First and foremost, each of the Baylor subscription sites has done their own work this week in preparation for tomorrow's (probably today's by the time you're reading this) game that deserves recognition. Even if you're not insane like I am and don't have subscriptions to all, each brings something slightly different to the table worth looking at. So I'll start there by giving you links to each of those posts as well as my own from last night.
Of everything I've seen, Watkins' previews are easily the best/most in-depth in preparation for this game. Regular readers of ODB know by now the time Tim puts into his work and how good he is at breaking down the keys for each side. I value his opinion highly, and he's done so much in preparation for this game that I would be remiss not to highlight it. It's actually so good that I don't know how much I can add here for people that read both.
Still, I have an obligation to the ODB faithful to deliver as much information as I can, so here goes. For reference, here is a printable depth chart for OU going into this game. As I mentioned earlier in the week, there are no major changes on Baylor's latest depth charts. I don't know OU's from previous weeks well enough to say whether anything has changed.
When Baylor is on Offense:
- Schematically, OU uses a lot of zone coverage in the back and almost exclusively four-man single-gap alignments up front. They don't rotate their defensive line like some teams, and they often run what looks exactly like a nickel for the entire game. They sub liberally, but I would expect that we try to limit that as much as possible to give our offense an edge. They will almost always have 2 deep safeties splitting the field in half.
- As you can see from their FEI and S&P+ rankings, OU's defense is actually quite good this season given the defensive reputation of our conference. They are especially good against the pass, an improvement that most OU observers seem to attribute to the return of Mike Stoops to that side of the ball. We should not expect to be able to hit their corners-- Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst-- or their safeties -- Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson-- like we did last season. All four started last year's game and all four are back now. They are tremendously improved. OU is the best team in the conference in passing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, and scoring defense.
- Experience is actually the name of the game across the board for the OU defense, which starts exactly zero players this season that have not started before. Up front, OU is led by two senior DTs-- Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker. Both of their primary backups are seniors, as well. The only underclassman on the starting defensive line for the Sooners is RE Chuka Ndulue, who leads the team in sacks with 3.5. If their defense has a weakness in the passing game, it is getting after the QB. When your team leader only has 3.5 sacks 8 games into the season, your pass rush may be an issue. Part of it is scheme; OU doesn't use a ton of exotic blitzes to try to get pressure, and part of it is the teams they've played; among their foes thus far, only Texas Tech ranks in the top 25 nationally in passing offense.
- The linebacking corps is the only unit I haven't really talked about, but it doesn't get better there from our perspective. Juniors Corey Nelson and Tom Wort are solid, if only sporadically spectacular players, and Gabe Lynn, who plays their version of the nickel back, was a corner last season. His play may be the weak link on the OU defense. Nelson is my personal favorite from the group simply because he abandoned the Aggies on National Signing Day itself.
- The only real good news I can give you on defense is that OU isn't quite as good defending the run as they are the pass. Methodical drives are therefore an issue for the Sooner defense, and they will give up their fair share of first downs. The key will be, as always, keeping ourselves out of obvious passing situations (second and long, third and long). Somewhat paradoxically, however, OU's defense is somewhat vulnerable on passing downs as opposed to standard downs. I don't have a good reason for why that might be given their general ability to stop the pass. Baylor's ability to conduct methodical drives has actually improved significantly since earlier in the season, largely as a result of our simultaneously improved running game. (For reference, methodical drives are those that take longer than 10 plays while explosive drives average 10 yards per play. We're good at both.)
- Depending on which set of statistics you more readily believe, Baylor's offense is either the best in the country (by S&P+) or merely one of the top 20 (FEI). I'm inclined to believe it's somewhere in the middle and that turnovers will dictate how successful we are on offense. I'm also inclined to believe that we'll see something against OU we haven't seen before. That's more a hunch than anything concrete, but there it is.
- Last year against Oklahoma, Baylor was able to make numerous big plays in the passing game, often taking advantage of blown coverages to do so. I think it might have been the worst day of Javon Harris' life, actually, since he often saw Tevin Reese, Kendall Wright, and/or Terrence Williams streaking past him to the endzone. Reese had a particularly strong day relative to expectations since he was so often the responsibility of a safety that missed him completely. This year's Sooner defense is fairly good in the explosive drive category (12th according to FEI), so that matchup could be strength on strength. Baylor's offense lives and dies through the air and on the arm of Nick Florence, so we're going to need big plays to have a chance. The new weapon of Lache Seastrunk (I still can't get over how beautiful that pass and catch was against Kansas) could be a difference-maker, as well. Hopefully he and Glasco Martin can build on their incredible performance from last week and open things up for Florence by punishing the Sooners on the ground.
When Baylor is on Defense:
- The only advice I can give you is to drink heavily. Despite their early (and somewhat recurring) turnover issues, OU's offense is quite good no matter the stat you prefer and probably the best we've seen thus far. Landry Jones' NFL stock may have taken a bit of a hit in his senior season, but he's still a really good QB that will probably pick our defense apart. I'm not being fatalistic when I say that you should expect OU to score a lot of points on us, I'm being reasonable. Still, Jones will make the occasional mistake, we just have to take advantage when he does.
- OU is a pass-first offense that can run, not the other way around. The statistic bear out their preferences this season with the passing offense grading out better than the run. OU is particularly good on passing downs when they don't really run at all, leading me to believe their best option against us would be to just do that all the time. Jones has several extremely good options at the receiver position in old favorite Kenny Stills and transfers Justin Brown (from Penn State) and Jalen Saunders (from Fresno State). Freshman Trey Metoyer also gets a look here and there.
- In the running game, JUCO RB Damien Williams leads the way for the Sooners and gets the majority of carries in front of Brennan Clay and last year's sensation Dominique Whaley. Williams is a big, powerful back that we should absolutely be worried about in the running game should by some miracle we stop them from passing all over us.
- One absolute certainty of the OU offense this season is that when they get inside the ten or need something in short-yardage, in comes Blake Bell and the Belldozer. Baylor fans probably remember that he scored about a dozen touchdowns against us last year, and though he hasn't had the same success this season by any stretch, we're going to see it again. Hopefully we'll be able to stop a relatively simple veer look where we weren't last season.
- OU's offensive line is average in pass protection, allowing 1.5 sacks per game to opposing defenses. We'll be lucky to get that many tomorrow given our own problems in that area. If we have any tricks we've been saving just because, tomorrow might be a good time to use them. Maybe not, though, since we're not likely to win and might decide a better use is a game where we have a better shot. With only 4 to go, however, the opportunities to throw the heretofore reserved kitchen sink are getting fewer and further between.
- For Baylor's defense to have a chance to slow down OU's offense, it's going to take at least one, probably more turnovers. Making the Sooners one-dimensional to the running game probably isn't going to happen, and I doubt they'd care all that much if we went the other way. They're a great passing team that doesn't need the run to move the ball effectively. Turnovers are the only way for us to make up a bit of the gap we'll likely face possession-wise.