Dallas Colleges: Corey Nelson
His list of accomplishments reveal the standard of success Stoops has set in Norman, Okla. since he took over in 1999. He has reached all four BCS games and the BCS national title game with 14 bowl appearances, eight Big 12 titles, eight BCS bowls, four BCS title game appearances, one BCS national title.
With the help of the OU SID department and ESPN Stats & Information, a closer look at five key stats during the Stoops era points to the priorities of a program run by the 15-year coach and the foundation of his 158-39 record.
Third-down conversions: OU has 1,283 total third down conversions under Stoops, which is tied for first among FBS teams. OU consistently has a solid plan on third down attempts and secures the players -- like Heisman winners Sam Bradford and Jason White — to execute that plan consistently. Since 2004, the Sooners have converted 44.9 percent of their third down conversion attempts. The national average during that span is 39.8 percent.
Forced turnovers: Stoops knows the value of turnovers and he instills that belief into his teams. Since 1999, OU has forced 428 turnovers which is tied for third among FBS teams. That’s an average of 28.5 per season. OU has forced at least one turnover in 170 of 197 games (86.3 percent) in the last 15 years. Games between two evenly matched teams are often decided by turnovers but Stoops’ crew also uses them to dominate lesser opponents. A combination of talented defenders and aggressive schemes have put opponents into positions to make mistakes and OU tends to take advantage.
Defensive touchdowns: OU has scored 46 defensive touchdowns and has scored at least one defensive TD in each of Stoops’ 15 seasons. Thus, not only do the Sooners make a concerted effort to take the ball away, they have the ability to turn it into points. Cornerback Zack Sanchez did it last weekend with his 74-yard interception return against Kansas State. He joined defensive end Geneo Grissom and linebacker Corey Nelson as Sooners with a defensive touchdown this season. The Sooners’ 28 defensive touchdowns since 2004 are tied for eighth among FBS teams.
Points per drive: While Stoops is a defensive-minded coach, the offenses have placed among the nation’s scoring leaders throughout his tenure. Since 2004, the Sooners have averaged 2.56 points per drive, ranking No. 8 among FBS teams. It’s a sign OU’s offenses under Stoops not only move the ball with success but also finish drives with points. The Sooners have brought in stars like Bradford, running back Adrian Peterson and receiver Ryan Broyles to help them become one of the most explosive offenses in college football during the past 15 years. Their 2.56-point per drive average is a full 0.5 point more than the national average of 2.02 during that span.
In the 15 seasons with Stoops in charge, his teams rank among the nation’s best in key moments on third down, finish offensive drives with points and force game-changing turnovers.
Sounds like a winning combination.
Is there anyone else who should be considered for Big 12 offensive player of the year and/or All-Big 12 quarterback, other than Baylor's Bryce Petty?
Brandon Chatmon: His strongest competition for offensive player of the year is Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett. Imagine the Wildcats' season if Lockett was healthy and available for games against Oklahoma State and Baylor. He combined for 25 receptions for 515 yards against Texas and Oklahoma, so I’m guessing he would have stepped up against the Cowboys and Bears as well.
Max Olson: A case can be made for Chelf, who ranks No. 4 nationally in adjusted QBR since becoming Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback. He might be the favorite had Mike Gundy given him the job earlier. But Petty is still No. 1 for now. If Texas Tech hadn’t fallen into its four-game slump and was just a game or two back in the Big 12 race, Jace Amaro would merit consideration.
Who at this moment is your Big 12 defensive player of the year?
Trotter: Oklahoma State middle linebacker Caleb Lavey has been the heart and soul of the top defense in the Big 12. He’s also had a fabulous season, ranking fifth in the league in tackles and tackles for loss and tied for second in interceptions. To me, he’s been the defensive player of the year in this league.
Chatmon: No player has clearly cemented himself as the favorite for this award, but I’m going with Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. He’s taken his game to another level as a senior with six interceptions, returning two for scores against Iowa State and Texas. After a subpar junior year, he’s been all business as a senior.
Olson: There’s still time for a new favorite to rise to the top of the heap, but right now I’d go with the best player of the best defense in the Big 12. To me, that’s Gilbert. Not just because of his six interceptions, but because he’s playing at an elite level against elite competition this month. If Gilbert shuts down the Sooners, I’m fine with him winning the honor.
Who is the most underrated player in the league?
Chatmon: His team struggled, but West Virginia’s Charles Sims did not. The Houston transfer has been one of the Big 12’s toughest players to defend with his ability to gain tough yards, break the big run and catch the ball out of the backfield from his running back spot. He’s averaged 5.8 yards per touch from the line of scrimmage this season.
Olson: He’s one of the Big 12’s best, but I can’t help but think that Ryan Mueller doesn’t get enough attention. The Kansas State defensive end now has 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss, and he’ll likely finish in the top 10 nationally in both categories. He’s a worthy candidate for DPOY, but because K-State fell off the national radar early on this season, he still seems a bit underappreciated.
Which one injury had the biggest impact on this Big 12 season?
Trotter: I don’t think Baylor would have won at Oklahoma State with just one of its injured players, and I doubt the Bears will lose again without any of them, either. So I’ll go with Oklahoma linebacker Corey Nelson. The Sooners were playing great defense early in the season with Nelson leading the way. After he suffered the season-ending pectoral tear, they were never the same on that side of the ball, especially the following week against Texas.
Chatmon: It would have been interesting to see if Baylor could have finished off its dream season with a healthy Lache Seastrunk. I think Saturday’s result proved the Bears running back, not Petty, was the foundation that the Bears’ offense was built upon. Shock Linwood is a superb player and appears to be a future star, but he’s not Lache Seastrunk.
