There have been questions surrounding the No. 4-ranked Oklahoma football program all season long. It seems surreal that we’re saying that, given the Sooners are a perfect 8-0 heading into the home stretch of the season.
Despite inconsistencies and sometimes flat-out poor play on both sides of the ball, the Sooners have managed to find ways to win amid all that has gone awry.
Even at 8-0 it is hard to know what you are going to get out of the Sooners from one week to the next. Last weekend, for example, six-time defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma nearly fell victim to the Kansas Jayhawks, the worst team in the conference and one of the worst teams in all of college football.
On Saturday, the Sooners put their 16-game winning streak, the longest active win streak among teams at the FBS level, and undefeated 2021 record on the line at home against Texas Tech.
Here are three keys to the game:
Eliminate the big plays
It may not be the “fireworks” type of offense that we’re used to seeing out of the Texas Tech of the past, but it’s still a group that can hurt you in numerous ways. The Red Raiders who come into Norman this weekend present a more balanced attack on offense, something the Sooners aren’t used to seeing and something OU hasn’t handled all that well when it has.
Texas Tech quarterback Henry Colombi is in his second year with the Red Raiders after transferring from Utah State. The Hollywood, gunslinger has been a roller-coaster mystery for the Red Raiders, but that doesn’t mean he can’t produce big plays. Against Texas, Colombi threw for 324 yards, including a 75-yard strike to WR Kaylon Geiger.
Here’s the rub if you’re an Oklahoma fan, The OU defense ranks 113th in the FBS in passing yards allowed (273.4). The Sooners’ secondary has struggled dramatically, only collecting three interceptions through eight games, although there have been numerous opportunities. Look for the secondary to be more aggressive and opportunistic after being the subject of heavy national criticism the past few weeks.
Defensive line pressure
The best way to help out a secondary is to pressure the quarterback and disrupt his rhythm and decision making. Coming into the 2021 season, the Oklahoma defensive line was considered the strength of the defensive unit. Pressuring the quarterback hasn’t been something the Sooners have done with consistency through eight games. A week ago against Kansas, the Sooners registered just one sack, which came from Nick Bonitto on the last possession of the game.
Lincoln Riley expects Jalen Redmond to be back for the Sooners for the Texas Tech game. Redmond has been productive for the Sooners when he is healthy. In the first three games of the season, Redmond registered nine tackles along with 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Redmond will make his return after missing the last five games with a knee injury.
Put it all together
If the defense performs well, the offense struggles. If the offense performs well, the defense struggles. The Sooners haven’t been able to put together a complete game of complementary football this season.
We anticipated having that complete game against the Jayhawks, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, Kansas was able to put up 400 yards on OU’s struggling defense. The Sooners still have an opportunity to put together the complete game that the fans have been desperately waiting to see. Despite the inconsistency, Lincoln Riley knows winning is the most important piece:
“I know this,” the OU head coach said during his weekly press conference earlier this week. “I’ve been around here long enough if you keep winning things tend to work themselves out.”
Before “Championship November,” the Sooners have to shore up all the weak areas. After Texas Tech, the Sooners have a bye week, then the final three-game stretch, which will be “crunch time” for Oklahoma.
We have witnessed some pivotal games during “Championship November,” and this time is no different. The Sooners end the season with Baylor, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State (all ranked opponents). The good news is, Oklahoma has been through a difficult stretch of games in November before and is 23-0 in November games since the 2014 season.