Confused? Catch up with the BTBS Primer. And if you just don't like or care about numbers, skip them -- I always attempt to explain what they might be telling us afterward.
Time to give the biggest game at Faurot Field in three seasons the full stat treatment. As has been the case all season, I'll start with the previews I wrote over the summer and see how the Sooners' season has developed similar to or different from what was initially expected.
Oklahoma is No. 1 in the BCS standings and No. 3 in the AP Poll. They have reached that stage simply by surviving. They give up a few more big plays than you expect them to give up, and they don't make quite as many as you expect them to make; they have lost focus and tried to blow big leads on many occasions to boot. But in crunch time, they have made plays, survived and advanced. In a season like this one -- where, as in 2007 or 1990, upsets are happening left and right -- that's the key. It doesn't matter how you look in the process, just live to play another week. There are no style points involved this year (unless you are Boise State, seemingly having to play San Jose State every week).
Oklahoma immediately went from 5-6 to 7-5 to 13-0 in Stoops' first two seasons, and all he's done since then is average 11 wins per season since the national title win.
Stoops gets a lot of crap for his recent losses in both the National Championship game and the Red River Rivalry. And to be sure ... he's lost quite a few of those games recently. They are 0-3 in title game appearances since 2003, and after dominating Texas early in his career, he's now lost four of five to them. But the last two Texas games have both been decided by a play or two, as were two of his three national title losses. He's paid to win those games instead of just almost winning, but it's not like they're falling apart. They're a lucky break or two from being right back in the national title game.
So far the 'lucky breaks' have involved other teams losing. Alabama got tripped up down in the other Columbia (South Carolina), and Ohio State couldn't survive a night time trip to Madison. Losses for the nation's two front-runners completely opened up the national title race, and with margin of victory uninvolved in any of the BCS computer formulas (a total joke), Oklahoma's resume was as impressive to the computers as anybody's.
In terms of depth and explosiveness, this Sooner team is not at the level of Stoops' 2003-04 or 2007-08 squads. In this week's podcast with Blatant Homerism, Allen from BH compared this team to that of 2006. There was a mix of talent and experience, but those to facets had not quite come together just yet. They were not a true national title contender just yet, but they were gritty enough to overcome an early loss to Texas and win their first of three consecutive Big 12 titles.
Now, in 2010, a 2006-esque Sooner team have enough juice to sneak into the national title game, and possibly even win it. But they'll have to escape Columbia first.
The 2010 Sooner offense is, like Missouri's, success rate-heavy. They are an interesting blend, really -- on standard downs, they are reasonably conservative and efficient; on passing downs, they air it out. If Landry Jones is off his game (as he has been on the road a few different times in his career), then Mizzou could make some big plays on passing downs. Or ... Ryan Broyles could destroy them. Could go either way.
Standard Downs S&P+: 22nd
Redzone S&P+: 9th
Q1 S&P+: 2nd
1st Down S&P+: 27th
Rushing S&P+: 32nd
Standard Downs: 47th
Adj. Line Yards: 59th
Passing S&P+: 6th
Standard Downs: 7th
Sack Rate: 42nd
While Oklahoma was indeed almost as good as ever last year, they certainly do not have the offense to thank for that. After their near-perfect offensive execution in 2008, they fell off a cliff in 2009, relatively speaking. And with good reason. They lost four starters on the offensive line and their top two receivers from 2008, then tight end Jermaine Gresham was lost before the season started. Then Sam Bradford got hurt in the second quarter of the first game. And Ryan Broyles got hurt, then DeMarco Murray (who was never completely healthy to begin with). And then the new offensive line got waylaid by a comical number of injuries. Jarvis Jones missed four games, Ben Habern three. Brian Lepak replaced Habern, then got hurt. Southwest Missouri product Tyler Evans was limping around on one ankle. It got so bad that tight end Brody Eldridge had to move to the line ... and then he got hurt.
