Big 12: Alan Davis

Last-minute tidbits from Stillwater

November, 29, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Here are a few late factoids with kickoff of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State about 30 minutes away.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: An Oklahoma victory will force a three-way tie for the Big 12 South Division title that will be decided by the BCS standings tomorrow. It also likely wraps up a BCS bowl berth for Oklahoma, no matter if the Sooners play in the championship game or not.

Oklahoma State is gunning for a victory that would boost them to a 10-win regular season for the first time in school history.

The Sooners have won five-straight games in the series and Bob Stoops is 3-1 in previous games against the Cowboys in Stillwater. But none of those margins of victory are more than six points.

And Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is 3-13-1 in his career against Oklahoma, as a coach, assistant coach and player.

WEATHER: It's a cold, cloudy night with temperatures in the mid-40s. Humidity is 52 percent and there is no wind. Even though a front is expected to blow through late this evening, there is only about a 10 percent chance of precipitation.

INJURIES: Oklahoma is still missing top pass rusher Auston English (sprained knee) and starting defensive end Alan Davis (sprained knee). Their lack of depth at the position will mean that starters Frank Alexander and Jeremy Beal will play more snaps than usual. And Ryan Reynolds, the Sooners' steady middle linebacker, has been lost since the Texas game with a knee injury.

Oklahoma State's biggest injury question is tailback Kendall Hunter, the Big 12's leading rusher, who sustained a quadriceps injury against Colorado in the Cowboys' most recent game. But after eyeing him during workouts, Hunter appears ready to go. If he's hampered, Keith Toston would replace him.

Earlier this season, the Cowboys lost free safety Lucien Antoine with a knee injury. He's been their only other major injury this season.

Late pre-game update from Norman

November, 22, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here are a few last-minute tidbits before tonight's Texas Tech-Oklahoma game.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: Something has to give tonight. The Sooners have a nation-best 23 game winning streak. But Texas Tech is 10-0 for the first time since 1938 and will carry a 12-game winning streak that is the longest in the country to start the day.

A Texas Tech victory would give the Red Raiders their first birth in the Big 12 championship game against Missouri on Dec. 6.

An Oklahoma victory would throw the South Division into a three-way tie for the lead. Next week, Oklahoma travels to Oklahoma State, Texas hosts Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night and Baylor will visit Texas Tech. If there's a three-way tie at the end of that day, the Bowl Championship Series standings will be used to determine which team will advance to the championship game.

INJURIES: Oklahoma's banged-up defense will have some replacements. Starting defensive ends Auston English and Alan Davis both are out with sprained knees. That will mean that redshirt freshman Frank Alexander and Jeremy Beal will get the starts, with converted linebacker J.R. Bryant and Pryce Macon thrust into key reserve roles. Steady middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds has been out since the Texas game with a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Austin Box will get the start in his place. Tight end Brody Eldridge (ankle) and wide receiver Manny Johnson (dislocated elbow) both are expected to play.

Texas Tech is in pretty good shape in terms of injuries. The extra week gave Michael Crabtree time to rest and he told reporters earlier this week he's ready to play at 100 percent.

WEATHER CONDITIONS: It's an almost ideal football night at Owen Field, with one exception. A gusting south wind of up to 20 mph could play havoc with teams' passing strategies and the kicking game. But other than that, you couldn't ask for a better night in mid-November. Temperatures will start at kickoff in the mid-40s and should slide into the high-30s by the time the game finishes up.

Some ponderables before kickoff from Norman

November, 22, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- Mike Leach comes back to Norman tonight. It's a place where he's never had much success in four previous losses with Texas Tech.

The challenge of stopping Oklahoma has flummoxed the best of the Big 12 team over the years. Hence Bob Stoops' 59-2 record here. His only losses came to Les Miles and Oklahoma State in 2001 and Gary Patterson's TCU team in the season opener in 2005.

But Leach said earlier this week that he thought his team's performance in 2006 -- a game where they reeled off 17 straight points and made the Sooners work in an eventual 34-24 victory -- has given them confidence that they haven't had in previous games here.

"We came in and played them pretty well," Leach said. "It's a game that we could have won with a break or two."

That confidence seems to have been passed along to his team, which might have a chance to stun the Sooners and claim their first appearance in the Big 12 title game with a victory tonight.

But even more than confidence, here's another reason why the Red Raiders might be poised to make some history here tonight.