Olson: I agree with Brandon on Seastrunk for the same reasons he laid out. Two more worth mentioning: Losing the always reliable and speedy Tevin Reese has been a setback for Baylor. The way he can stretch a defense and stress a defense created lots of opportunities all over the field for the Bears. And we'll never know how much David Ash could have helped Texas, as he seemed poised for a big year.
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops had just announced defensive tackle Jordan Phillips would miss the remainder of the season with a back injury during his weekly press conference in mid-October. One week earlier, Stoops had announced linebacker Corey Nelson would miss the rest of the year with a pectoral injury.
Just that quickly, the Sooners were eyeing the bulk of their Big 12 conference schedule without two of their top defenders. Phillips had been emerging as a force in the middle after the season opened with lots of questions about OU’s defensive interior, and Nelson had become the anchor of OU’s defense after the season began with major concerns about the lack of production from the linebackers.
A clear step backward was expected.
But it hasn’t really happened. For all intents and purposes, this Sooners defense has proven to have much better depth than anyone would have anticipated when the season began.
“No one thought we had any D-Linemen, now we’re two-deep,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Dominique was a pleasant surprise, coming in and playing at the level he’s played at. We needed that or we couldn’t have survived. Guys have really come through.”
The stats have jumped in the last five games since Phillips and Nelson were lost for the year, with points allowed per game, yards per play and yards per game increasing. But so has the quality of the competition. And OU’s defense has remained the best and most consistent unit on the team, even without Nelson and Phillips.
“Some of the younger guys are playing are playing above their age,” defensive end Chuka Ndulue said. “They’re playing at a higher level than most young guys are expected to play.”
Alexander has 52 tackles in the last five games, averaging 10.4 tackles per game while becoming one of the most productive players on the defense. Wade and Peterson haven’t done much to be noticed, which is a good thing. As the anchors of a 3-man front, they aren’t expected to get numbers as much as they’re counted on not to get pushed around. The fact Alexander and fellow linebacker Frank Shannon usually sit atop the postgame tackle list speaks to solid contributions by Wade and Peterson, who are allowing the linebacker duo the freedom to make plays.
“We have a lot of positives our guys are taking away, even though you lose players it’s helping us transition,” Mike Stoops said. “Those are good things.”
The Sooners defensive coordinator points to the expectation of being a Sooner and the mental approach as the foundation of OU’s ability to handle the injuries without complete and total disaster.
“Consistently being tough and having pride about the way we play, that’s where it all starts,” Mike Stoops said. “That’s the most important element of defense, your attitude about it, regardless of who is in there, nobody cares who is playing. It’s how you play and how you attack each preparation each week. Our guys have been really consistent in those departments and that’s given us a chance.”
The ability to overcome those injuries has OU excited about the future, particularly with Alexander and Wade each in their freshman seasons and several other freshman, like cornerbacks Zack Sanchez and Stanvon Taylor, showing good long-term upside.
“You lose two leaders and two impact players, but at the same time it shows you what we can do with the players we have right now,” Ndulue said. “We’re playing at a high level with those two guys gone, so imagine the possibility if they were still here. We’re Oklahoma. We have pride. We have good players. Whoever is up to play has to be ready to step out there and make plays.”
The Sooners defense isn’t littered with five-star talent, a trend that’s led to some unrest by the Sooner faithful, yet the defense seems littered with plenty of young talent that has upgraded the overall speed and athleticism of the unit. Seeing young players like Alexander and Sanchez step up this season has validated the Sooners’ ability to evaluate somewhat overlooked recruits who can make an impact early in their careers.
“Watching some of our younger players play Saturday, we have a lot of good players that just haven’t had the opportunities,” Mike Stoops said.
But most importantly it’s been the expectation to excel which seems to have allowed OU to handle the loss of two critical pieces in the middle of the season and continue to field a defense that’s played well enough to win every game this season.
“If they’re at Oklahoma, they’re expected to play at a high level,” Mike Stoops said. “That’s all there is to it.”
Three keys to beating Oklahoma
1. Run the ball right at the Sooners. Texas used this blueprint to hand OU its lone loss this season as two Longhorn running backs (Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown) rushed for more than 100 yards. While the Sooners rank third in the Big 12 in rushing yards allowed (134.75), they’ve allowed 200 rushing yards or more to Kansas, Notre Dame and Texas. Baylor has the talent with Lache Seastrunk and depth with Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood to test the Sooners, particularly with Jordan Phillips and Corey Nelson no longer manning the middle of OU’s defense.
2. Make Blake Bell uncomfortable in the pocket. The Longhorns defense harassed Bell into mental mistakes in the Sooners’ lone loss. Bell’s 4.3 adjusted QBR was the 13th worst QBR by a quarterback and the worst in the Big 12 this season. The junior never looked comfortable or confident in the pocket as he completed just 46.2 percent of his passes with two interceptions. If Baylor can get similar pressure on Bell, it could force similar mistakes.
3. Make the Sooners play from behind. Oklahoma’s offense is considerably better when playing with a lead. The Sooners can remain committed to their running game while using their success on the ground to make teams pay with play action passes. Running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch give the Sooners one of the deepest groups of runners in the Big 12. And Bell can make defenses pay with his legs as well. OU’s passing attack has been the most inconsistent part of the squad in 2013, so if the Bears make the Sooners have to throw to get back in the game, they have to like their odds on coming out on top.