For the season, Oklahoma started a ridiculous FOUR different players at center, and yet another converted tight end, Eric Mensik, started the last two games at tackle. Complete and total insanity. We hear a lot about how the 2000 Oklahoma squad was smiled on by fate -- no starters missed a game due to injury, and though there were nagging injuries here and there, they were as lucky as a team can be when all is said and done. In that case, 2009 was the anti-2000. They suffered four seasons' worth of injuries on just the offensive side of the ball.
Seriously, four different centers. Mizzou has started four centers IN THE LAST FOURTEEN SEASONS.
Taking all of this into consideration it makes sense that not only would Oklahoma struggle offensively, but they would struggle most on standard downs. As I've mentioned before, I view those downs as "play-calling downs," so to speak. They are the downs in which you try to execute the gameplan you designed (because once you fall into passing downs, the gameplan can fall apart). It would make sense that Kevin Wilson, a truly great offensive coordinator, had no clue what plays might or might not work last season, with a rotating cast of walking wounded running on and off the field. Even though OU was a Top 15 offense on Passing Downs (which is a good sign for them -- Passing Downs success is heavily tied to the quarterback, meaning OU is likely to continue their passing downs success for a while, with Landry Jones being but a sophomore), they were falling into far too many passing downs to consistently succeed.
Oklahoma has improved quite a bit on the aforementioned "play-calling downs." They rank 22nd this year in that category, 47th rushing and seventh passing. They are as adept at the horizontal passing and screens as Mizzou, and whoever executes those plays better will give themselves a major leg up in the game.
Because he inherited an infinitely less favorable situation, Jones' first season didn't go quite as well as Sam Bradford's ... to say the least. With a mix-and-match line and only one receiver he trusted (Broyles), he had some outstanding performances (26-for-37 for 294 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs versus Kansas State; 24-for-39 for 392 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT versus Texas A&M) and some downright awful ones (26-for-58 for 245 yards, 0 TDs and 5 INTs versus Nebraska). I don't think anybody knows what he is capable of at this point, so I guess I'll just wait to evaluate him any further until the week of the Mizzou-Oklahoma game, eh?
Landry Jones (So.): 163-for-242 passing (67%), 1,791 yards (7.4/pass), 14 TD, 3 INT
Future minister Landry Jones has played well enough to likely put himself in consideration for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year so far. Like Blaine Gabbert, Jones is proficient enough with the side-to-side passes that eventually things can open up downfield. He has a very high completion percentage, and he has made few mistakes overall. And if you remove the Utah State game -- the first of the season -- from the equation, things get a bit ridiculous: 71% completion rate, 7.6 yards per pass, 12 TD, 1 INT. He has been outstanding. Statistically, Mizzou's is the best pass defense he will have faced in 2010, and hopefully some of last year's road troubles will begin to creep up on Jones. He was iffy away from Norman in 2009, and to the extent that he has made mistakes in 2010, at least after the Utah State game, they have been on the road. His one pick in the last five games came in a scoring opportunity against Cincinnati -- it gave the Bearcats a second life -- and as most of saw, he straight-up dropped the ball after a pump fake as Oklahoma was trying to kill the clock against Texas. If the atmosphere and "the moment" get to Jones, that could mean very good things for Mizzou. But that's a pretty big "if."
The DeMarco Murray we saw at the beginning of his freshman season (2007) was just frightening. In the first six games of his career, Murray carried the ball 67 times for 444 yards (6.6 per carry) and nine touchdowns. He put up 128 yards against Texas and looked like a future Heisman contender. But he revealed something against Missouri that season -- he loses confidence in the blink of an eye -- that has cost him dearly over time ... and then the injuries started. He dislocated his knee against Texas Tech in 2007, then injured his knee again against Mizzou in 2008. Between the health issues and what just seemed like a lack of confidence (nonexistent run blocking certainly didn't help), Murray was an extremely hesitant runner in 2009. He received over 10 carries in eight games last season and averaged over five yards per carry just twice, once against Idaho State. If he rediscovers his mojo (and his knees let him use that mojo), he appears to have the tools to dominate as a senior. If he doesn't, however, look for Jermie Calhoun, a former star recruit who had a nice spring, to start stealing more and more carries.
