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Quick Look: Oklahoma Sooners

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The Sooners are reeling, by their standards at least. Can a struggling TCU team take advantage?

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Spencer Rattler is supposed to be the next big thing at QB for Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma. But unlike the three that preceded the former five star recruit at the position, he didn’t come in a ready to bake package, and development, it turns out, takes time.

Rattler has shown flashes of greatness in his redshirt freshman season; after being benched in the second quarter of the Red River Rivalry his last time out, the young gunslinger bounced back to lead his team to a quadruple-OT victory over their hated rival. Rattler threw for just 209 yards but found the end zone three times (and once more on the ground), as Riley finally found something in the running game finally thanks to TJ Pledger and his 131 yards and two scores.

The Horned Frogs haven’t beaten Oklahoma since that magical 2014 season, but even when the team hasn’t been great, record-wise, they’ve still battled with the Big 12’s best program (see last season’s nail-biter in Norman). This version of the Sooners has something in common with that 2014 unit — question marks at quarterback. Spencer Rattler isn’t Trevor Knight, but this Oklahoma team might be as vulnerable as that one.

If you’re going to beat the Sooners, well, this is as vulnerable as we have seen them in a long time. Can the Frogs pull it off?

Offense:

Lincoln Riley is still very good, but his talent is as young as it has been since he took over the reins in Norman. Eight first or second year players dot the two deep, including a redshirt freshman quarterback and two very young — but very talented — wide receivers in Marvin Mims and Theo Wease. Redshirt junior Charleston Rambo adds a veteran presence, and the surprising emergence of the junior Pledger at running back adds another experienced voice in the huddle — though freshman Seth McGowan had been the starter before an injury took him off the field against Texas. The starting offensive line has been around, but there’s a ton of youth backing them up.

This hasn’t much slowed the Sooners, though, as they lead the conference in total offense and passing offense and are second in scoring offense (41.5 points per game). Rattler throws for more yards than anyone not named Sam Ehlinger and is clicking with the conference’s highest efficiency rate at 174.0. What’s been interesting, though, is the lack of an elite receiver, statistically — tight end Austin Stogner has been his favorite target so far with 17 catches through four games. Getting Rambo and Mims more involved (the latter does have four touchdowns) is the key to getting this offense rolling at its highest level.

Defense:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Alex Grinch was supposed to fix things on defense, and maybe doing so in a single season is too much to ask. But man, this unit continues to sign talented players and then refuse to turn them into a cohesive unit.

The Sooners have just three players among the top 50 in the conference in total tackles, and they find themselves in the bottom half of the league in most major statistical categories. They are dead last in turnover margin at -4, and their red zone defense has been atrocious in allowing opponents to score 83% of the time, with 11 of the 18 opponent tries resulting in touchdowns.

Bright spots include linebacker DaShaun White (four TFLs, 2.5 sacks), Dellarin Turner-Yell at corner (though he has been penalty-prone), and defensive end Isaiah Thomas who has lived in the backfield when he’s been on the field. But this is a group that’s allowing 30 points per game and racking up a ton of penalty yardage in the process.

Prediction:

Oklahoma wants to outscore you, and luckily for them — they are capable. But this team isn’t infallible — losses to Iowa State and Kansas State have shown that — and a team that can play solid defense between the 20s and stay out of their own way is going to beat them. Unfortunately for TCU, staying out of their own way and limiting big plays has been a problem — something like is going to play right into their opponents hand.

Both Gary Patterson and Lincoln Riley are great adjusters, and both teams are coming off of critical bye weeks. The Frogs have sat around and stewed over a loss on their home field to a true freshman, backup quarterback while the Sooners spent time celebrating a win — but one that highlighted some serious concerns on both sides of the ball. Oklahoma is the more talented team right now, and both programs are equally as desperate.

That being said — this is one TCU has to have. The win over Texas gave fans hope, only to see a loss to Kansas State crush it. The Horned Frogs have to find a way Saturday morning.

TCU 37, Oklahoma 34.