- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- A month into the season, the Sooners are still searching for their offensive identity. Oddly enough, the defensive unit they face next is not.
The offense of Oklahoma and defense of Texas Tech clash this weekend while heading in opposite directions. After finishing 114th in total defense the last two seasons, the Red Raiders are -- this is no misprint -- No. 1 nationally in total defense.
"We're building confidence," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said.
A heavy dose of confidence is what the OU offense desperately needs. The Sooners scored 10 points through the first three quarters at UTEP. Then through the first three quarters against Kansas State, they managed just 13.
After a wild weekend from Stillwater, Okla., to Morgantown, W.V., the Big 12 seems to be as wide open as ever. But if the Sooners are going to jump back in the conference race, they must uncover their offensive identity in Lubbock.
"Because of some of the new skills guys, you're trying to find the guys that operate and play efficiently," OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "You're trying to find a way to score as many points as possible. We're trying to find 11 guys that will do that. Play clean, play fast, play hard, play physical -- and we're trying to do that."
Merely trying might not be good enough this weekend. Over the years, the Red Raiders have gone through defensive coordinators like Mike Leach goes through cups of coffee. Texas Tech is on its fourth defensive coordinator in as many years -- and that doesn't include the one Leach fired immediately after losing a shootout to Oklahoma State five years ago.
In the past, the perfect antidote to a struggling offense was a day against the Red Raiders. But that might be the case no longer. It remains to be seen if the Texas Tech defense is smoke and mirrors. After all, Iowa State's Steele Jantz is the best quarterback the Red Raiders have faced. Yet the improvement under first-year coordinator Art Kaufman so far is undeniable. The Red Raiders are limiting big plays, making tackles and -- unlike the Sooners -- forcing turnovers.
Texas Tech forced Jantz into three interceptions and a forced fumble on its way to a 24-13 win in Ames, Iowa. And the Red Raiders did it without taking any crazy gambles. Texas Tech allowed a 36-yard run and a 21-yard Jantz scramble, but the Cyclones did little after that and gained just 189 yards.
"We felt like we could rush the passer with four and five guys," Tuberville said. "When you do that, and you're not taking chances, then you're not giving up big plays, and you're going to be able to play the run. If you're out there gambling, like we had to do the last couple of years, you're going to give up big plays."
But assuming Texas Tech is improved as advertised defensively, this could be a proving ground for OU's stumbling offense to rediscover itself.
"You look at the other night, it's not going good, we haven't played well, we've turned the ball over," Heupel said. "But we know we're capable of performing a heck of a lot better than we did the other night."
To perform better, Heupel and the Sooners must find their identity in the post-Ryan Broyles era. Are they going to play up-tempo, or go slow and allow their defense to lead the way? Are they going to slug it out in the trenches with Damien Williams and Dom Whaley, or lean on the arm of beleaguered quarterback Landry Jones? Are they going to spread the ball around, or throw to the reliable Kenny Stills as often as possible? Are they going to give the ball to Roy Finch or Trey Millard more than just once or twice a game?
Texas Tech finally seems to have found a defensive identity. Time is running out on the OU offense to do the same.