(One other note about OU's RBs: they catch a LOT of passes out of the backfield, particularly Murray. While he might not be the most confident runner between the tackles, he's still quite dangerous in open space.)
DeMarco Murray (Sr.): 150 carries, 663 yards (4.4/carry), 11 TD; 22 catches, 170 yards, 2 TD
Mossis Madu (Sr.): 41 carries, 164 yards (4.0/carry), 1 TD; 8 catches, 43 yards
Roy Finch (Fr.): 16 carries, 92 yards (5.8/carry)
When Jason White signed with the Sooners near the beginning of Bob Stoops' tenure in Norman, he was a dynamic run-pass threat, one of the best the state of Oklahoma had seen at the high school level. Then, after two bad knee injuries, he redefined himself as a pocket passer, and he did such a good job of it that it resulted in a Heisman Trophy and two BCS title game appearances. (We like to mock OU for losing in those title games, but let's not pretend as if those OU teams, and White, weren't very, very good.) DeMarco Murray has undergone a similar transformation in his years in Norman. Murray was as explosive as you can be when he saw the field as a redshirt freshman in 2007. He was dynamic and terrifying, and despite occasional hesitancy, he had all the makings of a future Heisman contender. Now, after a series of injuries, he has converted himself into a stronger, less explosive workhorse back. Including receptions, he has touched the ball 35, 20, 31, 35, 29 and 22 times in OU's six games so far, and he has scored at least two touchdowns in all but one game. He was ineffective against Cincinnati (35 touches, 88 yards) but has been as steady as they come for most of 2010.
While Murray and Madu are very known quantities, a new guy has struck OU fans' fancy in 2010 -- in his first game back from an injury, freshman Roy Finch was dynamite against Iowa State this past weekend. The first three carries of his career went for five, 13 and 17 yards, and he showed a level of agility that the steely Murray and Madu do not have. It will be interesting to see how the Sooners continue to phase Finch into the gameplan. He got a solid A on his first exam last week, but this week involves higher stakes and a better defense.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
With a stable quarterback situation and good health, it's amazing to think about Ryan Broyles might have been able to do last year. He caught four passes for 26 yards against BYU as Bradford and Jones were running for their lives, and he fractured his shoulder blade in the first drive of the game against Miami. He missed the rest of the Miami game, all of the Baylor game, and only played a minor role against Texas. So that's four games, seven catches, 96 yards, and two touchdowns.
- Broyles vs BYU, Miami, Baylor, Texas (4 games): 7 catches, 96 yards, 2 TDs
- Broyles vs everybody else (9 games): 82 catches, 1024 yards, 13 TDs.
Project his nine-game average over a 13-game season, and you get this: 118 catches, 1,479 yards, 19 TDs. Yikes. Granted, that's not quite Danario's 1,781-yard total, but that's All-American caliber work (and since he's at OU and not Missouri, he'd have gotten plenty of recognition, ahem ... yes, still bitter). Broyles is a relatively frail-looking guy, so there's nothing saying he won't get hurt again this year, but if he stays healthy all season, he provides Jones with the most proven receiving target in the Big 12. He is a Mark Clayton clone and could put up ridiculous numbers in 2010.
Now Jones just needs to find a #2 guy.
Ryan Broyles (Jr.): 61 catches, 700 yards (11.5/catch), 5 TD
Kenny Stills (Fr.): 23 catches, 290 yards (12.6/catch), 1 TD
Dejuan Miller (Jr.): 15 catches, 199 yards (13.3/catch) (Miller has been ruled out w/injury.)
Cameron Kenney (Sr.): 9 catches, 125 yards (13.9/catch), 1 TD
Trey Franks (Fr.): 7 catches, 54 yards (7.7/catch)
Trey Millard (Fr.): 7 catches, 51 yards (7.3/catch)
Trent Ratterree (!) (Jr.): 5 catches, 84 yards (16.8/catch), 1 TD
James Hanna (Jr.): 5 catches, 68 yards (13.6/catch), 3 TD
Amazingly, the "only looking at the good games" rate that I used above (118 catches, 1479 yards) to show what Broyles might be capable of is actually inferior to his current pace. Over a 13-game season (and yes, OU is somewhat likely to play a 14th game as well), Broyles' projections are 132 catches, 1,516 yards. That is absolutely insane. He is not a hefty guy, so like Denard Robinson, we will see if he can continue to take this many hits, but Landry Jones has leaned on Broyles to a rather insane degree, and it has paid off.
