Know Thine Enemy: Oklahoma has talent everywhere


The 5-2 Texas Tech Red Raiders head into the home stretch of the 2015 season this Saturday when they take on Oklahoma in Norman. After opening conference play with losses to the two pre-season conference favorites TCU and Baylor, Texas Tech has rebounded with victories over the two worst teams in the Big 12 in Iowa State and Kansas.

The final five games of the year will define 2015 for Texas Tech football and that stretch begins with the toughest game remaining on the schedule.

Outside of Baylor, Oklahoma is the most complete team in the Big 12 and the Sooners enter this game with a talent advantage over Texas Tech at most positions. Here is a look at what Kliff Kingsbury’s team is up against this week.

Oklahoma’s Offense:

After several years of declining offensive performance, Bob Stoops finally gave in after last season and brought in former Texas Tech assistant coach Lincoln Riley to implement the spread offense.  Riley’s unit is fourth in the league at 40 points per game, nine fewer than Texas Tech.

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After a poor start to the season, Oklahoma quarterback and former Texas Tech walk-on Baker Mayfield has been tremendous. He is a perfect fit in Riley’s spread offense.

Much like Kingsbury did with Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, Riley has not tried to harness Mayfield’s sandlot style of play. Riley’s spread offense gives Mayfield plenty of large passing lanes (which he needs because he is not a tall quarterback) and opportunities to tuck the ball and run.

While he is an effective runner, Mayfield still relies on his legs more often than necessary as he did when he played as a true freshman at Texas Tech. He seems to become antsy in the pocket if his first or second read is not available often taking off when there is plenty of time to find an open receiver.

Unlike Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes who scrambles only as a last resort, Mayfield is supremely confident in his ability to run and he is a threat to scamper out of the pocket on almost every pass attempt.

But one can’t argue with Mayfield’s success thus far in 2015. He has thrown for 1,875 yards and 19 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He is averaging 31.6 passes per game and completing 67.4% of those attempts.

But while Riley’s system has made a star out of Mayfield, many feel that it is limiting the two best weapons on the OU offense, running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

Last season’s Big 12 rushing leader Perine is only 7th in the league this season. In 2014, he averaged 20.2 carries per game but that total has dropped to only 15.5 this year.

Part of that drop off can be attributed to the presence of explosive freshman running back Joe Mixon, a former 5-star high school recruit. While averaging less than 40 yards per game on the ground this year, Mixon has shown flashes of brilliance. He is large (6-foot-2, 217 lbs.) and extremely fast. Like Texas Tech’s Justin Stockton, he is a big play threat on every carry but he doesn’t get the ball as often as he talent would suggest he should.

So if Oklahoma has the top running back duo in the conference, why is Riley throwing the ball so much? The answer is two-fold.

First of all, Riley is a disciple of the spread offense. Much like Kliff Kingsbury and Mike Leach, Riley wants to get the ball to his receivers in space and let them make plays.

But the other reason may be the fact that Oklahoma has a sub-par offensive line. In the Sooner’s only loss, its offensive line was thoroughly dominated by a one-win Texas Longhorn team. The now unranked Tennessee Volunteers also manhandled the Sonner offensive line for three quarters in week two before OU came to life and pulled out a miraculous comeback.

Oklahoma has gone to the tempo offense and short passing game, in part, to protect its offensive line. Look for short to intermediate passes from the Sooners as they try to get the ball to their receivers as quickly as possible, especially Sterling Shephard who leads Oklahoma with 30 catches for 499 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Though the passing game is the key to OU’s offense, the Sooners have the talent to control the game on the ground as well making them a touch matchup for any defense.

Oklahoma’s Defense:

The Sooners boast the best trio of linebackers in the conference. Outside linebacker Eric Striker has given Texas Tech fits over the last three seasons. Though he has only 2.5 sacks this year, Striker must be neutralized or the Texas Tech offense will struggle to throw the ball.

Oklahoma also features an athletic secondary. Opposite of 2014 all-conference corner Aaron Colvin is Zach Sanchez who is emerging as a shutdown corner for Bob Stoops’ defense.

The challenge for Texas Tech this week will be execution. Rather than being able to simply get the ball to its backs and receivers in space knowing they are too athletic for defenders in the open field, Texas Tech will have to be precise this week.  The Oklahoma defense is stocked with players fully capable of staying with the Red Raider skill players in one-on-one situations and it will look to make Tech execute long scoring drives.

Oklahoma leads the conference by allowing a mere 18.8 points per game this year. Furthermore, the Sooner defense is surrendering only 152.5 passing yards per game on the season. In all, Oklahoma is giving up only 325 yards per game.

However, if the Texas Tech offense that showed up in the season’s first five games returns to form this week, the Sooner defense will be facing its toughest test of the season. When Texas Tech has the ball this should be a fascinating matchup.

There is no doubt that Texas Tech has a huge task at hand this week. Oklahoma is balanced and talented. Texas Tech will have to play its best game of the year to emerge from Owen Field with a win.

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