Can a Defense-only team win in the Big 12?” featuring your favorite team and mine, the TCU Horned Frogs. (Spoiler: No, a defense-only team cannot win in the Big 12.) The big, bad, Sooners come to town Saturday morning for a riveting matchup between featuring one of the nation’s best offenses and three other units outbidding each other for the definition of “pretty ok.” Oklahoma’s offense features a mobile quarterback and an array of competent receivers. Here’s some footage of Kyler Murray doing what he does best:
Pardon me, that is actually Iowa State’s Zeb Noland, notably not a mobile quarterback, running through TCU’s defense. I’ll leave you, reader, to interpret my shades of pessimism for this game.
In the mean time, let’s break down the match-ups and comb through the numbers for strengths and weaknesses of the OU football team, focusing on what TCU will have to do in order to shock the Big 12 and
ruin the Big 12’s playoff hopes create meaningful chaos this season.
TCU Horned Frogs (46th in S&P+, 94th Offense, 14th Defense) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (3rd, 1st, 77th)
When OU has the ball:
For the second week in a row, TCU hosts an elite offense. On paper, the OU offense seems inevitable: the Sooners haven’t scored fewer than 28 points in a game since the third week of 2016, against Ohio State. Even Army, who brought OU to the brink of disaster, didn’t “stop” the OU offense; USMA just played keep away long enough to limit the damage. The Sooners move the ball with alarming ease: a 55.2% success rate (2nd in the country) and a 1.60 IsoPPP (first) indicate that Oklahoma wears you down with sustainable chunks of yardage and then capitalizes with big plays for scores. Field position, OU’s “weakest” offensive attribute, is still 30th overall (31.8 yard line), and the Sooners make you pay for field position by converting scoring opportunities (6.11 points per opp, 2nd); if the offense gets inside the 40, it’s not a matter of “if” they are scoring, but “how”.
The balanced Sooner attack keeps defenses on their heels - on Standard downs, OU runs about 58% of the time, perfectly average, but their efficiency doesn’t favor the run or the pass. The Sooners rank 2nd and 1st, respectively in Standard and Passing Downs marginal efficiency. They’re, they’re just good.
Bloviating about the boring efficiency of one of the nation’s best offenses does not make for good reading, though, so in the name of optimism, let’s consider the Sooner Shortcomings. OU finds themselves in third and long 55.8% of the time (110th). The Sooners are 4th in the country at converting third and long, though (41.4%). On the rare occasion OU finds themselves in third and short, they struggle to convert (66.7%). To beat the Sooners, you have to get off the field on third downs. There are also slight chinks in the armor in terms of short success - goal line success rate also ranks in the 100s, and passing down sack rate is in the mid sixties. These both align with making tackles and getting a push up front. All season, TCU has gotten pressure, had the chance to make plays, and blown it. If the Frogs are going to compete this weekend, they’re going to have to start making the tackles they’e missed all season.
Key Issues for TCU:
- The Kickoff Matters: Pin OU deep, and make them work for points.
- Try not to bend, but especially don’t break: To beat OU, you need to score. Holding OU to FGs instead of TDs pushes the lines in your favor.
- Don’t Get Fooled on Third Down: Tackling and pressure will make all the difference.
When TCU has the ball:
Rest in piece, Mike Stoops. The long-overdue dismissal of Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator is the cherry on top of another disappointing effort from the Sooner defense. They have the talent, and towards the end of last year seemed to heat up. To be fair, all the Sooner defense needs to do is enough to let the offense outscore opponents. To that end, let’s see how the Sooners have found defensive success this year, knowing that things will certainly be different moving forward.
The first category to jump out is the Sooners’ sixth ranked IsoPPP on defense. They refuse to give up big plays - big play rate is 12.9% (5th). Coupled with a stingy 27.4 yard line allowance for starting field position (27th), the Sooners will give up yards, but they’ll also put the burden on you to march for those yards and sustain drives without turnovers or mistakes (something the Frogs haven’t done all year). The Sooner defense creates havoc with the blitz, as well, allowing a disruptive 47.2% success rate (3rd) on blitzing downs. The Sooners use that blitz and big-play-limiting ability to stuff third downs: 19.6% third and long conversion rate is 32nd in the country, and passing down sack rate (11.3%) is 25th.
Again, with a new coordinator in the mix and possibly some self-dignity on the line, I think this OU defense will be a different unit. To the extent that the numbers can’t capture the change, we can only know so much about OU’s defense. First, they aren’t an elite unit. They are good enough at holding on and letting the offense outscore opponents, but they’re not locking anyone down. They have weaknesses where the offense has almost none. The DL play is weak, relatively. But on the whole, unless TCU’s offense can take care of their business, there’s not much consideration to give to the opposing defense.
Key Issues for TCU:
- Offensive Line Play
- Converting Scoring Opps
I don’t feel great about this one, Frog fans. S&P gives OU a 75% chance of winning, and I think that’s conservative. The score prediction is 37-25 in favor of OU. I think it’ll be a little closer to the 2016 game, but OU’s margin of victory in this game has increased every year. Give me the Sooners, and the points: OU 42, TCU 27.
Other Games I’m Watching:
- Thursday: As fun as it has been to watch Arkansas State python-squeeze other Sun Belt teams, I’m going to flip away from that game to catch Stanford at Arizona State in the desert. Arizona State is just weird to watch, an I’m intrigued by Stanford because technically they are still in the drivers’ seat for the PAC 12 North.
- Friday: Do yourself a favor. Live a little. Watch Yale-Penn. Everything else is bad. Yes, I know Boise State is playing. Still bad.
- Saturday (early): I’ll have Michigan-Michigan State scores on my phone during the TCU game.
- Saturday (afternoon): Plenty of good options here - Wake Forest should beat Florida State, which is always fun for the Deacs, Houston-Navy could be the source of some AAC chaos, SMU-Tulane will be two bad teams who have higher ceilings than people think, but I will be fixed on NC State-Clemson for the first half.
- Saturday (primetime): Mississippi State - LSU is the game most people will tell you to watch; I’d stick with Ohio State-Purdue, at least in the first half. Both of those games are plucky outsider teams versus power teams who’ve looked bad at some point this season.
What are you watching? What do you think about TCU’s chances against OU? Do the numbers tell the whole story?