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Oklahoma Football: Previewing The Sooners and Kansas

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

The Oklahoma Sooners are ready to move on from last week's flop against Texas. Truth be told, they probably would have been perfectly content to rest a bit and play another game a few hours later to wash the bitter taste out of their mouths.

Now the Sooners travel to Lawrence, Kan. to take on Kansas. History has shown this game, the week after Texas, has been a great week for the Sooners under Bob Stoops. Oklahoma is 14-0 in games after Texas, including 6-0 against the Jayhawks. Half of those 14 wins have come against ranked teams, five of those being top-20 teams.

The Sooners are also 8-0 against the Jayhawks in the Bob Stoops era, 3-0 in Lawrence. Oklahoma has a lot of questions to answer and things to work through this week, but if history is any indication, this week is the perfect week for the Sooners to rebound.

Three questions for Oklahoma:

1. Will the defense be able to adjust to the losses of Corey Nelson and Jordan Phillips?

The Oklahoma defense was pounded by the Texas run game last week, especially up the middle, an area Nelson and Phillips normally occupy. Now, both are out for the season, so there's nothing else for the Sooners to do but improve upon what they have. Dominique Alexander had 19 tackles in place of Nelson against Texas, a promising start, but still has plenty of room to improve. Jordan Wade and Torrea Peterson are good players at defensive tackle, but have far less raw ability than Phillips. If there was ever a time for JUCO transfer Quincy Russell to figure things out so he could get on the field, now would be that time.

2. Can Blake Bell be the quarterback OU needs?

Bell looked like the next big thing at quarterback for the Sooners against Tulsa and Notre Dame, but struggled against TCU and looked simply awful against Texas. OU coach Bob Stoops says he's not contemplating a change unless it's absolutely necessary. If necessity dictates a change against Kansas, that's not a good sign for Bell or the Sooners. Bell has shown he has talent, but hasn't acquired the skill necessary to beat the better defenses in the conference. It hasn't all been his fault, but if the poor play continues, Stoops will be forced to make a change.

3. Will OU rely more on the run game after last week?

The Sooners had 29 rushing attempts that weren't sacks against Texas and would've liked to have had more, given their 5.7 yards per carry average. However, being down prevented the Sooners from going to the run game more. Still, the Sooners have averaged 44 attempts per game this season and will likely need that many or more to get the offense going. As long as the passing game continues to struggle, the Sooners need to pound the ball on the ground. They have four capable running backs, plus Trey Millard, so it's not like they'd wear any one of them out. They're going to have to carry the load until the Sooners figure some things out in the passing game.

Three players to watch for Kansas:

1. Running back James Sims- 87 attempts, 390 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns

Sims is one of the more underrated running backs in the conference, arguably the country. Sims quietly rushed for 1,013 yards a year ago and has scored nine touchdowns in each of his first three seasons at KU. Sims has the ability to tear a defense apart, so the Sooners will have to account for Sims at all times.

2. Linebacker Ben Heeney- 43 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 INTs

Heeney patrols the middle of the Kansas defense and is always around the ball. He's the leader of the defense, leading them in almost every defensive category so far this season. Blake Bell will have to be very wary of Heeney, who will most likely be shadowing Bell's every move, just waiting for a mistake.

3. Quarterback Jake Heaps- 80-152-6, 887 yards, 5 touchdowns

Heaps joined the Jayhawks by transferring from BYU. He's a much better option than Michael Cummings and has a lot of talent, but has struggled so far this season. Granted, he doesn't have a bunch of talent surrounding him, but he has the skills to be much better. That skill set has made some appearances so far this season, so the OU defense needs to put pressure on Heaps in order to prevent him from getting in any sort of rhythm.

Key matchup: Kansas rushing offense vs. OU front seven

Kansas is only averaging 118.8 yards per game on the ground this year, 103rd in the nation. However, Sims is a terrific running back and with the Sooners still adjusting to the losses of Nelson and Phillips, they're very vulnerable right now. It may just be Kansas, but Oklahoma has to prove they can continue to stop the run the way they did before the Texas debacle. If the Sooners can't do that against Kansas—the Jayhawks ran for 206 yards on 55 attempts in Norman last year excluding sacks—they're going to be in trouble the rest of the way. Saturday will be a big test for the defense.

Prediction: Oklahoma 37, Kansas 14

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