LUBBOCK, Texas — Here are the three questions about Oklahoma football that will determine the outcome this afternoon against Texas Tech, and three goals that, if accomplished, would go a long way toward ensuring success in West Texas.
* Will Oklahoma defend Texas Tech’s receiver screens better this year?
For Saturday’s Oklahoman, I wrote about the Sooner secondary, which today features the same five players who started last year’s home loss to Texas Tech.
Saturday, the Sooners again face Texas Tech and quarterback Seth Doege, but this time it’s inside Lubbock’s Jones AT&T Stadium, a place no OU team has won since 2003.
Last season in Norman, one of the main components of the Red Raiders’ success was receiver screen passes.
On Tech’s first drive last year, receiver Alex Torres slipped behind the offensive line, caught a screen and weaved through OU’s defense before breaking loose on a 44-yard touchdown.
“That’s a tough play,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “Their timing is outstanding on it, and they do it a couple of different ways … it’s just something we have to have alerts for and recognize it quicker than we did a year ago.”
* How good is Texas Tech’s defense?
Through four games, Texas Tech’s defense ranks No. 1 in the country in total defense and passing defense — a far cry from the end of last year, when the Red Raiders were ranked 102nd nationally in total defense.
But given Tech’s relatively weak competition so far, how can anyone tell how much better the unit really is under first-year coordinator Art Kaufman?
“I don’t think there’s any question they’re better,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell.
“They’re doing different things defensively. They’re showing more coverage variation … blitzing a lot more than they have, and that’s given people problems.
“Now, just like us and everybody else, the competition gets better now that you get into conference. … They’ve proved they’re a good football team.”
* How much of a factor will the rowdy Texas Tech crowd play?
There’s been a lot of debate this week about Texas Tech’s notoriously rambunctious home crowd ever since former Sooners Eric Mensik and Trent Ratterree shared horror stories from their 2007 trip to Lubbock in this story, written by my partner Stephanie Kuzydym (with an assist from staff writer Trent Shadid).
I’ve never been to Jones AT&T Stadium — or Lubbock, for that matter — so I have no idea how Tech fans act. I assume they are like just about any large group fans; they’ve got good ones and bad ones.
But what can’t be questioned is the passion folks in Lubbock have for their Red Raiders, and those fans can make things uncomfortable for visiting offenses and quarterbacks. Given Landry Jones’ struggles under pressure in his own home two weeks ago, that should be a concern for Sooner fans.
I picked OU to win 30-21, but I think OU could be in big trouble if Tech is able to build a decent lead and, consequently, keep its crowd fired up.
* Score early and often.
The Sooners have scored a grant total of three points on their three opening drives this season, all of them, of course, coming on Michael Hunnicutt’s field goal to open the K-State loss. OU’s offense can build momentum, get Jones’ confidence up and take the Tech crowd out of the game early with an opening-drive touchdown.
* Force turnovers. Several of them.
Safety Javon Harris’ interception against Florida A&M remains Oklahoma’s lone takeaway of the season. The Sooners’ defense hasn’t been its biggest problem so far this year, but OU has got to force takeaways, particularly against an offense like Tech’s. They’ll be throwing the ball around a lot, giving these defensive backs plenty of chances to make a play on the ball. This is especially crucial if Jones continues to be turnover-prone — OU can’t lose the turnover margin like it did against KSU and be successful in this league — but the defense needs takeaways regardless of what Jones does or doesn’t do.
* Give Damien Williams the ball at least 15 times.
It’s become a common question asked of coaches and those who cover the team. Damien Williams only got 10 carries in the Sept. 22 loss to Kansas State, but Sooners coach Bob Stoops said coaches have discussed getting him the ball more often. I think he’s got to get at least 15-20 touches Saturday.
He’s shown that he’s got difference making potential, and in junior college, he developed a reputation as a guy who only gets better through games as he racks up carries. It’s time for him to get the chance to show that ability in an OU uniform.