TCU fans probably don’t feel like it’s been six years since Paul Dawson was streaking toward the end zone for the pick six heard ‘round Funk Town. But here were are, with Oklahoma coming to down, and the Horned Frogs 0-6 against the Sooners since.
But OU is just 1-2 in conference play so far, having lost to the same two teams that beat TCU (Kansas State and Iowa State) and beaten the same opponent that the Frogs did as well (Texas). Does that make them suddenly vulnerable? We turned to Jack Shields of Crimson and Cream Machine to find out.
Frogs O’ War: Oklahoma has dominated the conference for about as long as I can remember, but seems... human? in 2020. What’s been the difference this season?
Jack Shields: Prior to the Texas game, the Oklahoma offensive line’s inability to open holes in the run game stood out. That’s never really been much of an issue during OU’s five-year reign atop the conference, and it’s really not something that should’ve been an issue this season. This group returned four starters (and all five from the beginning of 2019) from a group that had zero issue setting things up for OU’s backs in 2019. Because of the struggles, OU was unable to lean on the running game when things became tense against Iowa State and Kansas State, which put more on the shoulders of the talented-but-inexperienced Spencer Rattler.
Fortunately, the group did a much better job against Texas, but the ‘Horns have been gashed in the run game as of late, so how much of it has to do with the opponent? Anyway, if the group truly has improved, this offense will likely begin to resemble the ones we’ve seen in recent years.
Defensively, it’s been a combination of losing the biggest playmakers from a year ago and the fact that Alex Grinch’s preferred body type is not yet the norm across the secondary. Being without defensive linemen Ronnie Perkins (NCAA suspension) and Jalen Redmond (opt-out) obviously hasn’t helped, either.
FOW: Obviously, Lincoln Riley has had some pretty good quarterbacks over the years, and most expect Spencer Rattler to join that illustrious group soon enough. Obviously, he’s young, but he’s still putting up pretty insane numbers. What’s been the difference when it comes to putting up numbers and playing winning football?
JS: Rattler’s a supremely confident guy with otherworldly arm talent. Because of this, he often tries to do a bit too much, which has resulted in head-scratching turnovers. Riley took a major risk when he temporarily benched him against Texas, but it apparently paid off, as it seemed to serve as somewhat of a mental reset. From that point forward, he made the right throws and avoided costly mistakes, which allowed OU to come out on top in OT.
FOW: The running game has been strangely quiet so far this season — certainly opt outs and injuries have played a part in that. Two questions: will McGowan play Saturday, and if not, do you expect Pledger to be as good against TCU as he was against Texas?
JS: I’ll say McGowan will likely play this week. His issue was believed to be a concussion, and while I obviously don’t want to speculate too much on a timetable, one would think that the bye week provided enough time for recovery. As far as Pledger is concerned, it goes back to what I was saying earlier about UT’s run defense. It doesn’t appear that OU was up against much of a run-stuffing group, so if I had to guess, I would go with ‘no’. That doesn’t, however, mean that he can’t be highly effective, as he’s proven to be a valuable asset in the passing game.
FOW: Alex Grinch was brought in to shore up the defense, and, well, it’s still a work in progress. What have you seen from the new DC that either gives you hope going forward or has you concerned for the remainder of the season?
JS: I’m generally a believer in Alex Grinch in spite of the fact that his public turnover fetish is a tad irritating. His only recruiting class that is currently in the program is the current crop of true freshmen, who obviously still need a bit of tie to develop. His recruiting focus in the defensive backfield is size and length, which is something this group has sorely lacked in the past. We say the benefit of this body type when Woodi Washington (not a Grinch recruit, but someone who fits the mold) was inserted at CB. We saw an OU corner making plays on the ball, making open-field tackles and actually coming down with an interception. Pretty refreshing.
While the tackling issues from the Mike Stoops era haven’t been fully remedied, the culture is gradually improving on that front (with the exception Iowa State game).
FOW: What has to go right for the Sooners Saturday to win in Fort Worth? What would have to go wrong for the Frogs to win?
JS: If the tacking effort and offensive push resemble what we saw in Dallas, I think OU will be able to come out on top. Spencer Rattler being careful with the football certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.
However, defense showed us in Ames that it’s still capable of reverting back to its worst habits from the Mike Stoops era. If we see a repeat of that, TCU wins this game.
FOW: TCU has beaten the Sooners just once since joining the Big 12, but these games seem to be competitive more often than not, even when it’s a mismatch on paper. How do you expect Saturday’s game to go? What’s your prediction?
JS: I’m expecting another tight one, and it’s largely due to that fact that I think Gary Patterson is going to find ways to fluster Spencer Rattler. How the young QB and his HC/de-facto OC/QB coach respond will be the difference between a win and a loss.
I fully expect to pace around the living room for four quarters and possibly have a year shaved off of my life, but I think OU finds a way to pull it out.
FOW: At just 1-2 in conference play, what is your expectation the rest of the way for OU? Do you still expect to see them in the conference championship game? Who do they face or which two teams do you think play for a title this December?
JS: This young-ish team had the unfortunate task of beginning this unconventional season with games against teams coached by Chris Klieman and Matt Campbell, but I think OU has all of the pieces to truly right the ship and run the table in Big 12 play and make it back to Arlington. As far as an opponent is concerned, I’ll go with the winner of the game between Iowa State and Oklahoma State. I think the former comes out on top this Saturday (part of this is wishful thinking, because I think a Bedlam rematch would be exceedingly annoying).