Whoa, Nellie, do we have a dandy of a game this weekend. If you believe the pundits, Notre Dame's scrappy band of undersized and overslow players (who are undefeated and ranked fifth in the country but never you mind because they Haven't Played Anyone) would need to pull off the Upset of the Century to beat the big, bad Sooners, who would be doing an act of charity if they kept their winning margin under 100.
But enough with the pundits. How does a real life Sooner blogger feel about tomorrow's games? We're joined this week by M. Hofeld from the SBNation Sooner blog, Crimson And Cream Machine. Check out my answers at CACM here.
1. Oklahoma's season got off to a bit of a rough start, with an early scare against UTEP and a loss to Kansas State. Since then, the ship seems to have been righted with impressive wins over Texas Tech and Texas. What, if anything, changed?
First of all, I have to admit that Texas is no where near being back to the title contender they were in 2009 and while that win looked good on paper, it was really nothing more than a win over a middle of the pack Big 12 school. Texas Tech has surprised a lot of people this season and they most certainly are Oklahoma's marquee win to this point of the season.
Some of the things that have occurred since that Kansas State loss are, 1) Oklahoma has put the rushing attack into the hands of Damien Williams. This kid is something special and I'm not sure if it took the coaching staff a little while to recognize that or if there was some loyalty to Dominique Whaley but regardless, Williams' 7.5 yards per carry season average has won everyone over. 2) Landry Jones has found chemistry with his new receivers. Coming into the season, the only receiver on the roster who had caught a pass in a Sooner uniform was Kenny Stills. It took a little while to get the new crop of receivers up to speed but they seem to have arrived now. 3) The defense seems to have gotten a firm grasp on what Mike Stoops wants from them. 4) Possibly the most important thing that has happened is that the offensive line has started to work as a cohesive unit and not just a group of talented individuals.
2. The Sooner offensive line faced quite a bit of attrition this offseason, but Oklahoma is still running for over 200 yards a game and has only allowed ten sacks. How have Stoops and company been able to weather the storm and put together a strong offensive line?
Oklahoma's offensive line was extremely talented in their two-deep but were also extremely inexperienced beyond their starting five. The losses that this team experienced along the line during fall camp were numerous and ultimately thrust a bunch of the younger guys into starting roles. The talent was there from the beginning but they had to develop the experience needed to become a cohesive unit. Now that they are six games into the season they are starting to show the improvement that comes from experience.
On a side note, the attrition has left them very thin along the line and Oklahoma absolutely cannot afford for another lineman to go down.
3. Kevin Wilson was always one of my favorite offensive coordinators when he was with Oklahoma for his ability to mesh pro-style and spread concepts and run it at warp speed. Have things changed much with Wilson gone and Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell taking his place?
Heupel is a native son who engineered Oklahoma's 2000 national championship from the quarterback position. He's an extremely talented quarterbacks coach who has help OU produce two Heisman Trophy winners in the last ten years. That said, he is learning on the job when it comes to being an offensive coordinator. Being a former quarterback, it seems that his natural inclination is to pass first and abandon the running game in times of distress. It took him until last year's bowl game to balance the offense and keeping it balanced remains a bit of a struggle but is still much better than last season.
4. Put yourself in Brian Kelly's shoes for an instant. Give us a quick rundown on how you would attack the Sooners' offense and defense.
I think you have to blitz Landry Jones and put him under pressure. Its a gamble with the improvement of the receiving corps, allowing Jones to have reliable "hot" reads but its still the best bet.
Offensively, you have to go right after Oklahoma's defensive tackles. They are the biggest question mark on the Sooner defense with the linebackers being a close second. Successfully running at the tackles exposes both units.
5. Any predictions for the game?
I think that this game is going to be epic, and the history of the two programs cannot be overlooked. I would say that its going to be close through the first half before Oklahoma starts to pull away late third quarter for a 27-17 victory.
Thanks again to M. Hofeld for joining us this week! Check out Crimson And Cream Machine for more coverage of tomorrow's game.