College football games, Week 6: Oklahoma's defense could cost Sooners big-time vs. Texas
The Red Rriver Showdown should revert to its old name unless the Sooners' D can get it together
Oklahoma isn't going anywhere without a defense. The definition of "anywhere" is clear as we head toward the sexiest Red River Showdown in years. Texas has both a ranking (No. 19) and a quarterback (Sam Ehlinger). Meanwhile, the No. 7 Sooners' much loftier goal is to win the Big 12 for the 12th time in the last 19 years and get to the College Football Playoff for a third time.
The definition of "defense" at OU is a bit cloudier. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' group was the ultimate culprit is last year's crushing CFP semifinal loss to Georgia. It remains the assertion in this space that, if the Sooners had held on against the Dawgs, they would be national champions, not Alabama. The Baker Mayfield-led scoring machine was that good.
This year, that scoring machine is just as potent, maybe better. Kyler Murray is raising an interesting question: Is he actually better than Mayfield?
Before answering that, we must consider whether this year's defense is worse than the one fielded in 2017. So far the answer is yes, at least statistically. Teams 91st in total defense don't win championships. Last year's unit -- the one that that blew a 17-point lead to Georgia -- finished 67th.
What has to be troubling is that OU hasn't really played anyone yet. Texas will be the first ranked opponent it has faced this season. Winless UCLA (120th in total offense) and Iowa State (123rd) scored their season-high totals against the Sooners.
There is sort of a dichotomy here. As D-coordinator, Stoops does coach two of the top five tacklers in the country. Sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray leads all Power Five defenders with 12.8 tackles per game. Senior linebacker Curtis Bolton is tied for fifth nationally at 12.4.
There are good players on the defense, but the annual howl about Stoops would hit its usual pitch if Texas pulls the upset. Two years removed from Bob Stoops shadow, coach Lincoln Riley now has the cover now if wants to make a move on brother Mike.
And now, the rest of our Week 6 storylines.
1. Meanwhile, at the Texas State Fair … There are enough sights and smells in this rivalry (that predates Oklahoma's statehood, by the way) to fill the Golden Hat. The fried ice cream, the Krispy Kreme burger, the cookie fries and the Elvis sculpture -- made of butter. On the field, there is a path to victory for Texas (7.5-point underdogs). Take the air out of the ball. Snap it with four or five seconds left on the play clock. Limit possessions. Go all Bill Snyder on OU. That would keep Murray off the field and expose that defense you read about above. In consecutive games, Army and Baylor have combined to run twice as many plays as OU. The Knights and Bears have held the ball 68 percent of the time.
Efficiency is key. OU comes in 120th in time of possession but is averaging a robust 1.87 points per possession. Texas holds the ball longer but is averaging only 0.86 of a point per possession. You better believe Tom Herman has noticed this trend. And you better believe the Horns have a chance. Meanwhile, we cannot wait to have a corndog with the Human Torso.
2. Nick nitpicking: Napalming college football with the best team, best program and (perhaps) best player apparently isn't enough for Nick Saban. In his latest rant -- before the Arkansas trip -- Bama's coach this week pitted students vs. student-athletes. Not enough of the students, he said, are showing up to watch their peers. News flash: There is a problem engaging student not only at Alabama but pretty much everywhere.
Nick has to be complaining about something, it seems. Alabama students pay approximately $11,000 per year in tuition to pursue their degree. Nick's guys get a free education to play football. Considering the University of Alabama's well-documented academic gains have matched the football excellence, both sides seem to have fulfilled their obligations.
3. Thank you, Joe Alleva: When LSU refused to travel east during Hurricane Matthew two years ago, Alleva, the Tigers' AD, knew this day was coming. Due to rescheduling from that storm, for the first time in program history, LSU is visiting Florida in consecutive seasons. Now you know who to blame if the Gators upset the No. 5 Tigers. (LSU triumphed last year with an in-your-face 17-16 decision. Florida won 16-10 on the heels of the hurricane with a goal line stand in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.) Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow is coming off the best game by a LSU signal caller in 17 years (in terms of total yards -- 388 vs. Ole Miss).
