OU football: Five reasons why the Sooners will win the Cotton Bowl
IRVING, Texas — The No. 12 Oklahoma football team has lost two games against teams who at some point in the season were ranked No. 1 in the nation, one of which now is playing for a national title.
Although those two losses were close games, they — along with Northern Illinois being ranked 15th in the nation — were enough to drop them out of a BCS game and into the top Non-BCS game: the 77th AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
Here’s why OU will defeat its former conference foe and win the Cotton Bowl to help put those two numbers in the record book.
1. Senior quarterback Landry Jones has been on fire
The senior, who has compiled 3-0 bowl record in the 2009 Sun Bowl, 2010 Fiesta Bowl and 2011 Insight Bowl, is starting his fourth bowl game and has been one of the most reliable and clutch players since the Sooners lost to Notre Dame on Oct. 27.
He has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 1,980 yards with 17 touchdowns during that five-game stretch in which the Sooners went 5-0. In two of those games, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, Jones led late fourth-quarter comebacks.
“Landry has been a steady and excellent football player for us for four years,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “The way he has played down the stretch for us … he has been fabulous.”
2. Junior wide receiver Jalen Saunders has been cleared to play
It was uncertain whether junior wide receiver Jalen Saunders would be available for the Cotton Bowl after the news of his arrest for marijuana possession in early December, but Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops cleared him to play shortly before the team arrived in Dallas last week.
Saunders, who played in only eight games — he was not active to play because he just transferred from Fresno State — caught 53 passes (a career high) for 766 yards and three touchdowns and became one of senior quarterback Landry Jones’ favorite and most reliable targets.
If Saunders had not been cleared for this game, the Sooners would have been without one of it’s most dangerous targets, and that’s something that easily would have benefitted Texas A&M.
3. Mike Stoops has had a month to game plan for Texas A&M
The Sooners and their coaching staff usually get a week to game plan a defense for a particular player or scheme, and for the most part, a week is all OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops needs.
For the Cotton Bowl, he's had a month to game plan against Texas A&M Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel. With the extended amount of time for preparation, Mike Stoops has had more than enough time watching game film and coming up with schemes to contain the redshirt freshman and Texas A&M offense.
“Being able to keep [Manziel] in the pocket is easier said than done,” Mike Stoops said. “[The Aggies] do a great job creating run plays for him to get him to open spaces. People don’t realize, but the offensive line does a great job of creating space for him.”
4. Texas A&M has not faced a passing offense like OU’s squad
The Sooners have the fifth-best passing offense in the nation — averaging 341.3 passing yards per game — and Texas A&M has not faced a BCS-automatic-qualifying opponent ranked in the top 20 in passing. The best passing offense the Aggies have faced is Louisiana Tech, ranked fourth, in a game they survived, 59-57.
Now, after playing through a less pass-happy SEC schedule that focuses on running the ball and playing tough defense, Texas A&M’s defense has to get back into pass-defense mode. While the Aggies have a strong pass rush that caters to a man-coverage defense, they know they will have their hands full Friday.
“We really have to focus on our technique and make sure we have good eyes and not have any coverage busts and not give up any easy touchdowns,” Texas A&M free safety Steven Terrell said. “We just really need to be fundamentally sound.”
5. To defend the Big 12’s honor
Texas A&M decided to jump ship to the SEC, and now they return to Big 12 play by facing the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl. The two teams have admitted this game feels more like a “big Big 12 game” rather than an SEC-Big 12 matchup, but there is a hint of “let’s beat those Big 12 traitors” in the air and in the trash talking between the two fan bases.
It will be the Sooners’ job to uphold the Big 12’s values and remind the Aggies just what they left.
“I guess we didn’t want to get too far away from each other,” OU junior linebacker Tom Wort said.
Jono Greco is a journalism graduate student. You can follow him on Twitter during the game at @jonogreco13.