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Oklahoma-TCU: Three Keys to the Game

Forget Texas ... Stop the Run ... Have a Plan
Caleb Williams

Two Calebs celebrating last week in Dallas

Forget Texas

Although Lincoln Riley said it won’t be a high point to the 2021 season, beating Texas like Oklahoma did was indeed an emotional peak.

The biggest comeback in series history, the most points ever scored in the series, the Sooners’ sixth win in their last seven games against Texas — it’s hard to put that one behind you.

And yet that’s what Bob Stoops’ teams could do so well, and it’s what Riley’s teams must continue to do this week.

OU (6-0 overall, 2-0 Big 12) has won 21 of its last 22 games following the Red River Rivalry (the only loss was to Kansas State in 2014, 31-30).

Oklahoma found something special against the Longhorns and now owns the longest winning streak in the nation at 14 consecutive victories. The Sooners certainly can learn from their success last week in Dallas, and they need to try to build from it.

But they can’t bottle it up and live off it. The sooner they put it behind them and recapture Riley’s “one game at a time” mantra, the better chance they’ll have of avoiding that dreaded shocking upset that has plagued them for so long.

Danny Stutsman

OU's defense takes down Casey Thompson

Stop the run

It’s the first tenet of defensive football: stop the run. Against TCU, it might be the only one.

The Horned Frogs ran for 394 yards at Texas Tech last week, while throwing for just 104. That was an extreme, yes. But it’s what the TCU offense would prefer to do this season.

In losses to SMU and Texas, Doug Meacham’s offense had more passing yards than rushing yards as the Horned Frogs trailed throughout both games and had to throw to keep up. But in a close win over Cal, they stuck to the preferred plan with more rushing yards (271) than passing (234).

In Lubbock last week, Zach Evans — the highest-ranked recruit in program history last year — ran for 143 yards on 17 carries and became the first Horned Frog in 19 years to surpass 100 yards in four straight games. He was joined by speedster Kendre Miller, who slashed his way to 185 yards on 12 carries, including touchdowns of 33, 75 and 45 yards.

Quarterback Max Duggan can add to TCU’s ground and pound game as well, as he brings three career 100-yard rushing games.

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The Oklahoma defense allows just 90.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks 11th in the nation. With a pass defense that gives up 265.8 yards per game through the air (108th nationally), the Sooners can’t rely on stopping Duggan and his receivers, who average just 209.8 passing yards per game this season (91st).

Keeping a safety in or very near the box and zeroed in on stopping the run with effort to the ball and strong gang tackling should take Oklahoma a long way toward victory.

Lincoln Riley and Gary Patterson

Lincoln Riley and Gary Patterson

Have a plan

One of Gary Patterson’s greatest strengths as a defensive wiz over the last two decades is his ability to disguise schemes and effectively switch coverages from one play to the next. He might be the best in the nation at doing that.

To that end, Caleb Williams needs to avoid overthinking things.

The true freshman quarterback is widely expected to make his first career start this week. He needs to not trust his eyes, because that’s what Patterson wants.

Instead, he needs to trust Lincoln Riley’s play sheet.

Patterson and defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow will make Williams think they’re in zone coverage, but then after the snap, it’ll be man-to-man. And vice versa. Pre-snap reads are seldom what they seem with a Patterson defense.

With Williams seeing this defense for the first time, Lincoln Riley must ensure his new quarterback sticks to a base plan for whatever TCU shows. There are concepts within the OU offense that allow for the same route, the same throw, the same protection regardless of what the defense is doing.

Riley keeping things simple would no doubt help Williams, too.

If Williams can navigate those concepts, he’ll have a big day.

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