Big 12 has set up OU, Baylor for playoff run

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Trevor KnightKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight and the Sooners have been the class of the Big 12 in the first month of the season.
Coming into the season, people in and out of the footprint wondered if the Big 12 would be able to land a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But after the nonconference season, Baylor and Oklahoma have emerged as bona fide playoff contenders – thanks to how they’ve performed.

But also, how their conference foes have performed, as well.

Sure, the Big 12 didn’t deliver a signature nonconference victory. Oklahoma State failed to topple Florida State. West Virginia couldn’t upset Alabama. And Kansas State squandered too many opportunities to knock off Auburn.

But in all three spotlight games, the Big 12 acquitted itself well, setting up Oklahoma or Baylor – or whoever wins the conference – as a strong playoff contender when the committee sits down to select its four teams in December. More importantly, in an era when there are five major conferences and only four playoff spots, the Big 12 positioned itself ahead of the Big Ten and the ACC heading into league play.

The Big Ten endured a disastrous start to the playoff era, with the Big 12 contributing to the debacle. West Virginia edged out Maryland. TCU hammered Minnesota. Iowa State handed Iowa its only loss so far. With Ohio State also falling at home to Virginia Tech and Michigan getting wiped out by Utah and Notre Dame, league wins in the Big Ten won’t look nearly as impressive as they will in the Big 12.

The effects of that have already begun to come to fruition.

Oklahoma received eight more first-place votes in the coaches' poll and two more in the AP poll over the weekend after winning at West Virginia, even though the three teams ranked ahead of the Sooners – Florida State, Alabama and Oregon – all won Saturday, too.

The reason?

The Sooners’ victory in Morgantown was viewed nationally as a quality win, because of how tough West Virginia played Alabama and how it played in the road win over Maryland.

Should the Bears prevail in Ames this weekend, the win would be viewed in a more favorable light because the Cyclones bounced back at Iowa City.

Such a domino effect will roll through the entire Big 12 schedule. If Baylor and Oklahoma escape Kansas State, the playoff committee will be compelled to think back to how the Wildcats outplayed Auburn for much of the game in their narrow loss. If the Bears and Sooners defeat Oklahoma State, the committee will have the Cowboys’ performance against defending national champion Florida State in the back of their minds.

It wasn’t the perfect nonconference showing for the Big 12. Besides West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State coming up in short in marquee matchups they could have very easily won, Texas has let the league down again, dropping two nonconference games for the second consecutive year. Iowa State’s opening loss to North Dakota State didn’t help. And Texas Tech getting steamrolled on its home field by Arkansas only enhanced the reputation of the SEC West Division at the expense of the Big 12.

But when compared to the Big Ten or even the ACC outside Florida State, the Big 12’s nonconference performance overall was a success. The ACC delivered some stunning wins, notably Boston College’s victory over then-No. 9-ranked USC and Virginia Tech’s win over then-fourth-ranked Ohio State. But as everyone heads into conference play, the No. 1 Seminoles are the only ACC team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. The Big 12 has four ranked teams in the AP poll, with TCU and West Virginia sitting right on the fringe, as well.

Meanwhile, as other top teams around the country have endured shaky moments, Oklahoma and Baylor have been dominant. The Sooners, who have been as impressive as any team in the country through the first month of the season, are 4-0 with an average margin of victory of four touchdowns. The Bears – albeit to much lesser competition – have an average winning margin of more than 50 points.

Their showdown on Nov. 8 in Norman will give either the opportunity to make a huge statement to the playoff committee.

But there will be other opportunities to impress along the way, as well. Thanks to the rest of the Big 12, which as a league exits the nonconference looking even stronger than when the season began.

