Norman, OK – The seventh-ranked Oklahoma Sooners continue their quest for a Big 12 championship, as they welcome the Texas A&M Aggies to Norman for a conference battle at Memorial Stadium.
Bob Stoops's Sooners had their 39-game win streak at home snapped two weeks ago with a shocking loss to Texas Tech (41-38), but OU got back in the win column last weekend, routing nationally-ranked Kansas State (58-17) to move to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in league play.
Mike Sherman's Aggies looked like true contenders in the Big 12 early on, but a heart-breaking 38-31 overtime loss at home last weekend to Missouri, leaves A&M at 3-2 in the Big 12, clearly on the outside looking in at this point.
The Sooners hold an 18-11 series advantage over the Aggies, but it was Texas A&M that won last year's meeting, a 33-19 decision in College Station. Oklahoma is 13-2 in the series at home and has won six straight over the Aggies in Norman.
The Aggies let one get away last weekend against the Tigers, but it wasn't from a lack of offensive firepower. In fact, the Aggies are among the nation's top units in terms of offensive production, averaging an impressive 519.8 ypg. A balanced attack, A&M is averaging 224.5 yards rushing and 295.3 yards passing per outing.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is certainly a capable signal-caller, completing just over 65 percent of his passes, for 2,322 yards and 18 TDs. His top target is wideout Ryan Swope, who paces the team in receptions (52), receiving yards (725) and TD catches (7). Tannehill has been well protected this year, as A&M's offensive line has yielded just seven sacks thus far.
Stoops is aware of the challenge Tannehill presents to his defense.
"He throws the ball well. You can tell he is a composed and tough player. He is an excellent athlete. When he pulls the ball and runs with it he looks good doing it. He may hurt you more than some quarterbacks because he has the ability to run the football better than most with his receiver experience. He has a good size to absorb the hits also. He does a lot of good things, but he throws the ball well also."
The ground game is led by a pair of talented backs in Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray, who are on pace to become the first tandem in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards each. Michael leads the team with 811 yards and seven TDs. Gray isn't far behind at 704 yards and seven scores.
The Aggies have not been as productive on the defensive side of the ball and have been particularly vulnerable to the pass, ranking 10th in the conference and 120th in the nation at a generous 318.3 yards allowed per game. That certainly doesn't bode well for A&M which must shore things up in a hurry against the pass-happy Sooners. The team has excelled in terms of getting after opposing quarterbacks though, with 30 sacks on the season.
Junior linebacker Jonathan Stewart leads the team with 57 tackles. However, it is Sean Porter who will need to continue his disruptive ways to keep Oklahoma from marching up and down the field. Porter (51 tackles) leads the team in TFLs (12.0) and the conference in sacks (8.5).
A lack of consistency on defense is a problem coach Sherman recognizes needs to be fixed.
"Consistency defines greatness in my mind. You have to be consistently great or good to be that. We certainly are lacking that consistency. We show spurts of really good football, then we have lapses. It's just their ability to continue to play the game a certain way regardless of the circumstances. We haven't done that necessarily."
Oklahoma will test A&M's porous pass defense like no other team. Following the loss to the Red Raiders, the Sooners put on an offensive clinic at Kansas State, rolling up 690 yards of total offense, with quarterback Landry Jones throwing for a school-record 505 yards and five TDs.
Landry leads an offense that is churning out 46.0 ppg and 563.6 yards of total offense. The passing attack is responsible for almost 400 yards (396.6), as Jones has thrown his hat in the Heisman ring, completing 66.5 percent of his throws, for 3,094 yards and 26 TDs. It helps to have an All-American on the outside as well in the form of wideout Ryan Broyles. The most productive receiver in FBS history with 347 career catches, Broyles has hauled in 81 balls this season, for 1,070 yards and 10 TDs.
Tailback Dominique Whaley (627 yards, nine TDs) has spearheaded a ground game that nets 167.0 ypg. However, Whaley suffered an injury against Kansas State early on and is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a broken leg. Expect youngster Roy Finch to get more carries the rest of the way.
The Oklahoma defense has playmakers at each level and is starting to hit its stride, including an impressive 23 sacks in the last four games following a seven-sack performance at Kansas State.
All-American candidate Travis Lewis leads the way from his linebacker position with a team-high 55 tackles. He recently moved into the top-10 in school history with 417 career stops. Defensive end Frank Alexander (37 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks) spearheads the attack up front, while linebacker Tony Jefferson (47 tackles, three sacks and four INTs) has been a force in the back seven.