-- Brandon Chatmon
Three keys to beating Baylor
1. Put the defense to the test. Baylor takes immense pride in the progress its defense has made in 2013. But that defense has faced just one top-50 scoring offense (Kansas State, 49th) and four that rank 92nd or worse. Maybe this Oklahoma offense (ranked 55th) isn’t the great unit that finally tests just how sturdy this Bear defense really is, but it has enough firepower at running back and receiver to challenge Baylor’s back seven. Baylor’s defense has pitched a first-quarter shutout in five of its seven wins. If Oklahoma finds a way to get on the scoreboard early, how will its opponent respond?
2. Slow Seastrunk and the rushing attack. Three of the five teams that beat Baylor last held the offense to less than 120 rushing yards. Kansas State, the only team to play the Bears close this year, held them to 114 rushing yards and Seastrunk to 59 on 12 carries. Baylor has the luxury of throwing the more than capable duo of Martin and Linwood in if Seastunk can’t get going, but that would be a victory for OU’s defense and greatly help its chances. That unit must find ways to make Bryce Petty’s job more difficult and get Art Briles and playcaller Phil Montgomery out of their run-pass rhythm.
3. Take it to the fourth quarter. Petty has attempted four passes in fourth quarters this season. Seastrunk has two rushing attempts. The average score of a Baylor game after three quarters is 55-10. These guys have not been tested. The Sooners have to prey on that and try to wear out the Bears if they get the opportunity. Maybe those run lanes start opening up more late. Maybe Petty, after 30 throws, starts losing some accuracy. OU needs an advantage in this department. But, really, the simple truth about beating Baylor is this: The Bears won’t lose unless they show up flat, make mistakes and start beating themselves. Oklahoma is going to need an excellent game plan and, probably, a lot of help.
-- Max Olson
That wham-bam offensive style topped Kliff Kingsbury’s wily bag of tricks in a 38-30 victory over Texas Tech, and it reestablished the Sooners as the biggest threat to unbeaten Baylor for the Big 12 title.
“I love our team and their attitude,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “Are we in great shape? No. Am I excited about our team and our opportunity and our willingness to fight and all of that? Yeah, I am.”
The Sooners suffered yet another devastating injury, as Millard tore his ACL covering a kickoff in the fourth quarter. The Sooners had already lost their best linebacker (Corey Nelson) and best defensive lineman (Jordan Phillips) for the year. Now, they’ll go to Baylor without their most valuable offensive player, too.
But even with more injury adversity, the Sooners also, for the first time in a month, looked like a team that could challenge for the Big 12 crown.
When he had to, quarterback Blake Bell delivered confident completions to convert third downs. The defense continued to batten down the hatches, even while having to resort to playing true freshmen Jordan Evans and Dominique Alexander at linebacker.
And the Sooners ran the ball at will.
Oklahoma racked up 277 yards on the ground, featuring the trio of Damien Williams (101 yards), Roy Finch (55 yards) and Brennan Clay (42 yards).
“When you’re blocking it that way and running it that way,” Stoops said, “you have got to keep calling it until they can stop it.”
Tech couldn’t stop it.
In fact, on the first possession out of halftime, Oklahoma called 10 runs and one pass and marched right down the field to take a 21-7 lead.
“That was the game plan,” Finch said. “We wanted to play Oklahoma football, get our run game going, and open up shots down field.”
The run did exactly that.
Early in the second quarter, after three inept weeks of offense, the Sooners rediscovered their stride offensively. In its longest drive of the season in plays, yards and time, Oklahoma ground out an effective -- if aesthetically displeasing -- 16-play, 97-yard touchdown drive covering almost eight minutes.
“I thought that drive was really good,” Stoops said. “When you can run a bunch of plays, and stick it in the end zone, it makes a big difference.”
On the first play of the following possession, with Tech’s safeties creeping up to the line of scrimmage, Bell faked a handoff, then uncorked his best pass since the Notre Dame game over the top to Jalen Saunders, who coasted in for a 76-yard touchdown to give Oklahoma its first lead, 14-7.
The Red Raiders were on their heels defensively the rest of the way.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage,” center Gabe Ikard said. “We ran power a lot. I don’t know how many times we ran it, but we ran it over and over and over again. We had a lot of success with it.”
Even without Millard, who has been an integral piece of the running attack, the Sooners are sure to heave the same game plan at Baylor in two weeks.
These Sooners can’t outscore the Bears through the air. Who can? But as they did with Tech, they can run the ball at Baylor, control the clock and keep the Bears off the field. After all, a team far less imposing than Oklahoma almost beat the eighth-ranked Bears with that formula two weeks ago.
With little semblance of a passing game, Kansas State still racked up 327 yards on the ground, while keeping Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk on the sidelines. As a result, the Wildcats took a lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t make enough plays to hold on.
The Sooners made enough plays to topple one of the Big 12’s last two unbeatens on Saturday. A week from Thursday, they’ll see if they can do the same to the other.
“I feel good about what we’re doing,” Stoops said. “I’m excited.
“And we’re excited.”
1. TCU: The Horned Frogs have watched quarterback Casey Pachall and defensive end Devonte Fields, arguably their top players on each side of the ball, go down. Pachall (forearm) could return soon but Fields (foot) is lost for the season. It’s easy to imagine the Horned Frogs offense, which has looked lost and has averaged just 97.4 yards in the first half in the past five games, as much improved with Pachall under center.