Big 12 morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
8:00
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I was watching this game live. Unbelievable.
  • West Virginia's players and coaches are thankful their open week has finally arrived, writes Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Mountaineers have definitely earned it. No one in the country has played a more brutal schedule so far than West Virginia, which has faced the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the ESPN power rankings; a team that retuned 17 starters; and a team that played in the FCS national championship last season. "It's been four tough weeks to start the season," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Been some tight games, close games, and guys are starting to wear down." Still, by hanging tough with the Sooners and Crimson Tide, the Mountaineers have proven they have a tough team, too. After this well-deserved week of rest, they could be a team that does some major damage the rest of the season.
  • Kansas State is picking up the pieces after its heartbreaking loss to Auburn, according to Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury. The Wildcats essentially left 16 points on the field in the 20-14 loss to the Tigers. It will be tempting to obsess about what could have been in that loss. But the Wildcats have to look forward. K-State will have another opportunity to deliver a landmark win before long. The Wildcats play host to UTEP and Texas Tech, then get an open week before traveling to Oklahoma. Coach Bill Snyder showed against Auburn what he can do with an extra week to prepare.
  • Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is eager to get his full complement of wideouts back for the conference opener at Iowa State, he tells the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner. Even though the Bears have played one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country, they are leading the nation in almost every major statistical category despite missing several key offensive players because of injuries. Antwan Goodley (quad) and Corey Coleman (hamstring) are expected to be good to go this weekend. Levi Norwood (wrist) and Clay Fuller (collarbone) are on the verge of returning, too. The return of those four, coupled with the emergence of freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall, could make for a receiving corps as formidable as any in the country.
  • The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten looks back at "the rant" seven years ago that has come to define in part Mike Gundy's tenure at Oklahoma State. Haisten points out that before the rant, Gundy’s record at Oklahoma State was three games below .500. Since the rant, Gundy is 43 games above .500. Personally, I think the rant has had very little to do with Gundy's success in Stillwater. Oklahoma State has won because it has recruited better, installed good schemes and constructed immaculate facilities. The Cowboys would be where they are now, with or without Gundy's rant.
  • The child abuse charges levied against former Oklahoma All-American running back Adrian Peterson have left the Sooners in a quandary. Peterson gave $1 million to his alma mater two years ago, the biggest gift ever by a former player. In return, the school put Peterson’s name on the football team’s meeting room. The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson wonders if Oklahoma should remove Peterson's name from the room. It's an interesting thought. When I was at the Oklahoma-Tennessee game two weeks ago, I cringed when they kept announcing interviews were in the "Adrian Peterson" room. If the NFL elects to dissociate itself with Peterson, that will put Oklahoma in a tough spot.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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With six Big 12 teams on bye this weekend, there was no need to shake up our weekly conference bowl projection.

Kansas State and West Virginia were impressive enough, despite losing, to hold on to their bowl spots from last week. Oklahoma continues to look like a strong contender for the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma State could move up in the Big 12 bowl hierarchy Thursday with a win over Texas Tech.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas

SEC Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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It was a wild week in the SEC. Mississippi State dominated in Death Valley and then had to hold on as Les Miles and LSU tried to cook up another miracle. Alabama shook off some sloppy play early to outclass Florida in Tuscaloosa. And Missouri suffered a shocking home loss to an Indiana team coming off a loss to Bowling Green.

Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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A true freshman made his case to become a household name, a pair of Jayhawks changed the game, another target emerged in Manhattan, Kansas, and the Big 12's most consistent receiving threat did it again. Here's a look at the best performances in the Big 12 this week:

RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: Even if you didn't watch the game you probably already know how dominant the Sooners true freshman running back was in OU's 45-33 win over West Virginia. He finished with 34 carries for 242 yards and four touchdowns. And he got better as the game went on. Keith Ford better hurry back.

Oklahoma's offensive line: While Perine basks in all the headlines, the Sooners offensive line was the foundation of OU's ground-and-pound victory in Morgantown, West Virginia. Perine and Alex Ross (eight rushes for 56 yards) each averaged at least 7 yards per carry. Tackles Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, guards Nila Kasitati, Adam Shead and Dionte Savage along with center Ty Darlington deserve a ton of credit.

WR Justin McCay, Kansas: His numbers aren't staggering. His impact was. The Jayhawks receiver changed the game with his 60-yard catch and run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. McCay finished with two receptions for 66 yards and the score but KU might not have defeated Central Michigan, 24-10, without McCay's big play.

LB Jake Love, Kansas: Fellow linebacker Ben Heeney was outstanding, as usual, but Love was very productive in his own right. He finished with five tackles including four tackles for loss and one sack. His back-to-back tackles for loss in the middle of the fourth quarter helped set up Corey Avery's touchdown on the Jayhawks next possession, which essentially sealed the win.

WR Curry Sexton, Kansas State: The Wildcats got the usual big plays from Tyler Lockett but Sexton provided a quality second option for K-State's offense. He had a career-high 11 receptions for 121 yards in the Wildcats' 20-14 loss to Auburn. Six of Sexton's 11 receptions came on third down and seven of his catches resulted in a first down. His previous career high was six receptions and 112 against West Virginia in 2013.

