By Michael Kinney
Ruffin McNeil knows his way around Lubbock. He coached at Texas Tech from 2000 through 2009.
So when McNeil returns to his old stomping grounds Saturday as the Sooners defensive coordinator, he knows what type of offense he and his unit will be facing.
McNeil has been especially impressed with quarterback Alan Bowman, who has thrown for 2,411 yards and 15 touchdowns in seven games. He leads the conference with 344 yards per game.
“He has weapons around him at receiver and running back positions,” McNeill said. “And Kliff (Kingsbury) does a good job helping him right now getting the right play, but he does a good job reading it himself. He’s a competitor like all guys that run this offense are.”
Defensive turnaround at Tech
McNeill also noted how the Red Raiders have turned around their defense after being under scrutiny the past three seasons. As someone who has been tasked with turning around the OU defense, he knows what Tech coaches went through to get back to respectability.
“I think David (Gibbs) has done a good job over there on defense and he’s using the talents of the young men that he has and putting them in the right spots and giving them the chance to make plays,” McNeill said. “And we watch him on film in previous games before he played the opponent, we got a chance to see this defense and how they play and they have a lot of length and speed, and they’ve done a good job really galvanizing that group.”
Where is OU defense heading into Saturday?
“I think the confidence is high,” linebacker Curtis Bolton said. “We came off a good two weeks of some good football. I thought we set a good foundation and kept the building blocks going up last week. We tried not to tear the whole house down. Everything is still pretty simple. We are out there just trying to play ball. Keep the big plays at a minimum. Make the plays that we’re supposed to make. We’re just trying to cash in on the opportunities we can and keep the big plays at a minimum.”
Sooners ready for the new challenge
After facing a pair of teams who do not put the ball in the air, the Sooners are set to take on an offense that slings it around the field a lot. They are averaging 42 points a game, which ranks second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma at 48.9.
“They’re explosive,” Bolton said. “They pass for a lot of yards. We just got to do a good job of playing sound football. I like to watch the game from two years ago with Patrick Mahomes where they scored almost 60 on us. It’s just understanding route combinations. Seeing where their receivers are. They are a lot better scheme wise than a lot of teams in the past. Their receivers don’t just run routes. They run them, then try and find the open space. You have to do a better job of keeping your head on a swivel trying to find guys, not just giving them easy little digs. Just try and neutralize all the under routes. It’s a little more heavy into the film this week because their pass game is a lot more intricate than most people.”
“If we can keep the big play out, not letting teams score on fade balls, not giving up screens that go for 60, if we can limit that, I think we’ll be all right.”
Bolton still remembers the 2016 matchup between the Sooners and Red Raiders like it was yesterday. The 66-59 victory is not a fond memory from someone who was a member of either defensive unit.
“I remember snap, two seconds later, ball is gone, 40 yards. They had our number that night,” Bolton said. “I don’t know what it was. I honestly couldn’t tell you. It was real confusing to me even after watching it. I thought those guys prepared a lot, prepared well. Just nothing seemed to go our way. There’re nights like that. That’s obviously not what I’m expecting. Not what I’m hoping for this weekend. But we’re going to work to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Mad respect for Mahomes
Despite Mahomes ripping through the Oklahoma defense two years ago, Bolton can’t have anything but respect for the current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback. But that still doesn’t make what happened any easier to digest.
“That guy is something else. He’s special,” Bolton said. “He is showing how special he is. I think their system is good too. I don’t think it’s the fact that Pat Mahomes is that good. You see a freshman come in and throw for this many yards, it’s impressive. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t make me feel any better that he’s doing this in the league. It’s still embarrassing. I don’t want to be out on the field on a team that scores sixty-something points and has 700-something passing. I don’t want no parts of that.”
Keeping his cool
Offensive guard Dru Samia said he used to be known for losing his head during games. But that is something the senior has worked on to improve.
“My goal is to progress every year and I think I’ve done that,” Samia said. “Biggest difference is I play more patient, definitely. I’ve been letting up way less pressure compared to years past. Just being comfortable in the offense and trusting my technique and not freaking out during games. I made the game bigger than what it needs to be. Obviously, I’m still hyped up and excited to play. But at the end of the day, we’re doing the same stuff as in practice. It took me a little while for that to click. I feel like everybody is waiting for me to blow up in a game, but it’s not going to happen. I promise you.“
Not scoreboard watching yet
With the initial College Football Playoff Rankings coming out Tuesday, the Sooners found themselves ranked at No. 7. But according to the players, they can’t start fretting over where they are ranked.
“Obviously, we just need to win out and see where we end up,” Samia said. “Obviously, we hope that we can move up, but we really can’t control anything except for our next game.”
Redmond is as advertised
Despite missing the first six games of the season, Jalen Redmond has been playing at the level McNeill expected of the freshman defensive lineman.
“We got a chance to watch him play in high school, and he had a lot potential and talent,” McNeill said. “A mentality with him, as well as athleticism. It’s good to see him come back and battle what he went through and be a part of the team.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider