Many thanks to Jack Shields of Crimson and Cream Machine for taking the time to talk with us. Enjoy the conversation below.
1) This may be the most anticipated Bedlam in recent memory, considering the talent on both sides of the ball for both teams. What's the pulse from OU fans on how they view Oklahoma State?
Jack: I think OU fans well aware of the fact that Mason Rudolph is a phenomenal quarterback and that James Washington poses a serious threat to a defense that has been a bit leaky (to say the least). I think they’re a little less worried about defending the run, despite the fact that OSU has been running the ball pretty effectively as of late. Many OU fans saw OSU’s defensive performance against TCU and came away impressed, but I think they’re still confident in the OU offense’s ability to score points this Saturday.
2) Besides Dede Westbrook, what are Baker Mayfield's other options on offense? If he is held in check, what do the Sooners typically turn to?
Jack: Ideally, Mark Andrews is Baker’s second target, but things haven’t always worked out that way in conference play. Joe Mixon is second on the team in both receptions and receiving yards this season, so he’s really been the second option. Considering how good he is at running routes, catching the football and making people miss in the open field, I have no problem with this. Amongst the other receivers, Geno Lewis and Nick Basquine have been reliable targets for Baker, especially in third-down situations. Outside of the guys I’ve mentioned, there’s usually one other guy who steps up in a particular game -- whether it be Mykel Jones, Jeffery Mead, Dahu Green or A.D. Miller -- depending on who Lincoln Riley decides to throw out there. And don’t forget fullback/H-back/TE Dimitri Flowers, who has four touchdowns on 10 receptions this season.
3) We know the secondary has been bad, but OU gave up over 300 yards to Justin Crawford last weekend against West Virginia. What has been the biggest issue with the OU defense this season?
Jack: Missed assignments, poor tackling and the bad defensive strategy have all led big offensive numbers for opposing teams this season. Defensive backs don’t know what’s going on or won’t turn around in time, linebackers aren’t staying in their lanes, and Mike Stoops is giving 10-yard cushions on 3rd and 2. It’s difficult to pick out one particular thing about this defense to gripe about, because it’s been pretty bad in so many areas. Injuries haven’t helped the situation, either.
4) Break down the OU offense for us ... What do they want to do, and how do they execute it?
Jack: I think, first and foremost, it starts with establishing the running game. OU didn’t make an effort to do that against Houston or Ohio State, and receivers were rarely open as a result. A large part of Dede Westbrook’s rise has been the result of Lincoln Riley’s renewed commitment to the running game. When a defense has to worry about being gutted by Perine and Mixon, people are going to be open. That’s why OU’s offense has been nearly impossible to stop in conference play.
5) How do you expect the OU Secondary/OSU Receivers matchup playing out?
OU’s secondary was able to do a better job against Baylor and West Virginia, but it was partially due to the weather at West Virginia (the Mountaineers weren’t really able to run their offense in the beginning) and the fact that Seth Russell simply hasn’t (or hadn’t) been the same quarterback since his neck injury. One thing that could potentially take some of the burden off the secondary would be a decent pass rush. However, Mike Stoops has been reluctant to rush more than three guys for much of the season, so I’m not too confident in that regard. Sadly, I think OU may need a little help from the weather once again this week.
6) What kind of environment are you expecting in Norman on Saturday?
Jack: It should be a solid environment, but if the game were to take place under sunny skies with a 2:30 kickoff, the environment would be even better. The 11:30 kickoff time and weather forecast aren’t ideal, but people on both sides are really looking forward to this one. The stakes are high, and there’s a lot of animosity between these teams and fan bases, so the crowd should be much more engaged than usual. Also, the new endzone configuration has had a noticeably positive impact on crowd noise, so a loud environment should definitely be expected.
7) How do you see the game playing out? Can you give us a score prediction?
Jack: Expecting either defense to shut the other team down is unrealistic, so it’s going to be about winning small battles. This is going to come down to which defense can force turnovers and get third down stops at opportune times. With OU playing at home, I’d give them the edge in that department (but not by much). I believe OU wins this one, but OSU will definitely cover that enormous spread. I think the final score will be 45-38 in favor of OU, and it’ll definitely have the feel of the 2012 game.