2. Texas: Another team that has lost a major contributor on both sides of the ball, the Longhorns hope to get quarterback David Ash (head) back at some point this season and have lost defensive leader Jordan Hicks (Achilles) for the season. Add in nicks and bruises to playmakers Daje Johnson and Mike Davis and success has been much harder to come by for Texas.
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners lost linebacker Corey Nelson (pectoral) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (back), two of their top defenders, in back-to-back weeks. Nelson's leadership is sorely missed and Phillips' strength in the middle is hard to replace. OU is still scrambling to replace the duo, which is a scary thought with Texas Tech and Baylor set to test the defense.
My name is Colin, and I’m an '08 Baylor alum. I work offshore on an oil-rig. My job has a lot of downtime, which I find myself using to constantly visit the Big 12 blog for any new I story I can read. I thought I could use all this down time productively and pick Big 12 games, and I would really enjoy being the Guest Picker one week. Thanks and keep up the good work.
I’m coming off an undefeated week, and I’m planning on going undefeated the rest of the season. Colin will be coming along for the ride, since he picked the same sides I did this week (which include a pair of upsets).
On Saturday, Brandon and I will be in Norman, Okla., as “Guns Up, Suns Up” meets “Boomer Sooner” in a key Big 12 matchup. Max is headed up to Fort Worth, Texas, to monitor whether TCU will actually score a first-half touchdown, and whether the Longhorns can play at a high level for more than one game.
To the Week 9 picks:
Trotter last week: 4-0 (1.000)
Guest Picker (wedding Tyler) last week: 3-1 (.759)
Trotter overall: 37-11 (.770)
Guest Picker overall: 22-9 (.709)
OKLAHOMA STATE at IOWA STATE
Oklahoma State 33, Iowa State 14: In their past eight trips to Ames, the Cowboys are 2-5-1, including a stunning loss late in 2011 that knocked the Pokes out of the national championship game. But Oklahoma State might have figured out some things offensively last week, with Clint Chelf at QB and Rennie Childs at running back. Plus, the Cyclones are still on the mat after getting smoked week in Waco.
Colin’s pick: OSU’s QBs and, team as a whole, have not impressed me, but the Iowa State confidence will be shot after that Baylor game. Mike Gundy reminds us all "he is a man" after reporters ask who his best QB is. OSU, 24-17
TEXAS TECH at OKLAHOMA
Texas Tech 29, Oklahoma 28: Nobody has played the Sooners tougher in recent years than Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have won four of the past eight in the series. And in their most recent trip to Norman, they stunned the third-ranked Sooners 41-38 to snap OU’s 39-game home winning streak. This season, OU has been heading the wrong direction since losing Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips defensively. The young Red Raiders, meanwhile, seem to be improving every week. OU has the nation’s No. 1 pass defense, but that’s a bit of a mirage. The Sooners have faced only one offense ranked in the top 50 nationally in passing (Texas, which is 49th). Like they did in ’11, the Red Raiders make plays after the catch, and force Blake Bell into a couple of bad decisions to secure the program’s biggest win since knocking off top-ranked Texas in 2008.
Colin’s pick: Texas Tech pulls out a tough road win against a top-25 team. Bell throws an INT in the last minute after seeing Kliff Kingsbury on the sidelines with his girlfriend. Texas Tech, 35-34
WEST VIRGINIA at KANSAS STATE
Kansas State 27, West Virginia 21: The loser of this game could be in serious trouble for qualifying a bowl game. The Mountaineers have begun to show life offensively with QB Clint Trickett, scoring 27 last week against Texas Tech. But Bill Snyder with two weeks to prepare is almost unfair. The return of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson gives the league’s best running QB, Daniel Sams, someone to throw to downfield, too.
Colin’s pick: Kansas State gets a much-needed home win; Dana Holgorsen tears his fragile hair out in frustration when his throw-deep-every-play offense doesn't work with Trickett. Kansas State, 31-24
BAYLOR at KANSAS
Baylor 79, Kansas 3: The only drama in this game is whether Baylor gets to 100. I say they don’t. But I’ve been wrong before.
Colin’s pick: Baylor continues its 60-plus-point dominance, as Lache Seastrunk runs for 150-plus and QB Bryce Petty adds another three TDs. Kansas fans start a "basketball season" chant in the second quarter. Baylor, 70-10
TEXAS at TCU
Texas 17, TCU 13: At 3-4, the Horned Frogs are off to their worst start in 14 years, and in many ways this is TCU’s last stand. If the Horned Frogs drop this game, they could be in for their worst season of the Gary Patterson era, and even miss out on a bowl game. The defense continues to play tough, but the offense is a catastrophe of epic proportion. Saturday, Texas generates enough offense by slugging it out in the trenches with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm, and the Longhorns stealthily move to 4-0 in the conference with Kansas coming to Austin next weekend.
Colin’s pick: Texas' running game gets going and once again the TCU offense looks inept. TCU's stadium has more orange than purple in it. Texas, 31-13
1. TCU's offense is hopeless: Once again, the TCU defense kept the Horned Frogs in the game. Once again, it didn't matter. TCU's inept offensive attack reached a new level in Stillwater. QB Trevone Boykin delivered a Total QBR of 5.9 (scale of 0-100) and was benched in the second quarter. Except his backup, freshman Tyler Matthews, fumbled the ball away on his first snap. This was the third Big 12 game the Horned Frogs were held scoreless in a first half. Coach Gary Patterson became so frustrated he made co-offensive coordinator Rusty Burns the primary playcaller for the second half and brought the other offensive coordinator, Jarrett Anderson, to the sideline from the booth. The Horned Frogs moved the ball better, but not better enough. As a result, TCU is now 1-3 in the league and has become the Big 12's biggest disappointment. That's even with its defense playing big-time football. No defense, however, can overcome this drive chart: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, interception, fumble, turnover on downs, punt, field goal, interception, rushing touchdown, turnover on downs. The Horned Frogs could get QB Casey Pachall back from a broken forearm soon. That's really their only chance to prevent this season from turning into an all-out dumpster fire.