WR Kevin White, West Virginia: The Mountaineers' senior continues to prove Lockett and Baylor's Antwan Goodley have competition for the honor of Big 12's best receiver. White had 10 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown. It was his fourth straight 100-yard game to start the season and third game with at least 140 receiving yards.

OU's Perine bulldozes, closes out WVU

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
1:30
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video

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- The Oklahoma backfield is a full house, and Bob Stoops hardly seems concerned about putting his talented tailbacks in any order on a depth chart.

But if the Sooners don’t want to get too hung up on designating a pecking order, particularly when the nominal starter is hurt, that’s fine. No matter who takes the first carries for Oklahoma’s brutally efficient rushing attack, it’s pretty clear by now it knows who will handle the last few.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressSamaje Perine was a battering ram that West Virginia couldn't handle Saturday, especially in the fourth quarter.
In case there was any doubt, Samaje Perine bulldozed it out of existence on Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium, battering his way through the West Virginia defense until it couldn’t take any more and establishing himself as the ideal closer as the No. 4 Sooners rode him hard down the stretch in a 45-33 win.

“I wouldn’t say it’s best to be the closer,” Perine said. “But it sure is a good thing for a coach to have confidence in you like that at the end of the game.”

The Sooners had plenty of faith in the true freshman well before the end of the game, riding Perine almost from start to finish in a coming-out party that at least made it worth discussing whether Keith Ford had been unseated while sitting out with an ankle injury.

Perine rushed 34 times for 242 punishing yards, each one taking a toll on every Mountaineer who tried to bring him down. By the time he finished off his fourth touchdown run of the game, West Virginia seemed almost completely unwilling to take him on, and the Sooners definitely took notice as defenders continually lowered their sights on him after getting trucked repeatedly by the 243-pounder.

Regardless of whether or not the Sooners call on him that early or often again this season as they rely on the ground game to compensate for some inconsistency through the air, Perine clearly has carved out a role for himself. And if the Sooners can keep him fresh with a lighter load alongside Ford and Alex Ross, that might make him even more dangerous to tired defenders as they make a push for the College Football Playoff.

“Samaje was just outstanding,” Stoops said. “You know about how powerful and strong he is, but he also has great vision, great ability to cut and he just had a sensational night.

“You know what, these guys are all going to play. And we’re going to keep them fresh. But like tonight, you know, somebody gets hot -- he gets more. It’s really pretty simple.”

There was no need to complicate matters against the Mountaineers, though they made the Sooners’ road conference win a challenge.

They capitalized on a few misfires from Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight to get defensive stops, continued to cause some problems offensively with their explosive passing attack and had the score tied heading into halftime. But that was when Perine took over, toting the ball 20 times after intermission -- and grinding the game away with seven consecutive carries on the final scoring drive, which ended with a 19-yard trip to the end zone and a warm embrace from Stoops as he trotted back to the sideline.

“I didn’t know [his game] was that big until I looked down at the stat sheet,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s a great player, mature player -- he’s a load, you know what I mean?

“But before it’s all said and done, before this season is over, we’re going to need everybody who was in that locker room tonight on our side of the ball. Tonight was Samaje’s night. Hopefully he has more nights like that, but the rest of those guys have to be ready, too.”

Stoops has already proven he can find a way to use them all, and a huge outing by Perine isn’t going to change either his plans or interest in providing a clear-cut depth chart.

But even if Perine’s workload lightens up in the coming weeks, it’s a safe bet now that he’ll be on the field when it’s time for the Sooners to close the deal.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:46
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Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertThere was no stopping Samaje Perine on Saturday, as the Sooners freshman ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia.
1. Samaje Perine is a man-child: Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine just turned 19 years old this week. But he was a grown man among boys Saturday, as he bowled over West Virginia in Oklahoma’s 45-33 win in Morgantown. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. It was the 13th best rushing total in Sooners history, which is saying something at a school that has produced Greg Pruitt, Steve Owens and Billy Sims, among countless other standout rushers. It was also the second best rushing output ever in a game by a true freshman at Oklahoma, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 249-yard performance against Oklahoma State in 2004. After the opener, Perine naively declared this could be the best running back group ever to pass through Oklahoma. That’s way too bold, but Perine and sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross -- who returned a critical kick for a touchdown at the end of the first half to give the Sooners momentum for good -- figure to give Oklahoma one of the nation’s most formidable one-two-three punches at running back for the foreseeable future. Perine, a tank of a rusher, is heading that charge.