4. Trevor Lawrence protocol: Clemson's freshman quarterback reportedly took every practice snap early in the week. That followed a head/neck injury that knocked him out of the Syracuse game. The discriminating fan realized the Orange exposed what Clemson is going to look like going forward.
Lawrence has a rocket arm, but opponents can disregard the plus-one factor (a running quarterback). Without the threat of Kelly Bryant's legs, that essentially means 11 defenders on 10 offensive players. Lawrence was hurt running. It probably won't mean anything at Wake Forest this week. But it could against Georgia and Alabama. Stay tuned.
5. Irish hype taking off: Notre Dame has its quarterback (Ian Book: six touchdown passes, no interceptions in two starts). It has an even better defense (lineman Jerry Tillery's four sacks vs Stanford were the most by an Irish player in 13 years). It also has an increasingly clear path to the College Football Playoff.
No. 24 Virginia Tech might be the last ranked team ND plays. Even better (for the Irish), backup quarterback Ryan Willis has taken over for the Hokies. A 12-0 regular season looks like a distinct possibility.
6. Backpack vs. Chain: Every game in the Florida State-Miami series seems to have its own name: Wide Right, Wide Left, The Block at Hard Rock, The Rally in Tally. The Canes would just like to Protect Its Home Turf against Florida State. It's not flashy, but it fits. Miami hasn't won at home in the rivalry since 2004. "That's a meaningful bit of history we need to change the course of," Canes coach Mark Richt said.
The Turnover Chain got a workout last week vs. North Carolina (six takeaways). Florida State's version is a knock-off, The Turnover Backpack. Miami (12) and FSU (8) have accounted for 18 percent of the takeaways by ACC teams.
7. Auburn flaws: The No. 8 Tigers might be the shakiest top 10 team at the moment. They can't run the ball. For the first time last week, a Gus Malzahn-coached team was held to less than 100 rushing yards in consecutive games (by Southern Miss, no less!). Its defense is carrying the load headed to Mississippi State. Only one other SEC team (Ole Miss) is averaging more penalties.
8. Bloated salary bowl: Two coaches with combined salaries of $7.2 million will coach teams they have guided to a combined 14-43 record. Call it must-miss football: Illinois (Lovie Smith, $5 million per year, 7-21 overall) at Rutgers (Chris Ash, $2.2 million, 7-22).
9. Most unknown unbeaten team: Cincinnati (5-0 hosting Tulane) hasn't been 6-0 since some guy named Brian Kelly coached the Bearcats in 2009. Cincy leads FBS in pass efficiency defense is top 20 in rushing with an offensive line consisting of the following:
- Left guard Dino Boyd, a graduate transfer from Rhode Island
- Left guard Kyle Trout, another grad transfer who was a spot starter for Ohio State in 2017
- Center Garrett Campbell, a sixth-year former walk-on
- Right tackle Morgan James, a former hockey player who never played football until walking on three years ago
- Right tackle Chris Ferguson, who grew up in the Bahamas and never played a down of college football until the opener at UCLA
Quick kicks: There are Oklahoma seniors who have won as many Big 12 titles as Texas has in its history (three) … Indiana (at Ohio State) hasn't beaten a top 10 team since 1987 (37 straight losses) … Is Texas back? Better question: Why isn't Maryland (3-1 headed to Michigan) ranked as the only team to beat the Horns? … Scott Frost has a hand in the nation's longest winning streak (17 by his former team, UCF) and the second-longest losing streak (eight by Nebraska) … The 216 points posted by Boston College (at NC State) are its most through five games … Hawaii, which is 5-1 for the first time since starting 6-0 in 2007, hasn't drawn 30,000 for a home game since 2014. Aloha Stadium, site of this week's game against Wyoming, seats 50,000. The Warriors are the only 2-0 team in the Mountain West … … If North Carolina (bye) pulls the plug on Larry Fedora, look for Arkansas State's Blake Anderson to get heavy consideration. Anderson was UNC's offensive coordinator from 2012-2013
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