3. Oklahoma's issues weren't a one-game thing: The Sooners still can't pass. And they still can't stop the run. The two areas that doomed the Sooners in last week's loss to Texas resurfaced at Kansas. With the Sooners missing LB Corey Nelson and DT Jordan Phillips, the Jayhawks took a cue from the Longhorns and ran the ball right down Oklahoma's throat to take a 13-0 lead in the first half. Coach Bob Stoops took blame off the defensive line and said afterward that the linebackers and defensive backs were out of position. But cameras briefly caught defensive coordinator Mike Stoops laying into defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. On the other side of the ball, the Sooners continued to struggle passing. In fact, the prettiest throw of the afternoon came from wide receiver Lacoltan Bester, who hit Sterling Shepard on a reverse pass that finally gave the Sooners a lead in the second quarter. Blake Bell played much better than last week but still threw for only 131 yards with a Total QBR of 67.3, which surely will drop once the strength of the Kansas defense is factored into the equation. Think about this: The Sooners scored a touchdown off a trick play, blocked an extra point and returned it for a two-pointer, blocked a punt for a safety and held the Jayhawks to 16 yards passing -- and Kansas still was down only one score well into the fourth quarter. The same Kansas team fell to Texas Tech on the same field two weeks ago, 54-16. That same Texas Tech team travels to Norman next weekend.
4. Baylor's defense has a chance to be special, too: In 2011, Oklahoma State captured its first Big 12 title with one of the best offenses in conference history. That '11 Cowboys defense, however, was sneaky good, as well, and led college football with 44 forced turnovers. This Baylor defense has a chance to be sneaky good, too. The Bears' offense got back on track with a 71-point deluge against Iowa State. But Baylor's defense was almost as impressive. The Bears held Iowa State to just 174 yards of offense and only 41 yards on the ground. Baylor had a shutout going, too, until the Cyclones scored on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds remaining. Iowa State isn't exactly Oregon (or Baylor), but the Cyclones had scored 30 or more points in three straight games. Baylor's offense alone makes the Bears the Big 12 favorite, but a sneaky good defense could elevate them into a dark-horse national title contender.
5. Kingsbury believes in his quarterbacks: As coordinators around the Big 12 call plays reflecting a lack of confidence in their quarterbacks, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has done the complete opposite. And when the game was on the line in Morgantown, he put the game -- and Texas Tech's season -- on the arm of true freshman Davis Webb, who came up with two huge throws on the final drive of the game. With Tech coddling a 30-27 lead in the final two minutes, Kingsbury called a pass on third-and-6. Three plays later, with Tech facing third-and-goal, Kingsbury called another pass. Both times, Webb delivered completions -- the latter a game-clinching touchdown strike to tight end Jace Amaro. Many coaches would have sat on the ball that drive. Even more would have done so with a true freshman quarterback making his first career road start. But by calling those passes, Kingsbury proved he believes in his quarterback. Quite a bit.
Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch in Week 8 of the Big 12:
TCU at Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. CT (FOX): Two struggling offenses face off against one another in what essentially is a de facto Big 12 title elimination game. The Cowboys are coming off an open week in which they emphasized getting back on track offensively, but TCU features the best defense in the Big 12 led by the league’s best defensive player, cornerback Jason Verrett. The Horned Frogs will likely bring the heat on Oklahoma State QB J.W. Walsh, who is completing just 36 percent of his passes against the blitz. That’s 18 percentage points below the FBS average, according to ESPN Stats & Info. If the Frogs can get to Walsh, they’ll figure to have a shot in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma at Kansas, 2:30 p.m. CT (ESPN): This week, Charlie Weis relinquished some of his power in the offensive game-planning to his assistants. The Jayhawks are last in the league in scoring but have talent in QB Jake Heaps and running back James Sims. If Kansas can jump to the kind of first-quarter lead it held against Texas Tech two weeks ago, then it has a chance to make this a 60-minute game. The Oklahoma defense is adjusting to life without two of its best three players, linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who are both out for the season. The Oklahoma offense, meanwhile, has yet to score more than 20 points in a Big 12 game this season.
Iowa State at Baylor, 7 p.m. CT (ESPNU): The Cyclones have made opposing offenses earn their touchdowns this season. Iowa State is one of only 11 FBS teams that have not allowed a touchdown in three plays or less. That figures to change against Baylor, though. The Bears have already scored 12 touchdowns in three plays or less this season, which, according to ESPN Stats & Info, leads the nation. Even though Kansas State limited Baylor to half its scoring average last week, the Bears still scored a pair of touchdowns on two-play drives.
- The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Randy Galloway has a message for the Longhorns after their win over Oklahoma: It's still all about Johnny Football.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy considers the 2013 defense his best, he tells The Oklahoman's Gina Mizell.
- Coach Dana Holgorsen does not mince words about where his Mountaineers are at the midpoint of the season, writes the Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza.
- Kansas receiver Justin McCay says he has no regrets about leaving Oklahoma in an interview with the Oklahoman's Jason Kersey. Losses are making things painful for Kansas QB Jake Heaps, per the Topeka Capital-Journal's Mike Vernon.