Namely, this Texas Tech team might be the best that has ever come to challenge the Sooners in the Stoops era.

Leach has his best quarterback in Graham Harrell. He has his best player in Michael Crabtree. His offensive line is a veteran group that has helped him balance his offense with a semblance of a running game.

Texas Tech is only the third top-10 team to play here during Stoops' era. The No. 3 Sooners stunned No. 1 Nebraska 31-14 in 2000. And No. 2 Oklahoma blew out No. 9 Iowa State, 49-3, here in 2002.

Texas Tech's team is the biggest challenge the Sooners have faced since then. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the Sooners' home field mystique.

Here are some other items that will be important tonight.

  • How Oklahoma's injury-ravaged defense holds up. The Sooners are missing top pass rushers Auston English and Alan Davis. Six of their seven starters among the linebackers and defensive backs have never started against Texas Tech's defense before. Checking what is suddenly a balanced -- for Tech anyway -- offensive attack will be difficult for that inexperienced Sooners group. Oklahoma has yielded at least 28 points in each of the past five games -- something that they have never done in the history of the program.
  • Heisman ramifications. Graham Harrell and Sam Bradford are both among the top candidates for what they've accomplished -- particularly in recent weeks. The winner of the game should have a huge leg up on the field a few days after Heisman ballots have started arriving at the homes and offices of balloters. Whoever wins tonight's nationally televised game will have a big advantage over the field. At least until the next round of games next week.
  • The turnover margin. Oklahoma leads the nation with eight turnovers lost. Texas Tech has only 14 giveaways. I don't think either team will be prone for a big mistake. Whoever gets advantage -- particularly if it's early -- will have a huge advantage.
  • Oklahoma's quick starts. In the past three games, the Sooners have charged from the opening kickoff, scoring 11 touchdowns on their first 14 possessions in the last three games. In their first six conference games, Oklahoma has outscored opponents 126-24 in the first quarter. And on average, they are already 17 points ahead by the start of the second quarter.
  • Special teams. Both teams have liabilities here. Tech leads the nation with nine kicks that have been blocked (five field goals, three punts and an extra point) and must do a better job protecting their kickers. And Leach's lack of confidence in Donnie Carona resulted in the mid-season call-up of Matt Williams from the Tech student section as the Red Raiders' extra-point kicker. Carona likely will kick long field goals while Williams will be used from intermediate distances and close ones.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 13

November, 21, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

There are only two games in the Big 12 on Saturday, the lightest scheduling day of the season. But there's still plenty to watch for, highlighted by this week's "Game of the Century" involving Texas Tech and Oklahoma.

Here are some items I'll be watching tomorrow.

1. The performance of Oklahoma's banged-up defense: The Sooners will be playing without top pass-rusher Auston English (sprained knee), starting middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds (season-ending torn ACL) and defensive end Alan Davis (sprained knee.) The Sooners have struggled with those personnel losses, allowing at least 28 points in the last five games for the first time in the 114-season history of the program. And they should be supremely challenged by Tech's explosive offense, which leads the nation in passing.

Even with those dire circumstances, the Sooners have been effective in other ways since the Texas loss. Oklahoma has forced 15 turnovers over the last four games which is the most in the nation over that span, even including a bye week. And in their last game, the Sooners caused four turnovers as they shackled Texas A&M, limiting the Aggies to 278 yards.

2. Oklahoma's much-maligned special teams: The Sooners have struggled covering kicks all season, ranking 108th among teams in kickoff coverage and allowing three touchdowns. Bob Stoops has worked on improving his unit during the team's week off and believes it will be ready. But can the unit come up with enough big plays that will keep the Red Raiders bottled up in poor field position?

3. Michael Crabtree's health: Tech's top receiver has been hobbled with a sprained ankle during the last several weeks and has been noticeably slowed since he was hurt returning a kickoff against Texas A&M. He's told reporters this week that the extra week of rest has rejuvenated him and he'll be ready to go at kickoff. He blistered the Sooners for 12 catches and 154 yards last season. The Red Raiders will need another big game from him on Saturday.

4. Sam Bradford's shot at retribution: Last year's loss to Tech is a blur for Bradford, who sustained a concussion and missed most of the game after throwing only three passes. His departure paved the way for Tech's 34-27 victory, which ended the Sooners' BCS title game hopes. That disappointment has sparked Bradford to a huge sophomore season, as he's leading the nation with 38 touchdown passes coming into Saturday's game. Those struggles last season have left him with extra determination to play well in Saturday's game.

