No. 7 Oklahoma at Texas Tech: Serious test awaits Sooners defense in Lubbock
LUBBOCK, Texas — Ruffin McNeill has walked down the ramp multiple times to enter Texas Tech’s stadium as a Red Raiders defensive coordinator.
On Saturday, McNeill will be wearing the enemy’s colors at the place he called home for 10 football seasons.
What’s it going to be like at Jones AT&T Stadium?
“It will be live,” McNeill said earlier this week. “You better have your big-boy pants on. The crowd will be very exciting and electric. That’s just how it is there.
“As a program and as a team, we need to do what we can control before that date to prepare properly from all aspects of our tool box.”
Texas Tech will provide the No. 7 Sooners with their toughest test in the post-Mike Stoops era. In the Sooners’ first two games with McNeill as interim defensive coordinator, TCU (275 yards) and Kansas State (245 yards) didn’t clear 300 yards.
Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury has taken notice of how the OU defense has performed under McNeill.
“They’re playing hard for him. I knew they would,” Kingsbury said. “When he was here, he was a great mentor for me, a great friend, a great person in my life. Still one of my favorite people in the world. You know how he makes those kids feel, how he motivates them. They’re flying around, playing at a very high level for him. That’s what he gets out of his players.”
Has Kingsbury seen anything different on film since McNeill has taken charge of the defense?
“It’s hard to say. There’s a small sample size,” the Texas Tech coach said. “But I think at times they’ve been more I don’t want to say base, but just lining up and playing football, maybe not trying to disguise things as much, making sure guys know where to be, then just cutting them loose. They’re playing fast, they’re not thinking, they’re flying around.”
The Red Raiders (5-3 overall, 3-2 in Big 12) are averaging 42.2 points per game, which ranks No. 10 nationally and second in the conference behind Oklahoma.
True freshman Alan Bowman triggers the offense for the Red Raiders. The quarterback has thrown for 2,411 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ranks third nationally in passing yards per game (344.4).
Cornerback Tre Norwood was asked about the challenge of facing Tech’s offense, which is a much different style than TCU and Kansas State.
“Tech is a very high-powered offense. They’re gonna throw the ball a lot,” Norwood said. “I know on the back end, it is a game to take advantage of the opportunity that’s gonna present it because there’s gonna be plenty of opportunities out there. It’s one of those games, you have to lock in and make sure we capitalize on those plays.”
While OU (7-1, 4-1) is concentrating on slowing down the Red Raiders, Kingsbury is doing the same when game planning against Kyler Murray.
“When you look at him, I watched him, I’ve said it from sophomore in high school on, never seen him have a bad game,” Kingsbury said. “Always poised, always in control. He can beat you from the pocket like a seasoned veteran, then if he gets out of the pocket, he can scramble, be the fastest player, quickest player on the field, extend plays, keep his eyes down the field, find guys down the field.”
Lincoln Riley said the Red Raiders defense is playing much better in 2018.
“Defensively, they’ve made a big jump. When you turn on the film, this group is playing well together,” Riley said. “This thing that you see is it’s a lot of the same names and the same people we’ve been playing against for two or three years. These guys have gotten better. They are a very physical defense and playing well together. They have a lot of experience, especially on the back end and in the linebacking corps.”