- TCU coach Gary Patterson is not ready to play redshirt freshman QB Tyler Matthews, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Stefan Stevenson.
- The routs were nice, but a Big 12 test in Manhattan is just what the doctor ordered for Baylor.
- There have been a lot of ups and downs for the Kansas State quarterbacks, writes the Manhattan Mercury's Joshua Kinder.
- The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch breaks down the secret to the returning prowess of Iowa State playmaker Jarvis West.
- Texas Tech is getting some depth back on the offensive line, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. The Red Raiders aren't just a passing team, either, writes the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman.
- Oklahoma LB Corey Nelson and DT Jordan Phillips underwent successful season-ending surgeries. Coach Bob Stoops is cool with Condoleezza Rice's appointment to the playoff committee.
Or so I thought.
I assumed Tyler’s bride-to-be was getting on his case about focusing on his picks instead of his wedding. Sure, getting married is a big deal. But being the guest picker? Way bigger deal.
Turned out, my correspondence kept getting dumped into his spam folder. And once this was cleared up, Tyler pleaded for another early wedding present. What can I say? I’m a romantic.
So I missed out on my chance to be the guest picker last week, and Trotter let me have it in the Week 7 predictions. You'll have to excuse me for making my wedding a bigger priority than being the guest picker. As they say, a happy wife is a happy life, and as a K-State fan, I need all the happiness I can get. Fortunately, Jake gave me a second chance to get my priorities straight before I tie the knot.
When I thought Tyler was blowing off the blog, Curtis from Washington D.C., stepped in as the guest picker. It was a rough week for Curtis, whose Sooners took it on the chin in a Red River wipeout. I just hope he was stuck in that military office with no TVs so he didn’t have to witness it.
This weekend, the Big 12 team will be canvassing the conference landscape. Brandon will be in Stillwater for TCU-Oklahoma State; Max will head to Waco for Iowa State-Baylor; and I will be reunited with my favorite league mascot -- “The Mountaineer” -- in Morgantown for Texas Tech-West Virginia. Have the deer jerky ready, Jon.
Congratulations, too, to Tyler and his bride, who will be honeymooning in France.
To the Week 8 picks:
Trotter last week: 3-1 (.750)
Guest picker (Curtis in Washington D.C.) last week: 2-2 (.500)
Trotter overall: 33-11 (.750)
Guest picker overall: 19-8 (.704)
Texas Tech 21, West Virginia 20: Last season, the Mountaineers were in a spot similar to where Tech is now. And the Red Raiders thrashed West Virginia in Lubbock, sending the Mountaineers into a tailspin that lasted the rest of the season. As a result, the Red Raiders are very aware just how precarious this 1,500-mile road trip back is. Tech, however, appears to have more staying power than last season's Mountaineers, who were really just a three-man show. These Red Raiders have more defense and more depth, and sneak out of Morgantown with their biggest win of the season yet.
Tyler’s pick: Eventually, Kliff Kingsbury is going to turn Tech into a team that can consistently compete for a Big 12 championship. His youth and coaching style will be a magnet for blue-chip recruits. Unfortunately, inexperience trumps hype here. West Virginia, 34-31
Oklahoma State 16, TCU 13: If the Cowboys couldn’t move the ball against West Virginia or Kansas State, why would anyone have confidence they’ll be able to against the best defense in the Big 12? Cornerback Jason Verrett and Co. will have Oklahoma State’s receivers on lockdown, not that QB J.W. Walsh has been able to get them the ball anyway lately. The problem is, TCU can’t score, either.
Tyler’s pick: TCU fans can't wait to have QB Casey Pachall back, as the offense continues to struggle without him. TCU's defense keeps the first half close, but Oklahoma State pulls ahead with Jeremy Smith rushing for 100 yards and a score. OSU, 24-17
Oklahoma 30, Kansas 17: Bob Stoops is 14-0 the week after Texas with an average margin of victory of 27 points. Stoops, however, doesn’t have Josh Heupel, Jason White, Sam Bradford or Landry Jones at quarterback this time. And Texas showed this Oklahoma defense isn’t anything special without linebacker Corey Nelson or tackle Jordan Phillips, who are both out for the season. The Sooners win. But their problems on either side of the ball remain very evident as Kansas keeps this one relatively close.
Tyler’s pick: After Oklahoma takes out its frustrations, Charlie Weis calls the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if they'll be needing a new offensive coordinator. OU, 54-3
Baylor 66, Iowa State 28: The scariest part for the rest of the Big 12 about Baylor’s win over K-State last week? The Bears were sluggish offensively -- and they still scored 35 points. Who knows if this is the best offense in Big 12 history? But it certainly is the fastest scoring. Iowa State is one of 11 teams in college football that has yet to allow a touchdown in three plays or fewer. That changes Saturday.
Tyler’s pick: As a K-State fan, I am required to comment about how amazing Bill Snyder is. Since K-State is off this week, we will add the Snyder love here. Last week, he showed the country how to beat Baylor. Unfortunately for Iowa State, Snyder doesn't coach the Cyclones. If Snyder coached the talent Texas and OU had, he’d have five national championships. Baylor, 58-35
Yet, realistically, a 5-1 record at this point in the season could be considered a lofty preseason expectation for a Sooners squad that entered 2013 with a handful of new starters on defense and a new quarterback under center.
OU’s hopes of a Big 12 title aren’t completely dashed as long as it starts to get consistent play from the quarterback position and a game-changing playmaker emerges among its skill position players. Saturday’s loss to Texas proved what we knew already -- OU can’t just lean on its defense and expect to cruise through conference play even though defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' unit appears improved this season.
