Texas (3-2, 2-0) will travel to Dallas on Saturday for their annual showdown against the Oklahoma Sooners (4-1, 1-1). The Oklahoma defense has struggled at times through the first 5 games, but has a cadre of players that can give the Longhorns problems. Let’s take a took at what to expect from the defensive side of the ball and special teams.
Oklahoma will mainly operate out of a 3-4 defense, with DE DJ Ward, DT Neville Gallimore and DT Matt Romar manning the defensive front. Gallimore, a sophomore, has 1 tackle for loss and 19 total tackles in 2017. Ward is a senior who has 13 total tackles and 1.5 sacks through the first 5 games. Romar has missed two games this year due to injury, and is questionable heading into Saturday’s game. If Romar is unable to go, sophomore Marquise Overton will see extended playing time. Overton has been very productive in 2017, collecting 19 tackles to go along with 2 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Former Texas commit Du’vonta Lampkin will also see snaps at the nose guard position.
The Sooners are not as deep and talented on the defensive line as they have been in previous years, which is good for the Longhorns. As to be expected, Oklahoma will try to put as much pressure as they can on tackles Denzel Okafor and Derek Kerstetter. A talented Kansas State front was a non-factor for most of the game this past Saturday, primarily due to the ability of Sam Ehlinger to get the ball out quickly. The offensive coaches will most likely take a similar approach against Oklahoma with the hope that the offensive line can keep Ehlinger clean for the second straight game.
Outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo may be the most talented linebacker Texas will face the remainder of the season. Okoronkwo is an elite pass rusher who has given opponents fits all season. The senior already has 5 sacks on the season along with 9 tackles for loss and 31 total tackles. The 2016 Second Team All-Big 12 member had a memorable game against Texas last season, leading the Sooners with 11 tackles and adding a sack. Weak-side linebacker Emmanuel Beal leads the team with 36 tackles and has also added .5 sack so far in 2017.
The linebacker unit will be rounded out by sophomore Caleb Kelly and freshman Kenneth Murray. Kelly was a coveted 5 star recruit coming out of high school and he is beginning to show his abilities in the strong-side linebacker role, totaling 19 tackles on the season and a forced fumble. Murray will start at the middle linebacker position and has held his own as a freshman through the first 5 games, ranking third on the team with 30 tackles.
The secondary for the Sooners has struggled mightily this season, giving up 368 yards passing to Iowa State last week and 463 yards the previous week to Baylor. Starting corners Parnell Motley and Jordan Thomas have not played well. Thomas’ struggles in particular are surprising after he had a monster 2016 season, being named First Team All-Big 12. Thomas has no interceptions on the year, while Motley has 2.
The injury bug for Oklahoma has also hit the safety position. Strong safety Steven Parker is questionable for the game. Parker has started all 44 games in his career as a Sooner, and it would be a huge blow if the 2016 Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection was unable to play. Freshman Robert Barnes and sophomore Chanse Sylvie would see an increase in snaps if Parker were not able to play. Senior Will Johnson missed a few games early in the year, but is the starter at free safety.
It is no secret that teams have been known to throw the ball at will against Oklahoma. The short and intermediate passing game that Texas displayed against Kansas State should have a chance to be very successful again on Saturday. Tim Beck is beginning to realize the skill-set of each receiver and is putting them in positions to do what they do best. I expect Texas to get the ball to Reggie Hemphill Mapps and Jerrod Heard early and often to help set up one on one situations with Collin Johnson.
Texas is not the only team in this game with question marks in the field goal department. Junior Sooner kicker Austin Seibert is off to a rocky start, connecting on 2 of 4 field goals, with a long of 35 yards. Seibert missed a field goal in last year’s matchup, and finished 2016 just 11 for 16. He is also responsible for punting duties, where he is averaging 42.2 yards per punt, with 2 punts inside the 20.
Receiver Jeff Banet handles kickoff returns and is averaging a respectable 23.4 yards per return. Fellow receiver CeeDee Lamb is the primary return man on punts, but that may be passed off to Banet as well due to Lamb’s injury. Banet only has 2 punt returns on the year, totaling 5 yards.