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October 23, 2013

Ask the Expert: Oklahoma

To get the inside scoop on Oklahoma, we went to an expert on Sooner football -- Josh McCuistion with SoonerScoop.com -- with questions about OU and Saturday's game in Norman.

Since 2004, these two teams have alternated wins each year. If the trend continues, Texas Tech is due for a win this year. What does Oklahoma have to do to prevent history from repeating itself?
JM: "The biggest thing is going to be what it always is in Big 12 games that always kind of goes undiscussed, but it's the running game. I think whichever team can run the ball better, more consistently, they're probably going to be the team that wins. And when you look, it's kind of an interesting dynamic, because Texas Tech has been so good at run defense this year, Oklahoma is running the ball better than they have, but something's kind of got to give in that direction. So it'll be really interesting to watch, but I think that's what it's going to come down to.

"I think both teams are going to move the ball with some success through the air because that's just what happens in the Big 12, but I think it's probably more important for Oklahoma to move the ball on the ground. I think they're going to have to try some new things, try to throw some stuff that Texas Tech hasn't seen yet."

Is there a level of respect given by these OU players to this Texas Tech team or is OU expecting an easy win at home?
JM: "The players know they're not at that point where, even back in 2011 when clearly they overlooked that Texas Tech team, they know that they don't have that kind of respect where just about any time they walk into the stadium, the game was probably won just because they were more talented. They clearly could go out there without their best effort and win most of the time around the Big 12. That's not the case right now.

"Oklahoma's not that talented, they've lost their two best defenders in Jordan Phillips and Corey Nelson. They know if they're going to win and if they're going to try to win another Big 12 Championship, it's got to be with consistent and quality effort. I think last week might have been the wake-up call they needed. Everybody wants to talk about that Texas game, Texas is talented. There's some reason you can find for how that happened. Kansas, to be up 13-0 on Oklahoma, there's no excuse for how that happened. That's just a team not ready to play, just unprepared in every possible way. Mentally, physically, whatever you want to say. They just came out flat and they paid for it.

"If Tech wins this week, I don't think it's going to surprise anyone, but at the same time, I don't think it would be surprising if Oklahoma comes out flat again."

Is Blake Bell a championship-caliber quarterback?
JM: "I go back and forth about that. I think within the right offense he can be. When you look at it, this is not a guy like the Big 12 Championship quarterbacks you've seen in years past. With the guys that could throw it all over the yard, who were destined for the NFL, all those kinds of things, he's clearly not that guy. Oklahoma's not running that same kind of offense, though, or at least is trying to get away from running that same kind of offense. So I think there is a window there where he can be a guy that can help Oklahoma win, but unlike some of those guys, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, he's not going to be able to do it on his own, where it's going to be him passing for 500 yards and winning a game. It's just not going to happen.

"So, Oklahoma's going to have to play better defensively, and they have so far this year, and they're going to have to continue to run the ball. But to me, I want to see Oklahoma share some of the load. Put Trevor Knight out there, let him make some plays. Put Kendal Thompson out there. They've got so many weapons on offense that I don't know that they're being used because there's this attempt to let Blake Bell grow in the position, and that's certainly needed, but I don't know that that's going to be the way for Oklahoma to get to where they want to go."

Who do you have as the X-factor of this game?
JM: "I think it's probably a guy like Charles Tapper for Oklahoma. If Charles Tapper, who is a guy that at times has flashed All-Big 12 and probably beyond that kind of ability, Oklahoma needs him to play consistently, they need him to try to find a way to make some big plays, because obviously Texas Tech is going to move the ball between the 20s. They need to put Texas Tech into situations of second and long, third and long, and if he can find a way to do that, to help Oklahoma's defensive line take some of that pressure off the secondary and the linebackers, then I think it can be a huge game for Oklahoma. He has the ability to do those kinds of things, but we're going to have to see if that's actually going to transpire into reality."

Best-case scenario?
JM: "Oklahoma is not in a position right now where they can talk about how much they win by. They need a marquee win. The kind of win they thought Notre Dame was going to be, and I think Notre Dame is a good team, but it's clearly not the scalp on the wall that Texas Tech could be if Texas Tech is the kind of team that I think. They've shown flashes to me, again I think we all are a little unsure of just what they are based on competition, but they clearly got some good wins.

"It's going to be interesting to see how Oklahoma looks at that, but I do think there's no question that it's just winning. I think for Oklahoma, the best kind of outcome for them is to go out, show they can run the ball, show a good run defense, and start to establish that kind of offense. I think people are reluctant to believe right now that Oklahoma can run the ball consistently even with their performance against Notre Dame, which was really strong, defensively against the run, and Oklahoma did really well in that game.

"I think they need to go out and start to make it clear to the Big 12 that they're moving in a different direction, they're going to do some different things. I think that it will only help them as they go down the schedule, teams start to prepare for more than just drop back and throw it 40 times a game."

JM: "Blake Bell comes out, has another performance just like we've seen the last few weeks, really struggles to throw the ball, puts all the pressure on the run game, and Oklahoma can't just get that run game going in predictable situations. You see that and the Big 12 Championship is almost certainly gone at that point. You start to look at what's going to happen with Baylor in a couple weeks. There are just so many problems that can come from that.

"They need Blake Bell to have a nice game, a solid performance, they just can't afford to continue with him working so, I don't know if it's scared, or however you want to say that, but just doesn't look right in passing situations right now. Oklahoma can't afford for that to continue because then you start to talk about players wondering if he's the guy, you just get all those questions that are not just from guys like ourselves, but are from within when people start to wonder if this is the right direction for the team."

Final prediction?
JM: "I really think it's going to be all about how this game starts. When you look at Oklahoma, when they've played well this year, they've come out pretty early, they've played well, obviously the Notre Dame game they got off to a huge start. Oklahoma needs to make a few stops early just to show themselves, everybody else that they can handle what Texas Tech's doing offensively. I think Oklahoma's defense is greatly improved, but it hasn't faced an offense like this yet. I think there's something of a premature grade on them right now. We don't know what's going to happen when they go back into these Big 12 offenses that can throw it all over the field.

"If they can get off to that fast start, I really think Oklahoma can win this game, my problem is, can Oklahoma score enough points? Whether Oklahoma's defense plays well or not, Texas Tech is going to score some points, and I think that's a concern. I don't know, with what we've seen from Oklahoma's offense so far, that you can count on that happening. I would probably pick something along the lines of 28-24 Texas Tech, but again, it's just so hard to know with so many variables about both teams, for this late in the season being so unknown right now. "

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