After their 59-20 beatdown of the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Oklahoma Sooners have risen to No. 14 in the College Football Playoff rankings with just two regular-season games remaining. They are 8-2 overall, and with a 5-2 conference record, the Sooners are locked in a four-way tie for second place in the Big 12. Technically, Oklahoma still has a shot to make a title game, although the specifics of it are very convoluted. The Sooners would need to win its final two games and would also need the Texas Longhorns or the Oklahoma State Cowboys to lose.
Regardless, they must focus on the foes directly before them: the Brigham Young Cougars. BYU has had a forgettable season, going 5-5 overall with just a 2-5 conference record, beating only the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Cincinnati Bearcats. They’ve lost three in a row but are 4-1 at home and Saturday’s game will be in Provo, Utah, at 11 a.m. CST. The Sooners are heavily favored and should have no problem handling business against the Cougars. Nonetheless, Oklahoma needs to keep its head down and foot on the gas to avoid being on upset alert.
Oklahoma Preview: What to Expect Against BYU
The Sluggish BYU Offense
The Cougars rank dead last in the Big 12 in scoring, rushing, and total offense and are second-to-last in passing offense and offensive efficiency. Of their ten games, they’ve only scored over 30 points on three occasions, and in their last three games combined, they’ve totaled 26 points. BYU has also turned the ball over 14 times, tied for fourth-worst in the conference, and is last in third down conversion rate.
Senior quarterback Kedon Slovis, a former USC Trojans and Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback, leads this offense. The fifth-year player ranks toward the bottom of the most essential passing statistics in the conference. However, the most glaring one might be his 57.5% completion percentage.
Freshman running back LJ Martin recently returned from injury and led the team in rushing with 494 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring four times on the ground. His best game came in BYU’s win against the Red Raiders when he ran for 93 yards on just 10 carries.
The Cougars’ pass catchers have had difficulty getting open this year and have yet to be as reliable as the coaching staff might have hoped. However, junior wide receiver Chase Roberts has been their best receiver, catching 39 balls for 524 yards and four scores. The 6’4″ sophomore presents a big target for Slovis but hasn’t recorded a game with more than 63 yards since September 29.
Aside from Roberts, there is yet to be another BYU receiver over 390 yards on the season. Tight-end junior Isaac Rex and senior wide receiver Darius Lassiter are the next two receivers on the roster, but Lassiter has not played since late October and Rex only has 29 catches all year.
Key Player: Chase Roberts
If the Cougars are going to win this game, they’ll need Roberts to be open early and often against a Sooner secondary that has been porous at times.
The Cougars’ Defensive Struggles
The BYU defense has allowed over 30 points in six of their ten games and has given up over 35 in three straight games. While they rank eighth in defensive efficiency, they’ve allowed the third-most points and the second-most total yards of offense in the Big 12. This unit has also given up over 180 rushing yards per game but is much better against the pass.
BYU’s pass rush has also been abysmal this season, only sacking opposing quarterbacks nine times, by far the least in the conference. However, where they do excel is creating turnovers. They trail only Oklahoma in total turnovers, having intercepted 12 passes and recovering six fumbles.
Max Tooley, a sixth-year senior linebacker from Bountiful, Utah, is the team’s defensive leader and leading tackler. He has 74 total tackles, 4.5 for loss, and one interception.
The Cougar secondary has been one of the better facets of this team, and junior defensive back Jakob Robinson has been its best player. He is fourth on the team in tackles, second in passes defended, and first in interceptions with four, including one pick-six. Senior corner Eddie Heckard has been almost as productive, leading the team with five passes defended and ranking second with three interceptions.
Key Player: Tyler Batty
While BYU has struggled to rush quarterbacks this year, Batty has been the lone bright spot on that front. He has 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, and his ability to get after Dillon Gabriel could help the rest of his unit stop the Oklahoma offense.
How Will Oklahoma Handle the Cougars?
Oklahoma is favored 24.5 points and seems almost assured of a win in Provo on Saturday. The offense and defense are rolling, and with Dillon Gabriel seemingly regaining his Heisman-level production, the Sooners will be hard to slow down.
For now, freshman Gavin Sawchuk appears to be the Sooners’ lead back after two straight 100-yard rushing games, and he could be in line for another massive game against BYU’s questionable run defense.
Senior wide receiver Drake Stoops could also be in line for another big game if BYU’s linebackers and slot corners give him space to work. Over the last few weeks, he and Gabriel have been operating on a different wavelength, and it would be nice to see that trend continue.
Junior linebacker Danny Stutsman returned to the OU defense last week and played well. With a few more days off to get back into the swing of things, Stutsman’s performance should return to its pre-injury level. With freshman linebacker Kip Lewis, freshman linebacker Kobie McKinzie, and sophomore linebacker Dasan McCullough all playing well in Stutsman’s absence, the Sooners’ linebacking corps is in a great place right now.
Against an average BYU offensive line, it would be great to see sophomore linebacker Jaren Kanak, junior defensive line Ethan Downs and other Sooners get after Slovis and the Cougar backfield. In a game that Oklahoma should be in control, working on their pass rush issues could be helpful as the season winds to a close.
Key Players: Nic Anderson and Jaren Kanak
Nic Anderson now leads the entire country in receiving yards per catch, averaging an astonishing 25.7 yards. He is the future of the Sooners’ receivers but has been inconsistent this year. If the defense keys on Stoops, Anderson could capitalize in one-on-one situations deep down the field.
Oklahoma could stand to generate more sacks and pressures, and Kanak could be the one to step up in this game. Plus, he will be one of the most influential leaders on this defense next year and must show up big in every game.
Oklahoma should have no problem putting the Cougars away early in this one. But the Sooners have played with their food a bit this season, and LaVell Edwards Stadium is a challenging road environment for any team to play in, so perhaps BYU could make a game of it.
However, given the way the Sooners’ entire team is playing right now, even if one side of the ball falters, the offense and defense are good enough to pick the other up and help Oklahoma win the game.
Prediction: Sooners 40 – Cougars 17
Gabriel continues his dominance, throwing for 300 yards and accounting for four touchdowns. Stoops, Anderson, and Sawchuk all go over 100 scrimmage yards, and Stutsman and the defense terrorize Slovis, sacking him four times and intercepting him twice.
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