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Sooners begin quest for fifth straight Big 12 title

September 27, 2019 ▪ By Ray Dozier

The first significant challenge to Alex Grinch’s Oklahoma defense was expected to come Saturday when the No. 4 Sooners (3-0) host Texas Tech (2-1) at 11 a.m. on ABC. The Red Raiders boast one of the top QBs in the Big 12 Conference, as they have for the last couple of decades. But the injury bug reared its ugly head again as Tech QB Alan Bowman suffered a shoulder injury nearly two weeks ago against Arizona. He is out for the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams on Saturday.

Last year, Bowman scorched OU’s secondary with 227 yards and two touchdowns in the first half in Lubbock. He led the Raiders to a 31-24 lead at halftime, but a recurrence of a collapsed lung kept him out of the second half. The Sooners won, 51-46.

After the OU loss, Bowman didn’t return to the gridiron until this season. In the 11 games as a starter, he completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,658 yards with 23 TDs and 11 INTs. Now that he’s sidelined with the bum shoulder, first-year coach Matt Wells will turn to Junior Jett Duffey or Jackson Tyner (a transfer from Rice) for this weekend. Both have combined for four passes so far this year. Look for Duffey to get the nod since he’s been a Red Raider for three years, although a new system under Wells. Duffey also has some wheels as he was the leading rusher last year with 369 yards and 4 TDs.

T.J. Vashar is the leading receiver. The 6-foot-6 wideout has grabbed 18 passes for 246 yards and a couple of scores. Armand Shyne leads the rushing attack with 238 yards (7.4 per carry) and 2 TDs.

Wells has emphasized improving Tech’s defense which has been dismal for the past two decades. The Raiders currently rank 16th nationally in points allowed (13.7) and 32nd in yards allowed (306.3). If the defense continues on this pace, it will be the lowest scoring defense since 2005 and lowest total defense since 1998. Kerry Cooks, former defensive backs coach at Oklahoma, returns as coach of the Raiders’ safeties. He has Tech ranked third nationally in pass defense (133.7-yard average).

But the Raiders’ defense hasn’t been tested either, and Saturday it’s going up against one of the top offenses in the country. The Sooners are first in total yards (676.7) and No. 2 in scoring (55.7).

The Raiders’ defense has accounted for six sacks, 23 tackles for loss, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks leads the unit with 35 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and four QB hurries. Safety Douglas Coleman has two interceptions and a pass breakup to go along with 20 tackles.

TTU’s offense appeared to have another high-octane year with a 45-10 victory over Montana State and 38-3 over UTEP. Arizona shut them down, 28-14. The Wildcats rushed for 338 yards and 3 TDs. Trailing 14-13 after three quarters, Arizona scored two touchdowns in the fourth.

Oklahoma appears to be a well-oiled machine on offense. The Sooners easily handled UCLA, 48-14, two weeks ago in Pasadena, California. OU rolled up 611 yards.

OU QB Jalen Hurts became the first player in OU history to pass for at least 200 yards (206) and rush for at least 100 (141) in the first half of a game. He finished 15 for 20 passing for 289 yards and three TDs and ran 14 times for 150 yards and a score. Ninety-nine of his rushing yards came on OU’s opening drive, making him the first FBS player to accomplish the feat in 15 years.

Charleston Rambo led all receivers with 5 catches for 116 yards and a pair of TDs. Cee Dee Lamb also scored twice—the first one via the pass (a 39-yarder from Hurts) and the other on a 1- yard end-around sweep after taking a pitchout from Hurts.

The defense is getting additional help Saturday as end Kenneth Mann returns to the lineup for the first time. The Burleson, Texas senior had 5.5 tackles for loss a year ago in addition to 7 QB hurries, an interception and forcing a fumble.

OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has frequently rotated his players to keep them fresh.

“We’re not gonna get married to playing a guy 90 snaps a game,” coach Lincoln Riley said last week. “I mean, it has hurt us in the past. There’s no other way to say it.”

The dividends seem to be paying off. The Sooners rank 36th in points allowed (19.7), No. 53 in total defense (352.7), including 52nd (212.3) against the pass. A year ago, those figures were 101, 114, and 130 (dead last).

Tech has also made great strides in defensive play. The Raiders’ D currently is No. 16 in points allowed (13.7) and 32nd in total defense (306.3). Those rankings were 86th and 108th respectively a year ago.

Both teams were off last week providing extra time to put in some new wrinkles on both sides of the ball. The Red Raiders won’t be able to match the Sooners in a shootout. Hurts emphasizes that his team could improve, but so far, the offense is near perfect. OU has scored touchdowns on two-thirds of its possessions. Tech is going to put up some points, but the Sooners will counter with another scoring drive.

OU’s pursuit of a fifth consecutive Big 12 Championship begins on Saturday. The Sooners should win big if it protects the ball and has no penalties to kill drives. The running backs should see more carries than in each of the past three games.

Sooners 52, Red Raiders 20.

Fast Facts

  • OU leads the series 20-6 including seven straight wins.
  • OU is favored by 27.
  • Lincoln Riley’s record: 27-4 (.871) overall; 2-0 vs. TTU; 14-1 at home; 21-1 vs. unranked opponents; 17-2 vs. conference foes.
  • Matt Wells’ record: 46-35 (.568) overall; 2-1 at TTU; 0-0 vs. OU.
  • OU has won six straight Big 12 openers and 10 of its last 11.
  • TTU is 13-10 in Big 12 openers.
  • OU is 9-2 in games played on September 28.
  • TTU is 4-4 in games played on September 28.

Articles by Ray Dozier