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Can Oklahoma State exploit the Oklahoma secondary?

The Sooners’ pass defense has been their biggest issue all season. Can the Cowboys exploit it on Saturday?

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Mayfield, Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon and Semaje Perine. What do all these players have in common? They all play for OU, they are All-American caliber players, and... they are all on the offensive side of the ball.

We’ve seen these four guys lead the powerful OU offense to nine wins and some impressive numbers this season.

On the other side of the ball, after giving up 40+ points to both Ohio State and TCU at the beginning of the season, the defense has been written off as sub par. But that’s not completely true.

The Sooners’ defense has been able to stop the run. They rank 2nd in the Big 12 in opponent rushing yards per game at 155.6 yards and are allowing the second fewest rushing touchdowns per game in the conference at 1.1.

However, the OU defense as whole has not been very good. Actually, at times this season, they’ve been pretty terrible. So, if the run defense has been decent this season, there’s only one other place to look for the defensive woes... the pass defense.

The Sooners’ pass defense has been dreadful this season. They are allowing the second most passing yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12 at 287.5. According to SoonerStats.com, that is the highest average passing yards allowed per game in OU history... IN THEIR ENTIRE FOOTBALL HISTORY! This has them ranked #122 out of the 128 teams in the FBS. They’re ranked just ahead of Rice and Charlotte...

One big issue with the OU defensive backs is their tendency to give up the big play. For instance, against Texas Tech, the Sooners gave up three touchdowns of over 30 yards through the air. You have to credit Tech QB Patrick Mahomes, but there were several times where OU just got flat-out beaten over the top.

They’ve also been exposed in short/medium route coverage, as you can see against Ohio State:

It hasn’t been all bad, though. The Sooners did look good against Skyler Howard and the West Virginia Mountaineers in their last game, holding WVU to 191 yards through the air. They also shut down the passing attacks of Iowa State and Kansas ... [laughs]. But, against the better passing teams in the Big 12 and in their non-conference, the Sooners have not fared well.

The question for this weekend is if Oklahoma State is capable of exploiting this weakness. In my opinion, they are.

As far as passing yards per game, the other four teams ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12 are Texas Tech, Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia. Here’s how Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys have done against these teams through the air in terms of yards:

  • Texas Tech: 395
  • Kansas State: 457
  • Texas: 392
  • West Virginia: 273

I’d say that’s pretty good. Rudolph has plenty of weapons on the outside with James Washington, Jalen McCleskey, Chris Lacy and Jhujuan Seales, but this year he also has the added dimension of the running game. If Justice Hill and Chris Carson can get going against the Sooner defense, this will keep OU guessing and open up passing lanes, and hopefully the big play off of play action.

I believe OU will try to bring pressure early and make Rudolph uncomfortable. They were able to do this against Montell Cozart at Kansas, sacking him 3 times, and also Iowa State’s Jacob Park, recording 1 sack and four hurries. Now, I know these two aren’t up to the caliber of Oklahoma States’ QB, but I think that might be OU’s best option to attempt to slow down the Cowboys’ powerful air attack.

Even with this being a road game in a hostile environment, if Rudolph can remain composed, set his feet and deliver the ball to the open man, I think he will have a big day against this uncharacteristically weak Sooner pass defense. The question remains though: Will the defense be able to get the stops needed to leave Norman with a Bedlam victory?

We’re going to find out in just four short days.