NORMAN, Okla. — Five seasons worth of Oklahoma-TCU games are enough to convince you to plan for a late night. All five Big 12 Conference meetings were in doubt until the final minute and sometimes the last second.
The glaring difference when the fifth-ranked Sooners (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) play host to the sixth-ranked Horned Frogs (8-1, 5-1) at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday is this one is a knockout game in the College Football Playoff race. Only one of the Big 12’s contenders will have a legitimate case on Sunday.
The intrigue also comes from the dynamics of the teams. The Sooners have the best quarterback in college football — Baker Mayfield. By every metric, he’s the one you want in a big game.
The Horned Frogs counter with one of the best defenses the Big 12 has seen in years. They’ve given up only 14 points in the last three games. The Sooners allowed 114 points during that same span.
Oklahoma’s defense must do something on Saturday. As maligned as it is, the group made critical stops in last week’s Bedlam victory. It must make some against the Horned Frogs.
It’s reasonable to assume Mayfield will play well. He seems to thrive on the big stage. Here are five more Sooners that need big-time performances to keep the College Football Playoff dream alive.
Wide receiver Marquise Brown must remain explosive
The reason Oklahoma scored 62 points in the Bedlam game was it didn’t get bogged down in the red zone often. Five of the 8 touchdowns the Sooners scored were from 40 yards or longer. In games like these, holding an opponent to less than a touchdown when it reaches the red zone feels like a win.
The Oklahoma player to watch in this one is wide receiver Marquise Brown. He has the speed to score anytime he catches the ball with momentum going toward the goal line.
Brown’s importance comes from the scare he puts in defensive coordinators. Bring safeties up to stop the run, and Brown becomes a scary deep threat. The Sooners need him to burn the Horned Frogs a few times.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo must apply pressure
The senior defensive end has a knack for pressuring quarterbacks at critical times. In last season’s meeting between these teams, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo sacked TCU quarterback Kenny Hill twice on the game’s final possession.
Oklahoma wants Hill to make forced decisions. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in three of TCU’s last four games. The Horned Frogs have tried to make him more of a caretaker than a playmaker.
If the Sooners get a decent lead, that goes out the window. Hill has to play under pressure. Okoronkwo applies more heat than anyone else on Oklahoma’s roster.
The freshman secondary trio must have short memories
Freshman cornerbacks Tre Brown and Tre Norwood and freshman safety Robert Barnes may not all start against TCU, but they’ll all play. They’ll likely make mistakes in the process. That happens in every game and errors are more visible when made by defensive backs.
The key is staying in the moment. They did a great job of this when called on late in the Oklahoma State game. Stay focused even when things aren’t going well and this game could go down as a changing-of-the-guard for the Sooners’ defense.
The player to watch here is Barnes. He has to play in the first half because of the targeting suspension to senior safety Will Johnson. The Sooners’ other option is sophomore Chanse Sylvie in their four-defensive back group and they’ll both play if there are five or more defensive backs on the field.
Barnes will get tested. If he holds up well, the Sooners could have their free safety of the future lined up earlier than expected.
Oklahoma offensive line must control game
As good as Mayfield is, the Sooners’ offensive line needs to be the dominant factor in the game. It has been for about the last 20 games Oklahoma has played.
The goal Saturday is the make sure the Sooners have all their options. They’re at their best when they’re running the ball and hitting play-action passes off of them.
The overlooked aspect of the Bedlam victory was Oklahoma rushing for 187 yards. Rodney Anderson averaged 5.1 yards per carry and Trey Sermon finished at 8.1.
The Sooners have to run the ball well. TCU’s defense excels when it faces obvious passing situations.
Defensive tackle Neville Gallimore must play well
The Sooners’ defensive line struggled in the last two games. Gallimore missed both with a back injury. His return provides more bulk on the defensive line, which is needed against a spread, running team like the Horned Frogs.
This also gives sophomore Amani Bledsoe more chances to play on the edge, which is his more natural position.
Defensive tackle statistics are hard to equate. Staying in a hole, so a running back has to make cuts or look elsewhere for space is as good as getting a tackle for loss.
The most important thing for this game is making sure the Sooners are solid against between-the-tackle runs. If TCU has success on those, the Sooners are in trouble.
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