No. 10 Texas Tech travels to Norman this weekend to take on the No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners. This Top 25 matchup features a pair of stout defenses going against inexperienced quarterbacks, yet it just may turn into a shootout.
The stakes in this historically back-and-forth rivalry haven’t been this high since 2008, the last year both these teams were in contention for a conference title when they faced. That was the year the No. 2 Red Raiders rolled into Norman with a National Title on their minds and left victims of a 65-21 flogging.
However, Kliff and Co. won’t be facing the 2008 Sooners on Saturday. Far from it, actually. That team set a record for points and yards per game on offense; this squad barely manages 30 and 422, respectively. Not records, by any measure. Back then, Oklahoma had Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick Sam Bradford under center; this team has a glorified fullback and poor man’s Johnny Football tossing the rock around.
That being said, the Sooners are still the Sooners, and talent can’t be ignored.
Oklahoma always has the talent to be great on offense. For over a decade they consistently fielded one of the most balanced attacks in the league. Their ability to hit you anywhere at any time made teams like the 2008 squad explosive and seemingly unstoppable. While the land thieves certainly took a step back from a production standpoint, there’s still plenty of talent in Norman this year. Here’s some players to watch:
#10 Blake Bell (junior), quarterback
Originally snubbed as Oklahoma’s quarterback to start the season, Bell took the job from a struggling Trevor Knight after three games and never gave it back. Once dubbed the “Belldozer” for his prowess in short-yardage packages for the last two years, he’s shown a serviceable throwing ability in wins over Tulsa, Notre Dame, TCU and Kansas. In those games, Bell completed 68 percent of his passes for 928 yards (232 avg.), eight touchdowns and one interception. He even earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors for his performance against Tulsa. However, in Oklahoma’s lone loss to Texas, Bell completed a mere 46 percent of his throws for 133 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s deceptively fast and immensely powerful as a runner, but there’s not much to fear from a passing standpoint.
#24 Brennan Clay (senior), running back
Clay rushed for 555 yards on just 93 carries as a junior (6.0 yards per carry), but he’s on pace to shatter that mark as a senior. Through seven games, he’s recorded 496 yards on 73 totes (6.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. With speed to burn, Clay’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field. His listed hight of 5-11 is very, very generous, but size doesn’t matter when you can run away from people.
The Sooner defense may be stout as any in the conference, but the loss of two key starters along the front seven doesn’t bode well for stopping the run. In the last two games, Texas and Kansas rushed for a combined 440 yards against Oklahoma. Conversely, the secondary allows a nation-best 150 passing yards per game, though the best passing team they’ve faced thus far is Tulsa (228 yards per game). Certainly nothing the caliber of what Texas Tech brings to town. Here’s some second-level defenders to watch:
#9 Gabe Lynn (senior), safety
Part of a secondary that takes a backseat to no one in the Big 12 but TCU, Gabe Lynn is having a very productive senior season. Through seven games, he’s recorded 22 tackles, four pass breakups, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
#14 Aaron Colvin (senior), cornerback
You may remember Colvin from last year’s game in Lubbock. His leaping interception of a Seth Doege pass helped hold Tech to just 13 points through meaningful playing time in a 41-20 loss. The fifth leading tackler on this year’s team, Colvin’s earned 32 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack and three pass breakups.
Both Oklahoma and Tech rode strong defensive efforts to bowl-eligible starts, but don’t trust the numbers alone. While the Sooners’ pass defense has been stellar, it’s not hard to keep Louisiana-Monroe grounded. The Red Raiders own the second best passing offense in the country, so Lynn and Colvin will have their hands full. On the other side, no one fears Blake Bell’s arm or his receivers, but West Virginia exposed some major weaknesses in Tech’s secondary last week, so you can bet Oklahoma will try to capitalize on them.