Oklahoma football: Players, matchups to watch for against TCU

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01: Baker Mayfield
FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01: Baker Mayfield /

The biggest game in the 2017 Oklahoma football season – and arguably in college football this weekend – will take place Saturday night at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Oklahoma and TCU have met five times in Big 12 play, with the largest margin of victory in all five games being just seven points. The Sooners own an 11-5 record all-time against the Horned Frogs, with the first meeting dating back to 1944. OU won that inaugural game, played in Oklahoma City, 34-19.

The Sooners have long been one of hardest teams to beat when they are playing at home. In fact, in the last 19 seasons, Oklahoma has won as many conference championships (10) as games they have lost at home over that span.

Against TCU, however, the Sooners have a better record playing away from home. OU is 6-1 in games played in Ft. Worth, but just 4-4 when the two teams have played in Norman, which is the site for the showdown Saturday night between the Big 12 co-leaders.

The game on Saturday, to be televised nationally on FOX, features the No. 5 Oklahoma, against TCU, the No. 8 team in this week’s Associated Press rankings. This is the highest-ranked matchup between these two schools. The previous best was the last game OU and TCU played in Norman, in 2015, with the No. 7 Sooners edging No. 11 Horned Frogs 30-29.

This year’s game should fall in line with all of the other close encounters between these two teams. Six of the 16 games have been decided by six points or less, including the last two.

The two quarterbacks, Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma and Kenny Hill of TCU, will be in the individual spotlight on Saturday night, but the prime matchup in the game will be the Sooners’ No. 1-ranked offense going up against TCU’s tough and well-disciplined defense, ranked as the sixth best in the country through nine games. How this battle turns out will likely determine the outcome of the game.

If the TCU defense has a weakness it is in the secondary. The Horned Frogs are limiting opponents to under 70 yards per game. OU’s running-back-by-committee is averaging 213 yards per game. TCU will zero in on stopping the Sooner running game, but there should be opportunities downfield if the Horned Frogs get a little too greedy stacking the box to stop the run. TCU must also be mindful of Oklahoma’s team speed on offense if the Sooner backs and wide receivers are able to get into open space.

Another important matchup will be the ability of the schizophrenic OU defense to slow down and get some stops on a very good but not great Horned Frog offense, commandeered by Kenny Hill. Ogbonnia “Obo” Okoronkwo is the key for the Sooners to get pressure on Hill and make him uncomfortable and force him into mistakes.

From an individual perspective, Mayfield, who has a well-established history of showing up big in big games on the big stage. And there aren’t many bigger than this top-10 matchup on Saturday.

Sophomore running back Abdul Adams returned to action two weeks ago after missing two games with an injured ankle. He saw limited duty against Kansas State, and was in for just two series last weekend at Oklahoma State after dropping a pass that was almost ruled a fumble with the Sooners backed up against their own goal line. Look for Adams, who is fighting for playing time and is in stiff competition with Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon, to have a big game against TCU.

If speedy wide-receiver Marquise Brown was not on peoples’ radar before now, he almost certainly is now after his record-setting performance in the win over Oklahoma State. Mayfield is sure to target Brown on some deep throws on Saturday and will look to his prime target Mark Andrews on key downs, but I believe the receiver who is do for another big game is freshman CeeDee Lamb, who is the Sooners’ third leading receiver and leads the team with six touchdown catches.

On the TCU side, running back Darius Anderson has been a workhorse this season and is averaging 80 yards a game and 6.0 yards per carry. Desmon White and John Diarse are sure-handed receivers that the Sooners will need to cover and keep track of, and another receiver who will be interesting to keep an eye on is freshman Jalen Reagor, who originally committed to Oklahoma before decommitting and signing with TCU. Reagor leads the Horned Frogs with four touchdown catches this season.

When the Horned Frogs are on defense, the players to watch are defensive end Ben Banogu and linebacker Mat Boesen. Banogu is second in the Big 12 with 6.5 sacks as well as 12.5 tackles for loss, and Boesen has recorded 5.0 tackles for loss.

In the game in Norman two years ago, TCU linebacker Ty Summers put a hit on Baker Mayfield late in the first half that knocked him out of action for the entire second half. The Horned Frogs trailed at that point 21-7, but rallied in the second half to come within a failed two point conversion of defeating the Sooners.

In close games, like Saturday’s game is expected to be, special teams and field position can be the difference between winning and losing. Perhaps the most dangerous player on the field on Saturday night is TCU’s KaVontae Turpin. Turpin returns punts and kickoffs, has lightning speed and has returned one of each for a touchdown this season.

Next: Marquise Brown's extra gear is Sooners' secret weapon

And speaking of the kicking game, OU placekicker/punter Austin Seibert has recorded 57 touchbacks in 71 kickoffs this season. His average of 44.1 net yards per punt is second best in the Big 12. The Sooners will need more of the same from the kicking game to beat TCU.