We’ve had a whole bye week to prepare, so lets get the Q&A machine fired back up.
This time we get to chat with SBNation’s Crimson and Cream Machine head man Jack Shields to get a few questions answered about the Oklahoma Sooners. We’ve got top players, a little Mike Stoops, and maybe a thoughtful prediction on the game.
We’ll have some answers up for them sometime tomorrow.
JT - Oklahoma in 2018 looks quite a bit different on offense that it has the last few years, at least to outside eyes. What makes the OU offense tick this year, and what differences should we look for between what we saw in Baker Mayfield and what we’ll see this weekend in Kyler Murray?
Jack - Not much has made it tick this season, but I will say that keeping it off the field is probably the best bet. It’s hard for an offense to stay in rhythm when it’s on the sidelines for 6-8 minutes of game time per drive, which is sort of what you saw in that Army game.
As far as Murray is concerned, he has been nothing short of spectacular and –in some respects – has been more lethal than his predecessor. Mayfield was a capable scrambler, but Murray brings another element to the running game with his wheels – which have been measured in the sub-4.4 range. You’ll certainly see more designed runs. As a passer, his arm talent is somehow underrated. He throws an incredibly accurate deep ball and is much more accurate than many seem to realize. Additionally, he’s done well under pressure, has been a great leader and has galvanized the team. That was obviously a strength for Mayfield, but Murray has surprised some people in that regard.
JT - Rodney Anderson was lost early this season, and so it seems that the OU run game has spread around a bit more; though Trey Sermon seems to be the new main guy. What kind of runner is Sermon, and have OU fans gotten over losing Anderson?
Jack - With Anderson being one of the most talented players in college football, I don’t think they’ve necessarily gotten over it. He brought a home-run dimension that the other backs lack, so he’s definitely missed. It was also his third season-ending injury in four seasons, which also stings. However, the offensive line is really starting to come along as far as run blocking is concerned. Things were sort of shuffled around in the offseason, so the unit experienced some growing pains, but they had their best game of the year against a pretty good defensive front last week.
Sermon was injured late in last week’s game, so I’m not sure how much we’ll see of him (I think he’ll play), but redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks has been a revelation. He’s not the biggest or fastest back we’ve seen in these parts, but he’s an incredibly patient and instinctive runner who will play a huge role this weekend.
JT - There’s no love lost in Manhattan for Mike Stoops, including a general feeling of “he deserved it” up here. What did OU fans think about Mike at the end, and what was the reaction when he was finally let go?
Jack - Pretty much everyone was ready to see him go. The game seemed to have passed him by in a number of respects (ability to relate to players, issues with Big 12 offenses, etc.), and a change was clearly necessary. Having said that, some were a bit surprised by the timing of the move. Overall, I think it was a feeling of relief for OU fans. The program now has an opportunity to grow and move on.
JT - Obviously Mike got fired because the defense struggled, have there been any noticeable changes under Ruffin McNeill?
Jack - Personnel decisions have been one area of change in that regard. We saw much more of former five-star safety Robert Barnes last week. We saw Tre Brown as a mainstay at corner for the first time. Bookie Radley-Hiles is now truly playing the nickel position. Basically, the staff seems to be making a concerted effort to put the best athletes on the field and are attempting to put them in the best places to succeed.
McNeill is also simplifying things for this group, which is allowing them to be more attack-minded. Finally, we’re also seeing much more of the 4-2-5.
JT - What are they keys to victory for the Sooners (besides just out-talenting the Wildcats)?
Jack - Being able to get off the field on third/fourth down and keeping K-State from sustaining long drives are the two biggest keys for Oklahoma in this one. They were finally able to do that against TCU (albeit against some shoddy QB play), and the result was an eventual blowout. Army was able to keep in close with OU because of an inability to get off the field, and third/fourth down ineptitude was one of the key factors in the loss to Texas.
JT - The Sooners haven’t been exactly dominant at home against K-State lately, are OU fans worried at all about this one? And what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Jack - On paper, OU should win this comfortably, but many OU fans know better than to underestimate Kansas State. This team was able to gash Oklahoma’s defense on multiple occasions last season (in Manhattan) and did the same thing in 2014. People are hopeful that this defense will do better against this offense this time around, but they’ll believe it when they see it. I think Oklahoma wins but falls just short of a cover. I’ll go with a final score of 38-21 in favor of the Sooners.