By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — The up-tempo offense is something the Sooners helped pioneer in the Big 12 Conference. It’ll be on full display Saturday when the Sooners host Texas Tech.
But it won’t be No. 17 OU (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) trying to run plays at the rapid pace. It’s purposely averaging 73.4 plays a game this season, which is just slightly off last season’s pace.
No, the up-tempo offense belongs to the 10th-ranked Red Raiders (7-0, 4-0). They’re the team averaging 88.5 plays a game and they’re the team that will try to exhaust OU right out of its own stadium.
“We’ve worked it hard. We’ve been going against each other every day getting a certain number of snaps at it,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “We’ve worked it an awful lot.”
The oddity of this season is the Sooners really haven’t faced many up-tempo teams in the first half of the season. Louisiana-Monroe threw a little at OU in the season opener, but since it’s been few and far between. West Virginia, Tulsa, Notre Dame and TCU took their time, just like Kansas did last week.
Texas hit OU with some on its opening drive. The Sooners didn’t handle it particularly well. Of course, that first series did set off some alarm bells.
“Since the Texas game, they hit us with some tempo, so we have that in our practice, just from day one, starting practice for Kansas, so every offensive series in practice, they’re running tempo at us just so we’re ready for it,” linebacker P.L. Lindley said.
The reason the Sooners should be concerned is the trouble they’ve had getting aligned, defensively, the last two weeks.
Texas and Kansas had no problems moving the ball on their opening drives.
Coaches and players say it’s because defenders didn’t get properly aligned. How much worse could it be with the Red Raiders trying to run a play every 20 seconds?
“That’s one thing that we’ve been focusing on,” OU defensive end Geneo Grisson said. “We know that they get a lot of snaps in every game and we got to be able to make sure we get calls in and execute the plays.”
The Sooners’ ability to handle the tempo is going to be a critical factor in the game. The main reason is they don’t seem well equipped to win an offensive shootout as in past years. OU’s averaging just 30.8 points per game. The Red Raiders are averaging 41.1.
Defense has to be steady for the Sooners to remain in the game. This is the kind of contest defensive coordinator Mike Stoops retooled his unit to be able to handle.
The whole offseason was spent figuring out ways to handle offenses that spread the field and called and ran plays at a brisk pace.
Saturday will be the litmus test for whether OU is truly ready to handle it. With the way the offense has struggled, it won’t be graded on curve.
“We know that it will be a challenge, but as long as we play our game, we should be all right,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said.