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Saturday, September 27, 2008
Sooners aim to end TCU's success in Norman

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- Greetings from Owen Field, where TCU will attempt to keep up its surprising recent winning ways over the Sooners.

  

The Horned Frogs don't figure to be intimidated by any kind of aura about playing at Owen Field. They've won four of their last five games in Norman, including the shocking opener from the 2005 season. Several key Oklahoma players are still around from that game.

Oklahoma has much to play for tonight. Their performance will be judged against the winner of the Georgia/Alabama game to determine the No. 1 position when the polls are released.

The Sooners haven't been No. 1 since Mike Stoops left the program to become the head coach at Arizona. It's been fashionable in many circles to say that Bob Stoops has never been able to return the program to that level since then, particularly from national sources who don't realize the domination the Sooners have had in the Big 12. So it would be an important accomplishment for Bob Stoops if his team could rise to that level.

But TCU would be able to show something to the country with an upset. The Horned Frogs cracked the Top 25 and could continue a march to the first BCS bowl berth in school history with a win tonight.

TCU is a much better program than in 2005, at least in terms of personnel, because TCU coach Gary Patterson has been attracting better athletes into his program. The best example of that is along the defensive front. Many teams would have taken a step back after losing key producers like Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz. So what has Patterson done? Just plug in guys like 2008 starters Jerry Hughes and Matt Panfil.

A hot night is expected with temperatures expected to be around 90 degrees at kickoff. Here are some things I'm interesting in watching from the (thankfully) air-conditioned press box tonight.

The battle in the trenches: Oklahoma hasn't faced a defense as good as TCU's, which leads the nation in rush defense and total defense. The Horned Frogs always seem to get up to play Big 12 teams. But keep this statistic in mind -- Oklahoma will outweigh TCU along their offensive front by 45.5 pounds per man. I expect the Sooners to try and set the tempo with their running game early to set up play-action passes by Sam Bradford. That kind of size advantage begs to be exploited.

Oklahoma will be playing without one of its primary run-stoppers as DT DeMarcus Granger will miss the game with a foot injury. Cordero Moore steps up in the rotation, but TCU will be trying to run the ball against an area that figures to be weaker than before.

Can TCU throw the ball downfield against Oklahoma's secondary? The Sooners' secondary, particularly inexperienced cornerbacks Brian Jackson and Dominique Franks, was supposed to be the team's biggest weakness coming into the season. That liability hasn't materialized yet and likely won't tonight, either. TCU quarterback Andy Dalton is more of a runner than a thrower. His longest pass this season has been 31 yards and he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass yet. Dalton needs to try something vertically. It might lead to surprising results.

What kind of offense will TCU try? I would think that Patterson's best strategy would be to try to bleed the clock as much as possible, keeping Oklahoma's offense off the field. Shortening the game would give the Horned Frogs their best chance for success, but they will have to convert third downs and keep the ball away from the Sooners. That task is easier said than done, particularly here. But TCU used exactly that formula to win in 2005.

Injuries: Oklahoma TE Eric Mensik, who received significant playing time against Washington, is out after breaking his ankle in practice. And Granger, who was a key contributor in the middle of the Oklahoma offense, is out with a foot injury. TCU running back Ryan Christian is expected back after limited playing time against SMU because he was "banged up," according to Patterson. And TCU safety Sir Demarco Bledsoe has missed the first four games of the season after an undisclosed violation of team policies. He hasn't appeared on the field yet as TCU continues its pregame workouts.