While Broyles is clearly The Man here, Kenny Stills has done a reasonable impersonation of a steady No. 2. The freshman is on pace for about 50 catches so far. As a whole, Broyles' supporting cast has done well in catching more intermediate passes as defenses are forced to pay more and more attention to Broyles. Stills,
Dejuan Miller and Cameron Kinney are all averaging at least 12.5 yards per catch. The tight ends and fullbacks are not a huge factor -- Rock Bridge product Trey Millard, Trent RATTERREE!!!!, and James Hannah have combined about three catches per game -- but Jones goes to them just enough that you have to be cognizant of their presence. Nothing makes a unit run better than a great No. 1 option, and OU definitely has that in Broyles.
I'll go ahead and say it: James Patton is the most underrated assistant coach in America. The Sooners' offensive line coach was given duct tape and a glue stick and told to create an offensive line out of it last year, and while OU's run blocking suffered mightily, at the very least they were able to keep Landry Jones upright for the most part after failing to do the same for Sam Bradford. They ranked 13th in the country thanks to outstanding sack rates, and while they almost certainly weren't the true #13 offensive line in the country, the patchwork crew did not perform as badly as could have, all things considered. This was supposed to be OU's biggest weakness before the season began, with a ton of talent and pure heft (hello, Phil Loadholt) lost to the NFL. When the injury train started rolling, they had to import players from other positions just to fill the two-deep. That they didn't have the worst line in the league was damn impressive. Now, with more-or-less full health (and Blue Springs product Donald Stephenson back in the mix after a year-long suspension) and infinitely more experience, the Sooner line should once again be pretty stout. Goodie.
First things first: sigh. It's never fun seeing two Missourians (Stephenson is from Blue Springs, Evans is from Strafford) in the starting lineup for another team. Mizzou offered both, and both chose the crimson and cream.
With at least a bit of a respite from injuries, OU's offensive line has been ... decent this year. They rank in the middle of the pack in run blocking and a hair above average in pass blocking. If Mizzou's defensive line continues to play as well as it has through the first quarter of conference play, the Tigers might be able to derive an advantage here.
Another interesting tidbit: two of OU's starting linemen are converted tight ends. Obviously they changed positions because of Trent Ratterree's dominance.
Standard Downs S&P+: 2nd
Redzone S&P+: 7th
Q1 S&P+: 23rd
1st Down S&P+: 8th
Rushing S&P+: 15th
Standard Downs: 10th
Adj. Line Yards: 20th
Passing S&P+: 36th
Standard Downs: 10th
Sack Rate: 55th
Never has a Bob Stoops defense been forced to make as many plays as the 2009 Oklahoma defense was. With an offense that was consistently struggling to stay above water due to youth and injuries, OU stayed close in every game (Texas Tech aside) by consistently stepping up their game on the defensive side of the ball. They were great on standard downs, great on passing downs, great against the run, great against the pass ... in a lot of ways, the 2009 OU defense was almost as good as the 2008 OU offense. They did not rush the passer as well as previous Stoops defenses, but that was the only chink in the armor ... and they still did it pretty well.
With a younger lineup and a line that is a bit less dominant, OU has been more prone to mistakes and breakdowns this season than they were in recent seasons. They still look like the same old OU on most plays, but they have been burned by both aggressive passing and Air Force's crazy running attack. Like the Sooners' offense, the defense is very success rate-heavy, meaning they cut off most plays well and leverage you into passing downs with ease ... but they sometimes let you off the hook.
