November 28, 2008

Bedlam Matchups: NFL Talent Everywhere

Just a week after quite possibly ruining Texas Tech's chance at both a Big 12 and national title, the Sooners now find the shoe on the other foot traveling for a night game in Stillwater where the Cowboys will be looking to sadden the smiling faces in Norman.'s Josh McCuiston and's Jeff Johnson break down five matchups that will be key to Saturday's showdown.

I. Oklahoma's KO Coverage Team versus Oklahoma State's KO Return Team
"For all of the talk about the defensive play of Oklahoma on Saturday night, the unsung hero was the kickoff coverage. While they still allowed a few returns that were longer than desired they managed to slow down Texas Tech and force numerous drives that started within the Red Raiders 35-yard line which in turn put more of a load on Graham Harrell and co. I don't believe that Tech has anyone the likes of Perrish Cox but all season long it seemed the Sooners were simply one tackle away from keeping returns to a reasonable distance. This Saturday night will be perhaps the biggest test of their ability to stick with responsibility and lane control. The only good news for the Sooners is that if OSU can take advantage of this frequently, it will mean their own defense is in trouble."
"Oklahoma State's kick return unit has been very good all season. Their Big 12-leading average of 24.8 yards per return in conference games is actually a little better than their season average (24.4). Perrish Cox leads the league with a 29.2 average. True freshman Victor Johnson, who took over for Dez Bryant a few games ago has also been sensational. His 28.0 average would be second in the Big 12, if he had a few more returns. Given Oklahoma's difficulties in kick coverage, this would be one of few clear advantages for OSU. The problem with having an advantage in the kickoff return game is that you have to give up a lot of points (resulting in more kickoffs) to really exploit it. That being said, not even a quart of orange coolaid would make one think that OSU is going to win a 14-10 defensive battle. The Sooners will score points and OSU needs to use the kickoff return game to give the Cowboy offense ideal field position to answer those OU scores."
II. Oklahoma's OL versus Oklahoma State's DL
"Few have been harder on Oklahoma's offensive line so far this year than myself but since the Kansas game Oklahoma's offensive line really has found a spark. The Sooners ground game has averaged 273-yards over the last four games while surrendering just three sacks. There is no denying that part of that is aided by playing a couple of lackluster defenses but much was said about Texas Tech's sturdy run defense heading into last weekend and from the game's first snap the Sooners had their way at the line of scimmage. Players like Ugo Chinasa and others are going to need to have career games to slow down the unit who is perhaps playing the best football among Oklahoma's peaking team."
"In terms of pure talent, either man-on-man or unit-vs.-unit, this is a clear advantage for Oklahoma. The OSU d-line is not horrible by any stretch, but they have struggled to create a pass rush all year...and the OU o-line protects Sam Bradford extremely well. Senior defensive tackle Jeray Chatham and his cohorts on the DL have been decent at clogging running lanes. They'll need to be at their best on Saturday, with the Sooner running game on a solid multi-game roll. If the OSU d-line can do well against the run and coordinator Tim Beckman can scheme some kind of pass rush, the Cowboys should be in the game all night. If they cannot accomplish at least one of those things, it could be a long night for the fans in orange."
III. Jermaine Gresham versus Oklahoma State's Linebackers
"Personally I feel that Gresham was a huge piece of the puzzle to how Oklahoma was able to dismantle a Texas Tech defense that had played quite well until last weekend. The Sooners ability to strike through Gresham all over the middle of the field kept Tech's linebackers from being over aggressive against the run. That running game made Sam Bradford's play-action passes that much more viable and left those same linebackers close to the line of scrimmage permitting the receivers to face man-to-man coverage on Manuel Johnson's 66-yard touchdown pass. This is a huge match-up for the Oklahoma State defense, if they can't keep the star junior under control it's going to be hard to control the other facets of the Sooner game. Oklahoma State has some smaller linebackers with good speed, so possibly they can throw something at the Sooners they've not yet seen this year."
"Junior linebacker Andre Sexton is a converted safety, and generally has better coverage skills than a typical college linebacker. He's not particularly big though, so Gresham still has a distinct size advantage there. Orie Lemon can hang with Gresham on a physical level, but likely can't run with him. Much like Brandon Pettigrew will give OU linebackers problems, there's no way around the fact that Gresham potentially can dominate the OSU linebacking corps. Depending on how much focus coordinator Tim Beckman wants to put on stopping or slowing the tight end, the Pokes' success against Gresham will probably come down to how they scheme to stop him."
IV. Oklahoma's Defensive Line versus Oklahoma State's Offensive Line
"I really expected Oklahoma to be somewhat limited on the edge last weekend with the absence of both Auston English and Alan Davis but the team was able to create pressure against an offensive line that few had failed to best. That being said, the strength of Oklahoma's defensive line is up the middle with the guy who is undoubtedly the nation's best pass-rushing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy who is ranked by as the best in the country bar-none. Add in the often overlooked Demarcus Granger and Gerald McCoy and you've got an ability destory any quarterback's ability to step up in the pocket. This is where Oklahoma won the game defensively last week and with the talents of Oklahoma State up front as well as Kendall Hunter it's one they will need to win again."
"The Oklahoma offensive line is vaunted, to be sure, but here's a nugget: OSU left tackle Russell Okung is likely the top professional prospect on either line. How Okung and the rest of the OSU o-line fare against the OU defensive line is absolutely a key to Saturday's game. The OSU offensive line has pushed the Cowboys to 261 rushing yards per game and have allowed just 12 sacks in 11 games. OU has 38 sacks on the season, so something has to give here. The Sooner defense statistically is susceptiable to the pass, but maintaining a qaulity running game is the key for the Cowboys on Saturday."


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