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“The Oklahoma Sooners have a bit more mental toughness than we all assumed”: A Q&A with CCM

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We chatted with Jack Shields of Crimson and Cream Machine to prep for Saturday’s showdown in Norman.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Spirits are high around the Crimson and Cream, as Oklahoma fans continue to revel in last week’s come from behind win over Baylor (something we can all celebrate!). But with TCU coming to town Saturday, the Sooners aren’t sleeping all that well.

Lincoln Riley has pretty much owned Gary Patterson since taking over for Bob Stoops — who GP had some success against. But the young offensive genius still respects the hell out of the conference’s elder statesman, and won’t overlook the Horned Frogs in the second to last game of the regular season.

We reached out to Jack Shields from our Oklahoma sister site, Crimson & Cream Machine to find out the status of CeeDee Lamb, if Jalen Hurts will make it to NYC, and whether or not the Frogs can cover a 19 point spread.

Frogs O’ War: So… that game against Baylor. I have to say, as a TCU blog, it was nice to see the Bears on the other side of a devastating collapse in Waco with playoff implications. What do you take away from a game like that?

Jack Shields: The biggest thing I take away from this is that the Oklahoma Sooners have a bit more mental toughness than we all assumed. During the loss at Kansas State, the offense seemed to get rattled and the defense became a bit demoralized. The same thing began to set in during Iowa State’s comeback, and we began to sense a bit of a trend. Then came this past Saturday, and some of us assumed that this team would hang its head after going down 28-3 and let this become a blowout. That, of course, wasn’t the case.

Not only did Jalen Hurts keep his head up, but he made a point not to force anything during this comeback. Oklahoma didn’t need to pick up large chunks of yardage all at once, but instead needed to keep its defense off the field. Riley, Hurts and the offense did just that.

The defense still isn’t out of the woods, as being allowed to have so much time on the sidelines helped a lot in the second half. Having said that, they obviously played a role in that with their five second-half stops, so you have to tip your hat to their mental toughness, as well.

Finally, the team doing all of this in the absence of its biggest playmaker -- CeeDee Lamb -- makes it all the more impressive.

FOW: The loss of CeeDee Lamb seemed to negatively impact the offense — how did they adjust to life without him in the second half and what’s his prognosis for Saturday?

JS: Okay, so this is a bit complicated. It’s officially an “unspecified injury”, and the word that was leaked out was that it was concussion protocol. Without going into detail, I’m hearing that it wasn’t an injury at all. In short, expect him to play this weekend.

FOW: What’s the deal with Jalen Hurt’s ball security issues? He’s nearly cost the Sooners a loss a couple of times this season — what do you think the issue is and are you concerned going forward? Also, is he still a Heisman candidate?

JS: It’s been odd, because he didn’t really have that issue at Alabama, but he’s definitely having an issue. He just isn’t carrying it high and tight, and Lincoln Riley actually addressed the issue this week. I can’t quite put a finger on it, to be honest. As far as Heisman candidacy is concerned, yes, he is still a “candidate” in that he will definitely be invited to New York. However, no one is passing Joe Burrow unless he loses to Arkansas and throws eight interceptions in the process (which I’m pretty sure would be required in order to lose to Arkansas).

FOW: There was so much talk about the defense in the offseason, and a lot of positive reviews around the Alex Grinch hire. The results on the field have been mixed -- the defense is clearly better, but still a bit of a liability. What do you want to see from that side of the ball in the last few games and who have been the bright spots?

JS: Pressure from the front three/four is the biggest thing for me, as that went away in the loss to Kansas State and the narrow win over Iowa State after being a huge part of the success prior to that stretch. Then this area of the game is going according to plan, the secondary’s deficiencies tend to be marked to some degree. This is what happened for the Sooners in the second half this past Saturday.

Kenneth Murray has been phenomenal this season and appears to have played himself into a potential first-round selection this April. Ronnie Perkins had three sacks against Baylor and has six on the season. Outside of Oklahoma’s rough two-game stretch, he and Neville Gallimore have been able to create a ton of disruption in opposing backfields. Gallimore, an ultra-talented redshirt senior who failed to truly break out prior to this season, appears to have done wonders for his NFL prospects this season.

FOW: Is Oklahoma a playoff team? If so, what’s your argument? If not, is it the fault of the Big 12’s parity or something else entirely?

JS: I was about to type “A one-loss Big 12 team is going to make the CFP in any other season”, but then I thought back to the beginning to the playoff era and also remembered that I was speaking to a TCU site. My bad. (editor’s note: BOO)

This is a playoff-caliber team when the offensive line is healthy and the defense playing up to its potential. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening unless Oregon or Utah loses prior to the Pac-12 Championship and the losing team beats the one-loss team. The Big 12 has been solid this year, but I think it has less to do with the parity and more to do with the fact that Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule turned out to be a dud. Houston should’ve been a quality win, and UCLA entered the season with hopes of at least having a winning record. As things currently stand, Oklahoma could win the Big 12 Championship with only four quality wins, with two of them coming against the same team. The “game control” factor is also hurting OU.

The Pac-12 is terrible, but Oregon is getting so much credit for a “quality loss” to an okay team (which had a true freshman QB making his first career start). Utah’s resume is nothing to write home about, but a win over Oregon would likely keep them ahead of a one-loss Oklahoma.

FOW: Is Texas Back?

JS: Texas is back to where it has been every season since 2010. A tough scene, indeed.

FOW: For Oklahoma to win, ____________________ has to happen.

JS: If the defense is able to get into the backfield and the linebackers and DBs are able to consistently make tackles/be assignment-sound (these were issues against K-State and Iowa State), I like OU’s chances. TCU’s defense is well-coached, but there are areas for the OU offense to exploit.

FOW: For TCU to win, ______________________ has to happen.

JS: The exact opposite of what happens in my previous answer. Oklahoma’s defense got off to a great start against Iowa State. Players were in the right position and guys were making tackles. As the first half went on, you gradually began to see coverage breakdowns and missed tackles, and it basically just snowballed for the rest of the game. TCU has some serious athletes at the skill positions and a QB who is athletic enough to extend plays for that offense, so I’d strongly prefer to not see the same defensive lapses play out this Saturday.

FOW: What is your prediction for Saturday night and how do we get there?

JS: My prediction on our podcast was Oklahoma 42, TCU 27. OU’s defense will land somewhere in the middle of the two scenarios I just mentioned, and TCU will cover.

FOW: One bonus question: Oklahoma has started a quarterback that they signed out of high school since... well, it’s been a while. Spencer Rattler, a highly touted recruit, is waiting in the wings, but it’s still fair to ask: who is the starting QB for the Sooners in 2020?

JS: It’ll be Spencer Rattler for 2020 and 2021, and he’ll potentially declare after his redshirt sophomore season. He’s that talented. He has one of the quickest releases you’ll ever see from a QB, and the zip he puts on a football will raise your eyebrows. He also has a lot of that Baker Mayfield swagger in him, which I’m sure other Big 12 fan bases will absolutely love.

You can follow Jack on twitter @jlarryshields and @CCMachine. And be sure to watch for our answers over at www.crimsonandcreammachine.com