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Mission Planning: #5 Oklahoma

NCAA Football: UCLA at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The competition level ramps up this weekend for Army as they travel to Norman, Okla. to face the 5th-ranked Sooners. Lincoln Riley is in his second season at Oklahoma and unbelievably his Sooners look more dominant than last year’s version which finished in the College Football Playoff and featured Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield.

Oklahoma opened the season hosting FAU. Many pegged this as the upset special of the week, as Lane Kiffin had led FAU from 3-9 to 11-3 in just one season in Boca Raton, but Oklahoma absolutely dominated, winning 63-14 and proving they wouldn’t be slowing down without Mayfield. They followed that up with a 49-21 victory over UCLA and a 37-27 win over Iowa State in a rematch of Oklahoma’s only Big 12 loss last season.

The Sooners defense is still their kryptonite, ranking just 55th in the S&P+. And, after ranking as the best offense in the history of the S&P+ last season, Oklahoma is still lethal on that side of the ball. They rank 5th in Bill C’s rankings, and fall inside the top 15 of each major offensive category.

Baseball star? Not quite yet

Much has been made of Kyler Murray being drafted by the Oakland Athletics with the 9th-overall selection of the 2018 MLB Draft. You may not have heard, but Murray is the highest paid person on Oklahoma’s campus. Best of luck to him if he says that to Lincoln Riley’s face.

Murray isn’t all that dissimilar from Mayfield, but his feet add a level of quickness in the pocket the Sooners didn’t have last season. Murray is 49-73 for 861 yards with 8 touchdowns and only a single interception. On the ground, the Texas A&M transfer has 27 carries for 184 yards.

Oklahoma will be without running back Rodney Anderson who is missing significant time to injury for the third time in four season. In his place is another blue-chip in Trey Sermon. All the sophomore has done is rush for 156 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns. In all, five Oklahoma players have scored rushing touchdowns, while five have 10 carries or more on the season. This ability to rotate backs and use Kyler Murray’s feet has allowed their running backs to stay fresh and opened up the fast, athletic receivers for Oklahoma to run free.

Marquise Brown leads all Oklahoma receivers with 412 yards on 19 receptions. He leads the team in marginal explosion and had nine catches for 191 yards last week against Iowa State. He’s a big play receiver and keeping him contained may be the biggest challenge Army will face on that side of the ball.

One Play to Watch For

Oklahoma loves beating people in the middle of the field. It may seem unlikely, as Kyler Murray is a little undersized for a traditional pocket passer, but the two-sport star likes to step up in the pocket and find his tight end Grant Calcaterra or slot receiver Marquise Brown. Over 60% of his passing yards against Iowa State came between the hashes, so look out.

Defense? It’s getting there

For a little insight into the Oklahoma defense, we turned to fellow SB Nation site Crimson and Cream Machine Editor-in-Chief Jacks Shields:

“Oklahoma’s MIKE and WILL linebackers are the glue of the defense.

Kenneth Murray was forced to start at middle LB as a true freshman in 2017, which is obviously a tall order at that position. As you may have seen during OU’s Rose Bowl loss to Georgia, he often struggled with gap discipline. With a year under his belt, things are coming a bit more naturally for Murray, and he’s firing on all cylinders.

WILL LB Curtis Bolton is a fifth-year senior who is finally getting his opportunity to shine. He’s a bit undersized, but he’s an aggressive linebacker who is also probably the team’s top pass-rusher at this point. Though I am not sure how much the latter point may matter this week.”

Special Teams? Might as well

Oklahoma features the rare triple threat in the kicking game. Senior Austin Seibert was the co-Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week last week. The punter, place-kicker, and kickoff man, listed at 5’9, 214—though he seems to have slimmed up a little in the offseason—had made three field goals against Iowa State and is a perfect 19-19 on PATs

Seibert is steady as she goes kicking, but CeeDee Lamb at punt returner is the man to watch on special teams. The sophomore has only returned six punts this season but they average over 13 yards per return, and if he is allowed to reach top speed, you might not catch him.

Unfortunately for Army, Oklahoma will be the toughest test of the season, and winning in Norman has never been harder.