5. Huge stakes for the Red Raiders: The Red Raiders are the nation's hottest team with a nation-best 12-game winning streak and are 10-0 for the first time since 1938. But most importantly, they can wrap up their first Big 12 title-game appearance and a chance to meet Missouri in the conference championship game with a victory over the Sooners on Saturday.

6. Heisman ramifications: Ballots were sent out to 926 voters earlier this week. Bradford, Crabtree and Tech quarterback Graham Harrell all are among the favorites. Whoever has the biggest game Saturday night in the nationally televised game will go a long way toward perhaps hoisting the trophy when it's presented in New York City on Dec. 13.

7. Senior night for Oklahoma's seniors: Saturday will be the final game for Oklahoma's senior class, which lost its first game back in 2005 and hasn't lost at home since -- a nation-best winning streak of 23 games that is the longest among all FBS teams. The Sooners haven't lost a home conference game since falling in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State on Nov. 24, 2001. Bob Stoops is 59-2 at home in his coaching tenure with the Sooners.

8. Mike Leach squares off with his mentor: Leach worked with Bob Stoops during the 1999 season -- Stoops' first coaching the Sooners -- before assuming the Tech job the following season. Since then, he's never won at Owen, going 0-4 in those games. But he has turned the rivalry around a little, winning two of the last three games in the series. Tech is 1-6 in previous games at Owen Field, notching its only win there in 1996. And Stoops needs a big win to regain some of his luster. "Big Game Bob" started his career with an 8-1 record against top 10 opponents, but is only 3-7 against top 10 foes since then.

9. Ron Prince's finale: Kansas State's coach finishes his career with the Wildcats against Iowa State. A victory would keep Kansas State out of a tie for the Big 12 North Division cellar with the Cyclones. Something has to give in Saturday's game between two teams already eliminated from bowl eligibility. The Wildcats have lost five-straight games -- longest since Bill Snyder's final season in 2005 -- and Iowa State enters the game with a 16-game road losing streak that is the longest in the nation after UAB's win at Tulane last week.

10. Austen Arnaud's strong finish: The sophomore Iowa State quarterback is coming off a big game after passing for 326 yards and setting the school's single-game record with 36 completions last week against Missouri. He'll be playing against a struggling Kansas State defense that ranks 114th in total defense, has been singed for at least 30 points in eight of its last nine games and has allowed an average of 51.8 points in its last four games. A big effort could provide Arnaud with confidence heading into next season.

Struggling Sooners' defense aims for turnaround against Tech

November, 19, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

When told that Texas Tech's 323-pound-per-man offensive line is the biggest in college football, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy didn't seem overly worried or concerned.

The challenge of checking the mammoth Red Raider offensive front prompted a matter-of-fact response brimming with confidence from McCoy.

  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy isn't afraid of Texas Tech.

"They've got a big line, so what?" McCoy said. "We've got to go out and play. We're not worried about their size. They are good, but we're not intimidated by that."

Later, McCoy threw out some free-association terms of what he feels that would best describe the Oklahoma defense, including descriptions such as tough, brutal, hard and strong.

Another adjective could have been thrown out as well, although McCoy probably would never do it. How about "unSoonerlike?"

Perhaps their struggles are understandable because of the overall offensive nature in the Big 12. But the Sooners are struggling through their worst statistical season with Bob Stoops in charge.

Earlier this season, the Sooners were blistered for 111 points during a three-game period that included games against Texas, Kansas and Kansas State. That total was the most since 1997.

Those struggles have been obvious when comparing this season's statistics with those of previous seasons in Stoops' tenure. The Sooners are allowing more yards (345.60, 55th nationally) and more points (23.6 points per game, 57th nationally) than any of Stoops' previous nine teams.

It's worth noting that Oklahoma ranked among the top 16 teams in an eight-season stretch in total defense and in the top 19 teams in scoring defense in all seasons but one since Stoops arrived in 1999. Now the Sooners are barely middle-of-the-pack in the national rankings.

"We're embarrassed for ourselves," Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram two weeks ago. "We're not used to having 35 put on us. That's just not us."

Injuries have played a part. The Sooners lost their rudder when middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds went out with a season-ending knee injury in the Texas game. His loss in that game turned the course of the contest and allowed the Longhorns to charge back for a 45-35 victory that remains Oklahoma's only blemish this season.

