NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma was instrumental in spreading the spread offense throughout the Big 12 Conference.
Norman was the proving ground for the Air Raid scheme Mike Leach took to Texas Tech and turned into the nation’s most prolific passing game.
Since then, the Sooners have faced plenty of spread offenses, but none quite like what they will see Friday night at Tulsa.
“It’s different than anything we’ve seen,” Sooners linebacker Ryan Reynolds said.
The in-state matchup will feature two of the nation’s top four offenses, with Oklahoma (3-0) featuring a more conventional approach and Tulsa using the frenetic no-huddle scheme offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn never got to use in his days at Arkansas.
It’s appropriate the scheme will get its first major test on a Friday, the night Malzahn perfected it while winning three Arkansas state high school titles.
“All of the motions they do, all the different alignments, everything they do is just a little bit different,” Reynolds said. “And then they do no-huddle, trying to get us tired and worn out.”
The Golden Hurricane (2-0) have averaged 559 yards, the fourth-highest mark in the nation, and last week gained 595 yards in a 55-47 shootout win against BYU. The problem has been a defense that’s given up nearly as much, 486 total yards and 184.5 on the ground per game. A fourth-quarter stand and five takeaways allowed Tulsa to overcome 694 yards allowed against BYU.
In the Sooners, Tulsa will face the nation’s highest-scoring offense and one of three teams gaining more yards per game. Oklahoma also boasts the second-stingiest defense in the country.
The Sooners held North Texas’ spread attack to 247 yards and Utah State’s to 153 yards. Miami, which also frequently used shotgun sets with three or four wide receivers, had only 139 yards.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops was hesitant to lump all of those offenses into the same category as Big 12 foe Texas Tech, which led the nation in passing four of the past five years in the system Leach brought over from Oklahoma, where he was offensive coordinator.
“Each team has their differences and their little personalities and things that they like, and you’ve got to...become familiar with them and be ready to defend them,” Stoops said.
Tulsa has the most potent offense the Sooners have faced so far, but the Oklahoma defense figures to provide the biggest test of the season for the Golden Hurricane.
“Oklahoma is one of those five schools in the country that are extremely established. Very, very powerful, very big,” Tulsa coach Todd Graham said. “The defense is an OU defense: it’s always one of the best in the country.”
Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith, who threw for a career-best 454 yards and five touchdowns last week, called the Sooners’ secondary “one of the best in the nation.”
“They’re very versatile and they do a lot of things they try to disguise, and we’ve got our hands full,” Smith said.
Graham said he sees two main differences between this Sooners’ offense and the team that beat Tulsa 31-15 in Norman two years ago. He said Oklahoma has made a “dramatic improvement” at offensive line and wide receiver. He hasn’t seen much drop-off at tailback despite an early exit to the NFL by Adrian Peterson, whose 41-yard run on fourth-and-1 put the Golden Hurricane away after they’d managed to stay within 17-15 until the final 3 1/2 minutes.
“We’ve got to get ready for another dogfight,” Graham said.
Meanwhile, the Sooners are trying to keep from salivating about facing a Tulsa defense that seemed so porous a week earlier.
“It’s all about matchups,” Oklahoma tailback Chris Brown said. “They could have been playing mediocre against those guys and then we look at that like `OK, well if BYU got 600 yards, we’re going to get 800 yards,’ and it’ll be a totally different story.
“We’ve got to focus on us and not worry about what other teams have done against them.”