It’s gameday, and it’s also hard to believe that the Kansas Jayhawks are going to be able to keep this game against the Oklahoma Sooners competitive. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get the scoop on today’s opponent. To do that, I contacted Jack Shields of Crimson & Cream Machine, the SB Nation site that covers OU.
RCT: Oklahoma got off to a rough start to the Big 12 schedule, giving up a huge comeback to Kansas State and losing a back and forth game against Iowa State. What was the biggest driver of that stretch?
C&CM: Prior to the Texas game, the Oklahoma offensive line’s inability to open holes in the run game really hindered the offense as a whole. That’s never really been much of an issue in recent years, and it wasn’t supposed to be an issue this season. This group returned four starters (and all five from the beginning of 2019) from a group that had zero issue setting things up for OU’s backs in 2019. Because of the struggles, OU was unable to lean on the running game when things became tense against Iowa State and Kansas State, which put more on the shoulders of the young Spencer Rattler. Fortunately, this situation has improved both from the standpoint of better run blocking and the running backs simply having a better feel for where and when the running lanes open up. Additionally, running back Rhamondre Stephenson’s reinstatement has been a godsend.
Defensively, Oklahoma lost a huge chunk of its playmaking and leadership from 2019, but the defensive front’s emergence over the past three games has made the group look somewhat formidable. The defensive backfield, on the other hand, is far from a well-oiled machine. Fortunately, the front seven’s ability to apply pressure has a way of masking issues. Woodi Washington’s emergence at corner has also helped matters.
RCT: It’s easy to argue that Oklahoma looks like the best team in the conference. What’s been the biggest key to the turnaround?
C&CM: The aforementioned improvement of the offensive line has been huge, but so has Spencer Rattler’s poise in recent weeks. After throwing three INTs Kansas State, an INT Iowa State and two INTs against Texas in the first half, he’s had a clean sheet in that regard.
Then there’s the emergence of under-the-radar contributors along the offensive line. In the absence of Jalen Redmond and the recently-reinstated Ronnie Perkins, redshirt junior DE Isaiah Thomas has become a first-team All-Big 12 candidate by serving as a constant backfield disruptor. RUSH LB Nik Bonitto has also been superb off the edge.
RCT: Despite the early losses, how are you feeling about the chances for Oklahoma to make it to the Big 12 title game? Any chance they still can make the College Football Playoff?
C&CM: If this team wins out, it almost certainly punches a ticket for Arlington. A win over Oklahoma State would give them the tiebreaker at two losses, and the chances of a Skylar Thompson-less K-State team losing fewer than two games from this point forward seems highly unlikely. An Oklahoma-Iowa State rematch might be the call.
I’ve been going through the scenarios in my head, and I can’t really find any in which a two-loss Big 12 team makes it into a four-team field. The run appears to be ending this year, but a Big 12 Championship and a New Year’s Six bowl win would be a nice springboard into an incredibly promising 2021 campaign.
RCT: What would say is the weakness(es) of this OU defense? AKA How could the Kansas offense have any sort of success on Saturday?
C&CM: It’s easily the secondary, particularly at safety and nickel. If KU can get Brendan Radley-Hiles consistently matched up against a larger receiver or TE, you will likely see a breakdown or two.
RCT: Serious Question: How much would the OU second team be favored in a game against the Kansas Jayhawks?
C&CM: Hmm… the line’s at 38 at the moment...
The second-team offense would probably have some success, but the second-team defense looked flimsy late in the game against Texas Tech. Let’s knock it down to -28.
RCT: Prediction Time! Does Kansas find a way to cover? What is the longest scoring play, and who has it?
C&CM: I definitely think a KU cover is doable, and there are two reasons for it: 1. OU just hasn’t really looked that sharp against Kansas in the past three matchups. 2. OU will likely pull the starters at halftime. I’d actually pick KU to cover in spite of the fact that the Sooners look like a pretty good team at this point.
RCT: BONUS - What is the one must-have food item at your COVID tailgate?
C&CM: I’m a big fan of smoked pork — whether it be belly or butt — on a sweet roll with some Head Country BBQ sauce. The preferred method of cooking it is a Green Egg, but I’m not picky. Magically delicious. Then we wash it down with a cold beer. If I’m doing this outside in the warm weather, a cheap domestic will do just fine. If I’m inside, I’m all about a session IPA. Again… not picky.
A big thanks to Jack for helping us out. Don’t forget to head over to Crimson & Cream Machine for the questions that I answered for him.