Pre-season Big 12 defensive player of the year Auston English had his appendix removed before training camp started and struggled to regain his shape earlier in the season. Later, English sustained a sprained knee that will likely keep him out until Oklahoma's bowl game.

Defensive end Alan Davis also is hobbling with a sprained knee and won't play against the Red Raiders. It will mean the Sooners will likely go with a three-man rotation of Jeremy Beal, Frank Alexander and the relatively inexperienced Price Macon to provide outside pressure. Converted linebacker J.R. Bryant could also be used in plays off the edge to harass Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell.

"It's going to be the guys we have," Stoops said. "We don't get to go out and claim people through free agency."

They don't. But the Sooners clearly will be hampered as they try to contain a sizzling Tech offense that leads the nation in passing, is second nationally in total offense and third in points scored.

"Obviously it's not a perfect set of circumstances," defensive coordinator Brent Venables told reporters about the move of Bryant to the defensive front to add depth. "But it puts another athlete, puts additional speed on the field.

"[Bryant] is going to get out there and line up, we'll see. You like his skill-set. He's learning another position and there is technique involved. You try not to over-coach him and turn him loose."

Despite their uncharacteristic struggles on some areas of defense, the Sooners have been strong in other areas. The Sooners rank first in turnover margin, 21st in turnovers generated, third in sacks and ninth in tackles for losses. It appears that this Sooner team is willing to give up yardage in exchange for a momentum-changing play.

But that recipe might be problematic against a Texas Tech team that leads the nation in fewest sacks allowed per pass attempt and ranks 20th in turnovers produced.

It will mean the Sooners' new philosophy will receive its biggest test of the season from the Red Raiders.

"It's not the traditional defense we've played around here," McCoy said. "But I think we've fixed those problems and we'll be ready."

The Sooners' season may be depending on it.

Big 12 internal affairs: Pelini trusting in his talent

November, 19, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Here are a few tidbits from around the Big 12 this week.

The biggest change in recent weeks is that Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is trusting in his scheme and the players who are operating it. Earlier this season, Pelini crafted a gimmick defense when he played Missouri. Now, he's more willing to let his talent play. Of course, the recent surge by the Nebraska front four is helping him feel that way, too. The Cornhuskers have notched nine sacks in their last two games after producing only five in the first five Big 12 conference games.

Two recent losses to Texas A&M has Texas coach Mack Brown searching for ways to better prepare for his traditional rival. One change that will help will be enthusiasm from his young players. Brown has been pleased with the contribution of young players in recent weeks. The list includes safety Christian Scott, center David Snow, defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and defensive ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones. All had big games in the Longhorns' 35-7 triumph over Kansas last week. And the excitement of playing next week for a possible BCS berth should do the trick, too.

Oklahoma will be scrambling against Texas Tech's massive offensive line without two key pass rushers this week as defensive ends Auston English and Alan Davis both will be out with knee sprains. To build depth at the position, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has moved converted linebacker J.R. Bryant to one backup spot and seldom-used Pryce Macon will serve at the other position behind starters Frank Alexander and Jeremy Beal. The Sooners are also bracing to use the nickel formation as their base against Tech's collection of wide receivers. That would mean extensive use for backup safety Quinton Carter, who made his first career start against Kansas last month. And Nic Harris will likely remain at safety with redshirt freshman Austin Box continuing to start at middle linebacker for Ryan Reynolds, out for the season with a knee injury.

Chase Coffman is unquestionably one of the most valuable receivers in the conference, but does the Missouri system play just a little part in his success? Freshman backup Andrew Jones produced seven catches last week against Iowa State as the Cyclones hardly missed Coffman, who was out with a sprained toe.

Iowa State has gotten to the final game without quarterback Austen Arnaud sustaining an injury, with only freshmen Jerome Tiller and Brett Bueker behind him as backups. If Arnaud should become injured against Kansas State, coach Gene Chizik has a plan. Chizik said he would insert freshman wide receiver Darius Darks, a converted high school quarterback and the team's leading receiver last week against Missouri, into the quarterback position. Chizik also said that the Cyclones have worked on an emergency package that includes direct snaps to the tailback. He remains adamant about saving the redshirts for both Tiller and Bueker after not playing either of them this season after the midseason departure of former backup quarterback Phillip Bates.