Oklahoma heads into their meeting with Texas, a game that many thought was a foregone conclusion this time last week, with as many questions as they have answers following last week's shocking 38-31 loss to Iowa State. Oklahoma falls from No. 3 to No. 12 in the rankings but still has, in all likelihood, all of it's goals in front of it. The first goal will be to seek out a Big 12 title and though Texas stands in their way their figures to be some interesting subtext between the two teams after the Longhorns surprisingly played Oklahoma tough in 2016, after surprising the Sooners with a win in 2015. And that of course forgets the reality of a reunion with Tom Herman, who put the 2016 Sooners on tilt from word go. In this edition of Under the Hood we take a look at Texas' 40-34 double-overtime win over Kansas State last weekend in Austin.
Against the Wildcats, the Longhorns rushed for 166-yards on 40 attempts (4.2 yards per carry) and completed 30-of-51 passes for 380-yards (7.5 yards per attempt).
Texas's offense may still be a work in progress but it seems more and more that they've found their quarterback in the form of Sam Ehlinger. The freshman came in as a much ballyhooed passer but probably didn't get his due as runner. It's not so much that Ehlinger is a dynamic runner but it's that he is a tough one and makes great decisions of when to get upfield with the ball.
He is a guy that is tough to tackle and when the Sooners have sack opportunities, an arm tackle will not do the job.
As a passer he has his ups and downs, like many young quarterbacks. He likes the big play but generally avoids forcing the situation, though he did so on the first play of the game against the Wildcats. Sometimes that safe style can lead to the true freshman hanging onto the ball and being late to deliver passes and putting his receivers into tough positions.
Joining him in the backfield are a trio of backs in freshman Toneil Carter, sophomore Kyle Porter, and junior Chris Warren. Warren is a powerful back that can always pick up short yardage and excels not only as a pass blocker but also in downfield situations. Porter is a quick, change of pace back that got better as the game wore on.
But it was the young Carter that really stood out, with Texas showing his skills almost exclusively on stretch plays.
Ehlinger's options at receiver feature plenty of quickly emerging notables but most notable among the group are sophomores Reggie Hemphill-Mapps and Collin Johnson. Though they share a class, the two are very different. Hemphill-Mapps is clearly Ehlinger's security blanket and makes one tough catch after another. With Johnson the Longhorns have a long and talented big-play threat on the outside.
Along the offensive line the Longhorns still have a lot of work to do but do seem to be improving as a unit. However, freshman Denzel Okafor and junior Patrick Vahe both had their moments with Okafor learning in all phases while Vahe had a few issues with moving defenders in the run game.
Against the Longhorns, the Wildcats rushed for 140-yards on 39 attempts (3.6 yards per carry) and completed 14-of-23 passes for 254-yards (11.0 yards per attempt).
Defensively the Longhorns are absolutely loaded with talent even if it is, at times, still learning the ropes from defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
Following the Maryland game it looked as though it was finally time to walk away from any and all remaining Malik Jefferson stock. But since then he has played like the Butkus award candidate and All-American that many thought he could become as one of the nation's elite linebackers in the class of 2015. Jefferson tracks the ball well from sideline to sideline and in Orlando's aggressive scheme is making plays behind the line of scrimmage with regularity.
He will have to be accounted for by Oklahoma on every snap.
Along the defensive front the Longhorns have a steady group that may not overwhelm anyone with star power but works very well together and is a stout group in run defense. Malcolm Roach and Poona Ford aren't lengthy defensive lineman but are very stout in the run game. Roach sticks out as well because of his great motor and the ability to pursue from sideline to sideline.
If there is one player who flashes elite potential it's Charles Omenihu, who has a great, long frame and is capable of making plays in both phases but in the run game Kansas State frequently sealed him in on the edge and found joy running to his right side of the Texas defensive line.
In the secondary the Longhorns have so much elite potential it's hard to find many flaws in the high-end ability but like many aggressive defenses they can be caught out when trying to do too much. Holton Hill has been a big play defender for the Longhorns at cornerback while opposite of him, Kris Boyd may be their most talented defensive back.
However, it's their safeties that have been the real lynchpins of the defense so far this season.
Brandon Jones is a safety that closes well on the ball and tackles so incredibly well in space. He is a tremendously reliable last line of defense for the Longhorns.
While Jones has been reliable, his counterpart DeShon Elliott, has been a bit more shaky. However, he has also been at the heart of a lot of big plays for Texas.
BATTLES TO WATCH
Orlando Brown vs Charles Omenihu
As mentioned above, Kansas State found considerable joy running some power run game right off of left tackle Dalton Risner. And while Risner is certainly a good one, he isn't Brown. Omenihu is a good one but if Oklahoma can handle this battle in the way that one might expect it could be a big piece of Oklahoma's success.
Malik Jefferson vs. Mark Andrews
Jefferson is one of the few linebackers with the athleticism to contend with Andrews but regardless that's a lot to ask of him, particularly when he figures to frequently be in several man-to-man scenarios. On the flip side with Jefferson's ability to attack the edge while scraping the line will be a key piece of Andrews' responsibilities if Oklahoma is going to have success in the running game.
Parnell Motley vs. Collin Johnson
This one should just be flat out fun, it's an old matchup of size and strength against speed and agility. Now, make no mistake, Johnson is fully capable of stretching a defense with his speed but Motley can turn and run with him. The question will be, can he get up in the air with the enormous Johnson and avoid easy catches for the Texas sophomore?
IF I'M OKLAHOMA I...
...I'm going to mix up my defensive fronts as often as possible. It's not about blitzing all the time because frankly Sam Ehlinger is a sharp kid who knows the basics like throwing where the blitz came from, etc. But if Oklahoma can give him a lot to think about in pre-snap reads then they might slow him down a bit not only in his downfield reads but in his decision making throwing the ball.
Sticking with defense, Oklahoma will have to rally to the ball and tackle - which is something Kansas State did well when they were coming up with their stops.
And in that same vein Kansas State's corners kept fighting to break up passes all the way to the ground, that sort of competition is something that has been lacking, at times, from certain members of Oklahoma's defense.
Something that kept showing up on tape? If Texas threw on third and short, they almost invariably went to a quick slant. It'd be interesting to see if Emmanuel Beal and/or Kenneth Murray could step in front of one of those passes as Ehlinger seemed to go with the throw almost sight unseen.
Offensively, Oklahoma should have a plan for Kyler Murray as Kansas State threw a real surprise at Texas when they ran Alex Delton on the field and ran real power right at the Texas defense after they were a bit worn down into the second half. When you add in that Murray is far more capable as a passer than Delton, Oklahoma could really do something dangerous with Murray.
Texas is so aggressive defensively, resulting in seven tackles for loss in this game, and they will do it by showing a ton of different fronts - showing as many as seven blitzing before dropping 5, 6, or in some cases bringing all seven. With that in mind, look for Oklahoma to use some middle screens and getting the ball out quickly to Mark Andrews, Jeff Badet, Marquise Brown, and potentially Cedarian Lamb, if he is healthy enough to play.