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  • Does Oklahoma have the defense to reach the playoff? The Sooners made strides with three strong defensive quarters against Texas Tech, but their poor opening 15 minutes showed why they must improve.
By Joan Niesen
October 29, 2017

On a rough day for the Big 12—at least for its playoff hopes, perhaps not for its underdogs—Oklahoma capped off the night with a 49–27 win over Texas Tech in a battle of two of the conference’s best offenses. The game opened with an offensive flurry, with 34 collective first-quarter points, and looked initially like just another defense-light Big 12 shootout. The conference has been known for being unable to stop, well, much of anyone in recent years, which (in addition to its lack of a conference championship game prior to this year) has hurt its playoff chances.

In the end, though, it wasn’t quite that. Sure, the Sooners allowed Texas Tech 437 yards of offense, but they managed to lock down in the game’s final three quarters. (In fact, 226 of the Red Raiders’ yards came in the first 15 minutes of the game, yet just 211 in the last 45.) In the second quarter, Oklahoma allowed the Red Raiders just 66 yards of offense, and it played well in the red zone late in the game, forcing Texas Tech to turn the ball over on downs at the end of a crucial 74-yard drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

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Going into Saturday’s game, the Sooners had the No. 52 defense in FBS ball, allowing opponents an average of 374.3 yards and 25 points per game. The Red Raiders’ offense did further damage to those numbers, despite Oklahoma’s three quarters of solid defense, making the Sooners even more of an outlier among the AP poll’s top 10 teams in Week 9. Of those, seven of the nine other programs were among the top 15 in total defense, and though Oklahoma put together 45 minutes of impressive defense, that doesn’t a turnaround make.

Saturday’s results weren’t exactly encouraging for the Big 12’s playoff hopes. Sure, Penn State losing meant one less undefeated team in another Power 5 conference, but TCU falling to Iowa State was a major blow in the conference’s postseason aspirations. Plus, Oklahoma still has Oklahoma State and TCU on deck—the Cowboys and Horned Frogs will not meet this season unless it’s in the conference championship game—meaning there are more losses in store for at least some of these hopefuls.

Elsewhere in the Big 12 this season, defense has been on the upswing. Iowa State allowed an average of 19.3 points against three of the conference’s best teams: Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU. Oklahoma State has improved markedly on that side of the ball, which was on display Saturday against West Virginia, and TCU is a top-10 defense through eight games. But Oklahoma’s offense is probably the best unit in the conference, and the Sooners (especially after beating Ohio State) represented the Big 12’s best playoff shot. After Saturday, they still might be, but they’ll need several more quarters of defense that resemble those last three against Texas Tech before they’re a legitimate threat.

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