The Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Tech Red Raiders are both facing serious questions — albeit of a vastly different nature.
Tech fired head coach Matt Wells this week, putting the future of the program in limbo. Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie is running the show on an interim basis, but the Red Raiders (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) will definitely look in the coming weeks for a new leader to fill the opening.
The Sooners have run up an 8-0 record (5-0 in conference) this season, but they aren't playing like a team with legitimate aspirations of winning a national championship. They're running out of time to tighten things up.
Here's what to watch when these two teams in flux tangle this weekend in Norman.
Texas Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma -19.5
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
The Red Raiders have some solid pieces on offense, which should concern an Oklahoma defense that is struggling to keep its head above water lately. The biggest threat: wide receiver Erik Ezukanma. The physical wideout has caught 38 balls this season for 508 yards and a touchdown. Ezukanma will try to bounce back from last week's poor showing against Kansas State in which he came away with one reception for three yards.
That's not what an ailing OU secondary wants to deal with right now. Last week, the Sooners were missing three starters among its defensive backs, and lowly Kansas lit them up nearly 11 yards per pass attempt. Cornerback D.J. Graham and strong safety Delarrin Turner-Yell may return to action this week.
Meanwhile, Tech will contend with an OU defensive line that hasn't lived up to its reputation lately. After sacking Texas quarterback Casey Thompson four times earlier this month, the Sooners failed to pressure TCU's Max Duggan and got to Kansas' Jason Bean just once.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The story on offense for OU continues to revolve around freshman phenom Caleb Williams. The dual-threat quarterback posted decent stats throwing the ball as he completed 15 of 20 pass attempts for 178 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. In addition to the pick, Williams struggled to get the ball out quickly to his receivers. That meant shorter gains than what was available. Look for head coach Lincoln Riley to put Williams in position for easier throws this week.
If Williams gets an opportunity to run the ball on Saturday, he and running back Kennedy Brooks could post big yardage. Texas Tech is allowing 4.3 yards per rushing attempt, one of the worst marks in the Big 12. The Red Raiders have to focus on gang-tackling Brooks, one of the most elusive ball carriers in the country.
Unfortunately for the Red Raiders, OU may get two of its top receivers back this week in Mario Williams and Michael Woods II. At the same time, junior Jadon Haselwood is emerging as a go-to target, another troubling development for the Tech secondary.
Wells' dismissal adds an intriguing angle to this matchup. Will Texas Tech get an emotional bump as a result, or will the Red Raiders pack it in under temporary management?
Assuming the visitors are game, they may find plenty of room to operate against Oklahoma's reeling defense. Perhaps the return of Turner-Yell and Graham will solidify the Sooners' secondary, but the issues that cropped up in recent weeks appear to run deeper than just missing personnel.
Nevertheless, the boost that Caleb Williams has provided to OU's offense is undeniable. The Sooners can test defenses in so many different ways with the freshman behind center. Playing in front of a home crowd, the rookie should put on a show and lead OU to its ninth win.
Prediction: Oklahoma 45, Texas Tech 21
Podcast: Week 9 Preview, Predictions + Picks Against the Spread & Texas Tech Coaching Search
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.