NORMAN — Ruffin McNeill — a defensive-minded coach who uses plenty of abbreviations — threw out the letters “DYJ” when talking about Oklahoma’s game plan for Kansas State.
The No. 8 Sooners (6-1 overall, 3-1 in Big 12) will face a Kansas State team which focuses on running the football in the homecoming game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. It will be a physical test similar to Army.
“Fundamentals are needed every game, and we preach it every game,” McNeill said. “This game will be one where they play with great fundamentals and we have to, as well. Making sure we’re doing a great job with that. Again, it starts with effort and fundamentals and attacking it that way.”
Kenneth Murray (28 tackles) and Curtis Bolton (23) combined for 51 stops in that memorable overtime win over the Black Knights. Both are prepared for another hard-hitting test.
Bolton described why he likes playing teams like K-State compared to a school like Texas Tech. Instead of spreading an opponent out with different route combinations, the Wildcats choose to take defenses on directly.
“When you get a team and they line up and they basically are going to tell you we are going to stack eight, nine people in the box and we’re going to try to run it down your face, I don’t take that as disrespect,” Bolton said. “Everybody’s game plan, they are going to think they are going to be able to do what they do. At that point, that’s real football to me. I grew up with old-school coaches and it was always smash-mouth football.
“They are going to try to come out there and punch you in the mouth. At that point, it’s straight dog. It’s straight athleticism. It’s not thinking too much about it.”
The Wildcats (3-4, 1-3) have averaged 305 rushing yards over the past two games, and the ground attack is led by Alex Barnes. The junior running back is averaging a league-best 112.6 yards per game. He had 181 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-12 win against Oklahoma State on Oct. 13.
OU coach Lincoln Riley says Barnes reminds him of Rodney Anderson, calling him a big guy with a lot of physicality and big-play ability.
“He’s very patient, like the great Kansas State backs are,” Riley said. “He really sets up the blocks well. Like any great back, he’s playing in front of a really, really good offensive line — a group that has a ton of experience and outstanding players. They’ve got a good combination going.”
One key to watch: OU’s use of four-man fronts against the K-State run game.
McNeill said the four-man front has “sorta been my MO” but he also likes to blend in three-man fronts.
“You’ve gotta have both in this league — in any league, not just this league,” McNeill said. “But I’ve always been a believer in multiple defenses. I do like a four-man but I also love the three-man, 3-4, I think that’s very valuable and very needed. And then some other speed packages in this league that you need as well.”
Two players that could help are freshmen Ronnie Perkins and Jalen Redmond, who made his OU debut last week.
“I thought Ronnie did a good job in his first start and Jalen got some reps,” McNeill said. “We didn’t know we’d be able to get him in last week when we talked (during a media session), so I was pleased with that progress. They have a long way to go. They’re still true freshmen. Everybody has to remember that.”
One thing is certain: OU’s defensive game plan has been in place since Wednesday. McNeill explained last week that the team goes through the plan and if someone doesn’t understand a concept, it is scrapped.
“I hadn’t (been around that before), and I actually had a conversation with my dad because it’s such a unique thing that we did,” said Robert Barnes, whose father Reggie Barnes is a former OU linebacker. “Just for him to put that trust in us and to have a group of guys to say yeah, if there’s anything you don’t understand or don’t want to go forward with, we can throw that out and keep going with the game plan.”
Did the recipe that worked in last week’s 52-27 win at TCU?
“It did. It was good just to be out there and not to think about everything and we had our base calls that we were going to run,” Barnes said. “We just went out there to execute and had fun doing it.”