The strength of this unit in recent years has been, quite simply, speed. When he was healthy, Auston English was almost as effective dropping into pass coverage as he was attacking the quarterback. When you've got excess speed at your disposal, you can vary your coverages and blitzes, get in a quarterback's head, and start forcing dumb decisions. Nobody got to Chase Daniel more than the OU defense. They have created the prototype for defending the spread offense -- more speed, varied blitzing, allow the sideline-to-sideline stuff while avoiding getting burned deep -- only, few teams can find the speed-and-size combination to make it work like OU has.
Teams like Miami and Texas Tech showed last year that you can at least move the ball a little bit if you stay patient, take what's given, and keep the Sooner defense off balance by feeding them a steady balance of the run and pass. Of course, a) that goes for just about any defense, and b) that is easier said than done. To make noise against the Sooner defense, Mizzou will need to stay patient, get the crowd behind them, and probably take advantage of a couple of big plays by the Mizzou defense to give them good field position.
DE Jeremy Beal (Sr...finally): 21.5 tackles, 8.5 TFL/sacks, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU
DT Stacy McGee (So.): 13.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks
DE Frank Alexander (Jr.): 11.5 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks
DE David King (So.): 6.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF
DT Jamarkus McFarland (So.): 6.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks
It is amazing to me that Frank Alexander is only a junior. But that's neither here nor there.
With Jeremy Beal on pace for almost 20 tackles for loss/sacks and Alexander on pace for double digits himself, it is odd to think of this unit as disappointing, but the standard for Oklahoma's defensive line play is quite high. They have held up well against the run, but they have not been quite as adept at getting pressure on the passer without blitzing as they were in recent years. Of course, the loss of Gerald McCoy is going to hurt in that regard. When Beal and Alexander are healthy and clicking, they make the tackles' job very easy. Seeing their names on the depth chart still scares me a bit, but Mizzou's offensive line has been very good so far this season (Colorado game aside), and I'm intrigued by this matchup.
While the Sooner defensive line makes plenty of plays along the way, their primary job is to open up the field for their always-devastating (when healthy) linebacking corps. Oklahoma always has great linebackers, with a middle linebacker who is always in the right position and outside linebackers that swarm to the ball like safeties. OU must replace two starters in this unit this year -- Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton -- but nobody seems to be too worried. Ronnell Lewis was Sean Weatherspoon-like in his freshman audition, and it is roundly accepted that he should slide into Clayton's starting role with no problem.
If this unit is vulnerable in any way, it's because they could be starting a redshirt freshman at middle linebacker. Tom Wort was one of many Mizzou targets who ended up in Norman -- he was in line for playing time as a true freshman last season before tearing up his knee. He is 100%, and he is expected to either split time with Austin Box or supplant Box entirely. Reynolds was one of the smartest linebackers OU has had, never found out of position, and you could make the case that his absence will be felt more than the statistics may suggest. Still, though ... this will always be a damn solid unit.
WLB Travis Lewis (Jr.): 47.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU
MLB Tom Wort (RSFr.): 26.0 tackles, 4.5 TFL/sacks
SLB Ronnell Lewis (So.): 10.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FR
WLB Corey Nelson (Fr.): 6.5 tackles
SLB Joseph Ibiloye (So.): 4.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU
Ronnell Lewis is out for Saturday's game, meaning the Sooner linebackers will be that much thinner in the 'experience' category. Does that matter? Maybe, maybe not. Tom Wort is a wrecking ball at times, but he has been caught out of position quite a bit too. Neither Corey Nelson or Joseph Ibiloye have had just a ton of opportunities to ply their trade -- looking at the tackle stats, it's pretty obvious that OU spends quite a bit of their time in the nickel, with T. Lewis and Wort as the primary LBs. R. Lewis has spent time at both LB and DE; he is a playmaker and occasional loose cannon on the field. Without him, OU has less upside and potentially less downside.
By the way ... a word about Travis Lewis: he got in a bit of hot water earlier this week for his "Mizzou needs to watch film -- tell them we're coming" quote. I've got to say ... I love this. You don't want a team full of guys shooting their mouths off and talking trash, but there are worse things to have than a a crazy, sideline-to-sideline-with-reckless-abandon linebacker who happens to get a little mouthy and get into opponents' heads sometimes. T. Lewis hasn't been as disruptive a presence as I would have expected, but he's seemingly in on every tackle.
