BY BROCK MURPHY
BIG 12 INSIDER
1) Oklahoma felt the same pain that Oregon felt last Thursday night when they lost their priceless starting quarterback early in the Sooners’ game against Texas Tech. Sam Bradford was, literally, the nation’s top quarterback (per passing-efficiency) when he left the game in the first quarter after an apparent blow to the head following a turnover. Joey Halzle stepped in and ultimately turned in an admirable performance but he did toss a pick and nearly half of his passes were incomplete (21 of 41). It took Halzle a few series to settle in, during which time momentum swung completely in favor of the hometown Red Raiders. Without rhythm in the passing game, Tech was able to focus on and take away the shocked Sooners’ ground attack. The result? After its first six series of the game, OU’s offense managed a meager 34 yards of total production. Meanwhile, an amped-up Red Raider attack went into overdrive scoring a TD on three consecutive drives. However, in the second half, Halzle found a rhythm and helped the Sooners pick up 217 of their 408 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter. Thus, did the disaster of losing the BCS chase have a silver lining – the development of depth behind center and the psychological edge from realizing can actually produce without Bradford.
2) Texas Tech was clearly the team of the day on Saturday with their aforementioned upset over Oklahoma. In leading the Red Raiders to the monumental win, junior quarterback Graham Harrell threw for 2 TD’s and 420 yards – his 10th 400+ passing game of the season and fourth in a row. For the season, Harrell has thrown the most passes (644) of any quarterback in the nation (Northwestern’s C.J. Bacher is 2nd with 521). He has completed an astonishing 72.7% of those passes for an NCAA-leading 5,298 yards and 45 TD’s (Tulsa’s Paul Smith, who, unlike Harrell, has one game left to play this season, is currently second in both of those categories with 3,886 yes and 34 TD’s). Redshirt freshman receiver, Michael Crabtree, recorded his 10th 100+ yard game of the season with 12 catches, 154 yards and a score. While his numbers will doubtless increase in a bowl game, Crabtree finished the regular season with 125 receptions, 1861 yards and 21 TD’s. Adding to the obscene season-long offensive stats, Crabtree’s fellow-receiver, Danny Amendola, finished the regular season with 103 catches of his own (for 1177 yards). Were they a two-man passing attack, Crabtree and Amendola’s 3038 combined receiving yards would rank them 21st, nationally, in pass offense. Now, consider that Eric Morris and Edward Britton have another combined 109 receptions for 13 TD’s and 1173 yards. Insane.
3) Oklahoma State became bowl eligible with Saturday’s 45-14 win over Baylor. It was not a simple journey. The wins followed the Cowboys’ debacle at Troy in Week 3 as well as consecutive losses to Texas and Kansas in the past two weeks. Now, OSU can gather its seventh win with a victory this weekend at Norman in the rivalry with OU called, simply, “Bedlam.” The Cowboys’ pass defense is ranked 100th, nationally, in pass-efficiency, surrendering a 65% completion rate and 21 scoring tosses. Clearly, that group would rather face Joey Halzle than Sam Bradford, the nation’s most efficient passer. Fortunately, OSU will rely on the nation’s 6th-best offense (500 ypg) to try to outscore the Sooners. Zac Robinson has turned into a very productive player, having accounted for 3,122 yards and 26 TD’s of total offense (Rushing: 705 yards, 7 TD’s; Passing: 2,417 yards, 19 TD’s).
4) After early losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma, Texas has quietly put itself in a position to possibly win the Southern Division (it would take a win over A&M and an OU loss to Okie State). Tailback Jamaal Charles is the nation’s 11th leading rusher with 1,366 yards and 11 TD’s. However, 644 of those yards have come in the last three games, alone. He is currently on fire and one would think that production would open up the passing game (which has missed the deep threat of Limas Sweed, who is out for the season with a wrist injury). Curiously, though, in the same three-game spread in which Charles has been unstoppable, QB Colt McCoy has thrown more picks than scores (5 to 4) though, in fairness, he threw 4 TDs to 1 INT in his last outing (vs. Texas Tech). McCoy is certainly not the model of efficiency that he portrayed in 2006 but he has thrown more TD’s than INT’s (20 to 17), completes 66% of his passes and averages over 12 yards per completion (238-2900). Receivers Nate Jones and Quan Cosby combine for nearly 11 catches and 119 yards every game. The ‘Horns are still stout against the run (92.82 ypg, 12th, nationally) but are vulnerable through the sky (268 ypg). Fortunately, for them, A&M has not thrown the ball well at all this year (171 ypg, 106th nationally).
5) Texas A&M may be playing its last regular season game for head coach, Dennis Franchione. Given the natural inspiration of this weekend’s game against the ‘Horns being such a huge rivalry, the additional desire to win for the coach could spark even greater intensity. The Aggies have been incredibly successful running the option the last two years against Texas and they will no doubt probe the Longhorn defense early and often to see whether that success continues this year. QB Stephen McGee leads the team in rushing with 828 yards and 4 TD’s. However, he has thrown only 9 TD’s this season (5 INT’s) and the passing game is simply not a threat. Tight end Martellus Bennett is an amazing talent and the team’s most dangerous receiver but his numbers are not those that strike fear in a backfield (31-346, 3 TD’s). TAMU will have to push the issue on the ground and one should expect to see option pitches to Michael Goodson with drives completed by Jorvorskie Lane (16 rushing TD’s this year). The biggest challenge for the Aggies this weekend will be controlling Texas’ passing attack since, frankly, controlling opponents’ passing game has been their problem this season. They have given up 20 scoring passes while managing an interception only six times this year.
6) Baylor finished its season 3-9. Not what folks in Waco had expected. The wide open passing attack picked up a lot of yards (273 ypg, 23rd, nationally) but that production was not worth what had to be sacrificed to get it. Last year’s least productive ground game was, again, non-existent in 2007, picking up a mere 78 ypg (114th, nationally) while the passing attack was one of the least efficient in the country (55% completion rate; 27 INT’s and 23 TD’s). The Bear’s defense, placed on the field too often and in bad field position, ranked 109th in the nation, giving up 462 ypg. They did produce 19 turnovers, which was not bad, but that number paled in comparison to the 37 turnovers produced by the offense. Only Florida International has a worse turnover margin so far this season than Baylor. (-1.5 per game).
Photo Credit: OU Athletics Department