2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.

3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.

4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.

5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.

Video: Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
7:24
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video 

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin got a look at some of his younger players as the No. 6 Aggies routed SMU, 58-6, on Saturday.

No. 6 Texas A&M 58, SMU 6

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
7:16
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video 

Quarterback Kenny Hill had 322 yards of total offense in the first half as Texas A&M earned a 58-6 victory over SMU on Saturday.

Big 12 viewer’s guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
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In Week 4 of Big 12 action, most of the conference will have the day off to watch Oklahoma and West Virginia square off in a key early season clash; while Kansas will attempt to bounce back after getting steamrolled at Duke last week.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to follow today in the Big 12:

Central Michigan at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): The pressure is already on Kansas coach Charlie Weis, whose Jayhawks were overwhelmed in a 41-3 loss to Duke last week. Kansas desperately needs a better performance from sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart, who against the Blue Devils struggled mightily, completing just 41 percent of his passes while throwing a pair of interceptions. A bounce-back performance won’t come easy. Central Michigan returns 19 starters, and hammered Purdue by three touchdowns on the road two weeks ago. The Jayhawks, though, will catch a break, with Chippewas star running back Thomas Rawls, who rushed for 155 yards against the Boilermakers, still facing suspension after being accused of stealing a woman’s purse.

No. 4 Oklahoma at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox): The last time these two teams met in Morgantown, they staged a classic -- and this showdown has the makings of the same. The key matchup figures to be West Virginia’s big-play wide receivers against Oklahoma’s big-play defensive backs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Mountaineers are averaging 247 yards after the catch a game, which is third most of any Power 5 conference offense. The Sooners, however, are giving up just 4.4 yards after the catch per reception, which is tops among Big 12 defenses. The Oklahoma secondary also forced three turnovers last weekend against Tennessee, including Julian Wilson's 100-yard touchdown interception return. Both teams will be missing key players. Oklahoma running Keith Ford is out with a leg injury, while West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been suspended indefinitely after being accused of assaulting a female last weekend. The Sooners still have Samaje Perine (177 yards) and Alex Ross (132 yards) to shoulder the rushing load, while the Mountaineers will get back 2013 starting cornerback Ishmael Banks from an academic suspension, which should help ease the loss of Worley.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
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Noon ET

Troy at No. 13 Georgia, SEC Network: Georgia is coming off a 38-35 loss at South Carolina and is looking for a resounding victory here. The last time these teams met (2007), Georgia won 44-34. This Troy team, however, is 0-3 and allowing 40 points per game while averaging only 20.7. Look for the Bulldogs to jump out early in this one.

3:30 p.m. ET

No. 6 Texas A&M at SMU, ABC/ESPN2: The Aggies come in at 3-0 and they’ve been rolling so far this season. SMU has been a mess, 0-2 and with a new coach: June Jones resigned last week; Tom Mason is serving as the interim head coach and is making his debut. Perhaps the Mustangs are fired up and have a renewed energy, but even if they do, the Aggies are in position for a convincing victory. These teams' past three meetings, dating to 2011, have resulted in a 35.3-point average margin of victory for A&M.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp, Nick Saban
Gary W. Green/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama own a three-game winning streak over Florida. The teams haven't played since 2011, Will Muschamp's first season.
Florida at No. 3 Alabama, CBS: Few are likely giving the Gators much of a shot here because they were pushed to their limits by Kentucky. How well they operate their no-huddle, up-tempo offense will go a long way in determining how well they fare. Meanwhile, eyes continue to focus on the Alabama quarterback situation with Blake Sims and Jacob Coker, and it will be worth watching to see what develops. The Crimson Tide own a three-game winning streak over Florida.

4 p.m. ET

Indiana at No. 18 Missouri, SEC Network: The Tigers are quietly getting it done and look to close out their nonconference schedule 4-0. If they do, it would be the eighth 4-0 start under Gary Pinkel and seventh in nine seasons. Maty Mauk is coming off a four-touchdown-pass performance and Shane Ray is coming off a two-sack, four-tackles-for-loss performance.

7 p.m. ET

Northern Illinois at Arkansas, ESPNU: A victory would give the Razorbacks as many wins this season (three) as they had in all of 2013. That would be a big step forward for Bret Bielema's crew. Northern Illinois is a quality road team, having won 17 in a row in opponents' home stadiums, including one at Northwestern on Sept. 6. Arkansas brings in a second-best-in-the-nation 362 rushing yards per game.

