- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Texas Tech will bring the nation’s No. 10 team, an explosive offense, charismatic coach and sizable chip on its shoulder when the Red Raiders visit Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Yet, it’s hard to imagine a better time for Oklahoma to face Texas Tech.
The Sooners’ run defense is in shambles with Texas and Kansas having exposed OU’s biggest defensive weakness in back-to-back weeks. OU allowed 255 rushing yards to UT and 185 rushing yards to KU as its defense tries to replace senior linebacker Corey Nelson. Those two teams averaged 5.13 yards per carry on first down as the Sooners had no answers for their running games.
OU’s pass defense is another story. As bad as it’s been when opponents turn to the ground during the past few weeks, the Sooners defense has been relentless and productive when teams try to throw. OU leads the nation allowing 149.71 passing yards per game and ranks second nationally in yards per pass attempt at 5.27.
“It plays right into our hands,” safety Quentin Hayes said of the Red Raiders coming to Norman. “Because we have one of the best pass defenses in the country and they’re a passing offense.”
In other words, the Sooners are lucky it’s not Kansas State, or even Baylor, set to step on the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium turf on Saturday. And yet there’s nothing easy about facing the Red Raiders offense, which leads the Big 12 and ranks No. 2 nationally with 416.43 passing yards per game but ninth in rushing offense at 131.71 rushing yards per game.
So Saturday’s matchup will be strength against strength, may the best unit win.
“Anytime you play an offense like this, that is explosive, it’s always exciting as a defensive player to try to go out and stop them,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said.
OU’s secondary has become a strength after entering the season as a potential weakness. Redshirt freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez has helped supplement Colvin at the other cornerback, while nickelback Julian Wilson and safeties Gabe Lynn and Quentin Hayes have played well. Colvin was the only returning starter who began the season at the same position he started in 2012.
Yet, as confident as the Sooners feel about their secondary, they know the Red Raiders will bring passing excellence they haven’t seen in their first six games.
“We’ve never been tested like we’re going to be on Saturday,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “We would be fools to think that.”
The past two games have exposed the weakness of OU’s new 3-3-5 defensive scheme with the Longhorns and Jayhawks using power running games to have success on the ground against the Sooners' undersized personnel. This weekend the strength of the Sooners’ three-man front comes into play as the additional speed and athleticism the scheme brings to the table will be critical as OU tries to slow the Red Raiders offense.
“There’s nothing that’s perfect for everything but this is part of the reason we wanted to be more multi-dimensional,” Stoops said. “Regardless of what you do, you have to be able to match up with their skill, their quarterbacks, their offensive line.”
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury will undoubtedly have a twist aimed at taking advantage of OU’s subpar run defense and Stoops will have a plan to make things difficult for Red Raiders quarterbacks Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield.
“Their defense schematically has changed a bunch from last year,” Kingsbury said. “He does a good job bringing people from everywhere, very athletic, fly around, fundamentally sound. It will be a very, very good challenge for a young quarterback.”
The winner could be determined by which coaching staff and team makes the best in-game adjustments.
“Coach [Stoops] has made a lot of changes, given us a lot of options,” Colvin said. “Texas Tech is a different team, they like to throw it a lot. They’ll probably throw the ball more than they run but you never know. Whatever they do we’ve got to be ready for it.”
2dJake Trotter and Brandon Chatmon