The Sooners have suffered two big injuries with Phillips, a defensive tackle, and Nelson, a linebacker, out for the season. Nonetheless, the Sooners still feature the talent to jump back into the Big 12 title race in the second half of the season. But it won’t happen until OU develops consistent playmakers in its passing game to supplement a solid running attack.
Offensive MVP: Center Gabe Ikard. The senior has been a consistent, calm presence in the middle with the unrest at the quarterback position, which has seen Blake Bell and Trevor Knight both start multiple games. Ikard has been the anchor of an offensive line that has paved the way for OU’s running game, which is averaging 226.7 yards per game, second in the Big 12. Ikard's leadership and experience might be his most important contribution in the second half of the season.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Frank Shannon. Phillips or Nelson could easily be considered the first-half MVP but Shannon has been just as consistent and OU will count on him even more in the second half of the season. The sophomore has 50 tackles, 18 more than any other Sooner, three quarterback hurries, one interception and a forced fumble.
1. Texas is alive: The Longhorns were dead on arrival at the Cotton Bowl. Well, that’s what the Sooners thought. Instead, Texas outplayed, outmaneuvered and, that’s right, outcoached Oklahoma to pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years.
2. OU has problems: The blueprint on how to shut down the Sooners is on tape. Load the box. Dare Bell to beat you deep in man coverage. If only that was OU’s lone issue. Mike Stoops’ 3-3-5 scheme predicated on speed worked wonders through September. But Saturday in Dallas, it was exposed in the trenches. The Longhorns got 5 yards between the tackles any time they wanted, as Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown became the first Texas duo ever to rush for 100 yards apiece in the same Red River game. Not having linebacker and senior captain Corey Nelson (torn pectoral) was a killer. But he’s not coming back, either. The defense, however, is the least of OU’s worries. After playing well against Tulsa and Notre Dame, Bell has looked completely discombobulated the past two weeks. He’s been unable to consistently locate receivers down the field, which has emboldened defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage and cover up OU’s running game. After the game, coordinator Josh Heupel said he never considered making a QB switch. But if Bell keeps playing like he did in Dallas, the Sooners will be forced to.
3. Baylor can in fact be slowed: After Baylor became the first team in 83 years to score 70 points in three straight games, the question began to be asked: Can these Bears be slowed down? Kansas State showed in Manhattan the answer is yes. In its first road test of the season, Baylor did not display the same crispness offensively it had at home. The Bears were still impressive, as QB Bryce Petty connected on touchdown passes of 93, 72 and 54 yards. But outside those three quick-strike scores, Baylor was largely handcuffed. After punting seven times through their first four games, the Bears had to punt six times at K-State. The running game, too, was held in check as Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were limited to less than 100 yards rushing combined until Baylor’s final game-clinching touchdown drive. The fact the Bears still scored 35 points on a day in which they struggled offensively says all you need to know about how prolific this offense is. But K-State proved, with the right game plan, it’s an offense that can be slowed, too.
4. Daniel Sams has star potential: This season, the Big 12 is loaded with QBs who can cause damage with their wheels -- notably Bell, Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and TCU’s Trevone Boykin. But nobody in the league comes close to what Sams is able to do on the ground. The K-State QB shredded Baylor’s defense for 199 rushing yards and three touchdowns, nearly leading the Wildcats to the upset as 17-point underdogs. When Sams was in the game, the Bears knew what was coming. And they still couldn’t stop it. Sams’ big limitation right now is with his decision-making in the passing game. For the second straight week, he was picked off on a potential game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. But Sams quietly has the second-best adjusted QBR (86.5) in the Big 12, behind only Petty (95.1). With an 0-3 start in the league, this has clearly become a rebuilding season for the Wildcats. But they have something to rebuild around in their sophomore quarterback.
5. Tech can win with at least two QBs: Texas Tech became bowl eligible for the 20th time in the past 21 seasons with a 42-35 win over Iowa State. And the Red Raiders did it using their second true freshman starting quarterback of the season. With Baker Mayfield out with an injured knee, Davis Webb got the nod and was solid. Webb completed almost 63 percent of his passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception. Webb’s adjusted QBR was only 53.5 (scale of 0-100) in the game. And as coach Kliff Kingsbury pointed out afterward, there were some throws Webb would like to do over again. But his performance was more than good enough for Tech to move to 6-0. "We've got three guys [who] can win ball games," Kingsbury said. Mayfield and Webb have proved that the Red Raiders have at least two. And in preseason projected starter Michael Brewer, who has returned from a disc injury, Kingsbury believes they have a third. In 2012, Oklahoma State’s offense kept humming despite rotating quarterbacks in and out due to injuries. Thanks to comparable skill talent surrounding its quarterbacks, Tech is having success doing the same thus far.
Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch in Week 7 of the Big 12:
Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas), 11 a.m. CT (ABC): There’s little reason to believe Texas will end its three-game losing streak in the Red River Rivalry. But one thing to keep in mind -- the two biggest underdogs in the last 25 years of this game (’89 Texas, ’96 Oklahoma) pulled off upsets. To have any chance, the Longhorns must try to establish Johnathan Gray and the ground game against an Oklahoma front that will be without linebacker Corey Nelson and possibly defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. If Texas can’t run and has to rely on the arm of QB Case McCoy, this could end up being a third-straight Red River rout favoring the Sooners.