Mississippi State at No. 8 LSU, ESPN: Saturday nights in Death Valley are always fun -- typically for the Tigers. They're 43-2 under Les Miles in Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium. This is a big "prove-it" game for Mississippi State, a team that's 3-0 and trying to take a big step into SEC West contention. Last year's meeting between these two was competitive until a 28-point fourth quarter by LSU.

7:30 p.m. ET

No. 14 South Carolina at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: The Gamecocks got a huge win versus Georgia and are looking to go to 2-1 in league play with a victory here. South Carolina jumped out to a big lead over Vandy the last time these teams met and it's likely to happen again if the Commodores don't get on track quickly. They've struggled mightily out of the gate and had to rally to beat UMass last week. Patton Robinette will start at QB; will coach Derek Mason stick with him this time?

New Texas Tech DC must fix run defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:30
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Fourth-and-1 at Texas Tech's 39. Time for the Red Raiders, down seven points in the third quarter, to get a stop.

Arkansas lined up exactly how you would expect: A three-tight-end power set with a fullback. Nine blockers, one running back. No pass, no fakes, no funny stuff. Just a power run off right tackle. And Texas Tech played it right.

Safety J.J. Gaines met Arkansas back Jonathan Williams near the line of scrimmage. Collins juked left. Gaines whiffed. Then the Arkansas sophomore threw two stiff-arms at linebacker Sam Eguaoven and picked up 21 yards. Six plays later, the Hogs were back in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsOver the past nine games, this has been a familiar view of running backs for Texas Tech defenders.
This wasn't the turning-point play in Texas Tech's 49-28 loss. Just another landed punch in an eventual beatdown.

Williams ran for 80 yards in the second half, teammate Alex Collins added 167 yards, and Arkansas averaged a ridiculous 7.15 yards per carry and attempted just two passes. No need. Everything was working against a Red Raiders defense whose biggest flaw of 2013 re-emerged.

"You've got to give them credit," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the loss. "They lined up and pounded us, and we just didn't have an answer today."

Fixing a Texas Tech run defense that has been a sieve in its past nine games is Challenge No. 1 for newly elevated defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Though Matt Wallerstedt exited Thursday because of off-field issues, he leaves behind one real on-field problem that Big 12 foes will try to exploit.

Since Oct. 26, 2013, Tech's first loss of last season at Oklahoma, the Red Raiders have the second-worst run defense in the FBS at 293.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

During that nine-game stretch, of which Tech has lost six, no defense in the country has given up more first downs on rushes (142). Only Southern Miss has allowed more touchdowns and more rushes of 10-plus yards.

In fact, Tech gave up 36 rushing touchdowns during that period, eight more than any other FBS team.

Though Arkansas has one of the best run games in the country, a power-heavy attack the likes of which Tech probably will not face again in Big 12 play, the fact is no FBS defense has faced more rushing plays in those nine games than Tech. Opponents know they must hit this weak spot hard. The Red Raiders know it's coming. They can't stop it.

In the third quarter against Arkansas, the Collins fourth-down dash was deadly because it was another play that kept Texas Tech’s defense on the field. The Hogs ran 23 plays in the quarter and kept the ball for a total of 12:45. That is an easy way to get your opponent gassed.

Linebacker V.J. Fehoko said he saw too many communication issues, too many times when defenders tried to do too much and didn't stick to their assignment.

"In this conference," Fehoko said Saturday, "the smallest mistakes go the longest ways."

Though this is a generally young defense, the starters in the front seven are all juniors and seniors. How are they going to react to another letdown against the run?

"You know, it's tough. It's tough when the ball's not going your way and the momentum's not going your way," Fehoko said. "But I think we've got to just persevere and fight through it. As a team we've got a lot of young guys, but that's no excuse. I think energy and fire comes from within."

So does Texas Tech's new leadership on defense. Smith was already the co-coordinator, so it's not a drastic change. He is expected to bring more of an NFL mindset to assignment and alignment than Wallerstedt. And no doubt he's already hard at work to address his defense's most obvious defect.

It's not that complicated. Next up is Oklahoma State. They and every other opponent are going to pound the rock. They will keep doing it, and the reputation will continue, until Texas Tech starts finding answers to stop it.

Big 12 true freshman power rankings

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:30
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Going into the fourth weekend of the season, we’ve updated our Big 12 true freshman power rankings again, which we’ll be revising occasionally throughout the year. Again, this list combines both opportunity and impact.