Last year, OU had to replace two very good starting safeties and got even better. This year will be an interesting test: not only is a new unit coach taking over, but he will have to work with two new starting cornerbacks. Gone are Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson; in their place are likely starters Jonathan Nelson, who started three games last year and won honorable mention all-conference status as a backup, and Demontre Hurst, who had an outstanding spring. If these two are able to provide immediate quality at corner, the pass defense will likely be just as good as ever. And if they don't, a wealth of four-star youngsters await their chance to move up the depth chart.
Beal and Alexander should provide a strong pass rush, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that, as long as Martinez doesn't bring with him some bad mojo from last year's Georgia defense, OU's pass defense will remain in the Top Ten of the S&P+ rankings.
SS Jonathan Nelson (Sr.): 33.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT, 2 PBU
SS Tony Jefferson (Fr.): 31.0 tackls, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 5 PBU
FS Quinton Carter (Sr.): 25.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FR, 2 INT, 3 PBU
CB Jamell Fleming (Jr.): 24.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU
CB Aaron Colvin (Fr.): 19.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 PBU
CB Demontre Hurst (So.): 14.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT, 2 PBU
SS Javon Harris (So.): 7.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FR
FS Sam Proctor (Jr.): 7.5 tackles
So the No. 5 safety in OU's lineup has more tackles than the No. 2 (i.e. starting) defensive tackle. That tells you a lot about both OU's choice in alignment and the depth and confidence the OU coaching staff has in this unit. Beyond Jonathan Nelson and Quinton Carter, there is a lot of youth here, and it has shown -- 4.6% of OU's defensive snaps have resulted in gains of 30 yards or more. That is the fourth-worst in the country. At the same time, the eight names above have combined for six interceptions, three forced fumbles, and 25 tackles for loss. This is the definition of an all-or-nothing unit. If Mizzou protects the ball and makes few mistakes in their dink-and-dunk attack, this unit could be vulnerable to the pump-fakes and double-moves with which Mizzou killed Texas A&M last week. But if Mizzou is off their game, the OU secondary will make them pay.
In one specific area, Oklahoma should give Mizzou hope. In just one season, the Sooners shored up what was an egregiously terrible kickoff coverage unit and flipped it into the Top 20. Improvement like that could help Mizzou immensely.
As a whole, despite only average place-kicking and kick returns, the Sooner special teams unit was still a reasonable strength. Tress Way was a revelation as a freshman punter, giving OU an even better Net Punting average than Mizzou, and Ryan Broyles is terrifying at punt return. Jimmy Stevens wasn't asked to do much beyond his capabilities, but between Patrick O'Hara and him, OU should at least find competency at place-kicking. If the Sooners can find somebody to either drive or supplant Mossis Madu at kick returner (there are plenty of solid incoming athletes from which to choose), OU could compete with Nebraska for the conference's best special teams unit.
OU's current special teams ranks
Kicking: 63rd on PATs (27 for 28), 50th on FGs (7 for 9)
Kickoffs and Opp. Kickoff Returns: 52nd (64.5 per kickoff) and 8th (17.6 per return), respectively
Punting and Opp. Punt Returns: 27th (44.0 per punt) and 18th (3.9 per return), respectively
Kick Returns: 51st (22.5 avg.)
- Punt Returns: 46h (9.0 avg.)
Their special teams have been, basically, decent across the board. Ryan Broyles has not made a lot of noise in punt returns this year, but really, it's only a matter of time. Hopefully Mizzou's directional kicking and good hang time limit that threat.
As I always say, I never bet against a streak. Odds are, Oklahoma should win this game. But Mizzou will have a chance. As I mentioned above, Oklahoma looks like typical Oklahoma most of the time, but they are prone to a few more breakdowns than normal. If Mizzou takes advantage of those, they will have a very good chance in this game.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what we can watch for early in the game that might tell us what we need to know about the impending outcome.