Iowa State at Texas Tech, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): Coach Kliff Kingsbury said during his radio show Thursday night that quarterback Baker Mayfield would be a game-time decision after injuring his knee last week. Regardless of who the Tech quarterback is, the real key in this one will be whether a Red Raiders defense that’s been stellar so far can stifle an Iowa State offense that’s shown rapid improvement over its last two games. While Baylor and Oklahoma have captured the majority of the league's headlines, Tech has quietly emerged into a darkhorse Big 12 title contender. A convincing win against the Cyclones would send a message to the Bears and Sooners that this won’t just be a two-team race for the conference crown.
Kansas at TCU, 11 a.m. CT (FSN): No team in the Big 12 has had as much misfortune as the Horned Frogs. First, TCU lost quarterback Casey Pachall to a broken forearm, Then this week, coach Gary Patterson revealed that star defensive end Devonte Fields would have season-ending surgery on his foot. This is still a good team with a great defense. And this could be the game that gets the Frogs back on track going into the second half of the season.
Baylor at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. CT (FOX): The Bears take their offensive show on the road for the first time against K-State, which is in desperate need of a victory after starting the Big 12 season 0-2. To have any prayer, the Wildcats will have to find a way to get Baylor QB Bryce Petty uncomfortable in his first career start away from Waco. That will be a tall task. The Bears have allowed just five sacks in 122 pass attempts. K-State is not equipped to win shootouts. So if Baylor keeps Petty upright, this could wind up being a long afternoon for the home team -- and a busy one for the home team’s scoreboard operator.
AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is a two-touchdown underdog against a No. 12 Oklahoma outfit with a hard-earned undefeated record and a three-game winning streak in the Red River Rivalry. What must the Longhorns do to change all that?
This is hardly a comprehensive blueprint of what they must achieve on Saturday. It’s sorted more by chronology than priority. There’s plenty that has been left out -- like the coaching matchup, special teams, the possibility of some McCoy magic – and this checklist might mean almost nothing after the clock strikes 11 a.m. at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
But if you’re throwing the rivalry’s recent history out the window and are feeling truly optimistic about Texas’ chances, here are 10 things that probably have to happen for this team to emerge victorious.
1. Wake up and start fast
Texas went three-and-out on all three of its first-quarter drives in 2012 and did not have a possession of more than four plays in the first half. It’s easy to fall behind 34 points before halftime when your offense is that inept. The Longhorns have taken 10-0 leads to start each of their games in the last two weeks. Can Texas overcome the fact it hasn’t played a single morning or afternoon game this season and actually begin this one with momentum on its side?
2. Be the physical team
Oklahoma has been the more physical team in its three consecutive Red River victories. Mack Brown admits that. This should start with the Longhorns offensive line, an inconsistent group that needs its finest performance yet on Saturday. This is also about the Texas defensive line, which has NFL-caliber talent and must force the OU offense to go off schedule. It’s going to be a long day if Blake Bell feels no pressure.
3. Run Gray all day
4. Second down and short
The problem isn’t just three-and-outs. It’s putting Case McCoy in third-and-long situations that handcuff Major Applewhite’s play-calling ability. This season, the Longhorns are getting 6 or more yards on 40 percent of their first-down plays. Against OU last year that number was a little more than 20 percent.
5. Minimize mistakes in space
Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond better be ready. Starting two bulkier middle linebacker-types is risky against this stable Oklahoma backs, and gap responsibility is a must. This goes for the entire defense, though. Greg Robinson says the key is minimizing missed tackles. Texas learned the hard way last year -- Damien Williams’ 95-yard run, Trey Millard’s 164 total yards -- that bad things happen when the first tackle gets missed.
6. Win (or survive) the second quarter
Texas’ offense hasn’t produced a second-quarter touchdown against Oklahoma since … 2008. The Sooners won the second quarter 23-0 last year and 28-7 in 2011, all but ensuring victory by halftime. In those quarters, Texas had a combined five first downs and -17 rushing yards (seriously). Dig a hole that deep once again and the results won’t be any different in 2013.
7. Contain Bell, respect his WRs
Texas’ defensive line needs to be smart when playing Bell or he’ll turn well-covered pass plays into first-down scrambles, just as Sam Richardson did for Iowa State a week ago. The more time Bell can buy with his feet, the more dangerous his collection of fast receivers gets. Texas’ safeties must step up.
8. Swing the momentum
There’s not a better indicator of success for the Longhorns in recent years than when they win the turnover battle. They’ve lost that battle against OU by a combined margin of -6 the past two years. To keep this game close, Texas must to create momentum-changing opportunities and capitalize.
9. The wild cards
Expect Applewhite to play every card in his hand this week. That means a lot more Daje Johnson, who can score any time he touches the ball and is healthy again. Don’t overlook Kendall Sanders, either, considering the attention Johnson, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley will draw. A defender due for a big game -- perhaps Quandre Diggs or Cedric Reed -- will need to rise to the occasion as well.
10. Play pissed
This is self-explanatory. Embrace the underdog role, take chances and don’t fold when this game gets tough. There’s no question the Sooners have the mental edge in this rivalry right now. The Longhorns will need to do whatever they can to get their groove back.
Do all these things and it will at least be a four-quarter ballgame, which hasn’t been the case the past two years. It’s possible Mack Brown would only have a few of these bullet points on his own version of a top-10 list. But it’s a start.
It’s safe to say the most glaring omission, the No. 11, would be obvious considering how this team has been ravaged by injuries and misfortune through five games. Texas also needs some old fashioned good luck on Saturday.
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