The rankings:

1. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor (previous rank: 2): Cannon has been nothing short of spectacular while temporarily taking over the role as Baylor’s No. 1 receiver with Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller, Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley all out with injuries. In three games, Cannon leads the nation with 471 receiving yards, while averaging 33.6 yards per catch. No other Big 12 receiver is averaging more than 25 yards per catch. This is a future star in the making.

2. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (3): Perine has been stout as Oklahoma’s power back, but will only see his role expand after the leg injury to Keith Ford. While splitting carries with Ford and Alex Ross, Perine has still rushed for 177 yards while averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Ross is expected to get the start at West Virginia, but don’t be surprised if Perine gets the most work.

3. Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia (1): Henry has kept his starting job, though has been rather quiet since shining in West Virginia’s opener against Alabama. He’ll face another huge challenge this weekend against the balanced Sooners.

4. Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma (5): Flowers continues to be an instrumental part of Oklahoma’s powerful rushing attack. He hasn’t seen the ball much. But he has paved the way with his lead blocks for Ford, Perine and Ross and an Oklahoma ground game that averaging 5.6 yards per rushing attempt.

5. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (7): Lazard led the Cyclones in receiving in their 20-17 victory over the Hawkeyes. He also hauled in a key pass on Iowa State’s game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. With Quenton Bundrage out for the season, Lazard has taken over as Iowa State’s go-to receiver on the outside.

6. Davion Hall, WR, Baylor (4): Like Cannon, Hall has made the most of his opportunities as the rest of the Baylor receiving corps recovers from injuries. He’s currently 10th in the league with 192 receiving yards.

7. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State (9): Lee didn't have much of an impact Thursday night against Auburn, but he still ranks fifth in the league with 2.5 sacks. Bill Snyder leans against playing true freshmen, but Lee has earned his trust.

8. Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech (10): Along with the rest of the Red Raiders, Stockton struggled against Arkansas with only seven yards rushing on six carries. But the week before against UTEP, he was outstanding with 135 yards rushing, including a 75-yard touchdown dash.

9. Corey Avery, RB, Kansas (8): While the rest of the Kansas offense did little, Avery was the lone bright spot in the loss at Duke. He led the Jayhawks with 87 yards rushing, after rushing for 91 the week before in his debut.

10. Jason Hall, S, Texas (NR): Hall had a sack and a couple of big hits against UCLA after entering the game in the second quarter. His aggression figures to warrant him more playing time after Texas returns from the open weekend.

On the radar: Tevin Madison, CB, Texas Tech; Colin Downing, P, Iowa State; Cameron Batson, PR/WR, Texas Tech; Matthew Boateng, CB, Kansas; Steven Parker II, Oklahoma

A detailed look at Oklahoma's 3-4 shift

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Oklahoma's defense will face a stern test when the Sooners take on West Virginia on Saturday.

Oklahoma's coaching staff likes its 3-4 defense because of the versatility it provides and our colleague at Grantland, Matt Hinton, took a closer look at the Sooners' reasons for a shift from 4-3 to 3-4 and how it helped create problems for Tennessee last weekend. Here's are a short glimpse at the piece, which you can read in its entirety here.

Bob Stoops on the change after the 2012 season:
“None of the reasons [for the transition] had to do with what we did the year before. The reasons were personnel-driven.”

Hinton on Eric Striker's influence:
In their only test to date in 2014, the Sooners registered five sacks last Saturday in a 34-10 win over Tennessee, only one of which was credited to Striker, as a half-sack. While his influence went well beyond that, that sack is an ideal example of how the Sooners use the threat of multiple stand-up rushers — “multiple” is Stoops’s favorite word to describe the current scheme — to get their best player free.

Hinton on the difference between Oklahoma's defense from 2013 to 2014:
The 3-4 experiment in 2013 was arguably a more radical shift for the coaches than for the players, most of whom had barely seen the field in any alignment: Of Oklahoma’s top 20 tacklers at the end of the season, only four had significant starting experience at the beginning of the year, and one of those four (linebacker Corey Nelson) was sidelined by a season-ending pectoral injury in the fifth game. The 2014 defense, by contrast, features 10 players who started at least four games in 2013, for whom the revamped scheme is the status quo.

Check it out. It's an interesting read if you want a better understanding of what makes Oklahoma's defense a nightmare for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.

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