Oklahoma football: Four games in, where things stand

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01: Kenny Hill /

The 2017 Oklahoma football season is off to a strong start with four wins in as many games and a No. 3 ranking a third of the way through the 2017 season.

Four games does not a season make, but it certainly gives us a starting point by which to evaluate how things are going and what we might expect as the season begins to pick up traction now that we are into the demanding conference schedule.

Come Saturday, when the Sooners return to action at home against visiting Iowa State, it will have been 14 days since Oklahoma’s last game, a 49-41 win at Baylor. The Sooners escaped that game with an important conference road win, but it was by far OU’s least impressive performance of the season.

Baylor attacked the OU defensive secondary repeatedly in the game, gaining close to 500 yards through the air and serving up a painful reminder of the Sooners’ troubles defending the passing game and particularly against balls thrown deep downfield.

Oklahoma went into the Baylor game giving up just 110 yards passing per game, seventh best in the country through three games. That ranking will fall precipitously after the troublesome breakdown at the back end of the Sooner defense against Baylor.

This could be a major issue going forward if the Sooners don’t get this problem corrected. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ secondary is likely to see much more of this from the air-oriented spread formations that exist in more prolific form from the high-octane Big 12 opponents OU is going to face in the coming weeks.

Compounding the concern is the injury status of Jordan Thomas, an All-Big 12 First Team selection and the Sooners best defender in the secondary. Thomas was injured in the final minute of the Baylor game and had to be helped off the field with an apparent ankle injury. Thomas is expected to play against Iowa State, but he may not be 100 percent.

“We’re gonna need him. He’ll bounce back,” Mike Stoops said about Thomas in an interview with Oklahoma City Oklahoman staff writer Ryan Aber. “He’s a great competitor and he knows how to play.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

“He’s played a lot of football (42 games while at Oklahoma),” said the OU defensive coordinator. “You know you’re going to get contested in this league. You need to be prepared.”

Safety Steven Parker was also injured in the first half of the Baylor game, but returned to action in the second half.

The week off last week may have come at a very good time for the Sooners, who were afforded an extra week for injured players, like Thomas, to get healthy and also correct the defensive problems that reared their ugly head in the game at Baylor.

“They (Baylor) threw and caught the ball well,” head coach Lincoln Riley said after the game at Baylor. “Our pass defense was just inconsistent the whole night. Sometimes it was the rush not getting there. A couple of busted coverages by the backers. The secondary, I thought at times, were trying to hard to make a play and coming out of there assignment.”

Oklahoma’s difficulties at Baylor were accentuated by an uncharacteristic rash of penalties, including two personal foul calls as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct flag against Baker Mayfield. The Sooners were penalized 10 times for 105 yards against Baylor. In OU’s three other victories this season the team averaged just 41 yards in penalities.

The Sooners got some more bad news this week on the defensive side. Riley announced at his weekly press conference on Monday that backup linebacker Curtis Bolton will have ankle surgery and is will miss the remainder of the season.

Although OU needs to make some improvement in its defensive coverage packages and open-field tackling, the offensive attack continues to hum along at a high level, with Heisman candidate Mayfield engineering the attack at quarterback. The Sooners are No. 1 in the nation in scoring offensive (48.0 points per game) and fourth in both passing offense (399.8 yards per game) and total yards of offense (605.5 ypg).

OU’s massive offensive line deserves as much credit for the success on offense as any of the Sooner players at the offensive skill positions

Healthwise and for the opportunity to correct some alignment and execution breakdowns on defense, the bye week came at a good time for the No. 3-ranked Sooners, but the time off can also have an impact on offense by slowing the momentum gained in the four consecutive wins to open the season as well as the timing and execution of certain pass plays.

The OU coaches are hoping that the extra practice time and time off has helped with making defensive adjustments, but also with the opportunity to further fine tune the offensive execution as well.

Based on what we have seen through the opening four games, this Oklahoma team has enough firepower and is good enough to outscore any team in the country. The Sooners ability to stay in College Football Playoff contention, however, is going to depend on how good they can play defense over the remaining eight games of the regular season and through the 13th data point, which takes into account a rematch with a Big 12 opponent (most likely TCU or Oklahoma State) in the return of the conference championship game.

Explosive offenses are a given in the Big 12. The league championship and a probable spot in the College Football Playoff, however, will go to the team that plays the best on defense and special teams.

Right now, that looks like a battle between OU and TCU, with the first of two possible meetings this season to take place in Norman on Nov. 11. Assuming that neither of those two teams stumble between now and then — and the Sooners have tough games with Texas, at Kansas State and in Bedlam at Oklahoma State before having to face TCU — it is a better than 50/50 probability  that both teams will be undefeated for the Nov. 11 showdown.

Dare to dream…