Football faces biggest challenge yet against explosive Sooners

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Having lost four games by seven or fewer points, losing three quarterbacks, and starting five true freshmen on defense this year (second-most in the nation), TCU has certainly seen some tough tests this season.

Nevertheless, the Frogs will undoubtedly face their biggest test of the year this Saturday when they travel to Norman to face the No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners.

“You always got to get excited to play the best,” cornerback Julius Lewis said. “They’ve been the best in the conference since I’ve been here, so you always get ready to play them.”

TCU gained some momentum last weekend when they defeated Texas Tech 33-31 in Lubbock to end a two-game skid. The win held even more meaning to the Frogs since they had lost all four of their games that ended within one score this season.

Quarterback Max Duggan (15) will have to have a near-flawless game for TCU to have a chance against Oklahoma. Photo by Heesoo Yang.

“It was a huge win, especially when we’re trying to make it to a bowl game,” center Kelton Hollins said about the win over Texas Tech. “This is big-time football, so anytime you come out and you get a dub, that’s big time.”

First-year quarterback Max Duggan was pivotal in TCU’s victory, recording a career-high 398 total yards of offense without throwing an interception.

With two games remaining, TCU just has to obtain one more victory to reach bowl eligibility for the 17th time in head coach Gary Patterson’s 19 years at the helm. 

On the other hand, the Sooners enter the game teeming with confidence after overcoming a 25-point deficit to defeat No. 13 Baylor 34-31 last Saturday. The win was the biggest comeback in Oklahoma history and kept their slim chances at a College Football Playoff bid alive.

Despite their early deficit last week, Oklahoma’s electric offense changed the course of a game in an instant. Behind 581.1 yards per game, the Sooners rank first nationally in total offense, while their 47.0 points per game rank third.

“They’re athletes,” head coach Gary Patterson said on what makes the Sooners difficult to defend. “They don’t let you overload. They do a great job of keeping you spread out.”

Oklahoma’s national prominence on the offensive side of the ball stems from quarterback Jalen Hurts, who once led Alabama to two-straight national championship appearances. Hurts, who is currently ranked second in ESPN’s Heisman watch, ranks first in the Big 12 in individual total offense with 402.2 yards per game on his own.

The seasoned signal-caller represents a threat both in the air and on the ground, as his 28 passing touchdowns are paired with 15 rushing scores.

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) stiff arms Baylor defensive tackle TJ Franklin (90) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Waco, Texas. Oklahoma won 34-31. (Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)

“We’ve played a lot of running quarterbacks,” Patterson said. “You can’t think you’re going to go kill him, because that’s not what’s going to happen if you blitz and you come three. They can pull away from you.”

Hurts’ primary target this season has been receiver CeeDee Lamb (983 yards and 13 touchdowns); however, Lamb’s status for Saturday is currently “up in the air,” according to head coach Lincoln Riley, due to injury.

Lewis emphasized that Lamb’s potential absence doesn’t change TCU’s preparation mindset, as the Frogs always prepare like they’re playing “the best.”

TCU will be shorthanded in the secondary on Saturday, as cornerback Jeff Gladney will be out for the first half of the contest due to a targeting penalty last week against the Red Raiders.

Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (2) hauls in his third touchdown reception in front of Texas defensive back Brandon Jones (19) in the second half of an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Dallas. Lamb finished with 171 receiving yards and three touchdowns as Oklahoma won 34-27. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

First-year corners Kee’Yon Stewart and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson will likely see time in Gladney’s absence.

“When they’ve been in ball games, Tre against Baylor and then Kee’Yon against some guys, they’ve all done pretty well,” Patterson said.

While Oklahoma is known for their offense, the entrance of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has brought the Sooners to second in the Big 12 in total defense, second only to TCU.

Led by 2019 Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Murray (70 tackles, 2.5 sacks on the year), Oklahoma will look to put pressure on Duggan, forcing him to make quick decisions.

Duggan saw such pressure against Oklahoma State and Baylor, throwing three interceptions in both games.

Pressure or not, Duggan can’t afford to give the ball away on Saturday, as possessions are valuable against the high-flying Sooners.

Kickoff in Norman is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on FOX. This is the Frogs’ first night game since they played Purdue on Sept. 14.

 “As usual, we have our hands full on both sides of the ball,” Patterson said. “[It’s a] normal ‘OU’ team—very athletic—so you have to get ready to play, especially when you play them in Norman.”